Global Nomads and Minimalism (Part I)

It was December and good cheer was in the air. There in my Inbox was the e-mail with the contracts. We had been hired to teach at an international school in South Korea! Excited, we all went out to celebrate at our favorite restaurant (OK, I’m making this part up because collectively our favorite restaurant is Ethiopian, but it is quite a drive so instead we settled for our second-favorite one; curry!). After the celebrations died down, we settled into the very real task of figuring out how to move all of our stuff to South Korea. I did what all good people do; I contacted multiple international moving companies and waited for the quotes to arrive. And arrive they did. And we realized that we could buy pretty much everything new in South Korea for what getting a 20 foot container would cost.

As fortune would have it, in January I was flipping through Netflix (I don’t endorse products, but Netflix can be a very important subscription for Global Nomads). I’ve often been told of how boring of a person I am as I do not enjoy watching films, but I love documentaries (hey, I teach history for Caesar’s sake!). And thus, guilty as charged, I was looking at the Documentary section when I saw it. It was called “Minimalism – A Documentary About the Important Things”. Well, I like important things, right? So I hit play. And my life has never been the same again.

I’m not going to go into who The Minimalists are (my personal heroes Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus), but I will tell you that Minimalism has changed my life. After watching their documentary that night, I decided to get rid of all my stuff. But where do I begin? My books, of course! I teach history, for crying out loud! Over the past almost two decades I had accumulated some 500 books dealing with history, political science, memoirs, you name it.

I immediately drove myself to the Home Depot (thankfully the one in Clearwater, Florida opens till 10 PM) and bought myself a ten-pack of banker boxes. Then I proceeded to return home, assemble the boxes, and pack my books into them. Finally I carried the boxes and placed them in the back of our Toyota RAV 4 and waited for the next morning to arrive, when I would take all the books to a used book store.

The next morning I woke up, went downstairs, and stared at the empty shelves. My friends were all missing. I drove to the used books bookstore and unloaded my beloved companions. The gentleman inside was very kind, but you could tell that he had been doing this for a long time. He asked me to leave them and that he would give me a call later in the week telling me how much he’d be willing to give me for them.

A couple of days later, I get a call from my new bibliophile friend, and he offers me the very unreasonable amount of $400. What?! My friends are worth so much more! I mean, books should be like wine; the more they’ve aged, the more their value. I immediately told him that I’d return and pick those objects of incredible value. That afternoon, when I got the the store after work, I began the process of reloading my car with the banker boxes full of my good friends when I realized that there was no other way. I humbly walked back in and accepted his offer.

When I returned home, I sat down defeated on my couch (another object I loved and which I was going to get rid of as well). As I looked up at my now empty shelves, I expected sadness and tragedy. Instead my living room looked more spacious and much neater than it had in the entire time I had lived in this townhouse. Suddenly, I realized that it felt good to not have “stuff”.

A quick note here: soon after this event, I purchased a Kindle and it has become my inseparable friend. I understand that feeling of wanting to feel the pages, but in my very nomadic lifestyle I love being able to carry hundreds of books in a small device, and being able to read wherever I am.

Slowly, over the following weeks, I started to shed my “stuff”. I discovered that I owned over 50 button-up shirts, 25 polo shirts, and dozens of t-shirts. I had 25 or so ties, six blazers/sports coats, and about 20 pairs of shoes. In my garage I found that I owned enough tools to outfit three full toolboxes.

Something amazing started to happen; the more I got rid of, the better I felt, and I wanted to get rid of even more. The clearer my closet became, the more welcoming it became. No longer were my mornings stressful, trying to figure out what to wear. Instead, I had a limited choice now of just 5 short and 5 long sleeved shirts, along with 3 polo shirts. I got rid of all my printed souvenir t-shirts (colleges, places, jobs) into 10 plain black v-neck t-shirts. I kept a pair of tennis shoes, black dress, brown dress, and my sandals. I made multiple trips to a church where we donated boxes and boxes of stuff. And the simplicity felt so incredibly good and liberating.

“Tell me what you own and I will tell you what owns you.”

They say that what you own ends up owning you. I had never realized how true this statement was. My life could have been so hassle-free; I could have pursued so many dreams had I not been afraid of stuff. I wasted so much money buying and renting bigger homes to hold all my stuff, money that I could have spent on experiences, on travels. Money I could have invested and saved for the future (college for my girls, and perhaps even a retirement!). But as they say, why cry over spilled milk?

For me, Minimalism was a turning point in life. It turned my life around in ways I could have never imagined. They tell you that people do not change after a certain age. “They” were wrong, at least with me. Minimalism allowed me to discover a deliberate way of living that I had never truly been able to grasp before.

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