Minimalism

2 January 2011. Filed under category Nomad.
The Fool, the first card of the Tarot Deck, starts his journey by packing light.

The Fool, the first card of the Tarot Deck, starts his journey by packing light.

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.

Mobility

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?

Focus

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.

Work Options

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.

Summary

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.

Clarifications

Ockham’s razor in science says that if you cut away parts of a theory (using the razor) and it still explains the data then this more minimalist theory is superior.

You can read more about mindfulness on this Wikipedia article.

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What do you think of minimalism?

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  1. Nowhere does this statement ring true more than in the U.S. “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.” Will be great to learn about your newly found freedom.

  2. Jono says:

    All sound reasoning. The bit about helping a certain former flatmate move was hilarious. And there is a lesson there for everybody.

    I used to preach the “ten minute rule” which I think I stole from that movie “Heat”. Basically, you should be mobile enough to be able to pick up and leave anywhere within ten minutes. That is all it should take to put your belongings in a bag.

    I am not saying you should be a bank robber like DeNiro in that film, but it is a good rule because these days you really don’t need longer than that.

  3. Imogen says:

    Great post, clearing out the clutter is liberating and energising. Before you get rid of your useless stuff, you just don’t realise how much all that junk is holding you back. For anyone who is terrified by the daunting task of clearing out the clutter but desperate to find a way through, may I recommend Don Aslett’s book: ‘How to win Freedom from Clutter.’ It was published back in 1986 but don’t let that put you off. Hand on heart, this is one of the most useful books I have ever read.

    As for your comments on adverstising, well, incessant advertising is the clutter of our society.

  4. Hogarth says:

    Excellent article Gusty, and thank god that the penny has dropped for you at last… I hope lots of people read this and learn the lesson… I have worked in very low paid work for many, many years. Not because I’m not capable of earning vast sums, but because I refuse to sacrifice my freedom.

    Indeed you are right… you will not be dazzling the world with your future pay checks, but the flexibility, freedom, and sheer range of experience you will encounter will more than pay for having a little less cash in the pocket. Most importantly you will also have the time to reflect and synergise new thoughts and concepts, previously unreachable because one was maintaining ‘stuff’. This freedom of thought will give you the time necessary to innovate, formulate and crystalise new concepts, be it business or personal. With your inherent intelligence, and now freedom of movement and thought, the results could be spectacular! Good luck with your journey! : )

    1. Gustav (The Modern Nomad) says:

      Thank you. And now if you excuse me, I’ll just bend down and pick up that penny. Can’t afford not to these days, eh?

      1. Imogen says:

        Hahaha!

        1. Andy DelliColli says:

          :O while you’re down there…..

  5. Hogarth says:

    Heheheh, witty as ever, it’s good to have a giggle at these things ; ))

  6. Brother Henke says:

    Good luck with your minimalistick living brother i think you can do it.
    if your journey comes acros Ljungby you ar welcome to use my stuff like snowmobile,jetski,motorboat,roadcart and all other things i have, sens i dont have time to use them so mutch anyway and now i know why :)

  7. Wow! I have a feeling I’m going to get a lot of inspiration as I read about your quest for minimalism as you start your nomadic life. Having spent much of 2009 travelling (with far too much stuff!) I’m kind of wishing you’d written this blog a couple of years earlier.

  8. Doug Burns says:

    So as you took a while to catch up with your blog posts, I have taken a while to catch-up with my comments.

    Although probably not as diligent or commited as you plan to be and absolutely not the type to deprive myself of anything I want or need, I have a massive aversion to ‘stuff’. That’s not because I want to live minimally. Feeding my frivolous desires is what I spend far too much money on, but the actual accummulation of physical belongings is what kills me. Stuff just means not being able to move – something I used to do regularly but have not managed for 6 years because I am now surrounded by two people’s stuff and it just ways you down. Clothes are ridiculous. Let’s face it, if you haven’t worn something for a whole year, the likelihood of you ever wearing it again are slim. That’s how it works for me anyway.

    To really offend people, I am even ‘bad’ with supposedly personal stuff like books, games and CDs. Because if I might use it again, I will keep it, but most of it I won’t and know I won’t.

    I am about to move for the first time in ages and I am postively thrilled that it will make shed stuff. I wish I could say that was true for my other half too, but I guess I’ll be stuck with her stuff for a while yet ;-)

    Of course, it’s easy to be too ruthless. I am not even attached to photographs or old knick knacks from memorable events. The memories are usually enough for me, but maybe I’m just cold?

    1. Gustav (The Modern Nomad) says:

      I’ve just done a cull of my clothes and like you said, it was ridiculous. I found stuff that I realized, upon reflection, that I actually hated. Why did I not throw it away years ago?

