Choosing Freedom

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Natalie Sisson of the Suitcase Entrepreneur

freedom-from-things

“If you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down.”

When I tell people I’ve lived out of my suitcase for the last 4 years and that I’m homeless and happy, they usually stare in disbelief.

They either think my life as a digital nomad and suitcase entrepreneur on a quest for freedom is the coolest thing ever. Or they think I’m mad as a hatter and wonder why on earth anyone would want to live that way.

I’m a minimalist and I love it that way. I have just enough in my suitcase to suit my lifestyle of travel and business and get me through almost any occasion and not look like a vagabond.

I can pack up my whole life in 14 minutes flat—it all fits in one medium-sized suitcase and a mini carry-on.

I live my life by this philosophy: I choose freedom. I choose to buy experiences, not stuff.  

The former makes me rich in ways you couldn’t even imagine.

It wasn’t always that way. I’ve lived in houses for most of my life, surrounded by lovely things. I used to care about fashion and own more clothes than I ever needed to wear. I spent my money on new mobile phones or the latest gadgets, which were CD players and MP3 inventions.

But I noticed a trend early in my teens. I didn’t really care for stuff. In fact, I ended up wearing the same old things, and unlike my friends, I seemed to stick to boots in winter and one pair of shoes in summer. I didn’t want to spend excessive amounts on drinking and food or keeping up with everyone else.

Instead, I wanted to spend money on new experiences, travel, and the sports I adored.

Freedom is a mindset

In my bestselling book, Suitcase EntrepreneurI devote an entire chapter to understanding what freedom means to you.

While I know having lovely possessions and creature comforts is something some people enjoy, how long does that joy last? Too much stuff stressed me out and I felt spoiled when I had what others didn’t. So why did I have it at all?

Once I left my beautiful homeland New Zealand, and ventured across the world to live in other countries, I saw another trend emerging.

I would be moving around quite a lot in the cities I lived in, like London and Vancouver. Each time I moved, I got more and more ruthless about what I kept, and what I gave away to friends or charity. After a while I stopped buying stuff altogether and just kept downsizing.

I discovered having very few possessions feels immensely freeing. 

I was no longer bound to keep all this stuff, look after it, worry about it, or place more value on it than it deserved. The best things in life I had were memories (particularly photographic ones), daily experiences, and my friends. And my bank account continued to grow by the day (mainly because I only spent my money on experiences).

You are not defined by what you own, but by the knowledge, skills, and experiences you own. (tweet that)

Do you need to give up everything to be happy? Absolutely not. But you certainly don’t need to let things and possessions define and rule who you are and what you stand for.

Do you need to live out of a suitcase to find true freedom? No, not at all. In fact, you might find that pretty limiting or tiring after a while.

But could you minimize the amount of stuff in your possession and put the money towards the adventure of a lifetime? One that will stay with you for life? Absolutely!

Stuff holds no value. People do.

These days I realize that if I lost everything, or my suitcase got stolen or my laptop bag (which was almost the case in Saigon last year), I wouldn’t actually care. Sure my passport, hard-drive, laptop, and wallet are all in there and it would be frustrating to replace, but ALL of it is replaceable.

In that scary moment, I realized there is no one item that means that much to me or can’t be replaced. Losing my family or a dear friend though would be devastating.

I see so many people holding on tightly to things that are bright, shiny, and sparkly as if they have so much meaning. If they were a gift, try placing the meaning and importance on the act of giving that took place from the person who gave it to you, not the material possession in your hand.

Happiness can not be bought, bottled or packaged.

Many people buy things as a source of external happiness. I had a friend who used to go on buying sprees as it made her temporarily happy, or at least, it relieved her from the depression she felt daily. Not long afterwards she’d feel guilt as she realized her financial status was not healthy. She lacked confidence in herself and felt this was the way to cure it.

But clearly, as you and I know, it was just a temporary band-aid to a much deeper wound, that when torn off would be painful and reveal the wound barely healed.

The best things in life really are free: playing in the park, swimming in the ocean, watching buskers play great music, doing handstands in a field, or laughing with your friends.

The less stuff you own, the more you start to see the golden treasures that are available in every day life—the free things that make you feel richer than ever.

***

Natalie Sisson blogs at the Suitcase Entrepreneur where she inspires others to live life on their own terms. Her book is appropriately titled, The Suitcase Entrepreneur. Or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Tom says

    Very true indeed. Stuff doesn’t buy happiness.

    It annoys the hell out of me every time the in-laws buy our kids more junk toys and fluffy animals. They don’t seem to understand that a child would put more value on being taken to the playground than that cheap toy you bought them.

    Experiences indeed are more valuable than any physical possession.

    • Judy says

      Children love both! :) You are blessed to have in-laws who interact one way or another with your children.

    • DeAnna says

      I agree! I have been trying to get the grandparents to stop buying stuff every time they come visit (every couple of months). My kids are now expecting it. They could save so much money if they would just take my kids for ice cream, to the playground or the pool. I can’t remember presents from my grandparents but I can sure remember walks to a park with my Grandpa and french fries at the restaurant down the street. It is was about time, not stuff. Need to keep on drilling that and maybe one day it will sink in.

