MY AMAZING JOURNEY TO LESS: LESS STUFF EQUALS MORE JOY, GREATER FOCUS AND A SMUG SENSE OF WELL BEING
Minimalism does not means living like a poor hermit, it means living intentionally, focusing on what matters by eliminating what distracts you from what matters.
Minimalism works. The less stuff I have, the happier I find myself. The more focused I am and the more I feel attached to the universe instead of looking at it as disinterested 3rd party. I’ve got more energy, and I find myself insanely grateful for the stuff I already have.
So how did I get here? Well, let’s start with where I was.
During the period between 2000 and 2011, I amassed about twenty collectible snowmobiles, several that were for riding, and some race sleds. I also had a lot of parts, pieces and motors that I had purchased during the process of restoring those machines. I had so much of this stuff that I filled up two double garages, a storage space, and a good chunk of my brothers garage. I had to leave several of the machines at museums around the country because I had no where else to put them.
But my love of stuff was not limited to snowmobiles. I also collected every book I’d ever read and enjoyed and had a bunch of collectible books as well. That meant having a house full of devices to store said books.
I also had lots and lots of music gear: guitars, amps, pedals, keyboards, racks, cabinets, microphones, recording gear and more. A full studio worth of stuff, actually, and all the cables, cords, software boxes and packing boxes for all of it. For a very long period of my life, I lusted after recording and other music gear like you can’t imagine.
Clothes. Oh man, how I love nice clothes. Tons of suits. Stacks of jeans and t-shirts. Ties. More shoes than any man should ever have. Hiking boots, running shoes, dress shoes, belts, sweaters, hoodies, jackets, coats, more coats, shorts, workout clothes, and more. I had remodeled my closet(s) twice to fit it all. During any given six-month period, I only wore about 1/32nd of anything in that closet. The rest just sat there and took up space.
I had all the furniture I could stuff into an 1800 square feet home. Four big-screen televisions. Three bedroom sets. Every video game console. Every imaginable kitchen appliance. Boxes full of memories, photos, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, and VHS tapes. Old mac computers and all the old software and storage devices (most absolutely unusable) go with them.
I wasn’t a hoarder: Everything was relatively organized, put away, and for sure clean. But it was just so much stuff, and it required so much attention and time!
So what changed? Well, what finally pushed me over the edge was an engine. Yep, a twin-cylinder snowmobile engine, sitting on a shelf and minding its own business finally made me see the light.
The Journey to Less by Larry Preston
1975 650 PDC Motor. Not the engine I’m talking about, but one that some covet relentlessly.
In my garage, in about 2009, I had a shelf at the same level as my eyes. On that shelf, I had carefully lined up about six collectible snowmobile engines. The last one, which you could not avoid looking at as you walked in the door, was a very rare 1974 340 Sno-Pro Polaris engine.
Every day I would drive in the garage, get out of the car, and my eye was drawn to that engine. For months after I had put it up there, I would look at it and think, “Wow, I still can’t believe I found that. I know where the machine it came out of is, and one day, I will buy that and put it back where it belongs!”
But eventually, the “one day” part of that thought changed from delighting me to making me just a teeny, tiny bit depressed. I just felt like time was slipping away, and I had so many other things I wanted to see and do. How was I going to find the time to do another big project? When would the person who owns the rest of the sled decide to sell it to me? How much was that going to cost? What other parts was I missing? Do I still have the paint code for that one? Where’s that track I bought that fits it? If I work on another sled project, how will I find the time to go to Europe again, or Japan?
The days rolled on and turned into weeks, months, and then years. Every day I would get out of the car and look at that engine. The act of looking at it, or the thoughts that followed were not purposeful. They just happened, as if they were on auto-pilot. As if I was on auto-pilot. I didn’t try to not look at it, or not think about it, nor did I try and ‘correct’ the thought. The thought loop around that thing just started playing in my head. It felt like the loop was getting louder and longer and more draining every time it went off.
The Journey to Less by Larry Preston
The late great C.J. Ramstad.
Then it dawned on me that I was expelling a great deal of mental capacity and energy thinking about someday doing something with that engine.
Then, in my typical fashion, I became obsessed with the fact that I was thinking about that engine so much.
During this time, I starting working on Starfire Kids – Midnight Blue Express. One day I met with the late great C.J. Ramstad for lunch in Minneapolis. C.J. had several similar books under his belt, so I thought he’d be good to get some advice from.
