“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
– Lao Tzu
Before I left Australia for this trip, I had what I would consider a pretty good life: I had a sweet job, was debt free, had a great circle of friends, a house full of furniture and a decent vinyl collection. Fast forward to April 17th and besides my vinyl collection (one never lets go of his vinyl collection) and a suitcase of clothes stored away, I pretty much own nothing else except for what I’m currently traveling with in my back pack.
So what happened? To tell you the truth, the decision to move to a minimalist lifestyle wasn’t the original intention. When I was planning for this trip, it was meant to be a ‘short’ 6 month trip away from work, taking me from Mexico down to Argentina. I would sub let my room, give my car to mum to use so that she could sell hers and then have my then the flatmates would take care of the bills. Everything would be sweet as and I’d return in October 2013, recharged and ready to slip back into the working life.
Then as I was plotting out the countries and weeks I would visit, it dawned on me. If I were to do this properly, go slow and not turn it into a Contiki tour then I would need a lot more time. At least 8 months so that I could spend at least 5-6 weeks in most of the countries. After years of work, saving and paying off debts, I was finally in a good position professionally and financially that would enable me to do so. At that moment I also decided that I didn’t want to have any loose ends or commitments in place here that could potentially bring me back early. As a result, decided to shed myself of some of the burdens that would dwell on my mind whilst I would be away. My car, my room and furniture and other things that I couldn’t store.
Whilst I was in this process, something totally unexpected occurred. I could not stop getting rid of things. It was a personal cleansing of some sorts. For many years I was spending Monday to Friday working to buy and accumulate things to show off as a sign of success. As I’d get promoted with subsequent pay rises, I’d just replace those things that I had bought with more expensive things. Why? Because I could, and apparently people dig that shit if you have nice things. Am I right?. On previous holidays overseas I used to spend a tonne of money buying a tonne of crap only because I felt the like it as something I had to do to convince others that I had an awesome time. Silly isn’t it? Clothes, shoes, DVD’s, gadgets, gifts. Why? Because it’s easier to brag about the tangible things you can see, touch and feel when you walk into the office.
As I was going through all of these things that I owned, I realised that I had never worn half the shirts, jackets, shoes and never played any games on the PS3. I was no longer felt attached to them nor did they give me any personal satisfaction. They acted as a distraction and no longer wanted to be a slave to these things. I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted my shoulders and from then on it became so much easier to not spend any further money on unnecessary things. Any future spending would be invested into the adventure and experiences ahead.
Over the next few months, the following things happened. Firstly, I booked my flights out of Sydney and then booked in with diving school to get my PADI qualification as I knew diving would be a large part of my Central American leg of the trip. Secondly, I practically gave away most of my possessions. I gave about twelve bags of clothes to the Salvation Army, sold my car, turntables, snowboards, kitchenware, TV, lounge and BBQ. Everything else, if none of my friends wanted to help themselves to it, I left on the street for council collection. It may sound extreme but I knew I no longer needed them, so why hold onto them any longer. The option of keeping most of the items in storage was considered, however the cost of storage over time would have amounted to the same as if I had to purchase them at second hand prices again. Also I wasn’t attached to anything enough to pay for storage.
As with most things, there are some pros and cons with living a minimal lifestyle. For me it’s been a double edged sword. The main pro for me is that now I no longer have any major distractions, I’ve been I’ve been able to focus on exploring the places and understanding the places and the people that I’m in. I’ve been able to focus more on writing and photography as well as developing this blog. The final benefit is that as I no longer have an attachment to such things, so if I lose anything then it can be easily replaced.
The main con for me at the moment is that I can procrastinate and waste a lot of time being distracted on the net (A friend of mine introduced me to the biggest time waster that is www.browncardigan.com). I’ve had to kick myself sometimes when I felt like I was rushing to edit photos or finish a blog entry . I had to tell myself “Hey there’s always tomorrow, get out and explore”. I can also get caught up in the number of items in my back pack as well as the things I spend my money on. Call it process or necessity through working to a budget, but it can at times become obsessive.
Now I can only speak from my own experiences before leaving Australia and now on the road. Yes, living out of a back pack has forced me to live a simplistic lifestyle but there’s nothing stopping anybody who lives permanently somewhere to take a similar approach. Im not saying that everybody should sell everything and live off nothing. However it wouldn’t hurt to have a look at what the main distractions are in our own lives that aren’t aren’t quite necessary to making you happy. If you think owning something can make you happy then perhaps you should look a bit deeper. I’ve previously mentioned that one of my mistakes in packing for this trip was packing things in that I “may need”. The same could apply to everyday life back at home.
I’ve only been away for nearly four months now and I already know that things won’t be the same when I return to Oz. My friends who have travelled extensively have told me that it would change me and I’m starting to believe them. Will I return to the same media job when I left? I would like to say no but that is another hurdle to tackle for another day. I do know that whatever I do will be for myself and on my own terms.I’m enjoying the travelling, taking photos and writing so it will remain a part of whatever I do when this trip is over.
The irony is that I worked for 11 years in the media and advertising industry promoting brands and products to people. I’d be in charge of spending millions of dollars of a clients media budgets, with the end goal of vying for consumers attention in order to make them love us, giving them stupid reasons why they should like us on Facebook and buy our products. Instead, I’m now focused on I’m designing the life that suits me and not others and have another 6 or so months to make it happen. I don’t think it can be accomplish it if I have too many possessions to keep me distracted.
I’m quite content with everything I have now to enjoy a minimalist lifestyle whether away or when/if I return home. I don’t feel like I’m missing out because I have fewer things or have to wear the same things again next week. I (mostly) have clean clothes, access to half decent internet to stay in touch with friends and manage to cook and eat good local food where ever I go. I don’t want to fall into the trap of wanting or desiring things I don’t need just because somebody tells me that I need it and my life will be a lot more enriched because of it.
I hope I don’t come across as a bit arrogant or high and mighty in this post, as it’s far from the intention. It’s just an account of how I feel that I’ve changed and re-prioritised my career and life goals over the last 9 months which probably doubles up as a mid career crisis as well. Will I continue this minimalist lifestyle for the rest of my life? I can’t tell you as I can’t see that far ahead in time. However, my plans for the next 12 month have never been as clearer to me as does now and what I see excites me and I can’t wait to share it with everybody.
So my friends. Have you ever made a huge life change, rearrange your priorities or taken a leap of faith?
Artwork by Tyrhone Tubbs @ Eyepudding