What Jack Taught Me About Minimalism

I want you to meet Jack. I haven’t told you about Jack before, but in a way he has been a part of my life for the past 24 years. I made Jack and his black vest in a high school Home Economics class when I was 13 years old. Since then, he has sat on shelves and in storage boxes for most of my adult life.

Today, he is riding shotgun as we drive into the city to his new home.

There is no doubt that seeing the country in our camper van has changed my outlook on life, but it has also changed the relationship I have with my belongings. This all started even before I left in 2015.

In the months before I built the van, I laid out storage boxes equalling the space I’d have on the road. Clothes, toiletries, food storage, cookware; it all had to fit and I soon realised the importance of each object I would bring.

Each thing needed to serve a purpose, or even multiple for it to make the cut in the limited space I had available. I had a goal to live life to the fullest and any object that would stand in my way had to go.

An old toaster, multiple saucepans, a jacket I never wore – these were all easy decisions. But what about the trickier things? The sentimental, the nostalgic things?

After holding two garage sales, my entire life had been reduced to those storage boxes I had laid out – and it felt good. However, I was a left with another box of keepsakes that wouldn’t be coming with me. Let’s call it the too hard basket.

Minimalism means different things to different people. For me, it’s about living simply with belongings that allow me to enjoy the most out of life. When we acquire an object, we have to understand that we become the custodian of that object and with that carries not only an initial monetary expense, but further time and energy expenses in terms of accomodating and looking after it. That could be simply having to dust it, or when you have to move it from one place to another.

When you live in a house, it’s very easy for new purchases to be assimilated into your general mass of things, but when you live in a van it’s a different story. If there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place bringing in something new may upset the balance, so to speak.

So, in a way, one does not need to adopt minimalism in a van because minimalism is self-enforcing. With the resource of space finite, you have no choice but to carefully consider every acquisition so as to not clutter up your living space such that you can’t move around.

The law of entropy describes how a system will become increasingly disordered and chaotic over time. This can be observed in how our houses become untidy, or how papers mount up on side tables. Whether you live in a house or a van, minimalism reduces the effort required to live a tidy, uncluttered life, and it will likely result in you having more appreciation for your possessions you do have and more time for the things that matter.

When we arrived back in Tasmania in 2021, we rented a cottage just out of Hobart, and you can bet that the law of entropy kicked in as we brought more and more things into the house. In 2023, as we prepared for our next trip around Australia, I was astounded at how much stuff we had acquired over that 18 months. Not a huge amount, but it certainly wasn’t going to all fit back into the van.

So, what did I do with all the things I didn’t need?

  • Sold items on Facebook or other online marketplaces
  • Held a garage sale
  • Donated quality items to Op Shops
  • Gave away items to neighbours on local facebook groups

It’s a good feeling to find a home for something that you no longer need. Instead of sitting in storage, it can be given to someone who truly needs it and who can appreciate it.

Now, back to that too-hard-basket which I had retrieved from my parents attic when we got the Cottage. Inside was a bear named Jack who I had placed on the shelf in the living room. Now it was time to leave again, the thought of putting him back in storage for another 7 years left me feeling sad. Doesn’t he deserve more?

So I came up with a plan and posted this on a local Hobart facebook group:

Hi! 👋 My name is Jack and, well, I’m a bear! My human made me in high school Home Ec back in 1998 and since then I’ve had a rather meaningless life spending years sat on shelves and in boxes. Unfortunately, my human is moving away and he thinks it’s best we part ways (or giving me away for free, as he put it). I feel that my best years are still ahead of me as I’ve never really had a chance so I’m looking for someone to give me a shelf to sit on, or you know what? A real home… and maybe someone to talk to occasionally over a cup of tea??! I think I deserve that. Human says I’ve got 1 week to pack my bags and will even drop me off at my new home. I hope you can help me! Thanks for listening 🧸
SHORT: Quiet clean 24 year old male seeks room in Hobart area will not contribute to bills or rent great listener.

Soon enough, I got a message from someone who could give him that home.

So here we are, parked outside her house today, in fact, not far from the house I grew up in. I reach over, pick him up, and say thanks for being there for me.

I knock on the door and Kaylene answers with a beaming smile. Any anxiety I had over whether this was the right thing for him disappeared as I pass Jack to her. She nuzzles him into her arms as she tells me that they’ll have many a cup of tea together and that he will have plenty of playmates when her grandkids come to visit.

It’s hard letting go of things. For Jack, he was more than just an object, or possession. He is a bear with a story that will continue to live on.

Minimalism isn’t about getting rid of everything you own. It’s about only taking what you need.

However, in all of this there is something that transcends minimalism, or whatever you want to call it. It’s that feeling you get when you give something away to someone who will appreciate it more than you. It’s that knowledge that with a bit of effort you can reduce the number of things that need to be bought or manufactured. It’s being content with what you have. It’s something that brings us closer to the communities we live in – and that’s what’s most important.

* * *

Do you have too much stuff at your place?

The best thing about the experience of reducing my possessions was all the amazing people I got to meet along the way. If only I had met them when we first moved in 18 months ago!

Steph and I have nearly got the van organised and in just 3 weeks we will be off on our next adventure around Australia with Willow. We can’t wait to share it with you!

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