Yesterday was a big day of inspiration and grand ideas. Sadly, they often dissipate like dreams in the morning light. You know you’ve got something good when the grand idea is the first thing you think of as you open your eyes and the inspiration is so strong that you can’t wait to get started. This is what I felt this morning.
So how do you get started? Research seemed the correct first step, and I spent today trawling through the internet for anything related to nomadic living. One concept that I kept coming across was minimalism.
Minimalism is the art of owning only that which is necessary or greatly contributes to your happiness. That which is not used, irrelevant or just pleasant is ruthlessly removed. It is the Ockham’s razor of consumerism. Minimalism could be disregarded as a crazy left-wing anti-globalisation, anti-consumerist hippie ideal that carries little relevance to real people, but it struck me as a key component in a nomadic lifestyle for three reasons, explained below. Admittedly, I have only read about minimalism so far and I have no practical experience to give you, so expect me to return to this concept later.
I have several times helped my former flatmate move. This guy has an astounding amount of stuff. Workout equipment, furniture, books, ornamental weapons, computer peripherals and games are but a fraction of his possessions. Listing all his stuff here would send you to sleep and likely break my web host’s unlimited storage cap. The point is that after having spent what felt like weeks moving all this stuff, I was entirely exhausted and on the brink of being hospitalized.
As a modern-day nomad, I will be moving every 3-6 months. If the process of moving is as long and cumbersome as the one just described then this nomadic life will become very old, very quickly. I will find reasons to stay in one place just to avoid having to do the damn packing and moving again.
The alternative is to own no more than what fits into a backpack. The process of moving will then be as simple as shoving my modest collection of essentials into the bag and head out the door. The physical and mental barrier could not be much lower.
As a nomad, I can see another crucial reason for staying mobile by not owning too many things. With no reason to be somewhere quickly, I look forward to enjoy not only the places I live in but also the travel between them. I don’t have to jump on a plane to reappear at my destination hours later. Instead, I hope to hitch hike or use busses and trains to slowly make my way towards my destinations, savouring the experience of being ‘on the go’ and all adventures that comes with it. I want to be free to go slowly and perhaps staying a few nights along the way if I so wish. This beautiful vision is disrupted if I need to factor in a lifetime’s worth of collected stuff. Which driver would pick up a hitchhiker with a caravan of luggage?
We all have a hunter-gatherer within us. With the advent of consumerism, the gatherer part of us have been idolized and pampered to such levels that this psychological sub-process have launched a coup and taken over our personas. Wham! Before you know it, you focus on the stuff in your life rather than life itself. How often have I not listened to my friends’ sad tales of longing for the next generation iPhone with an intensity that used to be reserved for one’s long-lost lover. The worst part is that I understand them completely; I share their focus.
There was a buzzword a few years ago which I really liked: mindfulness. It was all about focusing on what you are doing, here and now. Right now, reading this blog, what do you feel? Smell? Taste? Hear? Mindfulness reminded us to focus on what we experience and feel. In contrast, ‘Focus on what you own, right now.’ sounds ludicrous, but that is what most of us do.
In a global marketplace with ever slimming margins and growing competition, advertising has gone from simply informing the public of new products to a highly sophisticated brainwashing procedure of which the controllers in ‘A Brave New World’ would be proud. I cannot have the TV on in the background if I converse with a friend because as soon as the adverts start, they divert my attention to the screen. This does not make me a terrible friend with a detestable disinterest in those around him. The marketers behind the adverts are just too damn good at creating false interest in stuff that doesn’t actually matter. Bold colours, sounds, flashes of light, quick cuts – it all goes straight to the core of your brain and screams, “This is important! Look! Here! Now!”
Much of the stuff we own is similarly produced to inspire a sense of importance where there is none. It is fool’s gold. It does not matter, yet it steals your attention like a pickpocket in an overcrowded tourist attraction.
As I go into the world, I want to do so with my full focus on the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that comes my way. I want to see and meet people who will enrich my life. I want to be open to new ideas and experiences that will teach me something new. If I carry the stuff of my old life with me then I will be less able to do so.
I have saved the greatest of my post-research revelations for last. This one blew my mind. It was a tectonic shift in my mind, revealing something obvious yet overlooked.
If you habitually spend lots of money on your precious stuff then you had better maintain a stable and high-earning job to support your materialistic bliss, just as surely as if you had fallen into debt. The more dependent you are on stuff, the more dependent you are on earning money. The more dependent you are on earning money, the more dependent you are on work. The more dependent you are work, the less freedom you have in how to live your life.
When I decided to leave my well-paid job to start this nomadic life, my greatest apprehension was money. How would I ever be able to get another job that will pay as well while not requiring me to stay put in one place? I pinned my hopes to remote working and contracting jobs. I never once asked myself the question, “Do I need another job that pays as much?” The answer is that I do if I am to support my current rent and spending habits, but I do not if I cut backs on the amount of stuff that I buy, own and maintain.
We all have to work, but only to support the life we choose. If I can be comfortable with a greatly reduced income then I have more options. I could work for myself, creating a small business on the road. I could pick up interesting stray jobs along the way, which may result in great new experiences. I could also live on savings for a while. None of the above pays as well as a job at an investment bank, but they do come with greater freedom and mobility, indispensable for a nomad.
Having a loose idea of wanting to start a nomadic life was great, but I needed to do some research to convince myself that it was really possible. After having spent the day ploughing through articles and blogs, I now believe that it is possible. Minimalism struck me as an important concept to any modern nomad as it helps you focus on what you experience on your travels, it greatly increases your mobility and it reduces the required income to live, which in turn grants you more options in shaping your life.