John Krygiel on Minimalism, Vagabonding, and the Freedom(s) of Less

When I graduated college two years ago, I had lived the “normal” life for 23 years. That is, go to school, get good grades, graduate. But, what comes after that? Oh, right: get a starting-level job, trudge through years of unfulfilling work, indebt myself to material wealth, look back in thirty years and wonder if I had really lived my dreams.

I didn’t want to be “normal” anymore.

The idea of having to pursue a career that would increasingly be on someone else’s terms frustrated me. But, what was I going to do to instead of the normal? After all, I, like most other people I know, live in the real world. How would I make money? How would I pay for all those essentials in life?

You know, essentials like gold iPhones, bottled water from Figi, a TV large enough to see from space, and a financed car with a sound system that can make your ears bleed. What I realized was that all these things are fictional happiness—happiness that rides along the backs of unicorns. You can chase it, but it’s never really there.

So instead of asking myself what essential things I needed, I began to think in terms of what’s most essential about me.

Trading Things for Passions

When I thought hard about myself, I realized that I love music, the outdoors, and writing.

I’m happy to say that right now I’m pursuing all three of these passions. I’ve started my own guitar lesson business, I work for a friend’s solar panel company, and I write at my blog [and now here!-ed].

Do I make a ton of money? Heck, no. But do I need to?

My ultimate dream is and always has been to live a fulfilling life and be able to travel wherever the hell I want, when I want, all while making the world a better place to live. This doesn’t quite align with the typical and safe way of pursuing life, but I’ve always found the words “safe” and “typical” to be boring.

I wanted to live my passions just like Chris Guillebeau a normal guy who has now visited EVERY country in the world.

Or be able to play music like Victor Wooten who is a five-time Grammy Award winner, producer, author, and is widely regarded as one of the best bass players in the world.

I wanted to set out and achieve my own goals on my own terms just as Derek Sivers did when he decided at age 14 he would become a traveling musician. Derek eventually went on to found the world’s largest independent music retailer, CD Baby. He later sold the company for $22 million and much of that money went into a trust that ensures future generations will have access to music education.

Have I met achieved all my dreams? Not yet. But I have realized that my pursuits are much more achievable if I don’t embrace materialism, even if the mainstream says I should.

Today, I own fewer than 300 items and couldn’t be happier with how owning less has led to my personal freedom and the ability to pursue my dreams.

Even though I don’t own many things, I feel rich.

Prioritizing My 300 Things

In my pursuit of renouncing materialism, I came across several bloggers that had written about owning less than 300 things and the idea stuck with me. You see, I grew up in a well-to-do neighborhood where brand-name items were commonplace. Owning several cars, large animals, and fancy electronics was the norm.

Owning fewer than 300 items was unheard of.

Why did I choose to prioritize down to 300? The number itself isn’t set in stone. It just happens to be a challenging number to get to for those pursuing a minimalist way of life. The process was simple and yet will be different for every person. I have my priorities and you have yours. If you want to see what I ended up with, I’ve listed every single item I own at the bottom of this post.

But, first, let me explain how owning just 300 things has afforded me the freedoms to go after my dreams.

Monetary Freedom

The first and probably most obvious personal freedom comes from burning less money on things that are superfluous.

Society has programmed us to become slaves to our things, a term I am using here to include both goods and services.

For example: need a mobile phone? Clearly the ONLY way to have such a device is to sign an agreement that allows you to pay $150 every month so you can have unlimited access to: mindless video feeds, tweets out the ass, selfie pictures to give the world an up-to-the-second update on your whereabouts, and oh yeah, you can make calls if you want.

OR, if you’re looking to save on your cell phone service there are numerous providers that are realizing people are tired of paying an arm and a leg for unnecessary extras for two contractual years. It’s still a small portion of the market, but the contract-free trend is growing.

Your monthly cell phone bill is a great place to start trimming down services you overpay for. Once you begin with something small such as a cell phone bill, it becomes easier to apply this type of thinking to every area of your finances.

But, of course, you have to learn to be happy with the choices you’ve made.

Contentment

When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.’ ~The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama said it best. Power lies in being content with what you already own.

For example, shoes that are tucked away in the closet that you haven’t worn in a year become novel and awesome when you pull them out and wear them again.

This is being content with what you already own.

