Leaving Work Behind

How to Live the Dream With (Practically) Nothing

Written by Anne Dorko on April 26, 2016. 32 Comments

A balloon flying off into the distanceAs 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:

Items for storage

Here’s what I currently travel with:

What I travel with

And just for fun, this is what it all looks like on a bicycle:

Anne and her 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

  1. 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?
  2. Inventory everything you own. Ask yourself why you hold onto each item and how it actively benefits the lifestyle you dream about.
  3. 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:

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.

Car boot bed

It may be surprising, but living out of a car isn’t glamorous…

The sacrifices I made along the way were:

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.

Anne Dorko diving

And getting to dive in Australia is pretty awesome.

How to Practice It

  1. Identify with utmost clarity what it is you really want for your life. The questions in Step One should help.
  2. Break down your goal into baby steps until you’ve found the one that you can take next.
  3. 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

  1. Always take the time to evaluate your steps before, during, and after.
  2. Compare the expected results to the actual results. Was the difference positive or negative? What did you learn?
  3. 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!

Conclusion

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.

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32 Responses to “How to Live the Dream With (Practically) Nothing”

  1. Don Hamilton
    April 26, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    I love your simplicity.

    • Anne Dorko
      April 26, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks, Don! I hope I was able to shed a little light on how to apply it yourself, if you feel so inclined. 🙂

  2. A Guy Who Loves To Travel
    April 26, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Anne,

    I gave up car and the temptation to buy anything new at all, unless absolutely necessary.

    In comparison then, it’s not much of a sacrifice. Yet, this was so hard to do. I had to condition myself, talk to myself, and physically wring my own self out of any group that’s headed to the mall, or the auto showroom, or any shop whatsoever.

    I get it, Anne. I am on track to get to that dream. Dang, it’s hard though.

    Ash

    • Anne Dorko
      April 26, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      Hey Ash – seriously, way to go!! Giving up my car was one of the hardest decisions I made too, especially after how much I’d been through living it and all that.

      It took me years to psychologically accept the physical nature of letting go… and it’s still an ongoing process.

      You’re absolutely right. It’s not easy at all, but it is SO worth it in the end.

      Keep at it. Always feel free to come back and get motivation if you need it. That’s what we’re here for!

      • Ash
        April 26, 2016 at 3:53 pm

        All for that travel, eh, Anne?

        No, but really, this is how I thought about it: Where I live (In India), I end up spending a lot of money for nothing (for the car).

        I did this monthly expense tracking a couple of years ago and I was shocked at the kind of frivolous spend I ended up doing.

        All that money was so wasted that it hurt. While I am not exactly counting pennies and sacrificing lattes, I am on track to try to keep those silly expenses down to the minimum.

        Travel was the reason I built my business (a digital marketing agency) and travel is the reason why I made every single decision so far ( including investments, saving where I can, and going minimalistic).

        Thanks a ton for the kind words, Anne. I’d obviously keep pinging you.

        Ash

  3. Murphy Leigh
    April 26, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    I’m a college student and I think the only things I couldn’t travel with that I would want to keep are my comics collection, my art collection, and my action figures/statues. But those could fit into essentially two boxes that I could leave in my family’s house.

    I think I might do it — my almost-fiancee is going to school starting this summer, and she wants to study abroad, and it would be amazing to be able to go with her to Paris next summer. I think that’s going to be a goal.

    The one big problem is my seizure medication — I can’t not take it, and it’s hellishly expensive without insurance. I’m on my father’s plan right now, but that’s going to be no longer an option eventually, y’know?

    Any tips, given my specific situation?

    • Anne Dorko
      April 26, 2016 at 7:27 pm

      Hey Murphy – Medical issues are always difficult! Even basic dental or simple glasses and contacts can be a pain to deal with.

      Thankfully, there are always overseas medical insurance options, though I’ve only really researched the bare minimum versions since I am fortunate enough to not need extensive health care right now. If you’re applying for a visa you’ll need a certain level of health care anyways, and with some research you may be able to find something that covers your seizure medication. If you’re also coming over for a stint as a student it will probably be much easier! The requirements vary wildly from country to country and visa to visa so I do recommend settling in and doing the research.

