I started my minimalist journey in 2010, when I sold most of my possessions, moved to San Francisco from Ohio, and lived nomadically out of a 28L backpack for a period of time. While this is admittedly extreme (and I’ve settled slightly since then), I feel privileged to have experienced a rare liberation that comes from owning very few things.
After a brief stint with meditation in 2006, I began noticing how much money and mental energy was spent on “stuff.” Items for purchase. Retail products. Free swag. Merchandise. Black Friday is only the most extreme example of behavior that happens every day across America. This caused me to examine the things I spent my own money and energy on, the results of which were difficult to ignore.
People invent all sorts of excuses for continuing to acquire more stuff, including:
“You never know when you might need this.”
“It’s such a bargain.”
“I’m SAVING money by spending more now.”
Not to mention the fact that we’re all human, make mistakes, and, despite our best efforts, find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves to others. This can lead to the “keeping up with the Joneses,” with which nearly everyone is familiar.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I must admit the truth in the quote from Fight Club: “The stuff you own ends up owning you.” Spending money on stuff can become a hobby or comfort activity.
One of my current housemates likes to joke about the day I moved in—with nothing more than a backpack. Can you imagine moving all of your personal possessions in one trip, without a car? Talk about agility!
I also noticed how difficult it is to become a minimalist. The hardest part is getting rid of stuff once you’ve accumulated it. For that, I recommend starting small and taking baby steps: keep an open box somewhere in your house or apartment, and whenever you come across something that you haven’t touched in awhile, put it in the box. At the end of every month, casually look through the box and ask yourself if you really need any of the stuff. If no, take the box to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. Or, for maximum psychological riddance, throw it into a dumpster.
The last thing I did was to start limiting what I purchased. A side effect of this has been that I don’t purchase many inexpensive things that aren’t perishable food—for example, I don’t buy cheap shoes. I buy better shoes, because they last longer. This is how I discovered Tom Bihn: excellent quality gear that lasts a long, long time. An amazing bag that lasts forever is just so much more valuable than a cheap, crappy bag that you replace every 6 or 12 months.
Every month, look back and calculate how much you spent on “nonessential” items, and set a goal of saving that much next month towards a plane ticket to somewhere new, or something high quality you will use.
Once you begin the process of slowly shedding unnecessary possessions, it becomes intoxicating. Your living space slowly becomes simpler and less cluttered, which has the unexpected effect of de-cluttering your head. It becomes a lifestyle.
Dave Paola is a nomadic citizen of the world and the CTO of Bloc. You can find more of his writing here.