Why Bother?

Jess Painting

The following is a guest post by the most-creatively-inspired-he-has-ever-been-in-his-life half of Minimalist Couple, Mark Adam Douglass.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “This whole simplicity and minimalism idea sounds great, but what is in it for me? What is the point? Why should I bother?”

Or, have you been simplifying your life for a while and forgotten the reason you started? Has minimalism become a chore rather than a tool for a better life, one filled with more love, passion and creativity?

The benefits of a simpler, uncluttered life are different for everyone. I know that when times have been tough, when I have lost my way and lost my why, hearing about other people’s journeys and stories and struggles and successes helps me to connect with my why once again. So I am going to share why I love minimalism so much and how it has helped myself and Jess, my fiancé and the other half of Minimalist Couple.

It was just after I met Jess that I discovered the simplicity and minimalism movement, initially through Leo Babauta at Zen Habits and Joshua and Ryan at The Minimalists. The biggest lesson I learnt from them, and other inspirational writers, was that I needed to question everything in my life. I needed to question my stuff, how I spent my time, the people in my life, the work that I do, my relationship to money and every other facet of my life.

So I did.

I reduced a lot of stuff, but still have a long way to go. In order to live a minimalist, clutter free life in the mean time, we developed the ‘I Don’t Know Room’.

I changed the way I spent my time. I stopped watching TV. I reduced my general web surfing, being more particular about I did and read and watched on the net. I reduced my addiction to my smart phone, although I do still struggle with that one. One major achievement was removing all of my games and Facebook.

I reduced or removed my exposure to negative people and increased or added positive people to my life. This was both online and off.

I questioned my work, and how I spent my time. Slowly I have reduced my selling-time-for-money work and increased my time-investment type work.

I had a horrible relationship with money, was $13,500 in consumer debt and hadn’t done my tax in a decade. Within 18 months I caught up on all of my tax, paid off my debt, then got myself thousands of dollars ahead. Throw in Jess’s contribution and we are well and truly ahead financially. The major reason we were able to do this is simple: We reduced our spending to the essentials. Although, as with all elements, we keep tweaking and improving.

Now that I had this clutter free space, spare time to do what I please, had improved the people I spend my time with, evolved my work practice and changed my relationship to money, what did I do with it?

Before I answer that, let me talk a little about Jess. I still vividly remember the first time I met Jess face-to-face. The initial connection was made through online dating, and then we agreed to meet at a Thai restaurant on a beautiful September evening. I remember sitting across from her, looking deep into her eyes, seeing her face light up as she talked about painting and how she loved it and how she wanted to do it more.

At that time, I was performing for a living, mostly doing children’s entertainment. I absolutely loved it, and was definitely living the dream. So I said to Jess, just do it. Paint. Stop dreaming, and make it a part of your life. Then we talked about how she could do that.

Later Jess recalled that this was one the main elements that she found attractive. The fact I was supportive and encouraging and willing to help her make it a part of her life.

So she did. A little. But that little bit here and there led to two paintings that I received for Christmas that year. I am sitting here looking at them whilst I write.

But she struggled as all artists do. Her struggles were mostly related the cluttered life she led, both in stuff and time and obligations and guilt and negativity.

As I noted earlier, it was not long after I met Jess that I discovered minimalism. Jess took a lot longer to embrace the idea. I would read great pieces of writing to her, which we would follow up with interesting conversations and questions. Also, Jess started seeing the benefits in my life.

I was writing and truly enjoying the creative process. I was also more joyful and thoughtful throughout my daily life, as I was much more focussed on delighting her through experiences and moments, rather than buying her stuff.

But I was also challenging, which led to a roller coaster of emotional journeys at times, for us as a couple, but also for both of us individually.

It was worth it though.

Life took an interesting turn about 6 months into our relationship, and we ended up moving in together. This accelerated our growth as a couple, and enabled us to really negotiate our stuff and time.

In regard to the stuff, we left 90% of it in the garage, as neatly organised as possible in boxes and shelving. Then the 10% we had upstairs was just all that we needed, reducing the overwhelm over an over-cluttered space. We then used the spare second bedroom as an interim room for stuff we were sorting through. We worked out systems which were effective and not overwhelming. We got through a lot of stuff in that place.

A couple of months after we moved in, I saw Jess getting overwhelmed by her work. She developed a repetitive strain injury from data entry. And the worst was how low she was emotionally when she came home. I could see her slowly dying inside from doing such mind numbing work whilst not giving herself time to do what she really wanted to do, which was paint.

At this point our financial position was improving, but still had some work to do. But looking at the finances, it wasn’t essential for her to work. I was earning money at a much higher rate of pay, and could easily cover both of us on 20-30 hours of work a week.

So I made Jess an offer. She could quit her job and become a full-time artist.

So she did.

Now she had the space, as we used the lounge room for our creativity. She had the time. And she was free of financial obligations.

