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