How traveling made me more minimalist

How traveling made me more minimalist

I didn’t know I’m a minimalist until a friend called me one. Haven’t thought about it before, even less to make an effort to become one. It happened naturally, traveling made me more minimalist.

Level 1 – Master the art of light packing

I used to pack half of my wardrobe for a holiday. Have enough clothes for each day, plus some extras, plus some activity-specific ones and so on. In the end, there were a lot of clothes and shoes left unused. But that’s not such an issue when you have a suitcase.

So there I was, in the middle of a small village called Mtwapa, on the Kenyan coast… dragging my big suitcase on the unpaved roads, with the dust flying all around. It was not only heavy and unwise to carry it around, but the stuff I took with me… even more useless. That was the moment I realized I need to buy a backpack. And re-think the whole packing thing. Some realize before the actual trip, but hey, better later than never! When I went back from the trip, I bought a backpack and I use it since 2013. It still looks in good shape and it will probably last me more years. I don’t remember the capacity exactly, but it has the dimensions to fit in the hand luggage as well.

Road in Mtwapa
Road in Mtwapa

Less stuff to pack

If you will be carrying a backpack, you don’t want to carry it with a million things you know you are not going to use. Or with “maybes”. You want to carry as little as possible and it’s a great exercise to think about what you really need.

If it’s a hot destination, it makes it easier, as you need fewer clothes and they are thinner. I don’t know how’s like to travel to a cold destination, as I almost never go to one. I usually go with a backpack of 7-8 kg for a two-week holiday in a hot destination. Hand luggage only. How? That’s another story.

Before leaving home, I do a final walk around the house and try to think if I got everything I need. And if not, well, there are lots of shops on the way and at the destination. I believe the thought that we might be missing something causes us to pack more. Or the thought that we might need something during the travel and we won’t find it easily. Most of the cases, that doesn’t happen, it’s just pointless worrying. And if it does happen, it’s not as bad. It’s not like we have all and everything for any situation at home either.

Small backpack for a city break
Small backpack for a city break

Keep on Repeat

It gets easier with practice, like everything. The more you travel, the more you know what you really use and need during your travels and you adjust your packing to it.

Then you can apply the same mentality to your wardrobe, for example. What percentage of your clothes do you actually wear (at least once in a few months)? In my case, I had some clothes in good shape, I liked them, but I was not wearing them anymore. Because I got bored of them or I bought new ones I liked even more. So what’s the point of keeping them? Then, I have the “maybes”. Some clothes I wore once or twice for an activity/event and won’t normally wear. I was keeping them just in case. But then I thought, if I have a new event, I would probably be happy to buy something new, and not wear some of the old ones. This would only add up to the “maybes” pile.

Now I regularly donate my unused clothes. In the beginning, it was a bit more difficult, my reasons being “Oh, but I like it” or “Maybe I should start wearing it”. But then I thought that I don’t really need them and someone else maybe finds them more useful. It feels good to donate, as it feels good to empty the space to leave room for new stuff.

Winter days
Winter days

Level 2 – Moving houses like a pro

In almost 3 years since I’ve been in London, I moved houses 3 times. I arrived in London with a big suitcase and a small one. I was sure I was not going to be here for long and I kept that present in mind. I didn’t buy any expensive objects that wouldn’t fit in a suitcase. Keep it easy, keep it simple. When the opportunity comes, I will pack everything right away.

I rented a room in a shared flat with two other girls. It was ok overall, but I was not very happy with my flatmates. After 10 months, the landlord sold the flat and we had to move out. So I decided to move by myself and rented a small studio, in the same area. Packing was quite easy, but it was still surprising to me: after only 10 months, from 1 suitcase now I had 2, another 1 small one and a few bags. I called an Uber and he was not happy about it, but he took the ride. I mean, in my mind it was the same as taking 2-3 people to the airport. They have luggage as well. Yeah, that made sense only in my mind.

After moving, I suddenly realized there’s a lot of stuff I need to buy. When you share flat, most probably the bathroom and kitchen are already equipped with all necessary, but when it’s only you, probably not. So I went to buy the minimum required, like plates, cutlery etc. I was happy with the change though and I like living by myself.

At B Bakery in London

Having the bags ready

I didn’t have many reasons to complain. But I was still keeping the mentality that an opportunity to leave is right around the corner and I need to “have my bags ready”. I lived like that for about 1 year and a half. It’s both exciting and tiring.

On one side, it was good because I was going out more, I was visiting more of London, I had my to-do list before leaving. You live more intensely if you know your time in one place is limited. You want to get the most of it. But on the other side, I was not doing any longer-term planning, not signing up for classes or any commitment longer than 1-2 months because, “you know, I maybe won’t be here by that time!”

That’s my hopeless optimist side, who believes it’s possible for something amazing to happen to me at any time. It’s just… you never know 🙂

So while waiting and dreaming for my amazing escape from rainy London to a sunny exotic city…. I got tired. I then decided that I should stop and “unpack”. Doesn’t matter if I stay here for 1 more month or for 1 more year, the important part is that I live here, not that I’m “about” to go somewhere else.

Bird going into the lake
Bird going into the lake

Let it flow

Once I decided that it was easy to do the things I “couldn’t do” before. I bought more stuff and made myself “at home”. Give it another year and I found a better job on the other side of the city. Though the commute was ok-ish, I thought it was time for yet another move. I rented a flat in a new area. This time I was used to the flat searching, prices, and what to expect from moving houses in London. I had a good friend helping me with the moving. I had more stuff than my previous moving but it still fit in a car.

I used this occasion to recycle and donate everything I was not using. It’s impressive how much stuff you can gather and forget about it. It made me feel I got rid of the old and unused and now I let the new in. It was a very nice feeling.

Latest moving. All my stuff
Latest moving. All my stuff

Level 3 – Awareness of the change

I believe what makes me a minimalist is not that I restrict myself from buying, but that I try to keep only useful things. That’s the purpose of objects/clothes, to be useful (at least to me). It’s like a cycle. We change. We also live in a consumerist world where most products change fast. Technology kicks in. There’s no point in holding on to stuff for too long. If you keep it there to dust, by the time you decide to use it, it will be “too old” for you or for its purpose. Not to mention someone else might be very happy to use the stuff you keep forgotten in a corner.

One could argue that this way you spend more money. Not necessarily. Because thinking about how useful a thing is to you makes you more aware of your habits. And changes in habits. When you give away 5 nightdresses, it makes you realize you don’t go out at night anymore. Next time you go shopping, you won’t buy another nightdress, as you know it won’t be useful. You buy some jeans and tops. And you would have bought them anyway, because you need them (because of the change in habits).

Selfie in a restroom
Selfies in a restroom. Younger me would have said: No way!

So I guess I’m trying to say that I like to move it, move it. My mind travels, my body travels, and you know now, a few stuff travel with me, and most other stuff travels in and out of my home. My moving home, I mean.

Happy travels!

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