Today, I am excited to share my interview with Brian Hetzer. This space needs more voices from fathers. Not because fathers necessarily have a distinctly different view, some do (and some mothers do too), but because I want this space to feel inclusive, to represent a variety of ways of being that are kind, open, respectful, creative and sustainable, and having only women and mothers speak feels a little exclusive. Having said this, I did not choose Brian for an interview because he is a father, I was drawn to his story, only afterward did I realize he would be the first father to appear on the blog.
Without giving you all the punchlines, let me say you will want to read this whole interview and share it. There are lots of fresh ideas and fresh spins on old ideas. I love Brian’s honesty and openness about the struggles he and his family have faced in living a minimalist lifestyle. First, as a matter of circumstance, then later as a matter of choice. Brian describes his ups and downs, the pull of consumerism, the challenges, real commitment and letting go that it took to realize what was important to him. I know you’ll enjoy!
Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background? And where are you headed?
I’m Brian, she’s Renae, and this is more than a little about us. Having both worked in and around the skateboard and snowboard industries, we met at Surf Expo in 2004. The day we met, we had bad pizza for lunch, ditched the rest of the afternoon at the tradeshow, and hung out until she dropped me off to catch a redeye back to the Midwest. I told her that night I’d marry her and she laughed at me. Renae had lived in LA [Los Angeles] and SF [San Francisco] prior to our meeting and shortly would be moving to NYC. I was traveling for work, more or less living out of my truck, and about to move to Chicago. We dated for a couple years, never living in the same state until we married. We had a wildly extravagant wedding in Palm Beach, Florida with an Alice in Wonderland theme.
Once married she joined me in Chicago and we settled into a routine of eating out, Renae lurked around the Marc Jacobs store, a lot, and basically excelling in the art of consumption. We look back at the Chicago years now with wonder, what if we’d made different decisions back then when money was fluid and life was fancy free? We were the least likely folks to become minimalists. Renae often joked that her idea of a perfect vacation would be Paris with a credit card, but times have changed and now she’s survived a good bit of hiking and camping in the wilderness, maybe even enjoys it…
Six months into Renae being pregnant our lives were hit by one of the many aftershocks of an industry in distress. The parent company of the shoe brand I was working for (and had in some capacity been working with for much of the past ten years) laid off a few hundred employees in 2009 and I was one of the many who woke up one day to a phone call and a severance package.
Renae would tell you that when life hands you the bare minimum, you become a minimalist. But we didn’t overnight transform into minimalists. It’s been a long journey, and we haven’t yet arrived at our final destination. We are constantly chipping away at what it looks like to live simply and intentionally. We are carving out the pieces as we go and creating a life that is not only simple but beautiful and full of experiences and adventure. We found shelter from the storm of job loss in Dayton, Ohio in my parents’ home. Townes was born there, we rested for eight months, then felt the strong pull of freedom, independence, and the prospect of getting back to work in skateboarding, the only business I’d known. The mecca of which is southern California, of course, and in short order we loaded up a UHaul with baby and cat in the cab and headed west to find what we had lost.
Our financial circumstances being what they were we couldn’t live anywhere near the coast. We found a small hundred year old hunting cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains and set up a quaint little life. I chopped wood to heat the place and we roughed it for almost two years. During that time we would learn to get by on less than twelve thousand dollars a year. Those were some of the best years of our lives. We learned first hand that less can mean more, all the while minimalism was creeping into our lives unsuspected.
Somewhere around the two year mark of mountain life I was offered a job with a decent salary in Oceanside, CA. Right away we were ecstatic, we charged ahead and grabbed on to this new lease on life which coincidentally meant a new lease on a home near the ocean. Which came with a much higher price tag. Our new Carlsbad bungalow was a dream. Walking distance to the beach, a beautiful ocean view from the kitchen table, fruit trees, and a Koi fish pond. Life was new and fresh. We thought the glitch in our road had come to an end and smooth sailing would finally be here to stay. That job fizzled out in only six months and reality began to crush down on us. I went back to work as an independent sales rep and we stuck it out for about eighteen months. That’s when the concept of real sustainable freedom started to enter our minds. A life without paying rent or a mortgage, no fear of job loss. A life of real faith.
Together we’re headed towards a more sustainable future for our family, consciously tipping the scale towards time together doing the things we love, and doing things for others that show we love them.
What are you passionate about? How do you like to spend your time?
First and foremost, family. Also adventuring, snowboarding, hiking, camping, finding a swimming hole, skateboarding, reading, creating, healthy living, geocaching, homeschooling. I cook, ferment things, write (slowly), fool with WordPress, and do the driving. Renae’s background is in graphic design, but she’s really an all around creative type. She loves to do art collaborations with Townes, concoct recipes for me to cook and decorate the space we inhabit. She spends countless hours researching and acquiring knowledge. She’s especially passionate about the Bible and health. I know she has a longing in her heart to get back to the sea and be on a surfboard again. I’m hoping that will become a reality in the next phase of our adventures.
How many children do you have and what are they like?
