I didn’t consciously set out to be a minimalist. It happened progressively and naturally with a certain inevitability. Once converted it seemed like the only sensible choice.
Step 1 – Living out of my car
When I left London in October 2010 for the Spanish countryside I was limited by what I could cram into my car. Climbing kit, laptop, clothes, camping kit made the cut. Everything else was sold, given away, or put into storage (thanks Mum and Dad). I took:
- Clothes – 1 rucksack.
- Laptop with case and charger.
- Mobile phone and charger.
- Pen, paper, physical diary.
- Ipod and headphones.
- Ipod docking bay.
- Toiletries – deodorant, shaver, nail clippers, tooth brush, tooth paste.
- Climbing kit – harness, shoes, karabiners, quickdraws, slings, belay device, rope, boulder mat.
- Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stove.
For 6 months this was everything I owned. After a minor bit of tweaking, I never wanted more. I was satisfied. This struck me as a stark contrast to my prior fixed location London life where I had so many more things yet was unsatisfied. With the space to have ‘things’ I wanted more ‘things’. I spent time dreaming, saving, researching, lusting. Yet none of the ‘things’ really added any value to my life.
Step 2 – Driving home for Christmas
After 3 months on the road I came back to England for Christmas. Everyone asking what I wanted for my birthday and Christmas presents. I couldn’t really answer; I simply didn’t need anything. What’s more I couldn’t actually take any extra objects I ‘wanted’ with me as I was at max capacity. I could only add a new object if I removed a similar sized object. However nothing I owned needed replacing. To my relatives frustrations I drew a blank.
For the first time I saw Christmas as a exercise in giving for giving’s sake. I didn’t want people to spend money out of a sense of obligation. In the end a requirement emerged. My ipod broke so I asked for a replacement.
Taken by my revelation about the nature of possession I considered donating the money I normally spent on my family to charity. I however didn’t go through with the ideas as I wasn’t yet solid enough in my thinking and perhaps a little embarrassed about the attention this statement would bring. Maybe I will have the confidence this year.
Step 3 – Living in London out of a rucksack
I flew back with two rucksacks; one large (clothes, books, climbing kit) and one small (my office – laptop, diary, notepad, chargers). Between the two I was carrying everything I needed for an 18 day holiday back ‘home’ to London. But my brief visit took on a degree of permanence. In the end I stayed for close to 5 months all the while living out of my two bags.
It was great. I was completely free. I could pack up to move house in less than 10 minutes. Whilst my friends wondered how they had accumulated so many ‘things’ I sat by in amusement. They booked Vans to transport their goods from A to B where B was either their new house or more frequently the dump.
During this time I was constantly surprised that I never lacked for an item. People didn’t seem to notice that I had been wearing a small subset of my clothes for months on end. My washing and dressing routine was greatly simplified (Steve Jobs knew this). If I could live without issue from two bags why have more? By this time I was well on my way to the epiphany.
Step 4 – My parents dilemma
I paid a visit to my parents. Despite having spent years de-cluttering their house they seemed to be no closer to being able to move. My mother holds onto a loft worth of childhood memories yet seldom does she look at these things. My Dad endlessly complains that there is too much stuff. I thought about their 6 week world travels. They both lived out of rucksacks without a problem. It’s clear that they didn’t need all these things. Their possessions seem to be enslaving them and tying them to a location they no longer wanted to be in. I vowed never to let this happen to me.
As people left with trucks and vans full of my stuff I felt like I was scamming them somehow. Here were things that I’d identified as clutter that other people were now burdening themselves with. Would that Virtual Boy actually improve that guy’s life, or would it take up space in his closet? At the same time, I felt like a sucker. I’d spent thousands of dollars on these things, and giving them away was the best outcome I could find. - tynan.com
Minimalism is liberation – meditating on the qualities of possessions
Every item that enters your life comes with a series of costs beyond the list price. A research cost, a delivery or collection cost, a storage cost, a maintenance cost, a moving cost, and finally a disposal cost. At every step in the lifecycle we expend money, time, and mental energy. Every item we own restricts and costs us. Every item you don’t own frees you. Living with less created some clear benefits and perception shifts:
- Freedom and mobility – I can move quickly and easily. No objects tie me to a location. I can take opportunities and move as I please. It’s a liberating feeling.
- Reduced stress – Having a mindset of challenging every item that comes into my life seems to reduce my stress. I’ve dropped my consumer ‘acquire as much as possible’ mindset. Adverts and marketing no longer have an effect on me. If I buy a new book I give my old one away. I enjoy having an uncluttered bedroom. Tidying and cleaning is simple.
- More money & less work – Knowing I can’t have any more means I don’t spend money on material possessions. That means I don’t need to work as much. That means I have more time. That means I can do more of what I love. That makes me happy.
- Possessions as practical objects – I started to look at the value in items. When you place a limit on what you can own everything must have a purpose. A statue of an elephant might liven up a room but what does it actually do? Not a lot which is why you don’t see backpackers lugging them around the world. With this mindset every object must fight hard to enter your life.
But being a minimalist on the road is easy. How do I do it at home?
Sure, minimalism when travelling is a given. You have a very real space limitation. But when ‘home’ we have a lot more space which makes it all too easy to acquire. The trick for me was to impose a limit and think like a backpacker. I am allowed a backpack’s worth of clothes. Any new item I add means taking something away. With a bit of discipline it was easy to prevent myself from acquiring more. That hard part was the initial reduction.
It feels so hard to throw things away. I would scan my possessions and begrudgingly move one item to the other side of the room where it would stare at me making me question whether I really wanted to ditch it. It was a slow and tedious process. Everything was essential.
‘Would my life be any different if I didn’t have this thing?
So I asked myself ‘Would my life be any different if I didn’t have this thing?’ I quickly cut down to the bare essentials. Afterwards I wondered why I had found the process so difficult.
What’s odd is that throwing away is so hard in the moment yet so obvious afterwards. I think we are aware of the money we have spent in the past so we desperately cling on. But our investment is sunk. We need to cut our loses, for minimalism is letting go.