Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Revolution of Dematerialization | Giving Up [almost] Everything to Uncover Everything

I sent this email to my husband the other day:

I would like to start today. Let’s de-materialize. Let’s chronicle it. Let’s jump before we see what is there to catch us and trust. Let’s do it together.
I love you.

The link is to an article in HuffPost Parents about a couple that went from suburban living with three kids, a mortgage and good job and still struggling to a farmstead in rural Colorado.  This is one of so many ‘reorganizing’ stories that inspire.  I had been having that itch for quite a while and this (and our recent great health news) was a sign.  Of course, maybe the jump part will be a little better planned.

How did we get here?

The short story: We have been somewhat struggling financially with medical bills and random medical expenses for years.  It was just a seemingly ‘normal struggle’.  I had put myself through college, so there were still some loans.  We seemed happy and weren’t different than those around us so it seemed okay.  We were actually out of debt completely (except our mortgage and some small student loans lingering) by early 2010 and starting to save. Two months later, we were smacked between the eyes. 

The big shift in our lives happened in 2010 when my husband was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer at age 39. Not only that, I was told I had at least 6 masses on my thyroid and a biopsy showed a 30% chance that it was also thyroid cancer (though a different type than my husband).  Our two daughters were ages 5 and 3. 

We both had surgery 12 days apart and my husband was unable to work for months.  Fortunately, my surgery went well and masses were all benign.  I did have a few weeks of recovery and didn’t have a voice for over six weeks.  {Kind of ironic, as this has been an issue for me metaphorically for years.}

However, my husband’s surgery was much more intense. His recovery was difficult and new issues developed as a result.  Radiation ‘therapy’ also took a toll.  After months of physical therapy, he could function again.

Though during this time, we were living on 5/9ths of our annual salary with little savings.  We also were insured by a high deductible health savings account plan which meant we were spending tens of thousands in medical bills. 

Before all of this, we were moving along, like so many do.  Two kids, two cars, a mortgage.  We have always had an eye on what’s really important but also got sucked in by the allure of a ‘happy life’ in a great neighborhood for our children’s sakes (or so we told ourselves, we love it here too). 

So, after working for myself and starting new businesses most of my adult life, I got a job to have a traditional career and help cover health insurance because being self-employed and having cancer does not go together.  Insurance companies reject you (and they did).  My husband had the surgery to get rid of the cancer, he had the radiation, he was going to be okay.  

We were going to be okay.  

For three years we played that game.  I went to work every morning, often before anyone else was even awake.  Our children went to school and my husband went to work each afternoon/evening teaching music.  We made enough money to live in this life we had created.  We took a couple of vacations and made some good memories.  I started an expensive graduate school to fit in with my new life and work. 

I was miserable.  I was stressed and didn’t enjoy spending time with my children or anyone, really.  I did not like giving the most and best hours of my day to fight someone else’s battle of bureaucracy.

I wanted to work for myself again, serve people with intention, and truly make a difference.  I wanted to do something that I was proud of, that my children could be a part of and that would make me better. 

I was ready to give it a try when we found out about the recurrence two and a half years after the original diagnosis. 

Finding an alternative to the conventional answer of ‘surgery – rehabilitation – radiation – watch – repeat’ was a priority.  And after months of research, we did!  We were empowered.  Even with insurance, we had to travel, we were spending more to accomplish this and we were getting more in debt.  We were happy and not happy at the same time.

So, after another year and another check up, I left my job.  I started a new business teaching arts and enrichment to children.  I started writing again.  I started living and parenting intentionally again.  Happiness and faith were being restored.  This has lead to many fun and re-centering successful experiments like The Gratitude Project and The New Habits Project.

We have been happy in every way, except financially.  Without financial happiness, stress and worry start to creep in.  We are looking at the horizon with financial stress and it’s not what we want.  

The Revolution Begins!

SO, we are starting with the ‘stuff’.  We have lived in our house for nine years.  This is the longest I have ever lived in one place in my life.  We are surrounded by ‘stuff’ that has accumulated through years of distraction and keeping up.  Of course, we want to lead by example when it comes to your children.  We want our work in other areas to parent toward happy to be evident here too.  It’s time to start our change! 

This week, we will begin reducing our ‘stuff’ by 50%.  We are calling it The Revolution of Dematerialization!  I will be talking about how we are doing it as we go along.

My husband and I are elated to move this forward!  (The kids are not as convinced but they are getting there.)  I have already started with my smartphone and cleared up about 50% of space by deleting old emails, texts and apps that I haven’t used in the last two months.  It’s addictive. 

This is what really matters
It is time to clear out the unwanted stuff.  To open space in our lives for service projects and raising awareness for causes we are passionate about.  It is time for slow days and exploring and wandering and learning together.  It is time to create our own freedom. 
It is time!

I am starting with closets. 


  1. First of all, I'm crying. What a struggle you've been through. Second, I'm inspired! I can't wait to follow you on this journey of dematerialization. We moved every 2-3 years when I was a kid and in the early years of my marriage. We've been in this house for 9 years and 4 months - the longest I've lived anywhere - and I've been experiencing those same thoughts about simplifying and streamlining our lives. There's such a hunger for more, more, more in our culture and really, in my heart of hearts, I want less. You express it so beautifully in the caption of your family photo - "this is all that really matters."

    1. Tarissa,
      You have a way of making me feel wonderful. Thank you for the sweet note and understanding about the 'stuff' problem. We can do this together!

  2. Wow, what an incredible journey you've been through Chris! Thank you for sharing, your strength and your family's strength really comes through. That you are still positive and still pursuing your purpose says so much!

    Your post hit me really hard... we have waaaay too much stuff -- a fact I am reminded of whenever we move, which is every two years. This year I came up with the goal of getting down to about 6,000 pounds of non-furniture items (if you're wondering how I know how much everything weighs, its because we get a weight allowance when we move so it's all measured for us. I am NOT putting everything on a scale, LOL!)

    That means getting rid of a TON of stuff, including a LOT of toys. Have you read this post from Living Well, Spending Less? http://www.livingwellspendingless.com/2013/09/13/why-i-took-my-kids-toys-away-one-year-later/

    It's one of my inspirations right now on the Getting-Rid-of-Toys battlefront. Then I'll have to turn to MY stuff, ack!

    Thanks for the inspiration! I am looking forward to reading about how it goes for you!


    1. Ha Kristin! I would have NO idea how much our stuff weighs but I can promise you, it's too much. I look forward to reading the post you shared here. For me, dematerializing means freedom. It is also practicing what I preach for my children. "Things don't make you happy." is a common adage around here. Time to *show* them this.

      I share our story as therapy for myself and to hopefully help others. Getting started has been harder than I expected but liberating already.

      Thank you for the kind words. It really means a lot. Best to you in your mission too!

  3. This was very encouraging for me. Glory to god for using your insight to speak to me, and now for me to hopefully be used for the glory of god in the work of others. Wake up America! I’m excited for what god is doing in my life lately! Check it out if you want lovebravely.blogspot.com