I recently took a break from regular life. After five-and-a-half-years of living in New York City, working at a small technology company and never taking a vacation longer than a week at a time, I suddenly started craving new experiences.
When you’re embedded in routine, time moves by fast. I wanted to remove myself from the daily grind; I wanted to travel and enjoy a pace of life where no two days are the same. So I scooped up my savings and embarked on an 83-day tour of South America.
Before I left on this adventure, I decided it was time to downsize my life. To go on this trip, I was faced with the challenge of moving out of my apartment and putting everything I own into storage. The more stuff I had, the more expensive the storage facility would be—and I quickly realized that I had a LOT of stuff.
There are 300,000 items in the average American home. (LA Times)
After five years in one place, it’s natural for stuff to accumulate. Yet I found myself asking, what does a 28-year-old single guy really need with so many possessions?
At just the right time in my life, I came across the practice of less.best (thanks to Joel Gascoigne of Buffer.) The site challenges you to make an exhaustive list of every single thing you own, discard what you don’t need and live a happier life with fewer material possessions.
This was just what I needed to do to leave NYC with no loose ends. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I combed through my apartment and set upon eliminating all the stuff that was weighing me down. Here are some of the strategies I used to declutter my life:
- I sorted through all my clothes and donated every item I hadn’t worn in 12+ months.
- I put unused miscellaneous items into a bin, then let them sit for a few weeks. Any item that I hadn’t reclaimed went in the trash on moving day.
- I sold 15 large and valuable items on Craigslist and eBay, making a total of $455.
- I posted in the Craigslist free-stuff section, inviting people to root through and take anything unworthy of selling.
After liberating myself of every unwanted possession in my life, I created a spreadsheet and counted what was remaining. I now own 319 things, putting me in Level 5 of the Ghalimi Scale:
Live a basic lifestyle, rich in experiences
With almost everything I owned now in storage, it was time to hit the road.
One of the highlights of my South American adventure so far has been the Lares trek, a lesser-known path to Macchu Pichu. Hundreds of people hike the famed Inca Trail every day, but it just so happened to be sold out when I booked my trip.
Along with five travel companions, three guides and five mules, I set off on a challenging 36-kilometer hike up high altitudes. As it was the Lares Trek, we did not encounter a single tourist on the three-day hike. And because we all walked at different paces, many times I found myself completely isolated in the middle of the Andes — my happy place!
It was here that I saw what it really means to live with very little. We passed through a number of farming villages where no more than 100 indigenous people live a self-sustaining lifestyle cut off from the rest of the world. Equipped with food, toys, school supplies and a few words in the Quechua language, we were greeted with smiles from the locals and exchanged gifts in return for songs and dances from the kids.
While I won’t be moving to a remote Andean village any time soon, I walked away from these interactions with an appreciation for the life that I have, and a new-found inspiration to live a basic lifestyle, rich in experiences.
The minimalist in me is pleased with 319 possessions, but I hope to move down the Ghalimi Scale to Level 4 (199 items or less) when I return home next year. By reducing what I have and focusing on what’s useful, this exercise has lifted a weight off my shoulders. I’m convinced that life is better with less.