On our patented “Gandhi-to-Mariah” scale of extravagance, my husband Rob and I reckon we’re somewhere around Woody Allen. For example, trips to nearby pretty towns often end up with us in the local furniture store, getting all excited about a coffee table or cushion with a cow picture on it. But we own five t-shirts each, two pairs of shoes, two sweatshirts and two pairs of trousers. Rob doesn’t even have any socks.
We were never huge fans of shopping or accumulating “stuff”, but becoming digital nomads has - to an extent through necessity - turned us even further away from that way of life. It’s still fun to coo over the latest workout gear or wireless-enabled whojamaflip, but we also know what really makes us happy: experiences, relationships and meaningful work - not possessions.
We’re not the only ones: it’s been proven that accumulating garages and cupboards full of stuff doesn’t make anyone wildly ecstatic. In fact, the buzz of a new purchase wears off almost instantly, and all these possessions end up tying people down - and bringing them down in the process. In a 2012 study called “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century”, researchers at UCLA observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families and found that all the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings. Seventy-five percent of the families in the study could no longer use their garages to park their cars, because they were jammed with other things.
So…owning stuff doesn’t make us happy. But does not owning stuff make us any less happy than we could be?
For example, are we consciously less happy when we make salad in a saucepan because there aren’t any large bowls in our Airbnb apartment? No, of course not. How about subconsciously? I really do doubt it. Or how about the fact that I have five t-shirts on constant rotation - would life be so much more amazing if I had 15 tops instead? I used to own far more than 15 t-shirts, and I can’t remember having any “This is IT - the pinnacle of joy” moments of elation as a result.
But how do we feel when we’re sitting with wonderful friends in some cosy little Eastern European cafe? Or checking out all the wildlife while walking up the Colorado mountains? Or even just waking up to a new view every few months? At times like those, we’re so overwhelmed with happiness we feel like we could pop.
And then of course, there’s the freedom that comes with having so few belongings. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of travelling with everything you own on your back. You can go anywhere and do anything at a moment’s notice. You can pack up your life approximately 15 minutes before leaving for the airport. And then you can sail straight past that carousel and out into the world, knowing that you have everything you could possibly need, right there with you.
Mish and her husband Rob run a real estate company while they travel the world. They blog about their experiences on www.makingitanywhere.com, and have just published a book on Amazon: "Travel Like A Pro: road-tested tips for digital nomads and frequent travelers".