How COVID-19 reshaped this lifelong minimalist’s views of his city, home and life

Last Updated: Thursday 14 September 2023
Boy with book laughing by Ben White on Unsplash

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Every now and then, we feature the journey of one of our readers. And today it’s Verne’s turn.

Verne and I first connected after he checked out our list of Life-Changing Podcasts for Aspiring Minimalists. Though we’ve covered other topics since too… the latest being financial literacy in young people and teaching people about financial independence – which, it turns out, is close to both our hearts.


Verne the minimalist

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Anyhow, Verne’s journey is a very different one to most and worth sharing with the rest of you. Thank you, Verne for agreeing to this interview.

MJ: Before we jump into more specific questions… please tell us a bit about yourself

Verne: Hi, my name is Verne. I was born in the USA in the 1960s and grew up in New Jersey. I now live in Barcelona with my family and our cat Jack (a stray cat that adopted us).

Jack the cat

Jack, the family cat, dressed up for a special occasion.

MJ: And you speak a few languages too, don’t you?

Verne: Yes. Living in Barcelona, the capital of the region of Catalonia in Spain, I speak Spanish and Catalan. And for the past 4 years, I’ve been using my commute to and from work to study Portuguese.

MJ: What brought you to our website and why were/are you interested in it?

Verne: Finding your website was fortuitous. I was looking to learn about minimalism. And as an old-school marketing professional, I also wanted to deepen my understanding of why consumerist behaviour (ism) exists (in the first place).

I am really struggling with the ideas of minimalism, intentional buying and living, simple living and others. How can a purchase not be intentional? Even my son is baffled that someone would buy something with no (worthwhile) reason to buy it.

Purpose by Wokandapix on Pixabay

Verne struggles with minimalism: How can something not be intentional? | Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay

You are located on the other side of the world (to me), but I continue to find interesting topics, and I keep thinking: These are nice people with whom I can exchange my thoughts.

MJ: What does minimalism mean to you?

Verne: Well, as you mentioned in your intro, my story might be a bit different than other people’s. I discovered that I’ve always been a minimalist – without knowing it.

To me, minimalism is a commonsense way of living that was (probably) common practice before the age of consumerism. It was the way I was brought up and the way most people I grew up with lived in my town.

When my ancestors, who are Northern European, migrated, they took their beliefs with them and passed them down to the next generation. My parents saw education as a means to achieve greater prosperity and become financially independent rather than to keep up with the Joneses. My mother, who was raised in the mountains until she was nine, taught me to save and avoid debt. She would set up rainy day/emergency envelopes in case an appliance broke.

As a child, I had a captain’s bed, a desk with a chair, a mirror and a closet in my bedroom. And I remember one poster on the wall. My room had a window. I could see the lake and hear the wind. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outdoors. Nature had its cycles to watch, birds visited the feeder, sports had seasons…

Home from the back

Growing up by a lake in New Jersey, Verne spent a lot of time outdoors as a child

I would help with the chores, and when I was 14, I began taking care of all the outdoor chores as well as learning from my mother all the homemaking skills (sewing, cooking, etc.).

My friends growing up were like me. We shared things… bikes, baseball gloves. No one ever felt poor. Rather we all felt fortunate, and we always had a good time when we were together.

Neighborhood youth group on an excursion 1973

Verne and his friends enjoyed adventures together, and shared toys - no one felt poor

I first came to Spain to study in 1983 and returned for an MBA two years later – with only a suitcase. I had cleaned out my home in the States (it took me a day), giving away most things to friends or selling them. I did have a box of keepsakes though, which I brought to Spain later.

I have never had a six-figure salary, but I live a comfortable life.

Verne: With that in mind, can I ask you a question in return?

MJ: Sure. Fire away.

There is no one right way to adopt minimalism – everyone is different. By sharing our own and our readers’ stories, we hope to inspire others to take the jump and create the life they really want. If you’re happy to share your journey to and with minimalism, please get in touch. And don’t worry: we’ll help you tell your story.

Verne: Why do you think people buy things they are not going to use often enough to make worthy purchases?

MJ: That’s a very good question, Verne. And I often wonder these days, how WE ever bought stuff we didn’t really need or use often (enough).

There are two explanations I can think of straight away:

Firstly, there is the keeping up with the Joneses mentality. In the past, we’d do what others did without questioning it. Paul for example bought a car even though he lived in inner-city Sydney with good public transport – just because that’s what his peers did (and maybe because he wanted to impress the ladies a bit too ;-).

I think another reason is lifestyle creep. When we lead busier lives and earn well, we tend to be less conscious about the purchasing decisions we make. For example, I’d see a book that sounded like an interesting read or was about a topic I wanted to learn more about. Did I make the time to read it? Nope. Over time, I’d accumulated two shelves full of books, and only about two-thirds of them, I had actually read.

