Our Big Downsize: How My TBI Pushed Me to Change My Life

Our journey to minimalism started with a crash.

I was in a serious, motor scooter accident in October of 2015. I wish I could tell you what exactly happened, but I have no recollection of the actual accident, only waking up on the pavement and blurs of the emergency room.

I was wearing a helmet, but I still sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The first hospital had to send me by ambulance to a bigger hospital with a neurosurgeon on staff because if the bleed in my brain didn’t subside, they were going to have to drill into my skull to relieve the pressure.

Thankfully, the bleed absorbed on its own.

I managed to walk away with minimal, lasting damage.

I had a stutter for about a month, blinding migraines, difficulty with sounds and bright lights, inability to watch TV for months, problems with short term memory and amnesia, and that doesn’t include all of the other physical injuries that I sustained.

Now, I still have migraines, but they are thankfully not as frequent, and I do still have difficulty with my working memory. I need to take more “brain breaks” throughout the day, so that I don’t become fatigued, but I consider myself incredibly lucky.

In the midst of my healing process, I had an epiphany. I suddenly became very aware that I had created a life that was wasting my time, draining me, and didn’t align with the things that I cared about.

Perhaps one of my biggest realizations was that we were living a life that was in no way reflective of our care for the environment.

We lived in a house that was much too big for us, constantly watering and mowing an expansive yard, driving a giant, gas-guzzling, Cadillac Escalade that I couldn’t park well, and I was basically being choked alive by the amass of useless stuff we had accumulated that I would squeeze into every crevice of storage space we had. I gave zero thought into what I was buying or the environmental or human costs of where it came from and how it was made.

I was buying things that I hated to fill a house that personified a lifestyle that I loathed.

After my accident, it became apparent to me just how much time I was wasting cleaning rooms we were never in and maintaining a lawn that we only used a quarter of. I realized that my life and my time are my most valuable commodities and that I’d rather spend my time laughing with my husband and our son than dusting a piece of crap home decor item that was most likely made in a sweatshop in China.

I felt disgusted when I looked around at all of the decor in my house and realized that I hated all of it, but thought that it was what I was “supposed” to have.

I had this notion that when you grow up, you’re supposed to get married, have a baby, move to the suburbs, buy a big car, and live out your days bitching about never finding the right set of end tables.

When I hit my head, a light bulb went off and I realized that that life was nothing that I wanted for myself.

I want to leave my son with a heart and mind full of love and memories, not a lifetime of useless, junk that I’ve acquired over a lifetime.

My husband and I had serious discussions about how we were going to change it all. Our discussions ultimately led to us deciding that we needed to downsize absolutely everything.

Let’s Start Getting Rid of Everything

So, after a month of deciding how we were going to go about it, we started the downsizing process.

We decided to sell our house and look for a much smaller home (preferably under 1000 sq. ft.) without a yard, or at the very least, a xeriscaped yard. (To be honest, our dream was really to find a tiny home with some land, but it proved to be incredibly challenging to find the right situation for us that was still close enough to my husband’s office and put us in a good school district. It is harder to go smaller, and I think that really speaks to our out-of-whack values in America. So, long story short, we’re still looking for the perfect fit for us.)

We sold our behemoth of a car and bought a fuel-efficient Subaru. (We also eventually bought an electric car, but it did not go well. A story for another time.)

We then got rid of more than half of our possessions. We did this process through a mixture of selling and donating. (I read an article a long time ago that discussed that going through the arduous process of selling your things, rather than only donating them, makes you less apt to continue the cycle of buying unnecessary stuff.)

During this process, we had multiple friends and family ask if we were ok financially.

It seemed unfathomable to a lot of people that we would choose to ditch the consumer-driven, suburban daydream because of the realization that we were living a life that just didn’t jive with us, so it had to be because we were broke.

Since our small house hunt was proving to be fruitless, we decided to move into an apartment in the meantime. (If people were worried we were poor before, they were really worried when we moved into a rental apartment. Fun fact: The apartment cost more per month than our previous mortgage. That’s because rent prices in America are ridiculous and a topic for another time.)

I loved our apartment!

We were able to downsize enough to go from a 3 bedroom, finished basement, 2 car garage, corner-lot house to a one level, 2 bedroom, 900 sq. ft. apartment with a single car garage.

I reveled in our year of apartment living, other than having to take my groceries up and down the stairs. It was a welcome break from having to spend our weekends doing lawn maintenance, and we were able to clean our entire apartment in 30 minutes! Plus, the apartment building we lived in had a pool and a ton of community events like holiday parties, bingo nights, and donut days. (My love of community events is why I cannot wait to grow old and move to a retirement community!)

However, towards the end of our lease, my husband was deployed overseas, so I resumed our house hunt so that he would have a place to come home to that would offer him a little more quiet and privacy.

I chose an adorable townhouse, without a yard, in an older, established neighborhood near a ton of biking and walking trails that I upgraded with some DIY renovations. Still not our ideal size, but it worked. The townhouse was lovely until it wasn’t. The downside to an older townhome is the lack of adequate soundproofing, so we could hear our neighbors nonstop, and it became an increasingly distressing situation.

Ongoing Process

So, at the end of this winding journey, we arrive at the current destination of us living in a rented townhouse in an overly privileged, predominantly white neighborhood in the suburbs and dreaming of the day when we get to move the hell out of here and find the perfect small/tiny house.

However, even though the search for a small house has been lack luster, I do not regret downsizing for one second.

In fact, my goal is also to continue to get down to less and less, until we have the ability to fit all of our belongings into our little Subaru. (This may not happen until my son has a house of his own to house his Lego collection, but, hopefully, someday.)

Downsizing has been a very freeing and ongoing process that has helped me to reclaim my life in countless ways.

I know that downsizing can feel overwhelming and scary, but you would be surprised by what you really need to live, and it isn’t multiple sets of toss pillows and random vases that hold nothing but dust.

Have you thought about downsizing?

2 thoughts on “Our Big Downsize: How My TBI Pushed Me to Change My Life

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