    • says

      I recognize and live your struggle with in-laws and toys. I also, realized that I cannot place my value system on those folks. We accept the gift, and then my children know that if one toy comes in another goes out–often they choose to keep the toys they have and we donate the toy given by my in-laws to a charity or hospital. Some people deem this as wrong and wasteful–but just as I cannot impose my minimalism on my extended family and friends they should not be allowed to impose their consumerism on myself and my children. Many people see gift giving as their language of love–this is the case for my in-laws and so the best I can do is accept and say thank you (because I am thankful that they want to do nice things for my children)–and then we release as we see fit. I have made suggestions for alternative gifts and sometimes these are heard–sometimes not–hang in there:)

      Spring Cleaning Life
      http://awellstockedlife.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/spring-cleaning-life/

      • Angela says

        Yes! This is how we try to live-I need to be better at always making sure to follow through. When we clear up the toy area, our children delight in the toy afresh! It is like everything is new. We keep the things they play and create with, and when they are given too much, we let them choose where to fit it on the shelves and what to get rid of. You’ve inspired me to do better. Our relatives know we don’t have room for more, and over time, they have started asking what is needed more. That is thoughtful! But for all the excess, we thank them and still have to live with the mess or pass it along to those who will truly enjoy them.

    • says

      Great article Natalie!

      I completely resonate with your article on not owning too much stuff. The idea of owning a house stresses me out. When you look at all of the costs (mortgage, maintenance, insurance, taxes), it just seems like it becomes more of a burden than a blessing.

      My Hubby and I are very happy to live in an apartment and pass on those troubles to someone else. We don’t like junk weighing us down and would much rather be free to travel.

      Sure, eventually we will all need to settle down in our own little place but you definitely do not want to become a slave to it.

      Keep up the great work Natalie!

      Connie

  2. says

    This is perfect. I think the more fulfilled we are with our lives (which comes from genuine heart experiences, not stuff) the less we look to purchasing things to buy happiness. This, in turn, allows us to let go of the vicious cycle of work/spend. And this has an impact much bigger than ourselves!

    • says

      Yes you’ve hit the nail on the head. I have a few friends who buy things to shift their mood to the better, but it’s only ever momentary and then usually leads to their mood worsening after. It’s truly sad to see this cycle take place.

  3. says

    “Choosing freedom” says it so well. We may each have different values, but we should all be intentional about prioritizing those values in our lifestyle choices. For my husband and I, we decided against buying a house so that we could live abroad, do Peace Corps, and travel- we chose freedom. We chose experiences over material accumulation.
    Thanks for a great post.

  4. says

    I agree with everything you say, with one caveat: all those things that could be lost or stolen and are replaceable? They’re only replaceable with money and quite a lot of it, actually, for the average person. You listed at least $700 of stuff there. Although I am 100% behind what you say, I also think we need to recognize that being able to make these kinds of decisions for ourselves is a unique privilege for some who are able to find ways to sustain even this minimalistic way of expressing freedom.

    • says

      Michelle, I completely agree! Yes, I agree with the author in that freedom (in the sense of the digital nomad) is a choice, but we also need to acknowledge that the choice itself is a huge luxury and a privilege.
      There are millions of people in the world who do not have the choice (depending on where they were born, whether they are male or female and many other variables). There are, of course, many people who have the option, and yet prefer an extension to their house to a 100 hours overtime.

    • says

      I took it as she’s not attached to it and therefore it can be replaced. When you look at things as just things instead of extensions of ourselves and our identity they become replaceable. One of the freedoms of minimalism for me has been greater financial security in being able to replace things if they are lost or stolen. Money is just money, yes be frugal and diligent, but at the end of the day, it’s just another thing.

    • says

      Michelle and Alex in my mind $700 is nothing compared to the richness of experiences you can have. At the end of the day everything can be replaced that’s a physical thing. Memories and feelings however can never be stolen or replaced and they’re priceless.

      While I do feel immensely grateful to have the ability to choose freedom and live the life I do, I also worked hard to make this my way of life and it’s not a privelege it’s a right. It’s also not for everybody as it takes guts, determination and discipline to live like this.

      And everybody – yes everybody has the right to choose freedom and live life on their own terms. This may look vastly different to you than to me. And while I appreciate different cultures, religions and traditions can place limits on people, they can still choose to live freely within those limits, or bust free of them.

      I know some of the poorest people in the world who are happy just to experience each day and live in the present. I know some very wealthy people who are miserable. They can choose to view the world entirely differently and they could choose their own experiences too.

  5. says

    I’ve made choices similar to the author. And my friends often tell me “I wish I could do what you’re doing”, Of course they could, but they prefer to have their stuff. Me, I prefer my freedom!

    • says

      The reasoning behind “I wish I could do what you’re doing.” is a great opportunity to unpack that psychological box! Do you ever ask, “Why can’t you? What beliefs are holding you back?”

