Less is more.
Quoting the 20th-century architect Mies van der Rohe, and given that what you are about to read is not about the latest decor trends that are filling 1st world homes with endless simple lines white pieces of furniture, I couldn’t think of a better way to get this started.
The point of no return
You need to leave the apartment in two weeks. A long-term tenant will start living there next month.
I was waking up in a cozy all wood homestay in Chiang Mai when I got a WhatsApp message that made me shed a tear.
No one had died this time, but still, this notification filled me with anxiety and a slight sense of profound sadness. The sole fact of realizing I was thousands of miles away from my rented place at the time and that I needed to return to move all my stuff PLUS not having an effin’ idea of where all those boxes could be stored instead, drove me crazy and surely interrupted my worry less time in Thailand for a while.
And so I went back, put everything that was scattered around that 2 bedroom flat into boxes once again, and took them elsewhere.
It was the 12th time I moved that insane pile of stuff in 14 years since I flew the nest as I headed to study my college degree to a mid-size city.
At the time, I can say now that I wasn’t ready for some things. At least not for the fact of having so many shops to buy from, so much choice to go through every time I needed (or I thought I needed) something. And the truth is I always had more than I needed.
From a 10K people village to an almost 300K people city, I was then working 2 to 3 part-time jobs and for the first time in my life, I could really afford to buy new stuff daily.
Oh, boy! Wish I knew better. Things rapidly became 2x, 3x, 4x what they use to be when I moved for the first time. Unaware of what I know today, I would keep putting things into boxes and piling those boxes everywhere there was some room for them.
Fast forward to Chiang Mai, hence my obsession. Not only I needed to find a place within the next few days being way too far away from my stuff but also I started to worry sick about what I would do with all that clutter I had piled up over the years once again.
Something needed to change.
Leaving everything behind
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. – Anonymous
Sorted out the issue of moving all my things somewhere else (a tale for another day), 10 days in I was already off to somewhere else. Using travel as an escape? Don’t judge me just yet!
March, April, and May were spent between Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Turkey, UAE, and finally South Africa. 12 countries and almost 3 months later, I was forced to face AGAIN my stuff when I eventually made it back to my base.
But now I knew something I didn’t before. I wasn’t going to die if all my stuff suddenly disappeared because for almost 100 days I had lived just with the items I had carried around with me.
We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. – Richard Foster
Did I need all those books and notes from Uni? All the boxed clothes? All those pairs of boots? All the gadgets and things that I continued to keep as ‘memories’ saving them from the bin over and over?
Long answer short: NO, I didn’t. I had done just fine without them during my latest mid-term travels and if they, for some reason, just faded, I wasn’t going to miss them at all.
I had returned lighter, but also and more importantly, happier this time around. And this was indeed one of the benefits of travel I had never seen coming. What had happened?
Why was I experiencing all this newly acquired ‘hate’ relationship towards my stuff and the act of buying new things for the sake of consumerism?
Easy. I had ‘survived’ to a 3-month long adventure with only a 45l convertible backpack and a 15l daypack filled with the essentials, just what I really needed.
Travel extensively opened my eyes. Using less stuff made me need less, needing less made me want less, wanting less made me buy less, and ultimately everything turned into worrying less and living a lighter existence overall. I couldn’t be happier!
A journey into minimalism, a decluttered lifestyle
The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. – Socrates, 469 BCE.
Not that I am telling you anything new. Although recently, as an answer to the crazy world we live in, it is starting to trend again. Oh well.
For me, as I just told you, it began with traveling.
As a result of this exercise that makes you evaluate what you put in your backpack and if it is really essential, the fact is I am no longer interested in things a few years back would rock my world like shopping as an activity to perform before every season starts when stores gather the newest items, the most flashier ones, the latest fashions, the very best and what you should need if you are human.
Because when you are far away from where you were born, you realize it barely matters what you are wearing or if you own a lot of crap at all.
Today it bugs me to walk through the shopping areas and witness how packed every store is. To think about where all that stuff is coming from and how unmeasurable the waste the humankind produces daily is, the unsuitable and ineffective system we are trapped in.
Unless something is no longer usable, breaks, can’t be fixed or it has come to an end, I don’t see why it should be replaced or why I’d need more of that if its predecessor still works just fine. Looks like any desire for stuff is gone. Think about it. All those flashy marketing campaigns forcing us into believing we want new stuff all the time.
