Ideas aren’t very powerful on their own, bumping around in the ether looking for hosts. It isn’t until they’re infused with someone’s DNA that things get serious. Then, once they’ve blossomed into beliefs, they activate people to do things that might not have been impossible before. This is what happened to me once I got birthed into minimalism.
Perhaps I was ripe for it, having always been a purger, but the recent craze around it paired with the tiny house movement added to the fire. When I was in middle school, I got rid of the TV my parents dotingly set up in my room with cable so I could be assured alone time with my thoughts and journal. Filling up bags with clothes, shoes, and toys for the Kidney Foundation was ritual for me, and I pleaded with my parents to let me get rid of their possessions for them, too.
I still do that.
About four years ago, I had begun to imagine what it might be like to truly live with only the things I needed, if not in another country altogether, then at least a different part of the U.S. My spouse and I had been married five years at the time and had a little boy entering kindergarten. We were proud homeowners, and it looked like we might be embarking on a type of stability news pundits called “impossible” for Millennials nowadays. How I could be so [insert word typically used to deride Millennials] as to reject the American dream—currently within my possession—and wax poetic about what else might be out there? I wrote actual poetry about this yearning, wondering what it might be like to have every inch of my life—every dollar I spent, every mile I drove, be full of purpose.
We bought a Prius.
Then, we bought a second Prius.
Still, of course, there was more purpose to be had (as there always is). I left what some might consider an enviable job in original films and TV series development to join my spouse in the non-profit sector, where I became so afflicted with a love for affordable housing that it made an evangelist of me.
Surely, two non-profit working Prius-drivers in a home is enough, right? Not for a radical. Nothing is ever enough for a radical. The yearning for Next persisted.
Our family had made room for another chair at the table, and now there were four. Both my parents and in-laws, living within 3 miles of us on either side of the city, hoped a second child would settle the restlessness, but the wonderful thing about parenthood is that mostly it just makes you even more yourself, just with fewer apologies. My spouse and I eyed other cities that could use us.
News had surfaced about the upward mobility crisis in Charlotte, and we knew progress would be glacial. Discussions of whether to dig in and work for change in our respective organizations loomed over our IKEA dinner table. Stay and #bethechange or go on an adventure? Honestly, we didn’t really get to choose. A new city, one that wasn’t previously on the list, called us.
Every spare hour filled with research as we explored the opportunity before us, but a few weeks later, Houston was under 50 inches of water. Our hearts broke for the city as we drove back from a long weekend at Hilton Head with our little baby and six-year old. Surely now the prospect was lost, right? My spouse’s now-boss called as Harvey was ravaging the city.
“Your interview will continue as planned,” she said.
Unbeknownst to us, this was the get-it-done nature of Houstonians.
We looked at each other, and no words passed between us. We knew we, too, would continue as planned.
And we did.
Shedding our lovely home, two-thirds of our possessions, and a third of our living space, we set out to do the thing. We have learned to inhabit every inch of our space with as much intent as we can find in this process, and it has been more liberating than I could have imagined. We gave away every. single. thing. we didn’t absolutely need.
The first day I woke up in our new home in Houston, I dreamed that my spouse and I were free now. Tired, breathless from unloading U-hauls and children with boxes still to unpack, a new job to start, and more complications ahead than I dared plan for, I did feel free. Belief had moved our muscle and bones 1,036.7 miles, and it was just the start of what it would do.
There were these two end tables I loved. They were retro, black glass with gold detail and wood paneling, and from the profile, they looked like anvils. They were asymmetrical, too. One was longer and higher than the other, and in my opinion, they were true works of art. My dad had kept them when we moved nearly 2,000 miles from Tucson to Charlotte when I was two years old. His company had moved every item of my family’s at no expense to us in the great IBM migration of the late 1980s. When I asked my dad to drop these off at an address two days before we left Charlotte for Houston, he looked at me a little heartbroken.
He had watched as I consistently, and ruthlessly in his mind, gave away everything he bought me over the years when I outgrew it or grew tired of it.
“Are you at least getting any money for them?”
But really, I wasn’t being ruthless this time.
Tucson had been on the cutting edge of information-handling technology in the 1970s thanks to IBM’s giant land purchase there in 1969. It would employ thousands in manufacturing this important tech, and it would be an employment staple for people without college degrees in the area. In 1980, when the site was officially dedicated, there would be fireworks over the plant. My dad worked in quality control as an inspector. Never having attended college but still being on the cutting edge of tech afforded him the opportunity to buy very cool end tables and a bunch of other stuff he still has.
In 1988, a year after I was born, International Business Machines Corp. would announce a restructuring impacting up to 4,000 employees, effectively closing down the plant it had dedicated eight years prior. It would mean my parents had a choice: take a relocation package and leave a town where tech jobs were drying up or stay planted in Tucson and figure it out surrounded by family. My parents chose the adventure.
My dad told me often how much he regretted leaving, never able to call Charlotte home. When I visited Tucson, I couldn’t fathom why he felt that way. It had some cool areas, but my cousins mentioned their struggle to find jobs and independence from their parents to me frequently. Also, there are hardly any Black people.
“So where am I taking these?” he asked again.
“To a friend of a friend. Here’s the address.”
He had given me the end tables because he wasn’t using them, and I loved them. But now I had to give away everything we didn’t absolutely need so what we did need could fit in truck that my spouse would drive 1,036.7 miles—alone—to Houston. I could have left them on the lawn of Kinard’s childhood home where we stayed for three weeks after our house sold, where I left a lot of things, but I didn’t. I found a special place for those tables because they meant a lot to my dad.
And he got to take them to their new owner, so it felt like a less cruel parting.
Radicals are often ruthless, it’s true. I am grateful for every time I haven’t been.