You know what they say about near-death experiences, and how they make you rethink the meaning of life? Well, as much as I try to avoid all kinds of customary cliches, this one certainly has a point. Ok, you might keep some of the core values you always had, such as caring for your loved ones, having ambitious career goals, your passion for traveling, your football team, etc. But rest assured that at least one thing (no matter how impactful it’ll be) in your life will change. In my case, almost dying during a sudden apartment fire, made me change in one part of my life: my perception of my individual consumer habits.
Let me give a step back. As you grow up in modern society, you tend to be constantly impacted by commercial advertisements, from the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep. Television ads, street outdoors, social media influencers, elevator displays, youtube videos, walking handout distributors – and the list goes on. A 2017 Forbes Article by Jon Simpson mentions that experts estimate that an average American is impacted by somewhere around 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. Let’s use a rough assumption of a 1% relevance in those ads, meaning, out of what you’ve been impacted, 40 to 100 ads will get your attention. On another step-down, let’s assume that 1% of those might generate buying will. That means that, on average, you’ll feel the need to buy from 4-10 “things” daily. That’s roughly around 1,200 to 3,650 things you feel the need to buy every year, due to those ads.
Of course, those would be random guesses based on an average American segmentation – and people don’t actually recall seeing thousands of ads daily. The point is, buying stimulus is a fact, and if we’re not mindful of this reality, that basically means that our brain’s living on a constant attempt to be triggered and executing our buying behavior. And I wasn’t (or still “am not”, who knows) very different.
Being a 90s kid, on my way to graduating from a relevant Brazilian university and having my first salary in 2009, I was led to believe that buying new things was, by far, the biggest pleasure of adult life. Who never dreamed of being able to buy that new cellphone or outfit, or paying for that concert, going to that one party, posting a photo in that one restaurant? Oh, the good’ol American dream! Prosperity! To this day, I vividly remember my first purchase on the very next day of getting my first salary. A 2009 AC/DC concert ticket. My monthly USD 50 graduate research scholarship was just enough for it.
By 2018, I’d developed to be one of those people whose familiarity with store attendants was highly connected to my desperate need for increasing wardrobe room (literally leading a single 25 years old person to move into a 2 bedroom apartment and a garage storage room). Countless pieces of clothing due to those weekly buying routines, 5 brand new surfboards for a twice a week surfing routine, 4 jiu-jitsu gis for a white belt 1-year jiu-jitsu learner. And the list goes on, fully furnished 2 bedrooms apartment, even though I was 20% of my time at home, a car with a 90% idle time rate, 4 different suitcases, video games, lots of dishes, 2 skateboards (detail: I can’t even kick a single ollie), etc etc etc.
By mid-2019, I had a huge move in my life which led me to move from southern Brazil to Santiago, Chile. The details of it aren’t relevant to the conclusion, but to sum up, whatever had been possible to be transported between those countries, I, a good’ol “stuff owner”, did take it with me. And, of course, within a couple of weeks in Chile, I’d been able to cover my “having” needs with brand new Chilean products (because, why not?).
That’s when life decided to teach me a lesson. Life, that one best friend that we sometimes take for granted.
It was an early November 15th morning in Santiago, Chile. I used to sleep with earplugs and eye patches due to the amount of noise around Bellavista’s bohemian streets. On a late spring, chilly morning, I felt the intense heat coming to my bedroom. Although the destruction noise was there, I couldn’t hear it at the time, due to the silicon earplugs. Suddenly, the noise started being unbearable. Eyes opened and little did I know, but those very first seconds after opening my eyes would turn out to be an unforgettable photograph in my memories. My reflexes were accurate enough to orient me to pick up a pair of shorts (nobody wants to go downstairs naked), my cellphone above the side table, and, for some reason, my work backpack which for a very specific reason (the day before I had been to the bank), had my passport in it. A couple of seconds later, and my bed would be burnt to the ground.
In a matter of minutes, a lifetime of purchases and acquisitions had become smoke, with literally no possible recoverable objects. I would be a foreigner, with extinction more than a passport and the clothe in my body. Or so I thought.
You know what they say about near-death experiences? Well, one thing I can say for sure is, they are not pleasant. Any outcomes from that moment will vary a lot, depending on the context and surrounding circumstances. In my case, it showed me that life is MUCH more valuable than any physical object. It wasn’t exactly objects that were burnt that day. Those you can always get money and buy new ones (although I would highly advise not to). It was a piece of my life. It was the time I’ve invested in hard work, to buying things I don’t really need (but at some point I’d thought I did), the time I could’ve spent with my family, friends, doing anything pleasant, but in the end, I’ve spent it working, to buy more stuff. And that time, I’ll never recover.
I don’t really think of it that way, though. The way I see it is, similarly to someone dedicating their time to studying a new subject, that was the time I needed to invest in my life to learn a new lesson. I truly believe that our good old friend “Life” plays with us, and it is up to each one of us, to fish those lessons in the air. Somehow, and for some reason, life taught me about Minimalism, and that’s when, in a very natural, organic, and actually very pleasant way, I’ve embraced my journey into this beautiful concept.
The way people tend to think a minimalist’s life is, in general, is based on a very simplistic understanding that living in a cave, hunting for a living, and walking naked around the jungle are core values of this “lifestyle”. Although it’s not the focus of this post to deep dive into its concept, this definition couldn’t be more wrong.
I like to approach the definition of “minimalism” by simply defining it as a Path to Individual Freedom. Ok, that is quite generic and not very self-explaining. But that’s the beauty of it: being the decision-maker (the real one) of your buying and living needs, finding your way into discovering your personal missions, rid ourselves from excesses, focus on real EXPERIENCES – those are macro values on my (very) personal understanding of it.
To fast things forward to the day I’m writing this post, I could definitely say that I would never change a single thing on my morning of November 15th/2019. That simple mindset development led me to live a life with less than 70 objects under my property (15 of those being socks and underwear), all of which fit in a 40L travel backpack and a 24L belly carrying a regular backpack, which I’ve carried to over 6 countries since then, and are now living with me in Manila, Philippines, where I work as a Director of Operations to a multinational german tech company (and Yes, black t-shirts and a regular pair of jeans are my daily outfit).
It’s funny how things happen the way they do, but who am I to question life’s teaching methodologies. Obviously, this is a very particular experience, with an also particular life context. Embracing life events, and using its learnings to driving outcomes that could positively impact your life, your personal freedom, your anxiety, your surroundings, and nature/ society as a whole (well, we gotta dream high, no?) – that’s a costless opportunity that comes from the most unexpected events in our days.
So… What did you learn from your events from today?