And that is only the tip of the iceberg, let’s not go deeper into how much our system sucks now. Will Rogers put it beautifully together already in 1879:
Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.
Putting more thinking into it, just makes me want to scream.
Stop the world, I want to get off! – Mafalda, Quino.
Reaping the benefits of minimalism
If one had taken what is necessary to cover one’s needs and had left the rest to those who are in need, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need. – Saint Basil
As if it wasn’t enough with a more balanced world as a result, here are some more thoughts on why minimalism could be the way to go:
- Massive savings that allow you to focus on more meaningful things like travel and experiences.
- A higher level of freedom and flexibility that is only attainable getting rid of stuff.
- More ethical and responsible living. Ecological, social, and personal.
- Less time consumption in things that don’t matter and, as a result, more time to put into those that really do.
- Minimal space needed to live.
- Mindful spending as a result.
- Owning your life, not having it owned by things as the marketing gods dictate.
The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things. – Elise Boulding
So many people are talking about minimalism these days. Take for instance these guys. The so-called ‘The Minimalists’, that gave a TEDx talk I really enjoyed some months back:
And then there are lifestyle blogs and minimalist gurus coming from all ways of life with endless recipes to make it happen. To help you start afresh and happy minimalist life with just the essentials surrounding you and however, filled with potential experiences to be enjoyed and life-changing to say the least.
Let’s just say I ain’t no expert here. The facts described in this journal happened barely a year ago and since then I used what I learned on and off, as I do while trying to slowly transition into a more minimalist life. BUT, I can tell you something. There’s no going back for me. And every day I try to work around it and become better at it too.
Because of that, this is a personal checklist. Something that could definitely help if you want to give it a try but that shouldn’t be thought of as if it was anything else. This is not a one-size-fits-all, you have been warned, and eventually, you will also need to think about what works and what doesn’t for you.
- General stuff. Take baby steps and don’t force it – extremes were never good anyway. It might feel like deprivation in the beginning until it comes naturally. You can start throwing away (donate, sell or give as a present preferred) everything that is not functional nor beautiful and stop gathering stuff like the end of the world is coming. Seriously, that’s something highly unlikable to happen.
- Clothing. Drastically reduce what you own. Start clearing your closet, picking the best clothes that fit you and donating, giving as a present, or selling the rest of items that no longer fulfill their purpose. Avoid a shopaholic attitude and think of what your ideal capsule wardrobe would contain instead. I know mine would have a couple of versatile dresses, a pair of leggings, a rain jacket, a sweater, a bikini… save whatever floats your boat but keep it to the essentials! Finally, store everything out of season till it’s time for using it.
- Skin and hair care products. Finish what’s on your shelf already before buying new junk. Don’t get carried away by marketing campaigns and cut the number of chemicals as much as possible.
- Food. Plan your meals according to what’s already in your fridge. That way you will reduce food waste. Also, use long-lasting bags and try not to buy bulky packaged meals, which in the end are costlier and just an enormous plastic waste.
- Sustainable living. Get a library card, start being part of the collaborative economy, borrow and lend items you’ll only need eventually, and start enjoying a more frugal life.
- House supplies and furniture. Put some serious thinking into it before making any purchases. If you really need it, think of reusing and recycling. If you can’t, go ahead and buy it.
- Subscriptions. Cut as many as you can. Get rid also of what you don’t need anymore, even if it is major items like your car.
- Your life. After your space, declutter your life too. People, habits. Be selective and clear everything that doesn’t matter so you have more time and room for what does. Finish things, start saying no to unnecessary commitments that aren’t passions, choose quality over quantity, stop any FOMO – fear of missing out – and YOLO – you only live once – attitudes, unplug, unfriend, unfollow.
Realize the real values in life other than owning stuff and how little you need to be happy.
In the end, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?
Looking for all your tips and thoughts to become better at minimalism. Get in touch.
This is very true, some of the stuff we keep have attachments that make us not forget about our past of which some is hurting. Come on let’s drop our past by dropping most of the stuff that we have kept for so long.
When you come India you come Varanasi ,I meet Ganga ghat Please send mail before come.
