We live in a culture that is saturated with stuff. Constant advertisements remind us of what we’re lacking, and most people would rather blow a paycheck on this month’s most popular items (that will go out of style come the next) rather than save it for something worthwhile. It wasn’t until I finally decided that I was going to spend a semester abroad that I was faced with how much stuff I owned and invested time and money in. It’s pretty hard to ignore the things you own when you have to pack your whole life in a suitcase 50 pounds or less, and I was afraid that I would leave something that I couldn’t live without, while bringing things that would go unused.So, six months before I hopped on the international flight to my new life abroad I decided to make a life altering decision:
I would become a minimalist.
Now, I’m fully aware of the connotations that may be attached to such a hot topic word like minimalism. However, at its core, minimalism was the best choice I could’ve made for this transition. In a short explanation, it is the lifestyle attached to only owning the things you either absolutely need, or that absolutely bring you joy. It means not rushing to buy the next best thing if you know that the thing you have is already great for you. It’s spending time and money not on physical items that take up space and are used once or twice at most, but on experiences that will affect you for a lifetime. This comes with a shift of mindset, that less can be more and that experiences outweigh any product that, in the end, you won’t be able to take with you forever.
I have to admit, coming from a culture whose identity is nearly founded on the exact opposite, my journey took some time to get used to. I, luckily, had a head start having flirted with minimalist principles before when I moved houses. Because of this, the idea of getting rid of anything else was pretty terrifying, especially because it’s very easy to just leave those things behind. I kept having the thought, “What if I want this when I get back?”
Soon, though, reality set in. If it isn’t important enough to come with me, is it important to have in my life at all? I realized studying abroad would be the perfect opportunity to finally purge the things in my life that I was having trouble letting go of, despite how little I used them. Then, when I returned home, I could evaluate with a clear head what things are taking up space. This was easier than I thought when I really sat down and took the time to do it. My biggest vice, however, was clothes.
As an acting major, I feel the easiest statement you can make is with your wardrobe. I love my bold clothing items, even if they’re only used for a one-time occasion, and I was excited to add to the madness with whatever I brought back from Europe. However, I found myself not reaching to pack items that I’ve been holding on to forever. Bit by bit I removed them and realized that just my basics alone show off my personality without the wacky one-timers. By the end, I had a perfect little wardrobe that flowed and worked with itself, and before I knew it I was done packing for my time abroad. The best part: most of my clothes were coming with me.
I spent a whole summer not just with less stuff in my home, but less stuff on my mind. I wasn’t worried about the latest drops, only focused on getting those essentials that would help me on my journey, or that would help me in my everyday life. It was freeing, and needed, because of how much time you already need to dedicate when you’re preparing to leave abroad.
However, the effects of my new way of thinking wouldn’t be obvious until after I left. At first, it was really easy to slip into my old ways of over-buying things. Being abroad, everything seems overly important: “If I don’t buy this now I’ll never get another chance, I don’t know when I’ll be in London again,” or “All of my friends are dropping money on this, is it crazy if I don’t too?” We call this idea scarcity thinking, and it’s what keeps our houses cluttered with stuff that ends up forgotten within the year.
Over time, though, as I began to settle in, I started seeing a change in the things I wanted to invest in. I started buying things that really meant something to me, clothes that I knew I’d use for a long time that still went well with my wardrobe, and most importantly: experiences. I traded bags for bookings to places I’d always wanted to go, and stuff for memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
One of the best parts is I never felt like I made a bad purchase. I always knew why I was buying something and the end result. That clarity made it a lot easier to enjoy each and every experience. It also helped a lot when it came time to repack my bags on the way home.
I didn’t think it would stick, but it turns out you can embrace minimalism abroad. In fact, it made my experience all the richer. I feel even more excited to continue on my minimalist journey now that I know what experiences it can bring and the joy it can spark in my life! I know that most of the best experiences I had come from a shift in mindset. I knew what was important, and it wasn’t the items that would end up in the bags with me on the way back home. Often, it was the experiences you couldn’t put a price tag on.