12 Years of Minimalism: What it Looks Like for Our Family Now

By Tico+Tina

Last updated June 8, 2024


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Our family’s journey into minimalism evolved from what I experienced during our trip to Costa Rica in 2012, to what is now a deeply integrated lifestyle choice. It looks different now because our understanding of minimalism has shifted from merely owning less, to aligning our possessions with our values and purpose, which have also changed somewhat. From improving our living environment, to refining my personal style, minimalism has been an invaluable tool.

Remembering Where Minimalism Started for Our Family

What minimalism has in common with all of the most pivotal moments in my life, is that I don’t really know how it came into my life.

I felt something and I was looking for what I felt, but I didn’t know what it was or, consequently, how to look for it.

It’s comforting to recognize the guidance at work, and somewhat sobering to also recognize the importance of paying attention.

What I felt, was freedom.

We were in Costa Rica for the first 3 months of 2012, and I noticed how much lighter I felt with less stuff, and a more streamlined life in general. Like… so. much. lighter.

Somehow in my searching, I stumbled upon the term minimalism and it opened up what I felt into some semblance of direction and structure that I could put my intention into.

I think what I first found was Colin Wright’s blog, Exile Lifestyle. He had been traveling full time for a few years at that point, and I think I probably happened upon one of his “all the things I own” posts, followed by his Minimalism Explained post.

Like many at that time, my first goal was to just shed as much stuff as we could. I’d tasted the freedom and wanted to figure out how to cook the same meal at home.

Jumping headfirst into the mindset, I was inspired to document my experience here and there, and it gained a bit of traction because it was the right topic at the right time. After several years of re-evaluating various areas of our lives and whittling down and whittling down some more (though certainly never to my satisfaction), I found myself catapulted into a more spiritual journey which completely derailed my content creation momentum.

Shifting Our Initial Approach to Minimalism

We never lost our original purpose of minimalism, but I did realize over time the same thing that I now see Colin has since updated his previous posts with – the reminder that it’s not one-size-fits-all in practice, and certainly isn’t a contest.

You needn’t own a few dozen possessions to be a minimalist, you just have to focus on the vital things and act accordingly.

Colin Wright

I stopped posting photos of all the things I own several years ago when I discovered that it seemed to reinforce the idea that “minimalism” means owning as few things as possible.
That’s not the case. We’re not any better or more moral when we own less. The idea is to own exactly the right number of things for you and your priorities, and that will mean something different for everyone.
...you should prioritize your time, energy, and resources for the stuff that really matters. That may be possession stuff, that may be relationship stuff, that may be personal hobbies and projects stuff. Most likely, it’ll be a uniquely shaped combination of all these things, and that’s worth embracing.

Several years prior to adopting minimalism, I had already been inspired to consider what the grounding values in my life were, or what I wanted to “center my life around”. So minimalism was a natural tool to help better facilitate that.

I’m a loyal friend, but my head is on a constant swivel where everything else is concerned – always ready to level up at the drop of a hat if I discover something that better serves our goals. Nothing personal, I’m just loyal to my values.

That’s another reason besides my spiritual deconstruction that I got a lot quieter here – as an ever-evolving person, I couldn’t stand the thought of being pigeonholed into one topic, and I was too all-over-the-place in my processing to make sense of how to produce something cohesive that didn’t just drop minimalism from a business sense, but still encompassed the full range of my interests.

A term that seemed to make sense in my mind to better fit what I felt and our lives started to look like over time was “essentialism” (not the dictionary definition, but the logical concept). Again, I looked it up to see if anyone else had the same conclusion, and indeed, there was a book. I never felt the need to read it, it was just nice to know I wasn’t alone in my conclusions.

A Pivotal Moment

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first day I sat in our new-to-us room, developed with essentially the bare minimum intention of truly serving us instead of just making do, in awe of how big of a difference it truly made.

A key component in our lifestyle journey was recognizing the value and impact of our environment beyond merely decluttering our stuff.

We lived for an embarrassingly long time just “making do” in our homebase because we didn’t want to waste time, energy, and money on a living space we didn’t even want to be in, especially since we were usually traveling up to half of the year.

A brief exchange I had with an out-of-state friend while showing her around our home always reminds me what a different state of mind I was in at the time. Wanting to make sure she understood it wasn’t how things would look if I had my preference, I said something along the lines of “Of course we can’t really decorate or anything,” thinking it was an obvious decision not to waste time or money on such humble surroundings. When she replied quizzically, “Why not?” I realized my reasoning was my own.

When we finally decided to really improve our living space to better serve us, I was shocked at the difference it made in my mood and mindset!

