I’m A Minimalist. How The Hell Did That Happen?

Sitting in a cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand looking out at the rainy world outside.
A good place to avoid the rain and ponder life.

Have you ever thought about decreasing the clutter in your life? Becoming a minimalist? There are countless books, blogs and articles describing ways to achieve that goal. For me it just happened over time. I didn’t plan for it or seek it out. It just happened.

I am sitting in a cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand drinking my usual Thai Ice Tea and I began to wonder about the last ten months on the road. I gave up my apartment back in March ’18 after deciding being homeless was a better option than paying rent while I was also paying for guesthouses as I traveled.

I have gone through a number of downsizing moves in the past as I moved further and further west until I ended up in the east. House to condo, condo to small apartment, apartment to freedom.

All of my possessions are gone except for a carry-on size suitcase a friend in Siem Reap is holding for me and a box or two back in Rochester with papers, diplomas and other things I thought important enough when I packed them away. Everything else I own I carry on my bicycle. I never sought to become a minimalist but I am enjoying the collateral benefits of my life’s decisions.

Gone are the days of owning a three bedroom home complete with twenty trees and the uncountable leaf bags I filled every autumn. During those times I could buy anything I wanted – room was not an issue. No matter how much I could afford to buy I don’t think I could ever run out of space.

At one point I owned seven couches. Seven! One man, seven couches. Explain that to me please.

Everything you ever needed to buy…..

Now my situation warrants that I can’t just buy anything that tickles my fancy. Luckily that tickle has diminished over time. Yes, there are times I walk through a mall and look at a couch wondering what it would be like to own one of those again. I wouldn’t mind having a closet full of clothes where I wouldn’t need to do laundry for a month if that is what I chose. A cute souvenir from a small village in Laos? Sorry, no room on my bicycle.

But I learned that it is easy to get lost in possessions. The more we have the more we want. There is no need for necessity to enter the equation. I am a person who believes that greed is good. As Gordon Gekko put it in ‘Wall Street’: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Without greed many of the things we enjoy in life would not have been possible. Striving for better, for more, has given us better technology, better health care and better just about anything we have. 

Greed is most commonly associated with money but it is the intense desire for more. My desire to go to more places every day is what drives me. Is it greedy to want more travel, more experiences, to eat more local foods and meet more local people? There is always that fine line where good becomes bad that we have avid crossing.

My loaded bicycle with all of my possessions

Just about everything I own

I live on my bicycle and in the back of my mind I know that is one step from living out of a shopping cart. Some may look down on the simplicity and minimalistic nature of my life and others like myself. Others may wish they could get rid of the excess in their lives. Some would love to fling everything away and travel the world while others might cower in a corner at the thought of not knowing where they will be one day to the next.

Look around at the things you own. What are the things you see that would devastate you if you had a fire and lost everything? Most of what we own is easily replaced with a bit of time and a bunch of money. On a trip to Europe in the early two-thousands I lost all of my camera equipment in a theft. At the time it was devastating to me. Until the next morning in my Amsterdam hotel where I woke to a documentary about the hurricane Katrina victims. They truly lost everything and it put my meager loss in perspective. Over time my loss of gear allowed me to buy new camera gear that made sense. I carried a lot of unnecessary gear and I was given the opportunity to start fresh. Not by choice that time but a fresh start nonetheless.

I still carry things that I don’t need. There are some items in my bags that I haven’t used my whole time on the road but I still can’t bring myself to toss them away. I will be in many different climates and terrain so I justify my choice by saying this that or the other thing may come in handy some day.

I opted for a life of travel which required me to minimize my possessions. If the need ever arises I can always settle down and build up my personal ‘fortune’ again. But for now, and the foreseeable future I will continue to choose experiences over possessions.

What do you think? Could you become a minimalist? Would you want to?


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Around the world by bicycle

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2 Comments on “I’m A Minimalist. How The Hell Did That Happen?

  1. It’s interesting to think about your evolution from abundance of material things to basically what you carry on your bike.
    It seems to be a natural progression, or a natural order of things. Having a few necessary material items really seems more ‘natural’ than the tremendous accumulation of possessions of most ‘wealthy’ consumers across the world. It’s really historically surprising that one would need so many things. Travel life is obviously more conducive with less. Question: how would you accumulate or not accumulate if you were to stop moving and stay in one place? Minimalism is functional for travelling, but how does it work for for you on prolonged staying in one place? Would you now build another ‘fortune”?

    • Hi Mark! Sorry about the very late reply.

      I know myself pretty well. If I stay in one place for a while I will accumulate more stuff. Part of it is out of necessity – needed a pot to cook in and a broom to clean but part is out of ability. If I have the room it s easy to say yes. No room – as in on my bike – it is easy to say no. I don’t see myself amassing another ‘fortune’ but I can see myself owning more at some point in my life.

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