      If it’s something they TRULY want to do (and maybe they’re just saying it), then my mindset would be, what are you going to do to get it?

      • says

        I can answer this as I get that response all the time. They think what we do sounds great but in reality they’re not prepared to put in the work or give up the things they like having (creature comforts, routine, things) in order to live like this. The ‘dream’ is more sexy as a dream than to put it into practice.

  6. Judy says

    I like having roots. “Freedom” can mean different things for different people. But yes…I am free from excessive consumerism. :)

    • says

      Roots are important for us as well, to sit down on our homestead and listen to the crickets chirping in the pasture, the frogs bellowing in the pond… for us that is a lovely evening to share together. No materials needed. Just love, patience, respect and time :)

  7. says

    Giving up stuff in a society that is so focused on it is considered weird or abnormal. My parents always ask me what’s wrong with me. They look at me like I have gone crazy. My friends always begrudge my travel, always attributing it to rich parents (not!) or a rich boyfriend (again not!) or to luck (that is the worst). But like you, giving up stuff has given me so much that I can’t even imagine my life in the same way ever again. Minimalism, Travel, Yoga, Food, and Writing are my love. I want to bring more of that into my life. Who cares about designer clothing, shoes, or anything tangible.

  8. says

    Amazing read! Freedom is a subjective term but there’s no doubt that a major part of it depends upon our “need” to buy stuff. Knowing that we can be happier without all the junk we are so used to is a game changer.

  9. Marya says

    Interesting! But I like to keep limits. A small house or apartment minimalistically decorated, is a must for peace of mind,especially for people at mature age. One cannot be free when s/he lacks the safety of home, a place that just belongs to him/her and no one can bother them; any other places lack the privacy of personal home. Anyway, best of lucks, but beware of future, time changes our attitude towards life.

  10. Suski says

    I am happy for you and for all those who can live life the way they want to. One day I might also be able to pack a small suitcase and leave but now I have children to take care of and they need a home with some things in it. I do see your point in owning less though and I also choose experiences instead of stuff.

  11. says

    When I search I side my heart of hearts, I know that freedom is what I chose, but I really acknowledge some of the other comments in realising that freedom is in itself a luxury. I am on a journey towards chhosing freedom for me and my family, and I realise that actually I might have to start working harder than I ever did before to do this. Certainly given me more to consider.

  12. says

    Really great post. I’m looking at my stuff in my room and seeing how insignificant they are. I agree with the point on focusing more on buying experiences and not on stuff.

    We can carry our experiences every where because they are inside our mind while stuffs do not.

  13. says

    Ive been reading this blog for a while. Last year we sold our luxury condo, and the relief of the financial burden allowed me to start pursuing my own business, which I am now pursuing full time although I am still not making much money.
    But you know what? I love what I do, I love working on something I enjoy everyday. 2 things have become clear. The first is how much money I spent on clothes when I worked an office job, just keeping up appearances. The second is that I am no longer defined or burdened by how much I make. Through living a gradually more minimalist life in the last couple years, I am happy and satisfied. It really is liberating.

  14. says

    “The best things in life are free.”
    I’d rather say that the best things in life can not be purchased by money.

    Other than that: I’ve been on the road for over a year now and what can I say: you’re hitting the nail on the head with your post :-)

  15. Grace says

    Would you be able to share what is in your suitcase when you travel? Just curious. I too travel light.

    • says

      Sure. Sneakers, workout gear, 1-2 pairs of dress shoes, flip flops. Then lots of light layers that I can roll up and don’t crease. This consists of 3/4 length pants/shorts, jeans, tops, shirts, dresses and a few Icebreaker Merino wool tops that keep me warm when layered up.

  16. says

    this weekend my husband & i sold our kitchen table in our garage sale. that, & a whole heap of miscellany. we’re scraping, digging down deep into our material wealth (with an annual income of $25,000), to free ourselves to move us & our four little kiddos into a bus.

    because, why not? will my kids remember what i gave them at 10 & 8 & 5 & 1? or will they remember when mommy & daddy sold the kitchen table & we all lived in a bus for the summer?

    that’s not even really a question, is it. :)

  17. Sherry says

    This article is so “freeing”. It rings so true for me.

    I have been traveling a lot of late (around Asia) and every time I travel I can’t help noticing how free and happy I feel just because of all the “stuff” I don’t have to look at or take care of because I own it !

    I feel so much like you in so many respects – I don’t buy a whole lot, I don’t care much for clothes and shoes like other women do, and yet, I have too much by own standards … I feel this constant pull between wanting more and wanting less, and I have phases where I give in to one pull or the other.

    I have been struggling to find the balance between the two, and to start doing really useful things with my life!

  18. Orlando Rivas says

    Very beautiful…all of it. Simple and true. Thanks

    “You are not defined by what you own, but by the knowledge, skills, and experiences you own”

  19. Michelle in Bermuda says

    Excellent article, and very encouraging to me as I continue to clear my life, apartment and relationships of clutter.

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