On owning little

"Is that all you own?"

I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked that question. My parents, family, friends, people in hostels, receptionists in hotels and airport attendants have all asked me that question. They are amazed at the size of my bag is, and surprised when I tell them it's all I own in this world.

I left for university with 4 boxes, came back with 2, and now I'm down to one carry-on bag. My story about how I downsized everything isn't spectacular. I never had this sudden revelation that "the things you own end up owning you". I never had a house fire, destroying my belongings and forcing me to start again. I never even thought I'd end up owning this little.

In fact, I used to own quite a lot when I was growing up. My bedroom drawers were rammed with toys or little gadgets I got for Christmas. I would end up breaking the handles trying to open them because they were so heavy.

In around 2012, I started reading the blogs of minimalists around the world. I would read Exile Lifestyle by Colin Wright, Zen Habits by Leo Babauta and of course, The Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. I loved how they described their journies towards minimalism, and how it gave them freedom to do what they love.

At this point, I was at the end of college and finishing off my A-Level exams. As a procrastination technique, I would go through my room, throwing away little knick-knacks and worthless items I had collected over time.

I started seeing the blog posts of my now great friend, Pieter Levels, which started to show up on Hacker News. Blog posts such as How I travel the world with just a carry-on bag and How I Went From 100 To 0 Things. I saw how he was travelling the world, and could only do it by carrying the essentials.

When moving to university, I knew I would never be coming back to live at my parents long term. I put the small amount of sentimental items I had into a box and my parents put it in the loft. I went to university with 4 boxes of stuff. I remember moving in to halls of residence and lining everything up on the shelves, wondering what I could get rid of. If I'm honest, it became a bit of an obsession.

A little late to the game, I read the books of The Minimalists. Conveniently enough, they were doing a UK tour and I managed to see them at a small bookshop a few miles north of the city I was living in.

During my second year, I lived with my then girlfriend in her halls of residence. I had my own house, but ended up living out of a box of stuff I kept at hers.

In my third year, we moved in together. The amount of stuff I owned ballooned a little, as I took on kitchenware and other things I hadn't had before. Towards the end of my third year, I was living out of 2 boxes I had on the floor of my lounge.

During my fourth year, I decided to double down on the minimalist lifestyle. At this point, I had decided to leave for southeast Asia in late 2018, so I knew accumulating more things would be fruitless. I started little experiments, just for fun, but they allowed me to get rid of even more stuff. I initially slept on a bed with no duvet, and then progressed to sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor. I pared down my sports clothes to one of each item. I cut down to one of each item of kitchenware.

Now this might sound like the story of an obsessed, extreme minimalist. And you're probably right. I realise most people don't even go this far - just cleaning up the clutter would probably have been fine.

When I left university, my paring down had paid off. I was able to move out within a matter of minutes and fit everything inside the car I would be driving home.

Now I'm travelling, I only carry one bag. I've even cut down from what I originally brought, but that was to be expected. I think I'm now at the point where any further would be detrimental to my lifestyle and hobbies. I use everything I have on a daily, if not, weekly basis.

I still like to look at posts on /r/onebag, read about ultralight hiking or the allowed possessions of a Bhikkhu.

I hope this post will not reinforce the idea that minimalism equals owning as little as possible. It should just be a story about how minimalism has helped me life the life I wanted to lead. You don't need to (and probably shouldn't) continually pare down your items to several dozen, but rather just focus on what's important to you.