Looking back, being an extremely low-maintenance person – very flexible and easily able to get by not needing much at all, had been a point of subconscious pride and comfort in a way, I guess. I see now that it was really a very limited mindset of scarcity, thinking putting more than minimal effort or focus into my physical space would take away from a more “noble” purpose. I came to realize it wasn’t a waste at all because it was truly an investment with a tangible return that not only aligned with, but also furthered, our values.

Seeing all the benefits we experienced from being more intentional with our space ingrained the value and importance of making that a bigger priority from then on.

We’ve continued to invest in our space by adding 4 rooms, upgrading some aspects, and shifting things to work better. A priority has always been doing things without debt, so that was a component also. We still “make do” in a way, always in flux, but at least “leveling up” little by little.

Reflecting on Where We are Now

As we’re spending the summer of 2024 in Costa Rica again, I found myself reflecting on how it all started and where we are now.

There are three areas we’ve refined over the years that stand out as helping to create ease in this trip.

1. Investing in a Space that Serves Us

The first week we were here, we invested some time and money bettering the space in ways we wouldn’t have considered in the past with only being here 10 weeks. Granted, we feel more free to do that now that David’s parents own the apartment and we also anticipate being able to visit more easily, but even more than that, it boils down to recognizing the value of adjusting our space to serve us.

(I just realized the seeming irony – we bought more things to serve us. But…)

The true way of minimalism is simply intentional alignment of possessions with purpose.

In contrast, our approach prior to minimalism was, Can we get it? Then why not?! We thought more was more, when more was actually just chaotic excess that meant more time and energy and mental space taken up in the management of it.

Now, we have a value for a more nurturing space, rather than a strictly minimalist space. For example, we bought rugs here.

2. Refining Our Wardrobes

I’ve whittled down my closet many times over the years, and one of the structures I eventually used for that was Dressing Your Truth.

Then I decided I wanted to hone in even more and only use natural fabrics – linen, cotton, wool, and silk.

And then I revamped again when I realized I had been using the wrong Dressing Your Truth type.

These structures make shopping and putting outfits together much easier. (It took me probably around half an hour to chose my clothes for this 10 week trip, when in the past it could easily take me half an hour to figure out an outfit for one evening!) I do admittedly still feel pretty limited in my style, though, since many things I’m drawn to aren’t made with natural fabrics. I’m inspired to get more creative and do more DIY to remedy that eventually.

It also only took me a half hour to get our youngest’s clothes around for the trip because I stopped buying the kids’ clothes from the scarcity mindset of jumping on deals with the main decision factor being if they fit and were cheap, which used to mean they had too many things that were just ok. With a smaller wardrobe, it was more like quickly weeding out which things didn’t make sense to bring.

We generally travel with one carry-on and one personal item, by the way, which includes our devices.

3. Simplifying Our Systems

One of my favorite simplifying techniques I’ve used for years now is designating dishes for each person.

When we got here, we found some really nice, cute dishes for only about $3 each, which has me considering getting some to take home with us!

I put all the other dishes away in a somewhat inconvenient place, and everyone is responsible for their own dishes. This makes a huge difference in kitchen maintenance, even more so in a small kitchen.

Two kitchen tools we use a lot are an Instant Pot and an immersion blender, so we checked a bag in order to bring those with us. It turns out it wouldn’t have been difficult to just buy similar items here, but I think it was worth it knowing what we have works well because sometimes things like that can be a gamble.

One other thing we were quick to invest in was more counter space in the form of an island of sorts. We know it’s something that greatly improves all of our experience in the kitchen, so we found something that could work ASAP.

The initial thought that inspired this stream-of-consciousness post was recognizing after a week or so of living here this trip, that indeed, part of what I really appreciate is a smaller space to take care of. It takes so much less mental energy, not to mention the time it takes to clean up and maintain. I was really wishing for a tiny house for a long time, but I also always thought I might get sort of claustrophobic.

I’ve said forever that I don’t want a two-story house because I like feeling more connected to everyone on the same floor, but I did think it would serve us better to have more space for entertaining and stuff. More space comes with more weight, too, though, and this trip and coincidentally our 12th anniversary of becoming minimalist, has only reinforced my appreciation for the freedom of less.

Takeaway

Minimalism is a tool and mindset for creating a life of purpose and intention. By stripping away the excess, you can focus on what truly matters to you, whether that’s relationships, personal growth, or pursuing passions. The journey might start with decluttering, but it evolves into a deeper understanding of your values and priorities.

Have you considered embracing minimalism as a tool to find balance and alignment in your life? It’s a personal journey that looks different for everyone, but the rewards of clarity and freedom are universal.

We're well-acquainted with being stuck in soul-sucking survival mode, and the intense internal friction of not living in alignment with your potential. We're all about discovering, creating, and sharing adulting cheat codes™ so you can level up faster! -David (Tico) & Chris(tina)

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