Minimalism isn’t a one size fits all label describing everyone who eschews the hedonic treadmill in favour of a more meaningful experience-based life. I go into it in more detail on our about page, but essentially we’re not all a bunch of urban hippies with less than 50 possessions to our name.
Some of us have more, some less.
However the overarching theme in all our lives is the same: less stuff, more doing. For us, experiences are what matter. That being said, our individual lives differ vastly. Some minimalists live out of a carry-on and travel the world, while others have a house and kids and live in the ‘burbs.
Which is why Sporty and I thought it would be really interesting to shine a spotlight on other minimalists to see what their lives look like. We can definitely learn from the experience and besides, who doesn’t love a little rubber-necking, right?!
We came up with a set of 10 questions that we plan on asking everyone we feature in this series, the last of which we believe to be the most important. So much so we initially considered vetoing anyone that doesn’t answer yes. (Who knows, maybe we still will.)
For our inaugural Spotlight On post we’re super excited to introduce you to Al and Shelly McCullough from Sell All Your Stuff. Their journey kicked off in 2014 when they bid adieu to their cubicles and buggered off to Panama. Originally from Toronto (my second favourite city in the world), the pair now spend their time house-sitting their way around Canada.
What Was Your Tipping Point?
What prompted you to say, “Screw it, let’s just sell everything!”
There wasn’t one specific event that triggered it. We wanted to ‘retire’ early. So we started getting our debt in order, including our costs. Our plan went from Freedom 50, to Freedom 45, to Freedom 40, to: “Screw it, let’s just go”.
Shelly was getting bored of her job and career in general, and I seemed to have an unlucky streak with I.T. jobs – downsized, restructured, company closed. I guess it was a sign to do something different.
How Do You Earn a Living Now?
Is it different than to your pre-minimalist days?
TOTALLY different! Actually, we don’t earn as much, but without bills to pay we can live on less. Living in Panama helped us get back to cash as well, because it’s a cash-based society. They have credit and debit, but the surcharges for us would have been insane so we stuck with cash.
Before our move we used to put things on a credit card, then payoff the monthly balance. GIVE ME THE POINTS BABY! Having been back in Canada where we don’t face the ‘international surcharge fees’ they tack on. It’s all too easy to fall back into that line of thinking. But as people who travel, we can use points to help fund travel. It’s definitely a catch 22.
But when we do put stuff on a credit card we NEVER carry a balance. So if you have a card, and you have a balance, your number one goal should be to eliminate that balance.
As for earning a living, we have a few clients with our social media management company, Shine Socially, and our Sell All Your Stuff series of eBooks help cover a few monthly expenses too. It’s not a lot, but every little bit helps.
How Much Stuff Do You Own?
How much of it do you travel with?
We live out of two medium-sized wheeled duffels. Oh, and we have two yoga mats on top of that now. We also have a few things ‘stored’ at relatives, mainly cold-weather clothing and Al’s tools. You don’t make much selling your tools. People want to nickel and dime you with pricing, so we kept them because we know Al will eventually need them again at some point and buying them all over again didn’t make much sense. As for the clothes, mostly just thicker/heavier jackets/sweaters and boots. They don’t travel well, even if you use vacuum bags, which we recommend for traveling.
Is There Anything You Regret Getting Rid Of?
Yeah, exercise bands while in Panama and Shelly’s Himalayan salt-lamp. We should have just given the salt-lamp to a family member. Shelly loved that lamp and took about a quarter of what she paid for it because she just wanted stuff gone. We felt bad, it was one of those lamps that has good energy and made one of our rooms super tranquil. As for the exercise bands, we just got carried away with traveling light. They weren’t in the best shape though, so not a total loss.
Actually, as we write this we’re talking ourselves out of thinking they were that important! We’ve since discovered we need to get to a gym instead of trying to work out at home. We used to own everything for working out: squat rack, bench, dumbbells, bands, SB balls, elliptical, bike, numerous videos, etc. But we didn’t work out of the house back then, so we would wake up, workout, go to work.
Now, we’re too easily distracted if we don’t set aside time to get out and hit the gym, or for Shelly, the yoga studio. We’ve been able to take advantage of things too, like free trial passes for weekly and monthly specials. Al just joined the YMCA for our most recent house sit here in BC. They had a special on for $20 and it’s good at two facilities. That’s a good deal and when it comes to your health you need to spend money sometimes.
What Are You happiest About No Longer Owning?
TV. Holy crap what a time-waster. Before selling it we had the cable package with everything but the movie channels. It cost $65/month, which is peanuts compared to some people’s bill. We realized we didn’t need all these channels, as we spent more time on YouTube watching cat videos (among other things you somehow end up watching on YouTube).
