How An Earthquake Made Me A Minimalist

Why's the bed shaking?

That was my first thought when I blearily opened my eyes three years ago.

I stared at the shelf across my bed for a few seconds before I realized everything was shaking.

It was like someone had zapped me fully awake. I whipped around and locked eyes with my sister on the other side of the bed we shared. We were silent, listening to the cracking of the plaster on the ceiling.

The next second found us rolling away from each other and diving on the floor. I pulled my quilt along with stiff fingers and crouched under it.

"Where's the dog?" I yelled. I couldn't see his bed from here.

"I don't know!" My sister's panicked voice was muffled by the loud shaking of the windows.

Suddenly I felt something burrowing under my quilt. I sighed in relief when my shih tzu climbed on my lap.

"He's with me!" The door opened.

"Daisy? Da--"

"MOM, GO HIDE!" my sister shouted.

I huddled and made myself as small as I could. The sounds of falling debris crowded in. My dog shivered against my stomach.

Please stop. God, please make it stop.

Click through to read how a deadly earthquake woke me up and out of my daily routine, and made me face my relationship with stuff.

The deadliest Philippine earthquake in more than 20 years was a magnitude 7.2. That, and more than 4,000 aftershocks for the rest of the year meant collapsed buildings and people injured and dead.

Those days were surreal: sleeping by the front door that night in case another quake started, automatically crouching by my desk at the office during an aftershock, hearing people I knew had been hurt.

And all the cleaning --- sweeping out jagged glass and tile shards, fixing closet doors after they fell in, figuring out how to put everything back in its place...

Then I saw my dog's bed.

It was buried under jagged plate shards and a fine porcelain dust.

That plate was from a trip a 7-year-old me had taken: a cheap porcelain eyesore with a photo of me glued on the middle. Every time I passed by that plate on a shelf, I winced at how awkward I looked in it with my red face and my hair in my squinty eyes.

I'd wanted to get rid of it for more than a decade but, well, it was a gift. I felt guilty just thinking about throwing it out.

My tiny dog was usually tucked in bed until 9 in the morning. Thank God he'd come running to my lap during the quake.

I immediately picked him up for a cuddle after seeing the damage to his spot. What a close call!

Suddenly, I was angry.

My dog almost got seriously hurt because of that ugly plate. I didn't even want to keep it all these years, and look what it almost did!

I started studying the house with new eyes: the broken bottles of shampoo I'd stockpiled because of a discount, the mug with a logo I didn't recognize that was now cracked down the middle, the clothes crumpled on the floor that didn't fit me but still needed to be washed and put away...

So many things I rarely used. Some I didn't even like. All of them needing to be fixed, wiped down, and put away.

Because owning something? It's about commitment.

Aside from spending the money to buy it, it has to be kept in tiptop shape so it can be used again and again. That means storing, dusting, washing, folding, and so forth. And when it's worn down, it has to be fixed too.

That's a lot of actions related to owning stuff. And having to fix up and clean all my things after the earthquake? I realized how much time and effort it takes to own things.

That made me think: What if I had less stuff when this happened?

The house would still have fallen around my ears, true. But the clean-up would have been easier and quicker. And my family would have been less likely to get hurt.

Surrounded by debris at that moment, what was important to me?

What had I cared about while I was under my quilt waiting for the shaking to stop?

  • My faith in God
  • My family
  • My dogs
  • My friends
  • My violin and my cameraphone

Ok, that was a very short list.

What else did I need on top of that?

Food and water, and money to buy them.

A house to live in.

A few of my clothes. Very few, in fact. The earthquake had jammed my closet shut and still having clothes to wear for the week it took to fix it made that clear to me.

Maybe three pairs of shoes.

Less than ten books.

Two or three bags.

Everything else was just filler.

The clothes and shoes that didn't fit, the books I hadn't read, the unused products in my medicine cabinet that were now piled in my bathroom sink.

I could do without those knickknacks that dropped with my shelves. (You read that right. The shelves fell off too.) They're just a pile of rubble that needs to be thrown out now, anyhow.

And definitely not that ugly plate.

I look back at that season of my life this No Mess Monday, and I see it woke me up and out of my daily routine. Because of it, I started thinking about my relationship with stuff.

Minimalism was just some weird idea I'd read about years before the quake. It wasn't something I took seriously.

But standing in the middle of a ruined house with my dog in my arms? That was when I started to accept my hoarding was a problem.

I began to want something better:

A life filled with what mattered to me, including only the things I loved and used.

A life where my stuff enriched my everyday instead of taking up time and mindspace I wasn't willing to give.

A life that was intentional.

I'm not all the way there yet. It took lots of stops and starts to get to this point, and I'm sure there'll be more missteps and experiences as I keep downsizing to a simple not stressful life.

But I've made progress and I'm grateful for where I am now.

It all might not have happened if I hadn't woken up in the middle of an earthquake.

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