Hi very nice photographs how about visiting India
I have been to India in 2014. Looking forward to go back soon
Such a beautiful post, so inspiring to me right now <3
I totally relate to this post! Traveling makes you realize more and more that you just don’t need all those stuff. It makes you realize you don’t need to spend money to be happy. Me, eg. I used to be a sucker for expensive handbags. Until I stood still one day and realized I’m actually more happy when I’m carying around my € 25 fake leather handbag that’s holding together with safety pins during my travels… My expenses got soooo much less ever since!! Great post, loved reading it!
Thanks so much for your comment, Liesbeth.
You are right, we are taught to own a lot of stuff that we don’t really need! Insane if we think about it.
Some great thoughts and ideas in this article, im currently preparing for a move from Australia to Germany, cutting my life down to the size of a bag has been very interesting!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jared.
And enjoy Germany and your new decluttered life!
Totally can relate. I sold my furnished apartment to the person taking over my lease, and haven’t looked back. Everything to my name could fit in the back seat of a sedan, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Dreaming of that stage!
Thanks for commenting 🙂
I wish i had plenty of stuff that i could throw out but as an island girl from the philippines we dont have money to waste on buying useless items. I cannot imagine having so much around me. This seems to be a problem from the West.
You are right. This is a problem of the hyper consumism that affects Western countries.
Happy for you! 🙂
I am currently downsizing and have got rid of alot of my excess stuff that i have collected over the years. It really does make you wonder why we do amass and hoard stuff that we will never use again. And yes it does set you free.
And thanks for commenting 🙂
Love this post! Everything I own is in a 34L backpack. Getting rid of so much *unnecessary* junk in my life was incredibly liberating. It is tough when you go back home to your hometown though. I find I have to resist getting back into old habits as all my friends are buying those endless beauty products and clothes. I think what that dress could buy me in terms of travel experiences though and I quickly get back to the minimalist mindset.
I do take a while every time I am about to buy a new item. Only if it is strictly necessary it will become part of my life. Otherwise is a step back! Thanks for commenting and safe travels!
I love this post. I recently had a similar experience, and since leaving my parents’ home 6 six years ago, it is amazing the amount of completely useless stuff I have managed to accumulate. I decided enough was enough and threw half of it out…
I love this and it is so true. I think we become physically and mentally weighted down by all this pointless stuff we buy and fill our lives with. It become clutter to being free. Travelling really teaches you to let a lot of that go and that is great for the soul.
I enjoyed this a lot. A whole lesson that has touched my heart. Aware of the daily inertia, now I will put on my board “start with baby steps”. Thanks!
I like this as a philosophy, but I think it is very difficult to follow it blindly, once you have a life before, and most probably some steps will go further that others.
Anyway, enjoy the change meanwhile
I used them 2 or 3 times per year 10 years ago too. I’ve now discovered more civilised transport modes. Enjoy the delights of slow travel!
An excellent potentially life changing read. I’d just add that to gain maximum benefit a low, slow consumption mode of transport would be preferable. Just because we don’t see the fuel being used by our metal tube doesn’t mean that it doesn’t consume anything.
Couldn’t agree more. And kinda upsets me that’s completely the opposite I did throughout my twenties, using all those one cent and one euro Ryanair flights for tons of European getaways.. slowly learning!
I’ve not had the chance to enjoy extensive and extended travel (yet!), but I do find myself questioning each and every purchase I make. I’m constantly going through my house and clearing out the clutter. For me, it’s age I think. I just want less clutter in my life, and more money in my bank account. I’m obsessed and still have a long way to go in terms of clearing out the clutter (I have two kids and a husband who don’t agree with my new lifestyle!), but I am making progress!!
Hold on in there! And thanks for commenting 🙂
Loved the article because it is so true. Also, the way that you learned this valuable lesson was classic; you were put under a great deal of stress but worked through it. Good for you and thank you for sharing.
Thanks so much Christine.
You are so right. It is when things get complicated when we are pushed to change and become a better version of ourselves 🙂
Love this. I paired my stuff down quite a bit each time I’ve moved although moving abroad was definitely an unexpected challenge in terms of shipping. Even now, I wish I had brought LESS, rather than more. Almost everything is replaceable.
Thanks so much. Moving is a great potential opportunity to start reducing the amount of stuff we owe 😀