People love stuff. It’s inevitable. Stuff makes people happy. Stuff stuffs your house. Stuffing stuff in stuff makes stuffy people stuffy.
Stuff is great, except when you’re a digital nomad. Stuff will drag you down. It makes you reconsider your travel plans. Baggage fees. Back pain. Stuff is not a good thing to stuff in your backpacker’s backpack.
So how do we keep our back pain to a minimum and keep some extra money in our pockets? Simple. Become a monk? Donate everything to charity and live in ashrams while you’re traveling?
No need to go to extremes my young padawan! Just adopt the minimalist mindset, and many of your troubles will vanish away for your digital nomad journey.
What is Minimalism?
Minimalism is a mindset and outlook that helps you only keep the physical things that you value. Think of it as the opposite of being a hoarder. The hoarder will keep everything, even things that they don’t value anymore. The minimalist will only keep the physical things they care about and that they get use out of.
Some might think of this as Marie Kondo’s adage of “does this spark joy?”. While for the most part yes, I agree with her, to be a minimalist in my view you also need to ask the questions of “do I use this anymore”, “would I use this in the future”, and “do I already have another of this”. If the answer to one of these questions is no, then it might be time to let that thing go.
For digital nomads, it’s essential to ask these questions before you get on the plane to your next destination, and I’d argue that to be a happy nomad, you need at least some level of a minimalist mindset.
How Minimalism is a Digital Nomad’s Best Friend
“Mo money more problems”, right? Wrong. It should be “more stuff more problems”. Stuff requires upkeep and time. Resources to keep them going. Less stuff → less upkeep.
- Renting a serviced apartment saves your time and doesn’t make you have maintenance costs.]
- For investments, having fairly liquid assets like ETFs makes it easy to get capital when you need it.
- For clothes, only having the things that you actually wear and like keeps your clothing budget in line.
When you don’t have to worry about mowing the lawn and taking your car to the shop when it breaks down, you have more time to think about the things you care about. It really does free up your time for the fun things that being a digital nomad can bring!
Digital nomads cannot own many physical assets, and the ones they do own really do need to be small and easy to move either in a suitcase or easily shipped to the next destination. So for those looking to start their digital nomad journey, I strongly recommend that you find the right style of minimalism for you before you cram everything into your suitcase.
My Style of Minimalism
What does this look like in real life? As a nomad, I periodically review all of the physical things that I carry in my suitcase(s). When I first started my digital nomad journey, I had to make some tough choices.
To travel, I needed to downsize. In fact even before I downsized, most Americans would have called me crazy for living with so little. Before I traveled, I…
- Gave away my Xbox One (sad…)
- Sold my 2 guitars (too big for traveling)
- Donated 2 trash bags of clothes I didn’t use anymore.
- Threw away a lot of old junk.
By weight, the largest thing I had to get rid of was the clothes I didn’t use anymore. For me as a non-fashionable guy, this was a pretty easy task I must say, and many of my clothes were 8+ years old and had already received their fair share of usage. I basically laid all of my clothes on my bed and really asked myself if I would ever use this shirt again and if I already had another pair that I liked more. In total, I must have donated 15 kilos worth of clothing before finally packing my travel bags. Now to be fair, I did have to send some of my important documents to my sister’s house (2 boxes), but most of the weight I owned was donated or given to friends before my journey.
After “downsizing” from an already downsized position, I started my digital nomad journey with…
- 1 rolling luggage (~22 kilos) filled with winter clothes, a suit, and other random things.
- 1 backpacker’s backpack (~13 kilos) filled with my clothes and toiletries.
- 1 normal backpack with my laptop and documents.
As little of stuff as this is, I still hated having to roll around that luggage in addition to carrying a bunch on my back and front. So every 6 months or so, I trimmed my stuff weight even more by periodically reviewing my things again in the context of digital nomadism.
Almost 3 years after starting my digital nomad life, I would consider myself pretty minimalist in that I’m down to just…
- 1 backpacker’s backpack (clothes & Aeropress coffee maker)
- 1 backpack (documents, laptop, work stuff)
I don’t own a home. I don’t have a car (although I semi-own a motorbike). All of my investments are online. Most of my life is online. So moving to a new place only requires me 30 minutes of packing my clothes. Easy peasy! It truly does make moving quite easy, and my mind is pretty free to investigate things like starting new projects and businesses.
So minimalism is all great, right? No faults? Wrong.
The Downsides of Minimalism as a Digital Nomad
For myself, I’m a full evangelist of minimalism, but not everyone can and should do it, even digital nomads. Living a minimalist lifestyle requires sacrifices and is sort of a privilege to have.
Many Americans have the largest source of investment in their home. As a minimalist, home ownership sometimes isn’t the goal and can limit long-term asset wealth. Sometimes I need something that I don’t own, and renting costs (like for a car to move things) can be expensive. For people are the lower end of the economic spectrum, minimalism isn’t always the best mindset because the focus should be on increasing your opportunities, not on limiting what you own.
However, I will say that to be a world traveler and a digital nomad, you by the sheer factor of airplane luggage constraints will have to make choices on what you bring with you, but sometimes you will miss those fancy bedsheets that you once owned or your tennis racquet. Sometimes stuff makes you happy, and you need to recognize that minimalism can go too far.
For myself, I’m starting to slowly realize that stuff does make me happy, but not too much stuff. Recovering minimalist you might suppose? Nah, I would just say a live balancing act is occurring. For you starting your digital nomad journey, find the right style of minimalism that makes you happy, and I’m sure that you’ll see at least some benefits in terms of your mindset or the things you value.
So go minimalist, just not too crazy with it. 😊