How travelling made me a minimalist

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for months. But you know, life happened. You might think: this is a travel blog, what has minimalism to do with travelling? Well, everything.

The first time I got in touch with the concept of minimalism was a few years ago. When I was living in Sydney and travelling through Australia I listened a lot of podcasts. One of these was about minimalism: an interview with two former business men who changed their lives, sold almost everything they possessed and got down to the bottom of their essentials. According to them it was a relief and it gave them a feeling of freedom. Me, an always self-developing idealist, I was very interested by the concept, but didn’t give it further thought or practice, because I also knew I loved stuff, things, collections. Once a year I got this urge to clean out my entire room and throw things I didn’t need or want anymore. Especially this last part had always been difficult for me…. ‘maybe I will need this someday?’ And the following year I would go through all my stuff again and I would stumble upon the same object and realised that of course I still hadn’t needed it all year. The 2nd or 3rd time I came back to this object I had the courage to throw it away, finally. Recognisable?

Then, in September 2016 I would leave for my big trip, travelling from Antwerp towards Australia without flying. A trip without an end date nor a clear destination. I had to leave my apartment in Antwerp where I had been living for 3 years. Since my parents were living in the Netherlands and planning to move while I was away, they didn’t want me to drop all my shit I gathered during my Uni years back at home (my mom doesn’t like to have too much stuff around her either). I could fill up one big box and that was it. Everything that couldn’t fit in the box or my backpack I had to sell, throw or give away. I had to seriously de-clutter. I like that word, because most stuff is exactly that: clutter. It’s not necessary, it fills up your room to move around and it is not essential for our survival nor our happiness. I even think that too much stuff gets in the way of happiness.

I like the ‘declutter’ story of the The Minimalists (the guys from the podcast): They packed everything they owned in boxes, as if they were going to move. Then for the next 3 weeks they only unpacked the things they needed. After this period they could tell which things were essential and what was just there because one time they liked the product and bought it. People love to buy new things, but the problem is, we don’t like to recycle, upcycle or throw things away. If you are really honest: even if you have a closet full of nice clothes, you will still come down to wearing the same few pieces over and over again because these are your favourites, right? What if every piece of clothing you owned is your favourite? Wouldn’t that make a lot more sense? We think we like to have a lot of choice, but in the end we are only frustrated because we changed for the 4th time in front of the mirror to come down to the outfit you wore at the beginning. Another example: when there are too many options on a menu in a restaurant, you always have the feeling you chose the wrong dish in the end right? Especially when you see all delicious, yummie looking dishes getting served at tables next to you and you can’t imagine your dish is going to be as good. I’am getting off the point here…

I decluttered. I went through years of stuff and memories and threw out a lot. I might have cried a little sometimes. It was hard, but if felt so, so good. I realised that I kept all of this stuff because I felt it had emotional meaning. But what was really true, was that I cherished the memories attached to these objects. It seemed insane to just keep all those things so that I could look at it once a year if it would come out of that dusty box and think about this wonderful memory. The only way this makes sense to me is for diaries and photos. So I made photos of some objects, just to be sure I could look at them sometime if I wanted (still haven’t done this). Luckily we live in a time where we can save thousands of photos on small drives and keep our memories close to us. And then still, I think we sometimes attach too much value to our passed. How often do you actually go back through all of your shitty cell phone photos that you dumped in a file, somewhere on your computer, just because you couldn’t be bothered going through all of them to select and keep the good ones?

I left on my trip on the 15th of september 2016, with one heavy backpack on my back and a small front pack. Decluttered of my stuff in Antwerp, but still taking way too much clutter with me on my trip. ‘Maybe I will need this at some point…’. Turned out, I didn’t need much in the end.
In my first two weeks of travelling the minimalist subject popped up again when I was couchsurfing in Tallinn, Estonia. When I contacted my host online, he accepted my request to stay at his place, but immediately told me I shouldn’t expect too much of his simple home. He later told me he was a minimalist. He showed me some Ted-talks about the same guys I was talking about earlier: The Minimalists. I told him about my struggle to get rid of my stuff before leaving on my trip and it was then I first realised I should write a blogpost about this.
Going up North towards Russia it got colder and colder and though I did take some warm clothes, it was definitely not enough to keep me warm. I bought some extra warm clothes and as soon as I got more south again in China, I learned to just leave my excess stuff at the hostels, so someone else could use it. I slowly started to realise that you don’t need to take much, because if you really need something, you can find in on the way. Travelling with a backpack is literally and metaphorically feeling the weight of your belongings. If we can travel light, we are much happier! Wouldn’t that be the case in our normal life too?

At least for me it is true. Ever since I got back I stopped hoarding things and became much more aware of what I actually need. I started with one small closet and a clothing reck and all my stuff still fits in and on these things. My bed is made from pallets, and I have a few books on my windowsill. That’s all. I only buy second hand clothes (except for underwear) and if I notice my clothes don’t fit into my closet anymore, some clothes have to go.
Try this thought experiment: What would you take if there was a fire in your house and you had only 1 minute left to grab something?
I bet you wouldn’t take your expensive television or your new prada bag. I think you would take your photos, diaries or your hard drive. You would take something that holds your memories. Because these are the things we value most. It’s a cliché, but the quote ‘collect moments, not things’ is pretty accurate in my way of life.

If you are inspired, or you want to know more about what I do to live in a minimalistic way, I will share with you some tips&tricks 🙂

  • Try to reverse your thought pattern: instead of thinking ‘I need a bigger closet’… think: ‘I have too much stuff’
  • Everytime you want to buy something, ask yourself the question of you just want it, or you actually need it. There is nothing wrong with wanting, but I think we sometimes forget the value of something if we just buy everything right away when we want it. Try to save for something you really want and see if you still want it after some time. Chances are you don’t even want it so bad anymore after a while.
  • Try to see buying as the last resort. First see what you have, see if you can borrow or swap it, check if you can buy it second hand or make it yourself… and if that doesn’t work out, then buy!
  • I like searching for alternative ways of materialistic things. For example: I really like to read, but although I love paper books, they take up a lot of space and weight, especially while travelling. So I have an Audible Membership where I can download 1 audiobook every month. E-books are also a very good solution, but what I like about audiobooks is that you can listen to it while cooking, cleaning and working out! Damn I sound like a housewife selling for Shopping TV…
  • Try to learn about a zero waste lifestyle. Minimalism and Zero waste are not the same but I think they are very much in alignment because of their main focus on less waste and more about quality of life. For almost everything you use is a better alternative: think about plastic bags, packaging of all kinds, period disposables, soap, shampoo, etc. (For the ladies, if you are interested in what I use for my period instead of the disposable stuff, send me an email at info@trackhannah.com, don’t want to bother the guys with it here ;-))
  • Try to think of what really makes you happy. When do you feel truly happy and grateful? Chances are, it’s not when you just bought an expensive dress. For me, my moments of joy are when I wake up with the sun shining into my bedroom window, when I drink a good cup of coffee with one of my best friends, when I am on a beautiful spot in nature, when my boyfriend takes my head between his hands and kisses me, a good glass of wine and long conversations, hearing my favourite song and dance until my feet hurt… What are your favourite moments? Please share!

– Collect moments, not things-

4 Replies to “How travelling made me a minimalist”

  1. Elly Tönissen- Hendriks says: Reply

    Erg goed verwoord
    Je hebt niet veel nodig maar wel liefde en vriendschap.

  2. Sjiek !!!!

    1. Dankje Lesley!

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