How to Live the Dream With (Practically) Nothing
As much as you want to explore and have crazy adventures, you’re stuck on exactly how to get from where you are now to the kind of freedom you’re seeking.
You’ve learned about living with less and forsaking the nicer things in life, but you’re still way back at the beginning. What you need is a real world example of how someone else connected the dots and left work behind to live the dream.
Does this sound like you?
Today, I’d like to share with you how I live and see the world, with practically nothing to my name, and quite often little-to-no income. Note: It’s better than it sounds 😉
Is Minimalism Right For You?
My definition of minimalism is straightforward: Remove what isn’t important for your happiness.
It’s human nature to hold onto things, but unfortunately, an unfiltered collection of ‘stuff’ is what stops us from making changes when our lives are miserable. It’s important to question why you would onto what you do (both physically and emotionally), so that you can leave behind what doesn’t actively contribute to your life in a positive way, and move forward.
Over a few years, I went from an overflowing apartment, a car, and credit card debt to living out of a 40 liter backpack, a carry on, and a travel guitar, with one storage box of sentimental items.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how far I was going to take this minimalism thing when I first started, so I didn’t take any ‘before’ pictures, but to give you an idea of where I’m at now….
Here’s everything (plus some extras that eventually got tossed) that went into storage:
Here’s what I currently travel with:
And just for fun, this is what it all looks like on a bicycle:
Thanks to this I could see 48 of the 50 United States, take a solo bicycle tour, and fly around the world over the last three years.
So, how did I change gears from being a sentimental hoarder to living out of a backpack? Let’s explore the mentality that helped me to go minimal.
Step One: Question Everything You Do
Begin by asking yourself what it is that makes you happy.
You must relentlessly question, Why do I do/own/like/want ________?
When I first started asking myself that question about every aspect of my life in 2011, I found that none of my answers were satisfactory. I wanted to change that.
What I wanted was to work for myself, take photos, and create music, with the option to travel anytime. So I kept the laptop, camera, instruments, and a backpack of clothes.
Everything else? I slowly found ways to let it all go. The job, the car, and all the rest.
How to Practice It
- Track your daily habits and weekly routines. What is your job? What’s home life like? What do you find yourself daydreaming about and wishing for instead?
- Inventory everything you own. Ask yourself why you hold onto each item and how it actively benefits the lifestyle you dream about.
- If the one-by-one process isn’t fast enough for you, approach it from the opposite angle. If you had leave the house in a fire, what would you throw in a bag? If you woke up jobless tomorrow, what would you do instead?
These questions kickstart the process of learning what you want out of life, and revealing what’s holding you back from achieving it.
Step Two: Make Game-Changing Decisions
Here’s a few of the decisions that led to where I am today:
- Halving my belongings whenever I moved (during the economy of 2008–2011, this was often!)
- Leaving work behind to see all 48 contiguous states
- Moving to Austin alone
- Getting out of a lease to see the world as the friend/assistant to a traveling art model
- Touring 550 miles on a bicycle
- Flying to Europe on a one-way ticket
Low times included many penniless days eating ramen meals or sleeping in the back of my car. High times saw me walking barefoot through Plitvice Lakes National Park, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, and learning the green tea ceremony in Japan.
The sacrifices I made along the way were:
- Practically everything I owned
- Frivolities that didn’t specifically get me towards my goals
So when someone said, “Hey, let’s go travel indefinitely!”, (yes, it actually happened that way) all I had to do was pack my two bags.
How to Practice It
- Identify with utmost clarity what it is you really want for your life. The questions in Step One should help.
- Break down your goal into baby steps until you’ve found the one that you can take next.
- Repeat #2 until you’ve found the kind of opportunity you were looking for, and then take a leap of faith.
By working towards a life-changing catalyst in practical steps, you prepare for bigger changes and understand which risks are worth taking. Think nothing new will come along? You may be surprised at what opportunities show themselves when you actively work towards them!
Step Three: Evaluate, Rinse, and Repeat
The biggest warning label for this lifestyle is all the risk. In my case, the risks were mostly financial.
While most things ultimately work out in the end, I’ve been in and out of $10,000 credit debt twice, and I’m still working on my student loans.
No matter how careful you are, you simply won’t get everything right on the first try. Thankfully, over time I’ve gotten better at time management and keeping my finances reasonable. It turns out that acknowledging and addressing your weaknesses goes a long way!
The more you master this process, the measures necessary to achieve your goals become less risky.
How to Practice It
- Always take the time to evaluate your steps before, during, and after.
- Compare the expected results to the actual results. Was the difference positive or negative? What did you learn?
- Finally, regularly re-evaluate. Do you still feel the same about the goal you’re working towards? If so, keep on keeping on! If your priorities changed, that’s okay too. Change tactics and try something different.
Without taking the time to evaluate your experiences and adjust your plans appropriately, you’ll wind up in the same situation you were in before. Don’t stay stuck in a rut, heading in some direction only because you were already going that way.
It is human nature to learn, change, and grow. Go with it!
It is terrifying to let go of everything to start living your dreams, especially when they don’t seem possible. However, they are possible.
To make your dream a reality, ask why you live the way you do, make the game changing decision to take steps toward change, and always check in on yourself to ensure you’re still on the right track. Rinse and repeat, with your newfound savvy. As a wise hermit once said: “There is no try, only do or do not do.”
Do you think this kind of minimalism may work for you? I’d love to hear what’s holding you back from living your dream in the comments below, so I can help you face those fears.