After unlocking the door to a new home, I flood the bookshelves with all the favorite titles I’ve squeezed into my suitcase.
Next, maps and postcards turn the walls into an art exhibit, carefully curated from the collection of mementos in my backpack.
A TV, dining table and dresser can wait – these are the only material things I need to live happily.
They’re also the reason I will never be a true minimalist. Because minimalists only travel with a carry-on. Minimalists don’t see a Tiny House and think, “Perfect; but where would I keep my paperbacks?”
After watching Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things (while the shelves of my overflowing personal library frowned in the background), I realized something redemptive about our oddly decorated apartment: travelers, in essence, ARE minimalists.
Whether you quit your job and sell everything in a brilliant epiphany, or simply follow the luggage weight limit for a short-haul flight, you have consciously chosen to move with less. And according to Millburn and Nicodemus, the two influencers behind the documentary, we tend to “live more meaningful lives” when these things happen:
Money is spent on memories, not possessions.
Travelers still buy lots of stuff, but these tend to be souvenirs and experiences. And both of these (more often than not) are purchased in order to share. You’re not removing yourself from the currency system, so much as loosening it’s grasp on your bank account.
And advertisements can’t always catch you as you fly from one place to the next – so their overwhelming insistance on buy-buy-buy gets lost in the atmosphere. Which sounds a lot like freedom to me…
Materialism depends on quality, not quantity.
Have you ever had the flip flop debate? Every traveler has his/her own favorite brand, swearing loyalty and desperately trying to convert the non-believers. Tevas are better than Reefs. Havaianas are the king of sandals. Chacos put all other footwear to shame. What they’re really arguing about is not the status of the brand, but how much their adventures depend on the material craftsmanship of the shoe.
If you can only carry 1-2 pairs, they’d better be comfortable, durable and at least decently attractive (which is why I will scale mountains in my Havaianas). It’s OK to pay a bit more for something that will, quite literally, carry you around the world.
Fashion loses power.
No 52-week fashion cycle for a traveler. It doesn’t matter if you’re packing for a quick vacation or an extended stay; you’re purposefully narrowing down a wardrobe. Luggage size sets the limitations of your dress code.
Even when shopping, you pull out the wallet with the same question Millburn and Nicodemus pose in their book: “Do I need this?” Will it fit in your suitcase? How much longer will your other shoes/shirt/socks hold out before total disrepair? And would you rather spend money on a new shirt, or a dinner out with new friends?
Relationships replace inanimate objects.
(Cue rant about cell phone addictions and the imminent collapse of society.) While there were hints about mobile dependency and social demise in the documentary, the broader message was this: when you don’t already own everything, you reach out to others for swapping and sharing. This, in turn, creates a tighter, safer and stronger community of people who meet their collective needs together.
Like that time you split the cost of a taxi with those strangers staying at your hotel. Or how you jumped into a game of football with some neighborhood kids and ended up learning a bit of the local dialect. Every opportunity to interact with another human being (instead of your phone, or your TV, or your laptop) is a chance to maximize human connection.
And, as every traveler will tell you, this is the reason we leave home in the first place.