^^Stuff getting sorted through for our yard sale at my parents’ house. SO. MUCH. STUFF.

There are a lot of things in this world that stress me out: Deciding how much to tip. Calling people on the phone. Finding an address I’ve never been to. Purchasing anything more expensive than a few dollars. Hovering very near to the top of the stress list is packing and moving. Maybe because I’ve done it well over a dozen times in the past three or four years — often enough that I never have a chance to forget how time-consuming and soul-sucking it can be. Moving with such frequency also means that I no longer have that little bit of nascent hope of an easy, breezy fresh start. All I’m expecting now is an unfortunately soviet flat and a slightly unhinged landlord.

As I’ve mentioned several times before on the blog, my mobile lifestyle (even if it is generally confined to Moscow and Berryville) has previously forced me into an unwilling minimalism. Owning less stuff, I imagine in the scheme of things my packing woes are fairly insignificant. My routine generally consists of about a day of foisting kitchen items off to friends, stuffing clothes and cameras into a suitcase/carry-on, and frantically cleaning up before the landlord shows up. With the Russky involved, there’s a lot more debate about what to leave behind but not too many extra bags. He’s keeping it light too.

I've chosen to keep him, but not the inner tube.

I’ve chosen to keep him, but not the inner tube.

Struggling to maintain a… stuff-stuffed lifestyle was no fun at all. So after falling into the pattern of finding a new apartment ever 9-12 months, I guess I’ve arrived at the point where I can finally say I’ve fully embraced a minimalist style. My working label is travel minimalism as I truly think it’s a habit brought upon by my constant moving and not by any real desire or inherent nature to tend toward less. I’ve finally realized that having more things is, frankly, a giant pain in the ass and not worth the trouble. On the one hand, it’s a great method that has led to far greater mobility (although no less stress – because what else would I do with my time?). On the other hand, I’ve developed a weird sort of buyer’s guilt whenever I go shopping.

Peeking into my bank account is never a particularly pleasant task and it certainly hasn’t gotten more enjoyable since quitting steady work and traveling around. Compound that with my embrace of travel minimalism and living with less, I’ve found myself more and more often paralyzed at the thought of spending money on items I know I’ll have to pack. (I’ll be very clear and admit that I rarely say no to purchasing food or experiences, aka things I won’t have to pack later.) In fact, if the Russky hadn’t harangued me in Bishkek or a few weeks earlier here in America, I never would have purchased a new tablet or camera – both of which are relatively small and, more importantly, integral to every day use. My reluctance wasn’t even about the money necessarily; it was more an offshoot of the ever-present thought “but do I really need one more item?!”.

But here’s the thing. I’m not an ascetic who took a vow to live with nothing. Even though I’m a travel-induced minimalist, there’s not really an all-knowing panel of uber-minimalists who are judging my purchases. (If there is, they’ve kept pretty quiet so far.) There’s really nothing holding me back from any necessary or inconsequential purchases except for myself.

As the wonderful blogger over at The Nife en l’Air often notes, minimalism isn’t about the numbers – it’s a totally personal judgement call. So what’s with all the worrying, self? Less stuff should equal less stress, right? It’s just a personal mental block. So I’ll just continue to remind myself that if you’re describing yourself as a minimalist, that’s cool — no matter how many bags it takes to pack up your life. Unlike traveling, there are no extra baggage fees or weight limits on a lifestyle choice.

Managing Expectations of (Travel) Minimalism

1. Head towards minimalism with an end container in mind. Whether you’re paring down to a properly packed house, bedroom, or suitcase, decide on your goal before you get started.
2. Be deliberate about what you get rid of. When I first started seriously culling my possessions, I got really excited and ended up re-buying a lot of things which I shouldn’t have gotten rid of. Don’t go too crazy – you’ll end up going through the cycle again.
3. Create a semi-regular ‘weeding out’ schedule. I know, it’s boring. But you’ll be so happy you don’t have to look through 5,000 t-shirts when it comes time for your next move. Learn from me: a once a month/season cull of your possessions is much more manageable that doing it all at once under a time crunch.
4. A purchase is not a failure. Just because you’re trying to live lightly doesn’t mean every purchase needs to be stressed over; remember, minimalism isn’t defined by a certain number. Sometimes you just need/want something. It isn’t the end of the world.
5. Be deliberate about your purchases rather than sticking to a strict budget. This works for me. Sticking to a budget = spending money without much thought until I don’t have any more to spend. Being deliberate = consciously curating a small shopping list and purchasing deliberately from that.
6. Don’t bother trying a lifestyle that doesn’t fit you. Minimalism is great for me: I move a lot and I could live with just a few black and grey clothes. If you like knick-knacks or clothes or… stamp collecting… don’t force it. Just be prepared with a few extra suitcases!

What’s your style – do you tend towards minimalism or harbor hoarder tendencies?