5436723519_458dec7cc4_zPhoto by Sarah R via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I work at a circulation desk of a public library, and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent watching people rooting through their purses, handbags and backpacks trying to find their library cards.

I stand there patiently as they remove bulging wallets from mammoth pocketbooks and start sorting through the plastic. Credit cards. Health club membership cards. Insurance cards. Department store loyalty cards. “It’s here somewhere,” they’ll mutter. “I know I’ve got it. I really should be more organized.”

I refrain from agreeing, “Yes, you certainly should.” And I certainly don’t add, “What you really ought to do is get rid of most of that stuff.” I just keep my mouth shut and marvel at the huge collection of crap most people carry around.  

Finally, they’ll locate their library card and hand it to me. Or fail to locate the card. “What happened to it?” they’ll wonder.

Who knows? It probably is in there somewhere. The problem is, so is everything else.

I’m a minimalist. I only have one credit card. And just five other cards in my wallet. My drivers license. My AAA card. My insurance card. My museum membership card. And, of course, my library card. And that’s it.

I enjoy not being weighed down by stuff. Yes, I know, that’s almost un-American! Still, I resist consumer culture. I don’t own a smart phone. I live in a small house. I buy clothes infrequently and wear them until they actually wear out.  I drive a 2002 Toyota that I’ve only put 10,000 miles on since I bought it used a decade ago because I’d rather walk than drive.

Fifteen years ago, I left the practice of law to work at my local public library when I realized that having fun was more important to me than having money. Now I make a tiny fraction of what I’d be making if I’d continued to practice law.

But I enjoy my life a lot more.

I can’t afford the world travel, the pricey coffee table art books and the expensive restaurant meals that I used to enjoy. Do I miss those things? Not enough to return to the rat race that makes them possible.   

This is what I’ve discovered — having less means having less stress.

I’m not talking about being poor. Obviously, that’s incredibly stressful. I’m talking about having just enough. But not having too much.

I don’t own a television. I don’t shop for recreation. I never go near the mall. So what do I do for fun? I read. I spend time with my friends. I swim. I go for long walks in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. (Where I can and do, literally, stop and smell the roses.)   

Going for a walk with a good pal and having a great conversation is my favorite pastime.  

Cost to me? Nothing. The best things in life really are free.

The culture we live in is urging us to buy things. Drive a newer car! Wear the latest fashion! Live in a great big house! Get the latest gadget! Get two! Big is better than small, and more is better than less.

All I’m suggesting is that we can choose not to buy into this. (Pun intended.)

Do I have a better life? A happier life? I have no idea. If schlepping around a million credit cards is working for you, that’s great. All I know for sure is that living as a minimalist makes me happy. (Plus, it’s better for the planet.)

And I probably spend a lot less time searching for stuff than you do.

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  • Anne January 10, 2016 at 10:11 am

    I downsized a few years ago into a two-room condo. But I still have too much because I collect books and paper. I run a book club and keep reading constantly. Can’t use library because books have to be available on certain dates. I do give books to the library to sell and to my friends. I also read newspaper and magazines which I often use for my own writing. I still am a clutterer although I am better. I have a very poor memory and so I am afraid that I won’t remember ideas and books I like without having them in my possession. Very old- fashioned idea which I am still working on at age 84.

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  • Kelly January 3, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Love this attitude!

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  • Suzanne Fluhr December 31, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Travel has taught me to carry only what fits in a very small cross shoulder bag. We used to acquire an object d’art when we traveled, but now we confine that to refrigerator magnets (a few odd looks when the officer looks at our minimalist customs declaration form). One car—a year “newer” than yours and it lives 1.5 miles from our apartment. No debt. We use a credit card for convenience, not credit. Our indulgence is experiences, not things.

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  • Joan Leof December 31, 2015 at 7:12 am

    BRAVO, fellow minimalist!

    Makes me think of the ultimate minimalist – Mahatma Gandhi. He ate all his meals out of one bowl. When I learned that years ago, aspiring minimalist that I am, I went out and purchased a wooden bowl to contain my meals. It lasted for years when, alas, a crack, necessitated purchase of another wooden bowl. This one has served me for years now. Like people who take their beloved pillow when they travel, I’m tempted to take my bowl – but mostly leave it behind.

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  • Ruthie Nathan December 30, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    You might enjoy Rebecca Solnit’s book, “Wanderings.” In fact, I know you’ll devour it.

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  • Diane Dettmann December 30, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Retired and living a simpler life. My husband I consider a date going to the grocery store together or a matinee movie for seniors. Occasionally we break down and attend a fancy social event for which I have a few basic outfits dangling in my closet. When I ask him which one I should wear, he says “just wear a smile.”:) Have a happy and simple New Year!

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  • wendy December 30, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    great !!!

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  • Mickey December 30, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    Oh, woe is me. I acquired a credit card from Lowe’s. What is wrong with me?! I wish I’d read this before I bought the new fridge. And now, instead of paying cash via my debit card which I had deposited into my checking account, I charged it! Augh! Sigh. yes, I have 18 months to pay off $756 but, and it’s a big but, too, what may happen between now and when the thing is paid off? Another sigh. Love the article, Roz. I confess here that I’m attending meetings and practicing a 12 Step program for clutterers. Less is less and I’d like less, fewer objects in my life and home. Thank you again, Roz. I love you. Happy New Year and peace be with you.