  9. Maida says:

    Really great post. It’s something I’ve thinking about a bit and I am trying to put it in practice. A great resource is Your Money or Your Life. I am on a similar journey to a nomadic lifestyle, but you do need money to make some of it happen such as buying the plane ticket and food so I won’t depart until January 2012, if the world is still intact by then. I’m really glad I came across your blog because its making an unconventional idea seem very plausible. Looking forward to reading more about your journey.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I assume you mean that living like a nomad requires some money. I am working under the hypothesis that starting the nomadic life requires money, but that I can get it to a point where I am making enough money on the road to support myself.

      As for living a minimalistic life, that requires no money at all. In fact, living a minimalistic lifestyle before you become a nomad is a good idea as it helps you save money and you can prove to yourself that minimalism suits you before you get too invested in the nomadic life.

  10. Sven Wardhoff says:

    En gammal samekvinna sade till mig en gång för länge sedan; du
    ska inte äga mer än du kan ta med upp i ett träd. Hon var nomad…

  11. crys says:

    Reminds me of the shows about people who hoard, ugh, squashed cats found under bags of human feces and god knows what else. I love to purge from time to time, not food, stuff which no longer has any real purpose in my life. Could I be a true minimalist? Probably not. But then again, I have never been in the position of actually having to try. Most of us need all those buffers against the cold world outside our door. Blessings on the man who can walk away with his wordly goods on his back.

  12. Matt says:

    Wow a truely great idea and I loce the concept even if you don’t become a nomad you can possible improve the quality of life by reduce material needs for what is really important to you. Why live many lives and spread yourself thin, when you can focus one complete life with fewer completications. I am about 3 years of my grand plan but you are already live what I beliee is my dream.

    Thank you for a much need boost in direction.

    Cheers Matt

  13. Andreas says:

    Thanks for the article, great wisdom and something that really clings to what I’ve been striving for the last 6 months. Sold a lot of stuff and narrowing my belongings to a laptop, decent camera and running shoes.

    Maybe a good start is to actually pick the three belongings that helps you achieve the life you want and that you use everyday and try to get by with only those…

  14. I came to work at the Grand Canyon National Park in March 2007, I arrived here with 1 backpack and 1 small suitcase. In the 4.5 years that I have been here I have collected way to much stuff. I am in the process of getting rid of most of my stuff as I am moving to Alaska in March 2012. I hope to get to Alaska with just a backpack & a suitcase.

  15. Gar says:

    just dont knock anybody up kid while you’re on your travels… limitations will find you fast much like cold water to the face! but I will say this, there is nothing more liberating then having no attachments or addicted to consumerism!

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      In case I was the ‘kid’ you referred to, let me just say that I am no longer a kid; I turned 31 a few days ago! Whoohooooo!!!

      And the risk of me knocking someone up are remote to the point of absurdity. Not only do I play safe, but when it comes to procreation, I’m not even in the game!

      I take your point though. And being prevented from buying stuff that doesn’t fit in my backpack does feel really good and liberating as opposed to bad and limiting.

  16. KID~LMAO!! I’ll be 48 yrs old on Friday and don’t consider myself a kid anymore. I’m sure my 7 children don’t either. But thanks for that comment anyways :)

  17. Jody says:

    Great ideas! I have soooo much stuff though. I’ve been de-cluttering a lot, but it is not yet visible to the untrained eye. OMG, I am so attached to stuff. If I had none of it though I could still create beauty and share it, and behold all the beauty around me. Thanks for the inspiration!

  18. Craig Brown says:

    This from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784):
    “He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him”. I believe he meant that figuratively as well as literally, which, in my mind, makes it even more interesting.

  19. Maya says:

    I am re-reading this post because I’ve fallen off the minimalist wagon, when traveling I always want to buy stuff b/c I think it’s one of a kind or w/e excuse I come up with but how has it been going for you? You mentioned you were going to post an update once you start practicing it so I’m just curious if you find yourself accumulating a lot of items along the way.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I like it when my subscribers keep tabs on my promises! I must be more careful when I make them. ;-) Anyway, I will eventually do the long overdue blog post on what I have in my backpack, so then you will see all the details of what I carry around. But the quick answer is that I haven’t really bought anything in the last year apart from a tablet. As for trinkets and memorabilia from the places I’ve visited, I haven’t bought any at all. It is actually quite liberating to forbid yourself from doing so as you don’t have to think about the shopping.

  20. Heather says:

    Each time I sell and move, I become more of a minimalist. You find you can live without many things when faced with the prospect of packing, hauling and unpacking them. Frankly, these days I’m pretty sure I could live without everything except my laptop, my iPod and my Pentax camera.

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