I used to love stuff. I think that came from my love of vinyl records and bargain hunting at charity shops and carboot sales. I still enjoy doing that, but think about it in a different way now. It’s from my years spent traveling around Asia though, that put me on the path to minimalist living.
My first major trip was to India and Nepal where I spent six months covering the entire continent with my girlfriend at the time. Being our first trip and complete noobs, we both ended up taking rather a lot of stuff. We were going to be trekking in the Himalayas so took walking boots (which were quite heavy in those days) and thick sleeping bags and jackets. We didn’t realise that you could rent or buy most of that equipment out there! We also dragged a tent around the whole time and never actually used it!
Needless to say, on my subsequent solo trips around S.E Asia over the following years I had learned my lesson and had adopted a more minimal strategy on possessions that enabled me to travel super light and much happier. Ever since I generally travel solely with a bag that is small enough to pass as hand luggage. It’s simply habit and fear that makes us think that we need all this stuff. Once you let go, you realise how liberating it is and how little you actually require.
I used to chuckle later when I saw backpackers walking around laden down with stuff, thinking back to how I used to be. The bizarre thing is that in the 25 years that I have been traveling you still see this a lot. Despite more awareness of the lifestyle, very few people seem to have adopted any of it’s principles.
Minimalist living didn’t happen immediately
Although the idea of minimalist living and simplicity first came to me through my experience of traveling, I didn’t fully transition until many years later. I was in my 20’s when the acid house and rave scene exploded in the U.K during the late 80’s and early 90’s. I quickly gravitated towards this as I had been into electronic music since my teens favouring bands like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. Excited by the scene, I first got into dance music production, soon followed by Dj’ing.
During the 90’s I built up a huge studio full of equipment plus Dj gear and thousands of records. This came to be a constant burden as I was staying on and off with my parents during this period and my mum was constantly berating me about all my stuff! I was traveling a lot during this time as well, so she used to give me constant grief about leaving all the gear at home whilst I was away!
Eventually the gear finally went as I started a record shop business and didn’t have time to make music. The key point to take from this is that people tend to acquire and hoard stuff (In my case gear) thinking that it will somehow improve their life or make things better. It seldom does. In the case of musicians they often think, ‘if only I had that new guitar, keyboard etc. I’d be able to make a great record’.
In recent years quite a few dance music producers are actually going back to the oldskool way of making tracks using minimal gear. This is because although technology is great and provides them with entire studios on their laptops, the degree of options available are so limitless that they often end up in ‘music paralysis’. By minimising the process and using fewer instruments, they are able to improvise more intuitively and create tracks faster and more spontaneously. Less definitely is more!
It’s still work in progress….
So the studio gear had all gone but I still had thousands of records that my mum kept complaining about! I had realised some time before that I couldn’t keep them indefinitely and changes in technology meant that Dj’ing on CD was now becoming common. I started on a project that took two years to transfer all of my vinyl to CD which allowed me to carry my entire music collection in two small boxes.
My mum finally said that she wouldn’t have the records in the house any longer!, so I ended up asking a friend to store them for me. This meant driving all the way to Wales to store them at his home. I finally ended up having to sell them on the phone from abroad whilst I was traveling as he needed the space. The mental grief these records gave me over the years was incredible! Once they were gone the sense of relief was enormous!
Now that DJ’ing is all done ‘in the box’ a new long-term project is to convert them all from CD to digital files. I can then store them on a flash drive and DJ just with a laptop and have even less stuff!
The huge benefits of technology
Thinking back to how things were in my 20’s it’s incredible to see how far technology has come and the benefits it has brought. The huge amount of stuff I had back then: studio gear, Dj gear, videos, Dvd’s, books, magazines can all now be handled and accessed by a laptop. The benefits in terms of the expense, storage and the environment are huge.
Overall though it’s the immense sense of freedom you feel from minimalist living when you are not tied down by excessive belongings. It literally used to feel like a chain around my neck having all this stuff and constantly worrying about where I could keep it. It’s something I never want to go back to.
Although I used to actively use all of the equipment I used to have, the positive change I made was to adapt to work in a new way with simpler, more compact equipment that provided many substantial benefits. However, most people do not use much of what they own and it tends to lie idle gathering dust. If you don’t use it, remove it!
Once all the music gear and records had gone I had very little left, which made the next steps to minimalist living very easy. I only had clothes, books, a laptop, CD’s and a car remaining. I had some old clothes, so anything that was looking a bit tired I gave to charity or threw away. I have always dressed quite simply but I went down to just 2 pairs of trousers, half a dozen t-shirts and shirts, a couple of tops, underwear, 2 pairs of shoes and 2 jackets. If shopping, I only buy secondhand or new items that are simple, classic, designs that do not go out of fashion.