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  • Jim Sullivan December 30, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    I carry my life in my front pocket. No wallet; just the necessary cards – library (two of those, actually – one is a private library); one credit card; T (Boston public transit) pass; ATM; and driver’s license – wrapped by whatever cash I have at the moment. And I have never even owned a cell phone, let alone a smart phone, until just a couple of days ago when my brother-in-law gifted us with one for Christmas. It won’t travel with me unless there is some sort of emergency at hand.

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  • Mister Wonderful December 30, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Wonderful!

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  • roz warren December 30, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Thanks, everyone, for all of the great comments. As somebody who works in a library, it’s heartening to see from what you’ve said how crucial libraries still are to many of us, from places to hunt for “treasure” to give as gifts to places to borrow (rather than purchase) new books. In this age of digitization, I’m often asked if libraries are becoming obsolete. Never!

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  • Toni Myers December 29, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Roz, I love your writing and think this may be my favorite of your pieces, though it’s on the serious side.
    I do spend lots of my time searching through my purse for a card that reappears when I don’t need it. Same with my house. My resolution for the New Year is to clean up to the point where I recover my long lost 2-year calendar. Many thanks for the inspiration. Never doubt that you are doing the right and the most fun thing.

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  • Lois Hoffman December 29, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Good stuff. Being a children’s performer for most of my career (at a LOT of libraries), we found the joy in the little things. For about 10 years, we “shopped” at the library at Christmas and gave the treasures we found for each other. It forced us to really know the others in our house and were never burdened by how much it would cost. I wouldn’t have traded our simple life for anything.

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  • Perry Block December 29, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    That’s a terrific article, Roz. If only I could find my PC, I’d write you a nice note about it.

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  • Leslie in Oregon December 29, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Here, here, Roz! My husband and I, both members of the Oregon State Bar, each chose to use that credential to do work about which we are passionate rather than to make a lot of money, and we’ve never regretted that decision. We strive to keep our lives as simple as possible, and what we have accumulated does not consist of many possessions. Thank you for the inspiration and, no, you are far from alone!

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  • ellen sue jacobson December 29, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Bravo! I’m with you. You can add to your list: I don’t get regular manicures and pedicures, I don’t belong to a gym, I don’t buy novels but get them from the library or my reader, I give away clothes I no longer wear to the Vietnam Vets org.,We have only one car and I walk wherever I can.
    The older I get,the less I want in terms of “goods” and the more I want is time with family, friends, and my own pursuits.
    Downsizing my stuff is an ongoing process & I still have too much. Thanx for the boost!

    Reply
  • Alana December 29, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Oh, thank you for this post! We used to live more of minimalist life but even now – one car, rarely eat out, walk for exercise, wear the same clothes for year after year. I’ve seen what can happen when you just spend spend spend…I’m the caregiver for that person now that she’s elderly, and it isn’t pretty.

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  • Leslie December 29, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Oh Roz, I love this one! We were forced to downsize by the economy a few years ago: tiny rental instead of big house, to travel, no restaurants, down to one very used car, but all paid for. At first, it was depressing because it was forced on us, but in no time at all, it became pleasant, a relief. The simple life really is the very best. Although we just bought the house of our dreams, and it is way larger than we need, we still have only one car for both of us, it’s all paid for, and I still use coupons and don’t even carry a purse. No one can believe a walk around without one, but I have everything I need without one and I’m happier than ever. Long walks on the canal behind my house are my favorite thing in the world. Come join me…anytime. Thanks for the terrific outlook. Happy New Year!

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  • penpen December 29, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I recently went on a bag-a-day diet–filling a bag or carton a day with stuff we no longer needed or used. [we’re moving to an apartment where we can walk to eat, shop, and read books at a library.] I was stunned at how easy it was to meet my dietary goal every day for a month. And how much stuff we were able to donate to groups that will give it to those in need. after a month of de-cluttering and simplifying, I felt so light I was dancing around my house. for those of us afflicted with affluenza, less is more and it feels great.

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  • Roz Warren December 29, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Cynthia, that part about being debt free is so important and I didn’t address it in my essay! Thanks for bringing it up.

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  • CynthiaPerkel December 29, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    I’m doing it simply,also. I volunteer at a movie theater & thrift shop for free movies & discounts. Am known at all the local libraries, have no debt & strive for a less stressful life. The tv stays & l eat out regularly, but am a fan of the doggie bag. On a challenge to take only one item, it would be my radio. Less really is less. Thanks, Roz

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  • roz warren December 29, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Thanks for your comment, Joanie. I’m glad to know that I’ve got company.

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  • Joanie Tamburini December 29, 2015 at 10:25 am

    It is outstanding to read directly from another woman who is consciously practicing minimalism. I have been reading about minimalism as a practice for over a year and am gradually eliminating unnecessary burdens like plastic credit cards and debt in my life. We even, with teenagers under our roof, got rid of cable tv! Your voice gives me encouragement – thanks for the boost!

    Reply