      For the time being, you can ask your father what his plan does cover for travel and how much longer that will last.

      If you can, I’d recommend finding some expat forums and discussing the finer details with the other locals and see if someone can’t point you in the right direction. Policies are always changing and between translations and already complex insurance systems, it’s difficult to say what will work/won’t work at any given time.

      All that aside, I wish you the best of luck with your (soon to be) fiancee and the potential travel! With a bit of willpower and research, I bet you can make it work. 🙂 I’d love to know what you find out.

  4. Robert
    April 26, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    This was a very interesting article. I think freelancers and other entrepreneurs worry about the money aspect of the dream so much that they don’t think of what happens if they just let it go. Thank you for sharing some great information!

    • Anne Dorko
      April 26, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      No problem, Robert. Thanks for reading!

      It’s definitely a big shift in perspective, but in the end it’s not only effective but quite satisfying and fulfilling. It encourages introspection and self reflection, which is hard to integrate in a lifestyle regardless, so it comes with high personal rewards and a much better sense of self.

  5. Jason Weiland
    April 26, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Great article Anne!

    I embraced minimalism about 5 years ago when I sold everything I owned and moved to the Philippines.

    I own a little more stuff now, but not much. I have a car, and I rent a little apartment for my family and I. We don’t have a television and haven’t built up all the crap I was saddled with before.

    I feel free. Minimalism means different things to different people. I’m living it the way it works for me and I am happy.

    • Anne Dorko
      April 26, 2016 at 10:19 pm

      Jason, that’s great to hear!

      I’ve picked up a few extras through apartment life in the last 6 months, but it’s all through these lenses and it will ultimately be quite temporary… I’m ready to part ways when the time comes to keep moving on.

      Congratulations on reaching that feeling of freedom, because that’s exactly what so many are yearning for. Keep at it, and best of luck out there in the Philippines!

  6. Sydney
    April 27, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    My biggest hiccup is getting over the negative social stigma of minimalism. But it’s so me. I know I’d be so excited to truly LIVE like that every day.

    Thanks for sharing your story. If I didn’t have an injured horse, I’d do this in a heartbeat. 🙂 (One day, one day!)

    • Anne Dorko
      April 27, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Yes! Minimalism comes with a lot of weird connotations, which is why I think it’s important to own whatever it means to YOU specifically.

      Blindly following a lifestyle doesn’t make sense if you don’t take the time to understand why it does or doesn’t apply to you.

      I’m sorry to hear your horse is injured, but you can still take steps towards whatever it is you’re hoping to do one day, while still enjoying what you DO have now that makes you happy Such as being the proud owner of a horse, perhaps. 😉

      In the end, the way you implement these kinds of steps doesn’t have to be with my same end goal of travel, it’ll be about what you find you want the most in life.

      With that said, thanks for joining in and I hope you’re able to find the right balance!

      Don’t let the idea of “one day” stop you from taking the baby steps you can today, or that “one day” never comes.

  7. Avril Su
    April 27, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    It’s really inspiring, Anne.

    After I read your article, I realized what I did 6 months ago meant for. I threw 80% of stuff from my room after I quit my job. I only kept something newer or clothes, I felt fresh when I cleaned the old junk out!

    There is another “thing” I gave up since I decided to change my career. I keep distant with friends who are judgemental about my decision. It’s hard but sometimes I feel solitary declutter my mind. The noises from my friends block my road to what I dream of so I have to do so. I still keep in touch with friends who support me and I am sure I am heading to the right destination even though I feel unsure and insecure at times due to my finance. Your story gives me strength again and thank you very much!

    • Anne Dorko
      April 27, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      Avril, learning to let go of the toxic people in your life is such a huge and beneficial thing. I am so happy to hear you’ve been able to start doing that!

      Keep doing what you’re doing, it sounds like you’re on exactly the right track. I’m glad my story could give you a little more clarity and strength.