So she painted. A lot. In the next few months she pumped out dozens upon dozens of pieces, exploring ideas and concepts that she had been ‘going to do one day’ and then she created all sorts of new ideas inspired by the others.

During that time, I started a blog, with the challenge of writing daily, and have done so successfully this past year and a bit.

Since that time, we have moved twice. Also, I have published two pieces, entered competitions and started the Minimalist Couple blog with Jess. Jess has taken up photography and started a daily photo blog. She also began volunteering to teach art to people with disabilities.

Now we are living by the beach, which we can see from our balcony. Jess is still weaving her magic with painting and photography. I am writing more and more, with a draft of a novel getting closer to publication, along with many other pieces in the works. I am teaching circus skills and acrobatics to inspirational students, and working a couple of nights a week doing maths tutoring. We have various projects in the works, including a video editing project for Grandparents Day. Throw in a writing course I am doing with Joshua Fields Millburn from The Minimalists in November. Also, we are in the initial stages of starting an artists collective, with some fantastic support from important people in the community.

Our lives are now all about art and creativity and contribution. This simply came through questioning everything.

So why bother?

For me, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life and I am the most creatively inspired I have ever been.

I hope our stories have helped to inspire your journey, and we would both love to hear about your stories. You can find out more about Mark and Jess at Minimalist Couple.  Also, please check out Bethany’s post, “Hitting the Reset Button,” featured on our blog today.

15 thoughts on “Why Bother?

  1. Such a great story, thanks for sharing…it’s great to hear how minimalism and simplifying our lives has had such positive impacts on your creativity. Of course I believe in it too, and I’m on my journey, but it’s nice to hear from people like you who’ve got to the other side : )

    • Thank you very much for your kind words. I wouldn’t say we are completely on the other side yet. I would more so think of it as a little further down the path. I hope it helps to inspire your journey. We would love to hear more about your journey, and where you are at.

    • I don’t think you can just question your stuff alone, otherwise it is too hard to understand why you are doing it. For me, I had to stay motivated with my why, and I was as patient as I could be, because I knew I would get there. I guess, I am still on my way there.

  2. Hello Mark! So good to see you here and read more of your story. I enjoyed the depth and details of how, where, and when you met Jess and how you linked that to your life together now. Beautifully written.

    I think that many times we think that pursuing your own interests in a relationship is selfish, but your story dashes this right to the ground. A supportive partner is a gem and can make all the difference. I’m so happy for both of you.

    • Thank you for your wonderful thoughts Tammy. I am so glad you enjoyed hearing more of our story 🙂

      A supportive partner is important. I think you need a balance between doing things for yourself and doing things for the couple.

      I am glad you are happy for us. We are very happy too 🙂

  3. Nice to meet you Mark! And what a great story. Glad to hear that both you and Jess have been able to make up your lives in such a creative and inspiring way. That you found each other and were able to work together to support and create together is HUGE. Questioning everything and constantly focusing on what kind of life you want to live are both REALLY good advice for everyone. Good luck on your journey and I look forward to checking out your blog too! ~Kathy

    • Nice to meet you too Kathy. I do love that our lives our focussed on creativity 🙂 And I agree, the questions and focus, and tweaking, are so important for us. I hope you enjoy our blog 🙂

  4. Great post. I so agree though I would not call myself a minimalist. I have a lot of stuff but it’s all for creative endeavors that I’m working on. I saved it up for many years waiting till I could work on it again. I never need anything anymore. My life is simple, stress free and working so much better. I agree, question everything. Lack of debt is a big way to simplify. I am so grateful to have achieved that.

    • Whichever label choose to give yourself, your statement, “I never need anything anymore,” suggests that you are leading an intentional, thoughtful life, which is fantastic 🙂

      And I agree, killing the debt leads to a better life 🙂

  5. What an inspirational story — thank you for sharing it. For many (myself included) working out what and where you want to go next in life can be the challenging part once you start to declutter you’ve got room for new more positive things to enter. If you’d like to write anything for my blog about mindfulness or meditation I’d be really interested.

    • Thank you Clare for your kind words 🙂

      I agree it can be challenging to work out what is next, and the direction I am going is definitely evolving. I actually enjoy the evolution and the fact that I don’t exactly know where I am going. I also enjoy not knowing what I am going to do with that extra time and space that i have created, and filling it how I please, always being mindful of spending time on things I truly want to do.

      I would love to write a piece for your blog. I had a quick look just now, and I have something in mind already. I will have a more detailed look, think a little more, and get in touch sometime soon

      Mark

  6. Personally, I do find simplicity to be beautiful.
    I remember the first time I heard George Carlin’s bit about ‘Stuff”. I thought it was brilliant – but a tough concept to consider.
    Conditioning…

    Beautiful piece 🙂

    • Thank you for your thoughts Dana. I remember George Carlin’s piece as well, although admittedly the first time it didn’t cause a great change. Listening to it now, I wish it did inspire me a little earlier. But then again, maybe I wasn’t ready to hear it at that moment.

      And I agree, simplicity is beautiful 🙂

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