We called our cable company and downgraded to ‘basic’ cable. No specialty channels at all. It was under $30/month. Then a few months later we got a notification saying rates were going up to ‘upgrade network infrastructure’. We were livid. We called and said “cancel our cable”. They offered us all the same packages we used to have for the same price as basic cable. They didn’t want to lose a customer, but it was too late. We were done with TV.
How Do You Handle Gift-Giving?
For each other as well as for friends, family, etc.?
We don’t buy each other gifts, or if we do it’s a practical gift. Actually, we’ve always bought practical gifts. We remember receiving things from other people that weren’t practical and we’d have that sinking feeling of disgust: “Why? Why did you get us this? What a waste!” We got so tired of this type of thing we just said to family: “No more gifts.”
If we do want to celebrate an occasion, we’ll spend money on an experience. Actually, that’s how we’ve always done things between us. Our birthdays are three weeks apart and our anniversary is two weeks after Al’s birthday. So we often just say: “Let’s do something fun” and bundle our ‘gift’ as one enjoyable experience. We’re both okay spending money on experiences. You’ll remember an experience more than a trinket.
What’s Your Debt Story?
Do you have? Did you ever have? How did you deal with it?
Oh yeah, an overwhelming majority of North Americans fall into the ‘stuff’ trap. Our struggle came when we bought a house. We had a few renovations to do, and then we had to buy stuff for the house because it would have looked empty otherwise. Next thing you know we had a few credit cards with several thousand dollars on each of them. We both caught it at the same time and said: “This needs to stop.”
We took advantage of balance transfers on one card, where you didn’t pay interest for X months. Then when that was up we balance transferred to another card offering a similar deal. It was two years of juggling debt, but we got out of it in time for Al to lose his first job. And that’s the thing – you never know when something like that is going to happen, so not having debt will help you keep your head above water in dire times.
Sporty and I Eat a Plant-Based (Vegan) Diet
Is this something you could see yourself doing? Tell us about the kind of food you enjoy.
Shelly was vegan for a while, about six months I think. Al’s never been able to go the full way. Not gonna lie, we both enjoy a good steak or lamb once in a while, but we could probably count on one hand how many times a year we indulge on red meat. It’s expensive to eat meat. Living in Panama we would buy a whole chicken and roast it. Then we’d boil the carcass like grandma used to do get some extra meat and Shelly would make soup from the stock.
When we got back to Canada we were outraged at the cost of chicken – double the price of Panama and the USA. So we don’t eat it as much. Same with dairy. Shelly saw a Naturopath several years ago, did a cleanse and went vegan. We cut out dairy and were surprised at how much money we saved. Yogurt, milk, cheese – that’s expensive stuff.
Al would totally try vegan or at least vegetarian, he’s just not very creative in the kitchen so things would have to be pre-made or meals pre-arranged or have instructions on how to make something and when to eat it. So…basically he’d need a meal plan! For him, that’s part of the struggle. We grow up eating things like pork chops, BBQ, burgers – things that are so easy to prepare, like boxed meals. It’s steering away from that mindset and actually making food again; moreover, finding alternatives to what we’re used to.
What does the Term ‘Carbon Footprint’ Mean to You?
Well, to us it’s how much of an impact are you having on the environment. Before we sold our stuff and moved to Panama we recycled EVERYTHING! We had a green-bin food waste program. You could throw almost everything in that green bin. Bones, paper towels, dog poop. The green-bin waste is turned into fertilizer and resold so it helps pay for the program…at least that’s what they tell us.
Living in Panama was horrible in that regard. Very little is recycled. This definitely had an effect on us when we returned to Canada too. We forget how much was recycled there and caught ourselves tossing things into the garbage that should have been recycled.
We also rode our bikes to work in the spring/summer/fall. The issue with Canada and the USA is that things are so spread out you need a car to get many other places. Public transit doesn’t work in a lot of the smaller cities because of that. And then there’s the cost of transit too. It costs less to drive downtown Toronto and park then it would to take transit from the suburbs. That’s just wrong.
Do You Like Peanut Butter?
Of course! We only like to eat the natural stuff though – no sugar or salt – basically just ground peanuts. Shelly and I were just saying the other night that it’s sad kids can no longer enjoy PB sandwiches at school because of all the other kids with allergies. Never was like that when we were growing up.
Some Pics of the Traveling Housesitters
Al at Lake Louise in Alberta. It was around here that Ang saw her first (and only) moose and very nearly soiled her britches.
Al and Shelly are on their way to BC, where their next housesitting jobs awaits.
From the look of the grins on their faces, Saskatchewan seems pretty nice (though no doubt there will be moose lurking there too).
Shelly and Al looking super delighted with their new life. Makes us want to sell everything and move to Canada (and we totally would if it weren’t for the aforementioned moose).