      Finances are a life-long problem for everyone, so you’re not alone in that boat, and it comes with a bigger learning curve when you focus on doing things your own way. But, you can get there! It’s very possible.

      Feel free to reach out if you need some pointers or advice, I’m no financial expert but I can at least share what I’ve learned so far.

  8. Robert Andrew
    May 2, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Pretty cool with the lifestyle and choosing to love life on your terms. I think taking periodic mental and spiritual self- evaluations is a must if you choose to go this route( which you also shed light on)

    Thanks

    • Tom Ewer
      May 3, 2016 at 9:02 am

      It’s all a journey, Robert – and those self-evaluations can be done whether or not you’re a minimalist! Thanks for your comment!

  9. Jason Band
    May 3, 2016 at 12:15 am

    Years ago, I heard the “best” salary was $88,000. This was a salary that allows you to purchase the nicer things in life but doesn’t bring about the problems of having a significant amount of money.

    For quite some time I have been content at this salary and have made no efforts to make more money or get into the six digit salary. This blog post hits home as minimalistic lifestyles truly open my eyes. Great article!

    Jason

  10. Kim
    May 9, 2016 at 4:46 am

    I’ve found the key to successful minimalism is to identify what is important and keep those things. My start was a little over two years ago when I sold over 90% of my belongings and moved to Alaska. It’s amazing how much less money I feel like I “need” these days. Equally amazing is how much time I now have to spend on the things I love.

  11. Mary
    June 22, 2016 at 9:36 am

    My biggest hiccup is getting over the negative social stigma of minimalism. I know I’d be so excited to truly live like that every day. I think taking periodic mental and spiritual self- evaluations is a must if one chooses to go this route.

    • Anne Dorko
      June 22, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      Absolutely, Mary! I’m still not sure why there is such a negative stigma there, the whole thing comes back to taking a deep reflective look at ones’ self. 🙂

  12. Shubhada Kanani
    June 30, 2016 at 4:18 am

    Inspiring post on having less so you can do more ! I am from India, and though both my children are married and on their own, having family responsibilities like ageing and fragile parents, a busy husband and a house to maintain, makes it tough to just pack your bag and move away. I left a university job after 25 years to live a life i enjoyed and wanted (including travel); but I cannot travel much nor change my base. I was wondering, even if I adopted a minimalist way of living (get rid of unwanted stuff), how do women who have people to care for, do this (follow their dream?) Or do you change your dream??

    • Tom Ewer
      June 30, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Responsibilities are always a huge factor in which dreams you can chase, and which have to be adapted. The important word in that last sentence is “adapt”. You shouldn’t completely give up a dream if it’s important to you, and there’s always a way to make compromises. I’m sure others around here can give you some good examples. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Shubhada Kanani
        July 1, 2016 at 5:27 am

        Thanks Tom. Yes, adaption is the key word. In my case, i not only need to adapt to changing family situations, but also to the fact that not many years back, I was a senior academician and researcher nutritionist with a university platform and many opportunities to network and many offers. But frustration with university life made me decide to leave and I am happy about that ! So while I do get offers for short term work, I need to seek out those who do the work I love in the field of health-lifestyle-nutrition and make myself known. People respect, are happy to work with you, but do not want to pay !! Plus, it’s not easy to be ‘one among many’ when you were I/C Head/Dean in the past !! Any resources for seniors / 50plus freelancers ?
        Does blogging-social networking really help to achieve your dreams?

        • Tom Ewer
          July 1, 2016 at 11:47 am

          The short answer is: yes! A good start would be to read through our past posts, taking the advice on board (which you already appear to be doing). Your dream is out there waiting if you’re willing to go for it!

          Have confidence, and good luck. 🙂

  13. Guy
    November 16, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Hey I’m doing this, my backpacks 15 litres but for side trips of a couple of weeks I just use a belt bag, Probably easier being male, i spend 3 months a year in my home country with my 10 year old daughter who lives with her mother.
    I find rent is the killer, a car or boat is necessary in western countries to avoid rent, or woofing. Not much into working.
    I would say add to your questions “who am I” or what is experiencing this, I can’t find anyone, just awareness, happy travels.

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