Have you ever felt like you “own” so much, yet “have” so little?
Until the beginning of 2016, I had never considered the concept of living a minimalist lifestyle. I was addicted to online shopping. I wasn’t a hoarder, I just liked to buy stuff. I experienced the “Christmas morning high” that kids feel when opening presents each time I received a package in the mail from Amazon, REI, Backcountry, or the plethora of “daily deals” sites I frequented. Rarely a week went by that I didn’t buy something online. It wasn’t even the things that mattered. I loved the excitement of finding a great deal and receiving something new in the mail. I was just like that little kid who couldn’t fall asleep on Christmas Eve; I was hooked. In fact, you could say that I was trying to fill a void in my life with the excitement of something new. That void was created by the lack of two things I want / wanted more than anything else: a significant other and adventure.
What could be more exciting than a new relationship? No “things” could elicit the same kind of feeling you get when you form a strong, romantic connection with someone. I put forth what I considered a valiant effort through online dating for several years. Unfortunately, despite meeting many wonderful ladies (some of who may be reading this – if so, you’re one of the awesome ones!), I wasn’t fortunate enough to find the right girl like so many of my friends and family had. It was incredibly frustrating.
The most excitement I’ve experienced in the past 5 years has come during my travels, especially my first big international trip. But this excitement was always truncated due to the 9 to 5 lifestyle I was living. I had 3-weeks paid vacation per year at my job. Most of the adventures on my bucket list would take up at least that much time. I was forced to pick and choose how I’d spend my paid time off – have one big adventure per year or stick with smaller adventures. Again, the frustration festered resulting in the growing void.
So, I continued to buy more things to offset my discontent. There was rarely a week that passed without some sort of package being delivered. Electronic gadgets, clothes, outdoor gear, gifts, cooking tools, and more filled up my house but didn’t fill the hole inside of me. I craved something more. I knew that I wasn’t going to try to force a relationship with someone I wasn’t totally into. The only rational decision was to chase more adventure.
That was the point where I began to formulate the plan that brought me to the path I’m on today. I made the decision to stop buying things and start chasing happiness through adventure and giving back. My overlanding trip through Africa taught me that I could live a much simpler lifestyle and be much happier. So, I started preparing myself to live a life of minimalism.
Step 1: Make a Plan
My plan was to travel around the world with only 2 backpacks full of gear. This made it very easy for me to identify what I needed to buy, keep, and sell/donate. I needed to buy the gear my adventure required that I didn’t currently possess. I would keep things that were sentimental or would be useful in the future (my photo albums, scotch collection, mountain bike, etc.). And finally, I would sell or donate EVERYTHING else. Figure out what you need, make a list, and stick to it.
Step 2: Remove Temptations
I immediately unsubscribed from all of the daily deals website emails that I eagerly anticipated each day. By eliminating the reminders, I was able to avoid the temptation of ordering something just because it was a “great deal”. I made a list of the gear that I needed to buy and that was all I bought over the next 10 months besides food and other consumables. Stop going to the mall unless you need to, avoid “browsing” in shops, and limit your souvenirs when you travel.
Step 3: STOP BUYING STUFF!
This was easier for me than it may be for people who aren’t leaving their current life behind to travel around the world. I knew that I’d have to live out of 2 backpacks, so buying more things made no sense. If you’re not going to be traveling full-time, make a conscious effort to identify things that are needs vs. wants. Do you really need another purse, a new pair of shoes, a 2nd car, or a big screen television in your bedroom? Probably not.
Step 4: Purge
This step can be a lot of fun. It can also be very hard to deal with. I had trouble letting go of some of the items that I used on a daily basis that provided me comfort and entertainment. But the enjoyable part of my purge was the feeling that I got when my friends were excited to buy my stuff. They were helping to give me the opportunity to chase my happiness by buying the things that weren’t providing it. Rather than having a yard sale (since I didn’t have a yard), I threw a Purge Party. We had beers, games, a 50/50 raffle, and a huge sale of everything in my house. It made the whole process so much more enjoyable. I always recommend throwing parties, and purging is a great excuse to have one!
Step 5: Donate
Even after my Purge Party, I still had a lot of stuff to get rid of. Some of it went in the trash. I donated the rest to the Vietnam Veterans of America; my bed frame, a bookshelf, a box of shoes/boots, and 15 bags of clothing! Why in the world did I have so much?!?! I don’t think I wore half of the items donated on even a semi-regular basis. Seeing those bags of clothes lined up outside my house made me realize how far I had gone down the rabbit hole. It was a sobering moment. It also provided me with a sense of relief that I was now free of the confines of material possession obsession. Plus, donating to a reputable charity like the VVA feels great. Even if you’re not purging, I highly recommend donating things you don’t need or use any more.
Step 6: Sell Your House & Car, Quit Your Job, and Travel Around the World
I’m just kidding.
No, I’m not.
Do it…it’s awesome.
If you can’t, well, at least go on an adventure. Take your kids to a national park. Fly to different country with your husband. Grab a friend and go on a road trip to a place nearby that you’ve never been. Just do something that will make you happy. Spend your money on experiences, they’re a lot more rewarding than things.
I’ve been on the road now for 7 weeks. I’m nowhere near as physically comfortable as I was in my house in Pittsburgh. However, I have never been as mentally and emotionally content as I am right now. I have 2 backpacks worth of clothing and gear with me, and the only thing I want or need to buy is a 6-pack of cheap, local beer that tastes just perfect while watching the Costa Rican sunset. I’ve never had less in my life, yet I feel like I have everything I’ve ever needed.