After getting my belongings down below 300, I learned that contentment comes in simple forms. Not being able to buy new things makes you appreciate instead what you already own. Instead of constantly trying to pursue the next hottest fashion or gadget that offers a buyer’s high for a day or two then wears off, I appreciate what I already own.

Buying and accumulating things can be an addiction just as dangerous as alcohol, drugs, gambling, or porn. Though the activities differ they are all defined by the excessive release of dopamine in our brains.

Being content with the present also relies on understanding and (sometimes) relinquishing the past.

Freedom from the Past

To varying extents, we all harbor feelings related to painful memories from the past. Often, personal possessions are tied to our painful memories. These possessions could be pictures, mementos, clothing we wore, etc. Perhaps we had these things during a breakup, a loss of a friendship, or a death in the family.

By removing these items from storage or even just from plain sight, we let go of the past and free up mental space to work on more positive aspects of our lives in the present.

Having little reminders of an uneasy past serve no purpose but to bring us down. For example, when I purged my belongings, I got rid of some clothes I’ve had since high school. I remember wearing those clothes in high school and not being “cool enough” for friends I had had since elementary school.

I’m not claiming that not wearing Abercrombie & Fitch in high school was the only reason I was no longer “cool enough.” But have you ever seen how the “cool kids” are portrayed on T.V. shows? Rejection due to the fact that I didn’t fit in with a certain culture troubled me for some time.

Getting rid of my high school clothes released me hurtful memories; it felt as if I was cleaning out the cobwebs from my mind.

Organized House, Organized Mind

The last and probably most awesome freedom I have gained from owning less is the fact that I can find my things very easily. I know where everything is and what purpose it serves. This is an extremely liberating feeling, and more important than you might realize.

I don’t have to trip over clothes on the floor. I don’t have to rummage through my closet looking for a tool. I can locate any utensil I need in the kitchen. If you don’t believe me when I say that organization really matters, simply look at how much importance chefs place on mise en place.

The more important thing is that this organization has begun to transfer over to other aspects of my life. For instance, my e-mail inbox is less crowded with useless crap messages. My phone is not overflowing with apps that I never use. My finances are in order and automated. I can locate any file on my computer with ease.

A keen awareness has risen up within me and I can look at any situation/activity and know almost instantly if it will benefit me in the long run or simply be a waste of time. Just as my items are organized and few, my mind is becoming more organized and I can more easily prioritize what I should spend time on.

Getting Down to 300

If you are interested in one or all of the above freedoms, it’s easier than you think to purge down your stuff.

The rules for getting below 300 are not set in stone. You can tailor your own rules accordingly. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Group consumable items together. My consumables included the separate groups of undergarments, foodstuffs, hygiene products, office supplies, and cleaning supplies. By grouping these consumables together, I could more easily compare items with other items in a group.
  2. Apply a simple question to every item you encounter: When is the last time I used this item? If you haven’t used an item in the past month or year, it’s a safe bet that you no longer need it at all.
  3. Evaluate items in every room that are in plain sight. Any items collecting dust?
  4. Move on to closets and storage areas.
  5. Tackle kitchen and bathroom gadgets/cleaners/gizmos. As it turns out, you don’t need that much equipment to cook well, and you hardly need any cleaning supplies at all.
  6. Prioritize your collectibles. Be honest about which collectibles bring you enjoyment vs. which ones simply collect dust. It’s okay to have some guilty pleasures and still be a minimalist!
  7. Take a count of your things and see what your number is. If you are over, it’s time to evaluate your things further using steps 1-6. You will most likely have to challenge yourself to get down to 300.
  8. Sell or donate your discarded items. Craigslist, book and media stores, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Facebook all work great to harvest a small fortune or simply afford someone less fortunate to actually use your items.

That’s it in a nutshell. Want more money for things that truly matter? Maybe you desire reaching a state of greater contentment?

Downsize. It will help. Without further ado, here’s:

My list of 300 things

Clothing: 94

Books, Magazine Volumes, Records, CDs, DVDs: 88

Electronics: 9

Furniture & Bathroom: 14

Music & Camping Gear: 25

Wall Décor: 10

Closet & Tools: 13

Kitchen Wares: 35

Miscellaneous: 4

Transportation & Accessories: 4

Consumables:  5 (Undergarments, Food, Hygiene Products, Office & Cleaning Supplies)

Total: 301

dangit! I’m still over. But the point is to get some of your personal freedom back and live a more fulfilling life, remember?

John