I Am a Minimalist, and This Is the Story of When I Began to Question All of the Superfluous Stuff In My Life

Photo: Spencer Harris. “Bird on a Fence.” Licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.

That’s the definition Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less and blogger at Becoming Minimalist, assigns to minimalism. It’s a definition I like, and it says it all in a single sentence.

* * *

I am a minimalist. My journey toward minimalism began the day after my dad died.

I woke that morning in my childhood bedroom wearing the same clothes as the day before.

A cold sweat had overtaken me, and so I hurried to the small bathroom adjacent to my bedroom where I lifted the lid of the toilet seat and vomited forcefully, my stomach muscles contracting and tightening, my back arched like a cat, then relaxed. I would vomit, then lay on the cold tile floor balled up in the fetal position. After a moment’s pause, I would vomit again.

“What’s wrong? Son, are you okay,” my mom called from downstairs frantically, worrying perhaps it was something more.

Still on edge from the day before — when death had knocked.

“Jeff, answer me!”

The violent nature of my insides releasing itself somehow made me feel all the more alive as my clammy body laid on the bathroom floor, the world sideways in my periphery.

I had likely contracted the bug at the hospital the morning prior, the morning I looked at my dad’s face one last time, his eyelids blinking uncontrollably as I held his hand in mine.

More than not, it was the same bug that killed my father — a virus which had been mysteriously appearing in hospitals up and down the east coast since the end of April, the doctors told us as we sat in a white room with a long mahogany table and glass top thirty minutes after my dad passed.

“Would you like to do an autopsy,” the head doctor asked my mom, as his eyes searched the room for the correct face in which to direct the question. Two of my aunts were also present — my dad’s sister Gloria and his brother’s wife Kim.

When you have acute leukemia, you have no immune system. Even the common cold can be a death sentence. A stomach bug more than seals your fate.

The bug killed my dad, but I would be better within the hour.

* * *

Peeling my body from the floor, feeling as though the worst was over, I made my way to the bathroom sink and splashed cold water on my face, then stuck my mouth under the faucet and rinsed.

I blew vomit from my nose and gagged.

The cold sweat had drenched my boxers, t-shirt, and sweatpants, so I made my way back to my childhood bedroom and opened the closet to retrieve something else to wear.

Before me were empty clothes hung on a rack my dad’s body would never fill again. Clothes from my high school years accompanied his. An old Descendents tee that said “Everything Sucks.” Some polos from when I tried to dress respectably for about a year and gave up because I felt like a fraud in those clothes.

I put on the Descendents shirt and a pair of basketball shorts and turned my attention to locating a photograph of the two of us.

On the shelves above sat shoeboxes full of toys from my childhood. Laptop boxes void of any laptop with nothing more than a user manual and installation CD. Drawing pads. GI Joes. Plastic army men. Baseballs. Baseball gloves. Baseball cards. Two flat basketballs. High school yearbooks. Old shoes. Coats that didn’t fit. Nintendo games. A Prince cassette. Hundreds of punk rock albums. A robot named Robie Junior from RadioShack that my dad was so happy to give me for Christmas one year. A bear candle with a frayed wick with a Halloween story unto itself. A leather jacket covered in safety pins along the breast with Bad Brains written on the back in red spray paint. Noam Chomsky books. Emma Goldman.

And as silly as this may sound, all of this stuff began to anger me.

All I wanted was a picture of my dad. Just one. A single photo of him and me, together. And all I could see before me as I made my way from one shoebox to the next was all of this stuff in my closet and how pointless it was.

This accumulation of stuff. This stuff that didn’t mean anything any longer that had stockpiled as the years passed formulating a timeline of my life from infancy to the day I left the nest, to the day my dad died.

So, I began to do what I do best. I questioned its importance.

Read Next: So You’re a Minimalist. What Does That Even Mean?

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Photo: Spencer Harris. “Bird on a Fence.” Licensed under CC BY 2.0

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