Minimalism and Nomadic Lifestyles

It is really no surprise that nomads are also usually minimalists. In fact, I cannot think of a lifestyle nomad who is not a minimalist. (There may be a few, but they would certainly be the exception to this rule.) Minimalism and nomadic lifestyles just naturally go together.

This is not to say that all nomads start off as minimalists, or that all minimalists are nomads. There are plenty of minimalists who have simply embraced the lifestyle for its many benefits while continuing to maintain a stationary existence. Nomads who take to the road (or the skies or the sea) while still owning a lot of stuff (or being owned by a lot of stuff) tend to quickly find it more practical to rapidly and significantly downsize and embrace minimalism.

I had a lot less stuff than most Americans when I set out to be a nomad, but it was still far too much. My preparations for hitting the road indefinitely in 2009 were accompanied by a significant purge. Still, despite ridding myself of most of my stuff, I still ended up storing some boxes of things that I was emotionally attached to with a relative.

An interesting observation was realized only a short time after leaving some things in storage. I found that I could not even remember most of what was in the boxes. This experience is certainly not unique as I have heard many people relate similar stories - whether or not they were minimalists. It occurred to me at this point that if I could not even remember what I had put in storage than it probably was not all that important.

The other thing that occurred around this time was when I was home for a visit and decided to go through the boxes that I had stored to start downsizing more. Obviously I did not need to continue to keep stuff that I could not even remember. As I started going through boxes I found that much of what I had stored was ruined either because of a water leak or rodents. This discovery cemented my resolve to stop storing things “just in case” or because of an emotional attachment to inanimate objects.

The bottom line of my experience with storing stuff while on the road: 1. Most of the time we forget what we even have stored, because it is not possible to keep track of that much stuff 2. Trying to hold onto things if often a fools errand, because thieves, rodents, and nature all conspire to steal or destroy

Not all nomads find it necessary or useful to adopt one-bag minimalism though. There is a growing tribe of jet-setting minimalists who do find it useful to downsize to one bag, and for some people this is certainly the best approach. Nomads who travel by vehicle or who have a trade that requires tools, equipment or supplies necessarily carry a little more than one bag on their journeys.

Traveling around the country or world while lugging several large, heavy bags is just not a lot of fun. Consequently, nomads tend to find it desirable (or even necessary) to travel lightly in the world. The only other option to minimalism or the self-imposed misery of carrying everything around is to store extra stuff for potential use at a later date. Storage fees can become a drain on many budgets though, and there is still the question of whether the stuff will be stolen, damaged, or destroyed while in storage. There is also the matter of the psychic strain of needing to think about stuff that is in storage.

Finally, minimalism not only makes it easy to travel or migrate, but it makes it easy to do so with very little preparation. I can, and have, made the decision to move across the country, packed, and departed within 30 minutes. More than once. This may be an extreme example, but the fact is that one-bag minimalism makes it possible to pursue whatever interesting opportunities arise with very little time needed for preparation.

Henry David Thoreau described this situation perfectly in Walden:

“It is desirable that a man be clad so simply that he can lay his hands on himself in the dark, and that he live in all respects so compactly and preparedly that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.”

I think of this quote often and try to maintain the same status myself. It may be unlikely that an enemy will take the town (though certainly not impossible, depending on the location), but there are definitely opportunities available to a minimalist who can walk out the door nearly empty-handed without anxiety that are not available to most people who are burdened by possessions.