A Simpler Life

I stepped out of the train and could already smell the sea. There was a small building with a ticket office and behind it, a rock wall specked with vegetation. It took a moment for me to orient myself. I spotted a sign that said Montereggione and went where it was pointing.

A couple of minutes later I walked the main street of the small fisher village down to the seashore. The village was beautifully nestled between hills right at the shore of the Mediterranean sea. I could already smell fried fish from the open restaurant doors and saw people eating outside at the tables. I realized then how hungry I was and decided to put my backpack down and seat myself at the next free table. I ordered myself a plate of fish and vegetables. I was in no hurry.

Two days ago I knew nothing about Montereggione and Cinque Terre, a region with five small villages at the east Italien coast. I planned to go straight to Rome. However, after I was told about this place by a charming French girl over a glass of wine at the riverbank of the Arno, I decided to come here to see it myself. I ended up spending almost a week here hiking from village to village with my backpack and reading Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden in cafés. It really felt like I’ve found paradise.

Since that time where I’ve been backpacking across Europe, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of having everything one needs to live in a backpack. It was the first time I experienced how little one actually needed to get by. Everyone I know that has been backpacking knows what I’m talking about. There is a weird satisfaction in having all you need fit on your back easily.

While this could’ve been a great start to a societal exit and voluntary bum story, I didn’t go quite that far.

Instead, I decided to go minimalist with my new apartment. The timing was perfect for I got a new job in a new city and consequently also needed a new apartment. I found a great 24 sqm studio flat in a lovely part of town and a 20-minute walk away from work. It was perfect.

The first three weeks, I would sleep on a 70x200cm Futon – a Japanese roll-out mattress, but eventually upgraded to a Futon sofa, where I could nicely switch between bed and sofa. I had two chairs, a cupboard, and two tables (I’d have preferred one, but they came with the apartment). Other than that I got some cleaning supplies all kitchen stuff like cutlery (two of each in case I have a guest).

Minimalism is a conscious exploration of how little we actually need and want. Those two are different of course, but limiting ourselves even to what we actually want is challenging. Often we don’t get very clear about what we want. We just copy other people’s wants and focus on what we’re supposed to want. Of course, I want a TV/pool / etc... By asking yourself for every item you own “do I really want this?” you can hone into your actual desires much better. It’s a process.

Once you identified what you want, you can go all-in on that. Do you love to play the piano? Chances are you can buy a really nice one after you sold all the other stuff you didn’t actually need (or just saved on not buying tons of other stuff). Ramit Sethi has a great quote that summarises this concept perfectly:

Spend lavishly on the things you love, and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.

Ramit Sethi

So after I cut down on the essential, the next step was to increase utility. I wasn’t going minimalist for the sake of it. The goal was to simplify life and focus on the things that matter. Increase the good and reduce the “meh“.

I think this is often overlooked when people think of minimalism. They imagine an empty apartment with empty closets and everything in that minimalist aesthetic. But minimalism isn’t about the specifics but the underlying principles. You have to be able to make a solid case for why you own something, and that for every single item you have. Every item should improve your life.

I bought some nice plants to improve the homeliness and air quality. I brought all my favorite books (most I have in a digital format but the great ones I get physical copies of). Even small things like buying microfibre towels instead of normal ones. They dry quickly, need less washing, and are much smaller so they can easily be thrown in with another laundry. I also improved the lighting with some warm white LED-strips that give the room some indirect lighting which makes it much cozier. Lastly, because the gyms are terrible places to be in a pandemic world, I got some simple gym equipment to work out at home – a pull-up bar, a kettlebell, and some stretch bands.

This is the stationary side of my minimalism, but there is another side as well. I want to be as flexible as possible and fit everything I need on the road into a backpack. What needs the most space when traveling? Your clothes. Luckily I stumbled across Tynan’s great blog. Tynan is a fascinating character with homes all over the world. Because of that he travels quite a bit and has gone full-on minimalist with his packing. He travels with an 18L backpack which is around 2/3 full. I didn’t go that far, but I took his advice on the type of clothing to buy, namely wool.

Brands like Icebreaker and Wool&Prince offer clothing with large parts of merino wool fabric. The material is super comfortable, quick-drying, and odor-resistant, which means you literally have to wash a t-shirt once a week. I was skeptical too at first and bought one to try it out. It works like a charm and I’ll never buy a normal t-shirt again. So suddenly I’m down to one 23L backpack I take with me no matter how long the trip is gonna be.

Over the Holidays I was visiting my family for a few weeks. During a coffee walk with a friend, he was telling me about a cheap flight to Fuerteventura and how we could spend NYE in Spain. I was really into the idea after thinking about it and we bought the flight the next morning. Four days later we were in the airport on our way out. This was only possible because everything I needed fit into my carry-on backpack. I had all with me and flew directly from Spain back home, only leaving one sweater at my parents’ house.

That’s the type of freedom minimalism offers.

Everyone knows how much easier (and cheaper) traveling with carry-on luggage is compared to check-in. I would probably never have gone to Spain or Monterregione if I had to bring a heavy suitcase with me. Living with lots of stuff is the same but in your daily life.

Your decisions are no longer free because of all the things that are weighing you down.

Whatever you own ends up owning you.

Tyler Durden

Minimalism has become a big trend and it’s easy to see why. Consumerism and Amazon shopping sprees have failed to give us happiness but instead made life even less satisfying in many cases. A new awareness for taking care of the environment further drives the desire to live with less.

My two main reasons for practicing minimalism are freedom and safety.

Freedom because with fewer things I own I am less bound by them.

Safety because I realize how little I actually need and am used to living with less. This in turn reduces my financial needs and I don’t have to chase the status game.

More money, more freedom and more happiness.

The last benefit I discovered was clarity. Minimalism not only forces you to become clear about your needs and priorities, but it also reduces distraction and the unessential. It becomes much easier to focus on the few things that are truly important to you.