Living With Less Explained With A Painting

I recently talked with Jeff Sandquist on his Intentionally Wandering podcast about how minimalism has changed how I decorate my home. I’m no longer interested in the many cute things from Target and instead prefer to decorate with things that provoke memories, mostly things from trips I’ve taken.

This is probably my favorite one.


In 2006 and 2007 I spent 18 months on a military base located outside An Nasiriyah Iraq. On the outskirts of our base was a little market where locals could come to sell things like artwork, bootleg DVDs, and all sorts of souvenirs. That’s where I bought this painting.

The reason I chose this one is because it was a fairly accurate portrayal of scenes from my deployment. See that building in the background? That’s the Ziggurat of Ur. It was located on the outskirts of my base and I saw it nearly every day. I even visited it a few times.

But the part of this painting that is most important to me is the right side.


Many times I made the short 4 mile trip to a smaller nearby base and this is a scene I saw regularly on that trip. These Bedouins are nomads and would often be set up along the main road between bases. The scene with the tent is an accurate portrayal of what I saw. An entire family living in that tent. That was their shelter from the elements and their home.

The significance of this painting didn’t fully sink in until several years after I came home, and even more so during my venture into minimalism. While I was in Iraq I gained a lot of perspective about how good we have it in the US and just how much we have. But like any 20-something, that perspective began to fade once I got home.

This picture helps me hang on to that perspective. It reminds me just how much I have and how little others have. It reminds me that although by American standards, my house is small, there are many different ways of living around the world, and just because the US thinks we all need mansions, doesn’t mean we really do.

A bigger home and more things don't often lead to a sustained increase in happiness. Click To Tweet

People make do with much less. Although I can’t speak to the happiness of these particular Iraqis because I didn’t get to talk to them, I would even go as far to say that people are even happy with much less. Despite what our country wants us to believe, a bigger home and more things don’t often lead to a sustained increase in happiness.

I haven’t found the perfect spot for this painting in my new home. For now it sits on the floor across from my reading chair, where I see it often and can reflect on just how much I have and how little I need to be happy. It brings back some of that deployment perspective, keeps me in check, and reminds me to be grateful.

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