Our son Townes is half past five years old and his current life aspiration is to be The First Good Pirate to Sail the Seven Seas. He’s very thoughtful and deliberate, creative and free spirited but not much of a wild child. Although recently he convinced me to throw him off a ledge into a swimming hole in the Davidson River (Pisgah National Forest, NC), which was out of character and great fun. He soaks up and regurgitates all sorts of interesting knowledge, especially about animals. He has an uncanny natural tendency towards activism and a pioneer’s spirit.
Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” –Thoreau
“Less is more.” –Mies Van Der Rohe, 1886
“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” –Leo Tolstoy, 1828
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” –Thoreau
What is your story? How did you get started on a minimalist path? What drew you to minimalism or what motivated you to become a minimalist?
We weren’t consciously motivated towards minimalism, it stalked us for years. A wild beast in the brush just outside our sight, stopping to sharpen its claws each time we hit a bump in the road. Once we’d hit enough bumps to finally cause a total breakdown in our lifestyles it pounced and cut us all up. The lifestyle we had built for ourselves simply didn’t work financially and maybe more importantly, we couldn’t get what we wanted out of it. There is little joy in living within walking distance to the ocean when there’s not enough food in the cupboard in order to pack a lunch. Try as we might, we couldn’t make ends meet and had to come up with a new plan. We didn’t read a book on minimalism and start purging ourselves of our worldly goods in pursuit of a more noble way of life. Rather, as our handle states, we’re looking for more in our lives and minimalism is a means to that end, oddly. We hatched a long term plan and put it into action quickly. A little over a year ago we started with garage sales, craigslist, ebay, donations, and any other means necessary to minimize our possessions and lighten the load that would need to be moved out of our Carlsbad, CA bungalow. Although we still have some downsizing to do, we packed out of our home using two 336 cubic foot moving containers, well under half the space of the fully loaded truck we moved in with. Based now in southern Ohio, our income hasn’t changed much but with expenses drastically lower we’ve enjoyed more traveling in the past year than we’d managed to do in the prior three or four years combined.
For us it means finding ways to live with less so that we can experience more. It means foregoing (as long as is feasible) a career path that keeps me from my family. Since the thought is bound to cross some readers’ minds, I’ll clarify that I didn’t just say that I’ve co-opted minimalism as justification for being broke and lazy. I am however certain that living minimally allows for the option to spend more time with the ones I love and less time working for the weekend. If we keep the overhead low, financial resources go further and I’m not trading as much time for paper. It must be different for everyone, but when we eliminate something we can live without, we rarely (if ever?) find ourselves in want of it down the road.
Why do you identify as a minimalist? In what ways are you a minimalist?
In the food we eat, the things we buy, how we spend our time, the choices we make, we look to trade quantity for quality. More isn’t better. Better is better.
Are there people you look to as role models?
The closest I can come to identifying role models would be the friends and family that have looked after and pushed us along. We have friends back in California that gave us gifts that we’ll never be able to repay, and family that has supported us whether they agreed with or understood our motives. There’s a verse in the Bible from the book of Luke that reads “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” We look forward to being able to give in the way these wonderful people have given to us. One day our choices will enable us to in some small way reflect the love and generosity we’ve felt from these folks.
Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?
A short list would have to include the likes of OurOpenRoad.com, Bumfuzzle.com, BenHewitt.net, Foster Huntington, Jedidiah Jenkins, BecomingMinimalist.com, Tolstoy, Thoreau, and Ed Abbey.
In what ways/areas do you struggle with maintaining your minimalist goals/values? What is your weakness?
Our kid and toys! We know better but it’s not easy always saying no to the kid. I do the cooking in our family and I need my kitchen gear. We’re not much for the “this one does it all!” type appliances so I tend to want to add nice, specific pieces from time to time.
Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?
We honestly couldn’t be more thankful to our family and close friends who have been nothing short of a blessing to us throughout the transitions and struggles of the last few years.
Have you had any positive or constructive experiences with friends or family related to minimalism?
I feel as though we haven’t gotten there yet. Our journey towards minimalism is still ongoing, we have such grand plans for the next year or so. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to influence or impact others through the choices we make.
In what ways has minimalism improved your life?
Humility and simplicity. We’ve learned a lot about each.
What have been some unexpected experiences you’ve had with minimalism?
Community. Thanks to instagram and the like we’re in touch with, and get to peek into the lives of so many families, individuals, and friends that we’ve never met because of common threads like minimalism, travel, or health. One thing we’ve not minimized is our data plan…
What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?
Minimalism doesn’t have to mean a kneejerk reaction and a firesale of all your worldly goods in an effort to somehow cleanse. It can be small steps that allow more time/ money/ resources for something you’re without. It’s not in the cards for everyone with a mortgage and the trappings of life to just pack it in and move into an RV or a treehouse. But for folks that find that a combination of things like career, bills, kids’ activities, social calendar, etc restrains from enjoying life, simplification can be eye and heart opening.
Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?
Our ultimate goal at this point, the next step, is to fund, find and build out an over the road bus. That’s our Mount Everest. It’s our ideal version of a (not quite) Tiny House. We envision a forty foot WVO powered life on wheels, spreading the joy of how Less really can mean More. Volunteering, educating our child in the real world, seeing it all, together.
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