How Travel Made Me a Minimalist

“You can’t give these away,” she exclaims, lifting the black boot with the four-inch heel closer to the light as she inspects it front and back.  “You need a pair of black boots!  You can wear them with a skirt.  When you go out to dinner!”

“Steph, hon, when was the last time you saw me wear a skirt?”

She has no answer to that.  Into the “donate” box they go, along with the flat black boots, the three pairs of dressy heels I never wear, and the ballerina flats that look good, but won’t go more than three blocks without my arch aching.

I am purging.  After my most recent trip, I stood in the doorway of my 5 x 10 locker, stacked to the rafters with boxes of “stuff” I couldn’t live without when I sold my house.  With few exceptions, I realized there was nothing in there that I had wanted, needed or missed in the past two years.

Travel has made me a minimalist.  The lifestyle shift began when I walked Camino de Santiago.  For six weeks, I carried everything I needed in a 15 lb. pack on my back.  The experience was illuminating.  Stripped of the strappings of everyday life, I was reminded what really matters.

“Stuff” was not one of those things.

I Had to Redefine “Need”

The guideline when walking Camino is to carry no more than 10% of your body weight in your backpack.  In my case, 10% basically amounts to a  change of underwear and a toothbrush.  When every ounce counts, you have to be ruthless when deciding what is a necessity and what is a luxury.  The electric toothbrush was a luxury; manual would do.

As I walked, it became clear my needs are pretty simple.  Food, clothing, shelter and a connection to others.  Anything else was either a convenience, or dead weight.

I Had to Rethink My Wardrobe

Packing for Camino was easy compared to Turkey.  Six weeks over Christmas would take me through three Canadian seasons – summer in Antalya, fall in Istanbul and winter in Cappadocia. Packing light meant a minimum number of pieces that could create a maximum number of outfits and layer easily.  Mix, match and multi-purpose became my motto.

Going through my bins, I realized there are favourite pieces I will wear until they fall apart.  Then there are those that linger, gathering dust, in case, maybe, someday, I might decide to wear them to some yet unforeseen event.  And why do I own skinny jeans?  My legs don’t taper to a point.  I have calves, man!  (oh, right, I wore them with the black boots!)  Into the “donate” box they all go.

I Had to Consider Quality

My mother was a big proponent of quality materials and classic styles but I always balked at the price tag.  I’ve changed my tune since then.  If I’m travelling for more than a couple of weeks, my clothing has to be durable, practical and fashionable.  Merino wool may be more expensive initially, but it lasts, looks good, keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the heat, and you can wear it for long periods without offending the olfactory system.

I Redefined My Priorities

The more I travelled, the more I wanted to travel.  I could have the 3-bedroom house with the garage, large back yard and garden, as well as the mortgage that goes with it.  I could also spend my weekends doing house work, yard work and maintenance.  Or, I could downsize and spend my time kayaking in Deep Cove, biking the Kettle Valley Trail, or backpacking the Balkans.  Travel and experience became my priorities.

I Began to Re-Evaluate My Need for Space

After living in hostels, staying with friends, camping in tents and even sleeping in my car one night, I’ve realized how little space I actually need to be comfortable (the car was not comfortable).  As I consider my options for a new home base, I find myself looking at alternatives to the traditional house or condo.  The tiny homes may be too tiny during the relentless winter rains , but a 300 square foot cabin I can pace in while I write sounds perfect!

While I can downsize my home, furniture, wardrobe and even (deep breath) my books, my car will always be a “need” in my life.  It is my freedom, my independence and the one thing I actually miss when I’m away from home.  It’s my ticket to adventure when I can’t get on a plane.

The benefits of travel are numerous, from changing your perspective on the world to developing confidence in any situation.  Travel may have made me a minimalist, but being a minimalist has allowed me more time and money to travel.  What could be better than that?

My Little Car – Heading to Jasper




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