I gave all the books and any other odd bits to charity. Now I only buy ebooks and when I do come across used books that I want to read I just donate them afterwards so I don’t start hoarding again.
I sold the car the last time I went traveling, and now live in a small cycle friendly city where I don’t need to use one. The costs for insurance and fuel in the U.K were forever increasing, and combined with maintenance costs a car had become more of a burden than a benefit to me.
Food for thought
I have always cooked for myself from scratch, beginning when I first left home as a teenager. I was heavily influenced by the food I came across traveling in Asia and liked the speed and freshness of their cooking style. I have integrated this into my meals, as although I like cooking I also like to be economical about it and seek to make quick easy meals that free up my time to do other things.
For example, I make dishes like fried noodles that can be done in 10 minutes or one pan dishes like risotto that take about 20 minutes. I shop frugally at Aldi and buy discounted food or promotions elsewhere. I buy a limited range of mainly fresh ingredients that allow me with a bit of creativity to make a wide range of dishes. Compared to buying ready meals for instance, this is much cheaper, healthier, fresher, tastier, takes up less space and is much greener.
Oldskool is best!
When I use technology I always buy secondhand. While all the manufacturers want you to buy new products (especially Apple who love showing their stuff being unwrapped!) it really is unnecessary for most people. I’ve always loved Mac’s but I’ve never loved their prices – especially in the U.K.
For that reason, I’ve always utilised older technology to gain it’s benefits but without the large price tag. I generally buy products that are 5-10 years old. I currently use a 27″ 2011 iMac that I bought for £100. It has a great display, so I can use it for watching Netflix and Youtube, and has a fast processor and 16MB RAM so I can use it for music or video editing. Occasionally, there might be a slight issue where you can’t run a bit of software, but I’ve always found hacks to get around this.
So many people though, go and buy a MacBook Air or Pro and all they do is use it to watch Youtube and send emails! The technology is completely under utilised, you can do the same thing on a 10 year old laptop for a fraction of the cost. There really isn’t as much difference between the speed of older and newer devices as the manufacturers would have you believe. There are often also ways to speed up or update older models.
It’s the same with phones. Up until about six months ago I used an iPhone 4 for years (which I still have as a spare). Completely reliable and built like a tank. I only changed to a used iPhone SE because I started to need mobile internet which was virtually impossible on the 3G of the old phone. I bought the SE for £79 with warranty and you can run the latest version of IOS and all the apps that you can on a new iPhone 11 pro for £800.
It’s purely the ‘pose’ factor as most people never utilise the full power or facilities of what they are using. I recall seeing a Youtube video a couple of years ago where a professional film cameraman said that he knew people who had shot professional released movies on an iPhone 4s, which I think was one of the first phones to integrate a high quality HD video camera.
Savings that last
Whilst I was always quite good at saving, the money never lasted in the early days because I was always buying stuff once I had saved up. I rarely benefited from the power of compound interest because my savings never hung around for long enough. Once I made the change to a more minimal lifestyle though, the savings grew fast. I was saving huge amounts every month because I was no longer buying stuff like before and compound interest had the time to work and was amplifying them exponentially.
Minimalist living life
Below is one of the best stories I know about about minimalist living from Jon Jandai who is from Thailand, where I have spent many happy years. I often come back to watch this if I ever feel I’m losing focus.
Changing to minimalist living has made a profound difference to me over time. Gradually changing to a new way of living has put me in a strong position to move to F.I.R.E by eliminating all the things that are unnecessary and focusing on those that are. Overall, my benefits are:
- More money. As I have eliminated the need for many things and reduced my expenses, my savings rate has soared meaning that I will reach financial independence sooner.
- More freedom. I am not tied down with stuff like before, and with virtually no possessions I can travel or relocate at any time with little or no notice.
- Less stress. The absence of many possessions means my life is much simpler, more focused, flexible and more convenient.
- More time. Eliminating and having less stuff means that I do not have to waste time cleaning, sorting, and storing unnecessary possessions, giving me more time to focus on the things I prefer.
- Better environmentally. Following a minimalist living lifestyle means that I reject consumerism and use mainly secondhand products reducing my overall impact. Having few possessions means I no longer require a car to transport them in, allowing me to reduce emissions, save money and travel faster and healthier by bike where I live.