“Yeah, it’s a great property,” said my brother, Tim. “You know, as a starter home.”
I looked at the two-bedroom house and garden I’d recently bought in Manchester and thought, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I was in my late twenties, a first-time buyer, and this was a first step on the property ladder. A good buy, but a starter home.
I was on The Right Path™ – the path that British society sets out for us and tells us to be on. I had my home – which was to be the stepping stone to another. I could go out every weekend, buying a new outfit each time at an affordable price from some ‘fast-fashion’ brand. I could try a new cuisine every weekend, and once you’ve tried them all, someone will have invented a new ‘dining concept’.
It’s a path of accumulation, growth, and constant stimulation.
A path of ‘property ladders’, with ‘starter homes’ that – in reality – would be perfectly enough for us until the day we die.
And then I left the UK. For South America.
The accidental minimalist
It had been a long time coming. I’d been with my Ecuadorian partner for several years and I was dying for an adventure. We moved in 2015.
The first time I went to the local store for groceries, I asked what kinds of cheeses they sold. “What kind?” the lady responded. “We just have cheese.”
There was only one. And this was part of a bigger culture shock that kept on giving.
And it went further than the food. There were less clothes to choose from. Fashion wasn’t seasonal (in part because there are no seasons). There was less furniture to pick from. There were no night-time rollerblading UV-discos with gourmet cocktails and ‘dirty burgers’ – just a bar with drinks and music. How archaic.
I loved the city, it was beautiful, but my options were limited.
And I hated it.
Simplifying life can be complicated
“What the hell kind of country doesn’t sell cartons of orange juice?” I’d rage.
And it didn’t end there. I’d buy clothes online, get them sent to my mum, and have her send them over via air mail. I’d ask for some of my favourite sweets and chocolates to be put in, while I was at it. I’d sit dreaming of an IKEA opening so I could get some decent-looking, cheap furniture. I’d enjoy going out dancing, but secretly look forward to being able to go out in a big city with more choice, a bigger club, with fancier lights and more fashionable people.
Everything just seemed like such a pain.
But slowly but surely, I started to get used to it. And eventually, to love it.
It turns out:
- People make their own fresh juice because fruit is plentiful and delicious.
- Because IKEA hadn’t got to Ecuador, there were still craftsmen on every street who would make furniture to your exact design without charging a lot of money.
- It costs $5 to resole and recolour my favourite leather boots, and a dollar to fix my favourite backpack when it broke, so I didn’t need to keep buying new clothes as often as before.
I’d become more sustainable, buying locally and buying independently, eating seasonally and eating better. And, in the process, I’d become more satisfied with what I had.
In theory, I’d wanted all of this before – but confronted with my situation, my first feeling was that there was a lack of choice and a lack of convenience. Once I’d come round to it, something clicked in me.
I’d realised that living on less was possible, and it was better for me and for the planet.
But it had taken forcibly removing my options for me to get there.
And then, once I’d got used to it, all the options came back.
Coming full circle
Fast forward four years, and life has brought me back to Europe.
Now I’m in a city – Madrid – with a beating commercial heart.
It’s a city full of those shops you only see in any Western country – you know, the ones that sell things that no-one needs, but for some reason people buy. Rubber cacti, a novelty carrot sharpener, a USB stick that looks like a piece of sushi.
So I’m back to where I started – with excess all around.
The difference? Now I’m different. Now, I look back at the Adam who thought of the single biggest purchase he’d ever made as simply a stepping stone to another purchase, and I contemplate how warped our society has become.
But I can no longer rely on my surroundings to make me live with less. This is where Exploring Enough came from.
It’s an exploration of how I can keep concentrating on what really matters, even in a world full of distractions. How I can maintain the calm I found by living with ‘enough’ instead of living to excess. It made me happier, and I want to maintain it. And hopefully by sharing my journey, it’ll help you find your ‘enough’, too.