Part of this experience is about living simpler. What exactly does that mean? For me, it means consuming less, which directly translates to spending less. It means living life without so many gadgets and “modern” comforts. But it is not just about living simpler. It is about living simpler and still enjoying life just as much, if not more. This aspect of my journey has not been nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, and I believe that my efforts to live simpler have made the experience better. Here are the 5 things I have learned about living simpler.
1. It is not that difficult to live without specialized tools, but not having them makes you appreciate them more.
A friend I met who is from South America but has lived in many other places, including two years in New York City, once told me that he was invited to a co-worker’s home in NYC. He was amused by the fact that “Americans have a special tool for everything. You cannot even open a can without an electrical device.” I think this statement is very telling of our culture. Think of all the infomercials advertising the latest tool to “make your life simpler.” Retailers like Bed, Bath, and Beyond thrive on the specialized-tool craze. But do all of these gadgets actually make our lives any simpler? Or are they just things for us to spend money on that we may use once a year?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging anyone for buying that fancy vegetable chopper from Pampered Chef. If you make a lot of salads, it’s probably worth it. My point here is that we have access to a lot of things and conveniences in the US, which I no longer take for granted. And the abundance of what we do have available makes it even more important to prioritize where I put my resources.
I still remember the first hostel I encountered where I needed to peel carrots, but there was no vegetable peeler to be found. I stood in the kitchen for a few moments, staring at the carrots. Then I realized that I could peel a carrot with a knife. Not nearly as fast or easy, but it works. Now I get excited when I find a vegetable peeler in the hostel kitchen. Ah, the little things.
2. I can live without a cell phone, but I cannot go too long without my computer and an internet connection.
In the US, I had a love-hate relationship with my iPhone. It brings such convenience, yet comes with the downside of keeping you always connected and available which can be stressful for you and annoying to others. I hate seeing two people sitting in a restaurant, both of them staring down at their phones and typing away. When I took my annual 2-week vacations, I never even considered enabling the international plan. I was happy to turn off the phone and tuck it in my bag for two weeks. It turns out I was also perfectly happy to extend my cell-phone liberation for a whole 6 months.
What has surprised me a bit is how much I have relied on my computer and having an internet connection. Photography and my website have been my “work” over the past 6 months, so I have spent a lot of time on the computer. But I have to admit it is not just about the work. My computer is my personal journal. Sure, I could use paper and pen, but it is so much easier and faster to type. And who wants to lug around notebooks? I would have probably filled a stack of them by now.
The internet is also my lifeline to keep in touch with family and friends. It is how I securely manage my finances and personal affairs while out of the country. Email, Skype, and online banking are truly genius inventions. You access them when you want to be connected and turn them off when you are done.
Technology can make our lives simpler. We are the ones who allow it to over-complicate or interfere with our lives. It is an individual preference as to how much and which type of technology to use.
3. Our possessions can weigh us down and prevent us from doing the things we want to do.
When I was preparing to leave for this trip, I was overwhelmed by the task of getting rid of my things. I thought I lived a fairly minimalist life. I was not a candidate for the show Hoarders. I did not like knick-knacks or clutter in my home. Yet I still had too much stuff.
Even if you do not want to pack up your possessions to go off and explore the world for a few months or years, the money we spend on our possessions impacts how we live our lives. I remember looking at the bags and bags of things I was dropping off at Goodwill and thinking, “If I hadn’t spent money on this stuff that I really don’t need, I could travel to more places.”
No, I am not going to turn into a miser. We work hard, and I think it is important to treat ourselves to the things we want. (Every one of my monthly massages was worth the money.) I think the key is being sure of your priorities and not worrying about what other people think your priorities should be. For some people, a priority is having a nice home with a big yard and being able to entertain friends and family frequently. For others, a priority is enjoying the arts. Going forward, I know I will make better decisions on how I spend my money based on what is most important to me.
4. It is nice not to worry about looking great all the time.
I am so happy I am not one of those people carrying around a backpack bigger than me. It was worth sacrificing a fashionable wardrobe for the ease of traveling with a reasonably-sized pack. Once again, it comes down to priorities. When I was going into an office every day as a consultant, I wanted to look professional and put-together. When I went out for dinner with friends, I wanted to look at least as nice as the other people in the restaurant. Okay, maybe I wanted to look better than the others at the restaurant.
When I am backpacking through Latin America, I want to be comfortable and prepared. A limited wardrobe does mean I have had to hand-wash clothes frequently, and I have had to be creative about what to wear when I met with professionals or the few times I have gone to a nice restaurant or club. But I have learned you can do a lot with a little, and you can still keep it simple. (Ladies, a pashmina and dangly earrings are miracle accessories.)
Keeping this mindset has been a little more challenging since I arrived in Buenos Aires. This is a modern, trendy city, and everyone makes it a point to look great, especially the women. I have to remind myself that my wardrobe is perfectly fine. I did buy a couple of shirts to replace the ones that were worn down from travel, but I bought cheap and simple. These are shirts I will wear when I go hiking in Patagonia and take my next 12-hour bus ride. And I still have that pashmina. Oh, and I “splurged” and spent $5 on a pair of earrings for those nights out at the tango club