"Touring must be so exciting! I wish I could just drop everything and travel the country." I can't count the number of times I've heard this (or a similar sentiment) from folks we've met on the road. I smile appreciatively and mutter something about how they should, how it's not too late—they just have to create a game plan. Because no, you can't simply decide one day to drop everything and run (unless "bankruptcy" is part of your fantasy).
"Oh hun, I could never do that! I have a job, a mortgage, I'm married..." they laugh, giving me a friendly slap on the shoulder. I shrug and insist otherwise—while most wouldn't want to mimic our lifestyle, they could still make a small-scaled road trip. Or learn to play the guitar.
It can't be, "I want to be a singer and make a killer record and have nice clothes and eat out at all the cool new restaurants and have a bangin' social life and own a house and have a big family and decorate my living room!" Because the reality is, most of us simply cannot have it all. What we do have are choices. You have to take a good hard look at your list, figure out what you can't live without, and cross off the rest. To gain, you must give something up.
Two and a half years ago, Chloe and I made a choice to attempt a music career full-time. I left university and she took a gap year, which turned into gap years, and now she jokes that it's more of a "gap life". Not having a "plan b" forced us to get creative. We paired down and got rid of much of our belongings and moved into a modest two-bedroom apartment with our mom (who left the stability of her full-time job to work alongside us, handling our booking and business emails—THANK YOU MOM ♥), on the east side where rent was dirt cheap. Making money as unknown independent artists is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. We needed to minimize our overhead as much as possible. As writer and minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn put it, "No matter how much you earn, the equation doesn't work if your expenses exceed your income."
I can still recall the dizzying odor of cigarette smoke lingering like a thick fog as I trudged up the hallway to our new digs, shirt tugged irritably over my nose. I remember opening our door for the first time and realizing, with horror, that what appeared to be raisins speckled all over the carpet were actually DEAD FLIES. "I don't know about this..." I told Chloe, uneasily. We vacuumed up the flies, and two and a half years later, we're still living in the place. For what it's worth, I've actually grown a sort of fondness for the cheap, dingy beige-walled space.
Our life is not glamorous. Far from it. Which is why I was elated when photographer Shawn Robinson emailed us about setting up a session, relaying how he liked to "shoot in environments that are relative or important to the subject". I was eager to showcase a different side of what we do—a glimpse into the ordinary, if not very un-extraordinary reality that is our lives. We live on a bare-bones budget, spending mostly on what we need, and rarely on what we want. The fact is, we simply don't make enough income to have extra to spend. And if we do, we put it back into our business. We tour heavily (three quarters of our year is spent on the road) playing house concerts across the country (crashing with our gracious friends and concert hosts to avoid hotel expenses) driving in our tiny Hyundai Accent squished between pillows, guitars, boxes of CDs and T-shirts, air mattresses and a suitcase. Whoever's driving is the DJ (or designated selector of podcasts), whoever's riding shotgun gets to sleep and hold the plastic grocery bag filled with apples, a giant jar of peanut butter and granola. And on good days (according to Chloe) we split burrito bowls at Chipotle. When we do return to Nashville, we come home to the simple living quarters Shawn captured so well: bare, lifeless walls, music gear piled in a corner, mismatched pillows slumped lazily on the powder blue blanket we've been using ever since our cat had his revenge upon our bed when we left him for too long on tour. The cheery twinkle lights Chloe laced in our window shades pierce the insipid room with their warm glow—the soft, subdued light at which we prefer to sing, practice, write and dream. This is where the magic happens: in an unseen realm which holds no regard for external beauty or an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.
When you spend most of your time on the road away from home—living out of a suitcase—minimalism kind of finds you. At least, it found us. On our first tour, we lugged a ginormous hanging bag full of clothes with the notion that we couldn't go three months without "options", and soon learned to dread the tedious task of loading and unloading the car. We also realized that, despite all those options, we only really wore about five of the outfits.
Why did we only wear five outfits? Because before minimalism, our closet was jam-packed with clothes we'd bought on a whim, never worn, and thus, felt too guilty to get rid of. Before minimalism, it hadn't really dawned on us that 75% of the "stuff" we'd accumulated over the years went unused.
After living a year in a dumpy little apartment and spending those months on the road, we surprised ourselves with what little we could live on—how little we needed.
When we got off tour, we attacked our apartment with a vengeance, swarming our closets like a hungry pack of buzzards. Clothes were shoved into garbage bags to be consigned, along with books, CDs and TRINKETS—good grief, the number of useless, clutter-y TRINKETS. Graded papers from school that hadn't surfaced in years got tossed into a massive recycling pile. As far as we were concerned, the real treasures—memories—were stored safely in our heads. If we came across memorabilia that was especially entertaining, we'd simply snap a photo on our iPhone in the event that we might want to "show it to our kids" someday. This isn't to say that we've gotten rid of all our sentimental stuff, but most of it was excess. We took the time to sort out what was truly important to us, and in the process, gained a whole new perspective on consumerism and the value we place in material "stuff".
From that day forward, we've thought long and hard about our purchases. Even if it is as trivial as buying a new cardigan. Do I LOVE this? Will I wear this a lot? Does it make me feel fabulous? And most importantly: in a year from now, will this be something I'm likely to toss in the consignment pile?
It's funny: we spend the first half of our lives collecting stuff, and the second half of our lives trying to get rid of it. "Stuff" doesn't really make us happy in a soul-fulfilling way, and is rarely (if ever) satisfying long term. But it's extremely difficult to come to terms with this, as we are constantly bombarded by ads on TV, billboards, Netflix and Instagram, dangling shiny promises in front of our eyes, projecting the potential of a better, happier and more beautiful life. So we give in and buy stuff, trying to fill this empty hole inside of ourselves, and when we tire of that stuff, we turn around and buy new stuff—and the cycle continues.
By minimizing, we spend less money and are surrounded by less stuff, but more of what we actually love. Less stuff = less mess = less time spent cleaning = reduced stress levels. "Less purchases equals less need for income," as The Minimalists say. Traveling is a heck of a lot easier, and if/when it comes time to move, we'll have a much lighter load. Those of you who have read our bio know that we are Earthship enthusiasts, and big fans of the tiny-house movement. Minimalism is also about utilizing space and gaging how much of it you actually need, instead of spending endless years paying off a house that was too big in the first place. Now, if a big house truly makes you happy, go right ahead. We're not here to judge. It's simply a costly mistake to realize in hindsight if it turns out you can't afford it.
Minimalism isn't "one size fits all". While I wouldn't consider myself an extreme minimalist, even my level of minimalism isn't for everybody. But adopting certain practices can change your circumstances (who likes debt? NO ONE), allow you to spend more time doing what you love and realign what you value in life.
As a disclaimer, minimalism is just one component that allows us to pursue our passion without needing to have a part-time "day" job. Minimalism is not the only ingredient. Other vital ingredients include: hard work, dedication, perseverance, cultivating our skills and abilities, smart business practices, the list goes on. We do not want to minimize (no pun intended) the fact that our lifestyle as independent, relatively unknown musicians is not easy, and while we are able to pursue music full time, we still live with financial uncertainty. What works for us may not work for you, and vice versa. No two paths are the same. We are merely sharing this in hopes that you find something of value. :)
If you are interested in learning more about the minimalist movement, I would recommend checking out The Minimalists as a good starting point. They've got a great post on Minimalist Gift Giving to help you navigate the current holiday shopping frenzy. Their tweets are on point, so if you hang out in Twitter-verse, definitely give them a follow.