One of the first things he told me was, “The hardest thing about writing a book like this is not what to put it. It’s what to leave out.”
He was so right, and that advice applies to a lot of other things: Software applications, websites, weddings, cooking, decorating, design, music.. pretty much everything. The book was eventually twelve hundred pages long. When it went to print, I got it down to four hundred and thirty-four. By far, the hardest part of that book was what to take out. But once it was gone, I didn’t miss any of it. The book just kept getting smaller and smaller and better and better.
One day I came home, got out of the car and stared at the engine. This time, I was fully aware, at the moment, and thinking differently about it. This time, the same loop did not play in my head. This time I thought, “If it bugs you that much, give it up. Let it go. Give someone else a chance to have something that rare.”
So I took a picture and put it up on the website with a price that was less than I knew I could get for it, but enough to keep the bargain hunters away. I have nothing against bargain hunters – but they tend to want to stand around, shoot the breeze all day, and then not to buy anything.
Within a few hours, someone bought it. A few days later, they drove over, paid for it, and left.
There was now an empty spot on that shelf. Every time I came home and looked at that space, it was as though I was granted another small block of freedom and time. It felt good. I cleaned the dust away from that space, and then it felt even better when I looked at it.
I liked this feeling. It was new, subtle, different, and a little weird. So I sold another. And another, and some more parts. Every time new space was made available in my house or garage, I didn’t rush to fill it. Instead, I started to concentrate on the things that matter. The things that actually have a use for, or that bring me a great deal of joy.
The more I let go of, the more I felt like I was finding some soul. Some groove. Some… enlightenment?
Journey to Less
Me racing my favorite little sled in about 2006.
I’m not totally free and clear of the snowmobile stuff. For one thing, two of the collectibles still make me stupid happy, although I do not understand why. Can’t drive them, don’t like taking them to shows any more and hardly anyone gets to see them. But I sure like going out once in a while and just looking them over. I’m not ready to let them go, nor do I think my life would be any better if I did. The other one I raced, then several other people did as well, and it kicked ass everywhere it went. I think I actually love that thing.
I’ve divested myself of 98% of all the books. All that is left is the ones I am currently reading, family reference books, and some that I do flip through or read parts of from time to time.
I got rid of all the extra clothes, and now once every other month I go through the closet and anything I did not wear in that time, put it in a bag and deliver the full bag to goodwill. I really only wear the same maybe ten outfits now, and If I can cut that down, I will. But I still have a lot of shoes. But I wear them all, so it’s okay.
Any furniture that I don’t need or doesn’t really work for me or where I live is gone. All the old computer stuff is gone. Most of the music stuff is gone, all though I went little nuts and bought some guitars I’ve always wanted. After having them, I now know I can’t use them all. So about half of them are going to go.
I’m even going so far as to throw out all the old memorabilia items from my life that have piled up inboxes. I’ve been going through all the old recordings, tapes, CDs, and videos and transferred the good ones to a computer. I’m working on a series of blog posts that will put a timeline together of all the things I’ve done, places I’ve been, and people I’ve known. That way, I will always have it in an easy-to-reference format, and I can get rid of all the boxes of crap.
I feel even better just talking about the stuff that is going to go!
The point of this is not to turn into a hippy and move into a four-hundred-square-foot house in the woods where I can live on $20 a year. I like capitalism, and having money will always be better than not having money. I like having some space to roam in my house. I like some of my guitars, and I play them. I will keep a couple of snowmobiles. I still have my hiking boots and perhaps a few too many pairs of sneakers. But I love those things. And I use them.
The point is to allow myself the room to be able to live in the moment and have things that add to life instead of distracting from it.
This minimalism thing works.. and I feel like I’m just getting started on it.
If you’re interested in minimalism, keep in mind there’s no point to doing it all at once. Pick out one thing, like say your closet, and get rid of what you can’t really use.. please give it to someone who really needs it or someone that really wants it. Please put it on eBay, or toss it out. Then see how it makes you feel, and move on to the next thing.
If that works well for you, there a ton of great resources out there to help. Here’s a few I’ve found to be very helpful:
1. The Minimalists. Good website that focuses on how the desire for stuff robs you of a full life. These guys also have a movie out on Netflix. I found it to be insanely boring and really long. Stick to the website.
2. The Power of Less.
3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
4. Becoming Minimalist.