Preface: I originally had the idea to make this blog about my final 21 days in Denver but I’m going to open it up and write about my 3.5 years there and what led up to leaving the place behind and starting down a path of minimalism while trying to live a life with purpose and joy.
I’m writing this after the fact. The reason for that is two fold. I was much too busy during my final day’s there to have created this. Also, I wanted to give it a little bit of time to let everything settle so I could look back and write about it with fresh eyes, and be less emotionally attached to what was going on. Regarding my last blog, a friend said “of all posts, I think this one has the potential to open up and really share about your life”. The plan was for this to be that blog.
It all started back in 2015, April 20th to be exact. I moved from my hometown of Minneapolis, MN to Denver, CO to stay on a friends couch. This wasn’t just any ordinary friend, this is someone I’ve known since kindergarten. He was in a not so great situation with a then girlfriend. He needed a homie and I needed a change of scenery. I came out and stayed on the couch in his 1BR (for a cool 4 months or something) until the lease was up and we got our own spot. Moving out there seemed so exciting, and so full of opportunity. Shortly after arriving I got introduced to most everyone in the photo community at the time. I quickly figured out many were just following the IG movement and shooting because it was the thing to do. Being an introvert since graduating High School probably didn’t help my cause, but perhaps people took that some sort of wrong way. Needless to say I didn’t make any friends right away. Still unknown to me then, this was going to be a trend throughout my entire time there.
Right away my ego wanted to take the local photo scene by storm and I suppose thats arguably what happened. Shortly after arriving, Brandon and I along with 18 (I think) other local more established photographers were put in a well known local publication called the Westword as the top IG accounts within the state of Colorado. I was put on with small local collective of street photographers nowadays I don’t feel like naming. My “friendship” with them as I would find out was pretty one sided. When there was something to be gained from me, I was included or hit up but that turned out to be about it. However, I have to admit they included me in 2 local gallery shows, but even at the function I was the odd man out. Since these were the only folks that seemed committed to photography, I brushed it off for a while and tried to fit in.. Like a fucking idiot. It was within the first year that the tone was pretty much set for what the next 3.5 years were going to be like. Also, it’s worth mentioning that there’s really no one there that does Urbex past the point of it being a trendy thing to do. Fuck. I was really on my own…
Fast forward around a year or so now and the initial excitement of living in a new place had long worn off. By this time most all the best roofs that are or were do-able had been done, and the downtown area had been exhausted. I was still trying to fit in with a clique that were cool to my face but weren’t actually my “homies” as they always liked to claim, and Brandon and I weren’t on the best of terms. Luckily I had a girlfriend at the time so I wasn’t completely alone, but as many of you know, you need more than just the company of a significant other day after day. I’ve always been a lone wolf but the stresses of feeling uncreative, unmotivated, and loneliness compounded into a depression. Something I think I’ve been dealing with as long as I can remember or at least (in my own non-doctor opinion) since my first serious head trauma when I was 13. About half of all people with a TBI are affected by depression within the first year after injury. Even more (nearly two-thirds) are affected within seven years after injury. I’ve had 4 so far. Anyways, the culmination of those things actually sparked something positive. It motivated me to pick up my camera again, shooting different subject matter and traveling outside of Denver to shoot with friends and people I’d met through IG. Not to say I wasn’t doing that before I moved there, but I just stopped for quite a while and was too broke to do much of anything even if I wanted to.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Denver was perhaps not the place for me and leaving became almost an obsession. I kept telling myself that finding a new city where I fit in would solve all my problems. While that is partially correct… If I’m being truthful, there was a lot more at play than just my location and the harsh reality of it is, it started within myself. Fast forward to March 2018, it’s now been nearly 3.5 years. I went from arriving with nothing, no money, a serious drinking problem and a decent amount of debt, to being on track to making $80k a year. I dramatically scaled back my drinking (I still slip up and get wasted, although rarely) and received local notoriety with my photography being voted by the people of Denver as the “best Instagrammer” in the city for 303 Magazines Best Of issue 2017. I had an incredibly supportive and caring girlfriend but that still wasn’t enough. What gives, was I ever going to be happy?
To be as honest with you and myself as I possibly can, I’m still working on answering that question. What I can tell you is this… Even though I can’t definitively say yes I’m truly happy, I’m as close to the answer as I have ever been. It started in Denver of all places in my final 21 days of living there. I returned from my travels with 3 weeks left on the lease for an apartment I had been paying my half of the rent for the previous 3 months of not living there. It was also going to be the first time seeing my ex since we had broken up. Needless to say I wasn’t looking forward to it whether the break up was mutual or not. Before arriving back I had made a big decision to fulfill a dream of moving to New York City. Along with that I also made the decision to sell, or donate nearly all of my possessions with the exception of only what I would need in NYC (what would fit in a 65L bag) and only the items in my life that bring me joy and happiness. At the end of the process those items fit into a 16x16x16 inch box and my art work was packaged separately and all was mailed to my parents house in Arizona for safe keeping. This was both easy and challenging. Since being on the road for the previous 3 months living out of a 50L bag, I really learned what I needed and what I could live without. I’ve always been a minimalist but I was about to take my minimalism journey to an entirely new level.
Being in Denver for those final days, everything had a strange finality to it. Every time I did something or went somewhere, it hit me that it would probably be for the last time. Thinking back to the 3.5 years previous and how I thought my time was going to unfold, things couldn’t have gone any different. I had expected to pursue the business side of photography, as well as spend time in the mountains shooting, camping, hiking, and snowboarding during the winter. Literally none of that happened. It’s only now that I understand why. I recently heard a quote that really resonated with me, “priorities are how you spend your day.” If I’m being honest, I was not making any of those things a true priority. Simple as that. A goal with this minimalism journey is to quiet the noise, eliminate distractions, and spend my time as I see fit, making my “priorities” true priorities.
Going from spending day after day with friends, to a place where I have less friends than I could count on half of my right hand, was a stark contrast. Whenever I was at the apartment I would put on the Netflix documentary Minimalism to which I watched probably 40 times. They also have a great podcast - The Minimalists Podcast. (https://www.theminimalists.com) I also found the documentaries film maker Matt D’avella’s podcast, The Ground Up Show. (http://mattdavella.com/) Not only is it (in my opinion) the greatest podcast for creatives, but it could not have come at a more precise time. If you haven’t heard of them, they are well worth a listen.
All in all, it was an experience that I would not trade for the world. Did it all go to my liking? Absolutely not, but I wouldn’t make a single change even if I could. It was an essential pit stop in my life where up until my final day there, helped shape me into the person I am right now. I feel a large amount of credit needs to be extended to my ex, who helped me in more ways than I even know how to express with words. Her and I both know and that’s enough for me. If there are any take aways from this, it’s that blessings can come in many different forms and disguises and it’s up to you to recognize them.
Lastly, when you realize that happiness and contentment in life are matters of perspective, it will allow you to reframe everything you once thought to be "true."
As always, thank you for reading.