Essay

Finding Happiness with Less

The Art of Downsizing Your Gear and Embracing a Minimalist Mind

Article by Dennis Vander Houwen

I am going to ask you to take a moment and think about all the fishing gear and paraphernalia you have acquired over the years or even just the last year.  Seriously… take a moment… RIGHT NOW…

One of the hazards of any passion is the accumulation of things. It can be rods, lines, flies, fly tying material, waders, boots, maps, fishing bags, bins etc.  I try to fashion my own life as a minimalist and still I end up with more gear and accouterments than I like to admit. Those who are on the path of reducing their possessions of stuff find a unique kind of freedom that is sometimes difficult to put into words. It is cathartic and humbling to see what it feels like to go with just what you need. Satisfying to know how little you can get by on and what living without the distractions of “too much” feels like.

Every fall I try to remind myself once more why I was drawn to tenkara. It’s about the simplicity and no-nonsense approach to having a minimal amount of gear. It is important then for me to look at what I acquired over the year, remind myself about what I really need and decide what needs to be kept and what needs to be purged. This process is an ongoing exercise in letting go of things and evaluating my relationship to my possessions. This practice can be applied to virtually any part of your life. Look at the tools in your garage, the socks in your drawer, that junk drawer we all have in our kitchens. All of these areas can be better with less.

Minimalism does not mean going without. It is about having what you need and being able to assess if the things you think you “want” are really things you really “need.” One of the things we all deal with in our “lives of stuff” is that we hold onto things “just in case.”  The truth is that the things we have kept “just in case” seem to never get needed.  In fact, most of the time the specific something we find ourselves needing, we can go out and get it at that time that we need it.

While the idea of minimalism sounds simple enough, it is challenging in practice. As humans we develop emotional ties to our things. Our possessions are sometimes nostalgic, can be about status, or just work as a security blanket for us. Having stuff makes us feel secure. This feeling though is a form of self-deceit. But don’t feel bad about that. It is a primal human survival trait to gather things in order “to be prepared.” Our consumer society is also guilty of presenting us with those things that we “never knew we needed”. By taking on the practice of minimalism even in the smallest effort, we take control of our world of things and can make conscious decisions about our consumerism. 

The process for simplifying your gear and life are a process of letting go of things slowly.  By following a few easy steps, you will be able to bring yourself closer to a better relationship with the things you own and have fewer things that “own you”.

Look at Your Stuff!

Find a place that you can lay all your gear and related materials out and see it for all its glory and spectacle. If it helps, you can start small with just your fishing gear or fly-tying gear or just your rods and flies. Just put things into organized piles. Be sure to notice what you have duplicates of and what things you are keeping “just in case.” Looking at our possessions gives us a little moment to reflect on our habits of consumerism. Not buying things we don’t need is a big step. Knowing what we have can also keep us from making impulse purchases or buying duplicates of something that we already have in the future.

Sort Your Stuff

You are now going to go through each of your items from the main pile and sort them into three separate groups. I suggest using three boxes. Putting something into a box becomes the point that you have decided the fate of that item.

Box One: The Stuff You Really Do Use and Want to Keep

Simple enough, this is the go-to gear and favorite things that make you happy and that are essential to your gear. Just one set of waders, one or two pairs of wading boots or shoes depending on your needs. This is about knowing your baseline of basic gear. 

Box Two: The Stuff You Don’t Need and Can Donate to Someone

This box should fill quickly if you take this practice to heart. We all have stuff we have kept but will never use. The issue is that these items are still functional and perhaps even valuable. Sell what you think you can and donate the rest to a fishing charity like your local Operation Healing Waters or maybe to someone you are trying to introduce to tenkara or fly tying. 

Box Three: This is for Pretty Much Anything That Doesn’t Fall into Those First Two Boxes

We all own things that are virtually garbage or have no value to anyone else. Don’t hold on to these things. It is better to recycle anything you can and say goodbye to everything else.  Once you toss it into this box, don’t go digging it out. Make each item you put in this box a “permanent farewell” to that item.

Box Four (Optional): The “Just in Case” Time Capsule 

I would recommend that this optional box be smaller than the others. This fourth box is going to be the “just in case box”. Think carefully before adding anything to this box. This fourth box is going to be sealed up and marked “just in case”. This box is kept in a storage place and if you do need an item in the box it will be there with the needed items. Think of it as a kind of “time capsule” you are keeping for 6-12 months.  Anything you still have in the box after that time, you probably aren’t going to need, and without hard feelings or hesitation, you can be free of it.

The reality is always that if we really need something we can go and get one at that time. The money we save not buying items we don’t need is more than enough to justify purchasing just the things you know you are going to use. 

Adopting minimalism is not a process of self-denial of possessions. It is a way to look at what you do value and understanding your relationship to all the things in your life. Consider this, if you can bring yourself down to just a few rods that you own then you will likely take better care of those rods. You will cherish the items and not see them so quickly as “expendables.” Hoarding anything is not something to brag about. Having what you need and being generous with any surplus you have is seriously an ethos everyone should have.

Photo: Karel Lansky

Dennis Vander Houwen is an early adopter of tenkara, he lives and fishes all over Colorado.  For more information on living simply or approaching a richer life with fewer things check out his blog, Tenkara Path, where you can also support his tenkara lifestyle by purchasing one of his amazing, handmade tenkara line spool, fly keepers.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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