Other reasons that come to mind are: just to fill the space (furniture, home décor) and clever advertising. Such as buying the food processor the commercial showed can do all sorts of things, but you really only use it for one – for which you could have gotten the less fancy/cheaper version (or just used your hands and some simple tools to achieve the same outcome).

Shop window with Sale signs by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

When we lead busy lives and earn well, we are less conscious about what we buy | Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

Have you ever wondered whether minimalism could improve your life? We believe it can, and we share our views on how to go about it.

There are probably other reasons why, but these come to mind immediately. All boil down to not being conscious/present in our lives.

We used to live our lives on autopilot. These days, with (almost) any purchase, we ask ourselves: Is purchasing this really necessary? And if it is: Do we need to buy it new (or would second-hand do just as good a job)?

Nowadays, we make conscious decisions based on our values. We research before we buy to ensure it meets our needs and was made ethically and sustainably.

Having restrictions like our carry-on luggage (space) and our budget (financial) is also very useful.

paul and sandra with carry on in sydney 2016

Paul and Sandra setting off on our minimalist journey with our carry-on-only luggage in 2016.

MJ: Speaking of personal values… Can you tell us what your core values and beliefs are?

Verne: Wellness, caring, growth, resourcefulness, simplicity, balance, family, and environmental awareness are most important to me. As is making a difference by way of service contributions.

MJ: How do you experience them in your life, and how have they changed over the years (if at all)?

Verne: I am more aware of my values when I make decisions now than say ten years ago. My values have evolved over time, and I am sure they will continue to evolve as I move through the next chapters of my life.

Right now, my values and beliefs help me to unselfishly use my skills and experience to help others in a way that allows me to continue to grow myself.

Einstein statue in window by William Felipe on Unsplash

By being of service to others, Verne learns more about the world and himself | Photo by William Felipe on Unsplash

MJ: How has COVID-19 impacted your values and your life, and what changes have you made because of it?

Verne: During COVID-19, we were confined to our home and our neighbourhood. And this confinement has impacted me twofold:

Firstly, I have always decluttered my things as time has gone by but being in our (149 square meters) apartment a lot more than normal, I realised I was surrounded by more stuff than I had thought. I felt the urge to go a step further, and I’m in the process of uncluttering our home and myself.

The reason I started to tidy up is that I felt overwhelmed by the stuff around me. I prefer seeing countertops, and I enjoy space. Space gives me a feeling of comfort and relaxation.

I also cleaned out and organized our study which no one had wanted to use. It ended up feeling light and comfortable and just a nice place to work in. Then suddenly, the rest of my family wanted to use it too. Even our cat liked to come and look out the window.

I ended up working in the living room at a desk that we have there. Drawer by drawer I did the same thing, and I have made a new home for myself. Actually, little by little, with the permission of my family, I am uncluttering our living room.

Home office by Denys Striyeshyn on Unsplash

Verne used COVID lockdowns to create calm and inviting spaces for his family | Photo by Denys Striyeshyn on Unsplash

Are decluttering and minimalism the same thing? Do you have to restrict your possessions to call yourself a minimalist? Here are some answers.

Secondly, I discovered the innumerous beautiful things I can experience close to home: activities with my family and neighbours – parks, walks and hikes, civic centres, art shows, cultural activities, and neighbourhood organisations. All these amazing events with interesting people that I can walk to cost nothing or very little often.

I discovered a place rich in history and architecture I knew existed, but I had never really stopped to appreciate it.

In October, for example, I volunteered in an event called 48h Open House Barcelona, a free two-day event that promotes the city’s unique architectural heritage (including access to buildings that are not usually accessible to the general public). I worked at Pavellons Güell on day 1 and Casa Grases on day 2. Both are in our neighbourhood.

Palau Güell Interior by Manuel Torres Garcia on Unsplash

During COVID, Verne (re)discovered the beauty of his city and neighborhood | Photo by Manuel Torres Garcia on Unsplash

MJ: What did you do with the things you decluttered during COVID-19?

Verne: Videos, cables, children’s books, etc. have gone to the small recycling centre in our neighbourhood, a public school or families with younger children. The recycling centre not only collects clothes and toys for charities. Taking things there even earns me a discount on our water delivery tax.

Box of childrens books by Jacqueline Macou on Pixabay

Verne's family donated childrens books to a school and other families | Photo by Jacqueline Macou on Pixabay

MJ: And how have the changes you’ve made influenced those around you?

Verne: I think they value their health much more. They also find and value the small things every day and feel grateful for them.

I’ve always preferred experiences and doing things rather than having things. Last summer, all of us began to feel that experiences are nicer than things. We had a great summer, hiking and eating together. Despite COVID.

We have become closer as a family and find greater contentment and entertainment when we are together. We laugh more.

MJ: What’s next for you?

Verne: I’m looking forward to continuing my journey, learning about other perspectives, and helping people.

Thank you, Verne for sharing your story. All the best to you and your family.

What resonates most when you read Verne’s story?

What’s holding you back from creating the life you really want?

How COVID-19 reshaped this lifelong minimalist’s views of his city, home and life


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