How Typhoon Ondoy Made Me a Minimalist

The monsoon rains flooded about 60% of Metro Manila (where I’m from). Then I remembered the typhoon called Ondoy and how it changed me.

I was on my way to some work related errands on a Saturday.

I brought my cousin with me because we planned to hang out after. It was raining hard and while we were on the bus, I realized that the service road was flooded like a swimming pool. It was crazy. We got off at the nearest bus stop and took shelter in a mall across the bus stop. We decided to eat there and have a few bouts of DOTA (an online game). At four pm there was a mall-wide announcement that they were closing shop for the day. Its unusual because the mall we went to was known for midnight sales and not closing on holidays. I also worked in a mall for a few months. I had never experienced it closing in an afternoon for any reason. This was a first. We went to a department store because we needed an umbrella. The ones we brought with us had been torn apart by the wind.

We couldn’t find a ride home so we took a detour through the suburbs. When we arrived at the house, I noticed that the floor was wet. The news was on. A lot of people weren’t so lucky. My mom told me that the place got flooded. It was a couple inches inside and knee high at the back of our house.

My uncle from Marikina had his car and the rest of his belongings got trashed by the flood. Floodwater filled the entire ground floor of his apartment. I grieved for the fourth generation iPod touch left inside the car.

On TV, low areas were flooded up to the second to the third floor. A local celebrity had to be rescued using a jet ski. It was a crazy day. I lost a stack of papers to the flood and the watch my dad gave me.

When I got to work the next Monday, more people were telling me the same story. My workmate had to ride a boat to get to the office. My business partner told me that his client’s whole house got submerged, his four cars and home theater was (I don’t know a good word to use because if that happened to me I’d be out of words too). His client was abroad that day, crying to him over the phone.

Okay so I lost a few papers and a watch. I felt like I was very fortunate. A few weeks before that, I started reading lifehacker, Zen Habits and As a result, I decided to clean my desk then my room. I also reduced my stuff to 300 things. Yes this was the number of items I kept before I got to less than 100 things.

It was a slow start for me to become a minimalist. Mostly because I thought they were lazy bums and losers for choosing not owning as much as they can. The flood gave me a different view of the situation.

Here are ten things I thought to myself that day that led me to work on living like a minimalist:

1. The less items I have the less I had to worry about them

Storage, safety, cleaning, storing and organizing. These activities take time and sometimes money. I also don’t enjoy doing all that so when I actually compared at the upside and downside of owning things instead of mindlessly accepting ownership then it made more sense for me to own less.

2. The less items I need the less I have to replace when I lose them.

Back when I mindlessly owned a lot of things, by default, I replaced what I lost. Today when I lost something, I consider the possibility that I don’t need it anyway and prolong replacing the item I lost. Sometimes I see the loss as an opportunity to let go and put my hands to better use.

3. I would rather keep my cash than buy lots of things.

I used to own a lot of things and valued cash less. I’d rather have a full collection and part with my cash than do the opposite. After seeing expensive collections drowning in the flood, I saw that it’s more likely to happen anytime soon. By this time I picked up a minimalist person’s crazy thinking and told myself you can drown my cash in flooded water and it won’t lose value or get ruined. Haha take that excess personal belongings.

4. If I were a minimalist I won't have to worry about a flood or a fire because I can throw my things in a bag and pull it out of the house.

Back when I was a kid, a neighbor’s house got caught on fire. Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about how I’ll be able to save my stuff from fire in case one happens. We live at the ground floor of a house that has lots of big windows. If a fire occurs I practically have an exit in every direction. The problem is I feared for my stuff more than my life. If I had a lot of items I needed to rescue then it would be a disaster. If I had a few it would be bearable and it’s easier to buy replacements for a few items.

5. Since I don't buy and keep a lot of stuff, I'll have spare cash to buy new what I want.

I always had a fear of losing things. My teenage drama is I lost 90% of my toy collection when I lived with a relative and later on lost 90% of my stuff when we lost a house before I started working. Since then I’ve been worried about it happening again. Since then, I’ve been stressing myself with prevention and expected a breakdown if it does actually happen. Yoda said “let go of what you’re afraid to lose.” It’s a smart move. Buddha talked about “letting go of desires.” Jesus commanded us to leave it all behind to follow him. Maybe it is the first step.

6. I don't need to clean up as much.

I hate cleaning up and organizing as much as the next guy. I know. I know. I’m a slob like most guys but I enjoy staying in a clean place. Having a few items around prevents myself from piling up clutter. Not because I’m an obsessive compulsive neat freak but because I physically can’t.

7. Being a minimalist can also be the first step to become location independent.

I later read about the location independent Colin Wright of Exile Lifestyle. He writes about how he runs his business from his laptop and moves to a new country every four months, a lifestyle I previously believed to require a few million dollars in assets to achieve.

8. Or being financially independent (because I have zero overhead)

Here’s the interesting thing. The less you have to spend the more you can allocate for your goals. Think about it. Can you identify additional costs of keeping things you no longer use in terms ot time, attention and money? Be honest and do an assessment. If you found out that the dream life you want costs cheaper than you think what are you willing to let go?

9.It will make my room bigger.

You can pay an insane amount of cash to rent or buy extra space or cut your possessions in half to double your space. Instead of buying organizers to save space, wouldn’t it be better to eliminate what you don’t use?

10. Looking at it minimalism looks like it will help me be freer.

How can you not be freer with the last 9 benefits that I talked about? This is an alternative that doesn’t cost a bazillion dollars to implement. Just a bit of honesty and questioning your consumerist tendencies.

Shortly after I worked on purging my things further.

  1. I kept digitizing paper and deleting files I don’t use.
  2. I made a study of my expenses and avoided unnecessary expenses for spare cash.
  3. I put all my other projects on hold so I’ll have free time.
  4. I tossed out my souvenirs and pared down my possessions.

Everything became different after.