Marie Kondo’s Netflix show “Tidying Up” is a smash hit. Thrift stores all over America have seen a spike in donations - to the extent that some have had to impose limits on how much people can donate. The premise of the show is simple: in each episode, a different family goes through all their possessions and asks if they “spark joy.” If the answer is no, the object goes off to the landfill or the thrift store.
At the end, the families have a drastically simplified home. But what if they didn’t stop there? What if they decided all their furniture failed to spark joy? What if they got rid of their house altogether?
That is exactly what Annemarie Janse from the Netherlands did. A few years ago, she owned a beautiful home with all the trimmings. Today, she owns almost nothing. “I have some clothes, my laptop, and my phone. I don’t need anything more than that,” she says. Janse loves the freedom of going through life without material possessions.
She did not reach this point by following Marie Kondo’s method, though. Her path was a bit more convoluted. “It was not my choice. I was laid off in reorganization,” she says. She lost her job in 2017 at the age of 45. She has a degree in medical biology and built a career in the field of medical research. Her previous job had a good salary and benefits. “I’d always wanted to start my own business,” she says. But she was afraid to walk away from her comfortable situation. When she got laid off, she knew it was the moment to finally pursue her dream. “This was a blessing in disguise,” she says.
Today, Janse earns her living by working freelance remotely. “I support other entrepreneurs with their online visibility,” she says. She provides a wide variety of services such as building websites and writing texts and grant proposals. She also does social media and marketing.
Janse’s clients are mostly entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference in the world and help others. “I prefer to work with business owners who have a mission,” she says. “If it was just a company selling T-shirts, I wouldn’t be as interested.”
Janse bought a house when she was still in traditional employment. But then she decided to combine her flexible working situation with her passion for travel. She sublet her home and spent six months exploring South America. She realized she was perfectly happy with the arrangement and decided not to move back into her home when she returned. She subsequently made trips to lsrael and Tenerife. No matter where she is in the world, she usually devotes part of each day to her business. When not traveling, she crashes at the homes of friends and relatives.
A life like Janse’s is not possible for everyone. She is unmarried and has no student loan debt to repay. This opens doors that are closed to others. There’s also a contradiction inherent in her situation. She needs her family and friends to own houses with furniture where she can stay. That enables her to live without material possessions.
Also, Janse is blunt about the main downside of her new life: “Financial insecurity. I have no fixed income.” She occasionally gets lonely, too. Fortunately, co-working spaces are growing in popularity all over the world.
The main upside of her life, however, is the complete flexibility. “I work wherever I want and whenever I want,” she says. Another upside is “No boss.”
Probably for most of us, it would require a drastic event like getting laid off before we would make such a massive change in our lifestyle. But it is worth contemplating whether we keep a fixed address because it “sparks joy” or because that is what everyone else does.
Janse is certainly not looking back. She says her only regret is that she waited so long to start her own business. “I feel happier now than when I worked in an office. I wish I had given this present to myself earlier.”
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Emma Freire is a writer living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She has also been published in The Federalist and The American Conservative.