I woke this morning as sunlight spilled onto the horizon, blanketing the ocean with a pink glow. I woke to the sound of the waves inviting dedicated surfers to ride. I woke to the call of the birds and the howler monkeys. I put on my old, sandy stained shorts, hop on my rusty bicycle, and I pedal to the ocean to watch the sunrise.
I wake this way most mornings in Costa Rica.
Across miles of land and territorial borders, in the United States of America, the country where I was born, many people are already sitting in their offices. Or perhaps they’re driving in traffic, in line at Starbucks, or out running errands.
It’s interesting when I think about how this was once my life. How I spent my days commuting to my desk job and sitting behind a computer screen. How I spent my weekends using the money I earned sitting at that desk job to buy more things to fill my apartment with.
Though as soon as I broke out of that pattern, by deciding to leave it all behind and spend a few months living in the jungle of Costa Rica, I realized that none of that stuff mattered to me at all. Traveling in Cambodia, Colombia, Morocco, and dozens of other countries, I realized that stuff isn’t what makes most people happy. I’d go so far as to say that less stuff actually means more happiness. Here is why:
More Financial Freedom
I used to go shopping a lot. I’m pretty sure that I could have funded a round the world trip every year just from what I spent on clothes and decorations for my house.
An afternoon with friends? Sure, I could use a new pair of shoes. A family outing? Let’s go to garage sales and antique stores. A free weekend? Hm, I haven’t walked through all 5,000 departments of IKEA in a while.
The more I spent, the more money I needed. The more money I needed, the more I needed to work. Like so many people I found myself in the cycle of consumerism. It felt like anything but freedom.
When I started traveling the world and realized how little I needed, it opened me to a world of possibility. I could live on a third of what I once did simply by changing my lifestyle. I didn’t need a car, my feet would suffice. I didn’t need new clothes, they all got ruined after a week anyway. I could spend an entire week in Thailand on what I once spent on a single pair of boots.
One of the main reasons why I can afford to live nomadically and work for myself on my own time is because I don’t buy stuff. To me, financial freedom looks less like being able to buy whatever you want, and more like not needing to buy anything at all.
Less Weighing You Down
I remember when moving was a big deal. When I spent weeks filling boxes with my belongings and soliciting friends to help me. Then renting a truck, carting heavy furniture and always damaging it, and eating pizza surrounded by a sea of boxes. Then came the unpacking. Moving required a ton of energy.
Over the last three years of living nomadically I’ve had hundreds of “moving days.” Only these moving days mean zipping my backpack closed and strapping on my yoga mat. And I still feel like I have too much.
Whenever I go back to the states I’m confronted with my old stuff. Even after selling my car, my furniture, and nearly everything I owned, I still have boxes full of belongings. I typically spend my first days sorting through it all and trying to get rid of as much as I can. Yet somehow, there’s always more.
One thing I know with certainty is that the less I have, the less I have to worry about. The less I carry with me the more freedom I feel to move when the wind calls me. So every chance I get, I lighten my load.
More Space for What Really Matters
Marketing leads us to believe that “stuff” solves our problems when in fact “having” belongings actually complicates our lives tremendously. Where do we put these objects? How do we keep them organized? How do we ensure to never lose them or break them?
More importantly, we clutter our world with materials that distract us from what really matters. Perhaps we’re so afraid of facing the dark voids within ourselves that we’d rather stuff them full with designer jeans and new dishwashers.
The space and the emptiness that comes when we let go of our stuff can be scary. However it’s absolutely necessary to create space to allow what truly matters into our lives. I have a feeling that not a single human soul is fed by polyurethane dresses or plastic toys. Letting those things go means more space for what does feed us.
We have more time to travel or spend with our family. We have more attention to focus on our passion. We have more space to be who we are instead of whatever we own. What really matters? What can you let go?
Less Attachment to Material Things
I wonder often if we have possessions just to feel like we’re in control. Perhaps this is why when we lose something or it gets destroyed we become so upset. Because we attach to what we attempt to possess.
Coming to Costa Rica I learned quickly that the jungle had more control over everything than I did. My clothes got stains from mildew and gecko poop and holes from cockroaches and rats from hanging out on the clothesline to dry. My books got moldy, sandy, and muddy. My shoes fell apart and my jewelry rusted. I learned not to attach to anything I owned because if I did, I’d be heartbroken regularly.
Despite our belief that objects belong to us, we actually never own anything. When we embrace that, we become liberated.
Practice getting rid of stuff that you think you need or you love. When we see that without our favorite shirt or our best dishes we can still breathe and the world is still full of beauty, we see that happiness has nothing to do with what we own at all.
More Gratitude for What You Have
The greatest lesson I’ve learned in three years of travel is this: happiness means gratitude. Having less stuff makes it so much easier to practice gratitude. It shows us that possessions aren’t essential, they are just extras. We see that we have air to breathe, food to eat, and people to love us. We have everything that we need to feed us. The rest is just dessert.
When we shift our thoughts from what we want to have towards gratitude for all that we already have, that’s when we discover true, lasting happiness.
Today, on Black Friday, and for the duration of the holiday season, I’ll encourage to focus less on spending and more on celebrating. Sing songs with your family, throw holiday parties with your friends, make warm cider and take good care of yourself. Fill yourself with love and joy, surround yourself in love and joy, and watch how little space you have for anything else.