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.
Perfect timing Camille. Not only in terms of Black Friday but my personal life as well. Since returning to the States after living abroad and traveling I feel I’ve started slipping into that materialistic mindset.
“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.”
That particularly spoke to me because I feel like shopping and buying unnecessary things is something I’ve used to try and find…happiness..excitement..I’m not 100% sure. Maybe as a distraction to negative feelings? Something along those lines.
Either way it’s something I’m slowly trying to be conscious of. So thanks for this lovely reminder 🙂 Beautifully written as always.
Not entered a single shop today …and now at home de cluttering!
Hi Mariana, yes I understand. I go through it too. Especially when I go to New York. Suddenly I feel like I want all of these things and like I’m supposed to buy something. When you get that feeling take a moment, take a breath, and just check in with yourself. <3
I am definitely guilty of buying things for happiness. Mostly because I find myself bored when at home with nothing else to do and spend money on things I don’t need.
I’ve only been home for two months since my last around the world trip and I can’t even bare to think about how much I’ve bought!
But here I am now on Black Friday packing up as little as I can to head down to Central America as well and am feeling damn good about the small amount of things I’ve packed. If it’s not something I think I will absolute want to wear all the time then I decided not to bring it!
To me, the most magical “things” other than moments themselves are photographs (I’m a photographer, what can I say). Less stuff definitely is a great thing.
Yes absolutely! I’m so excited for you and your upcoming adventure 🙂 And yes I definitely go through that when I’m back “home” from traveling too. We will see how it goes for me being in the states at Christmas!
I completely agree!
Hi Camille! This post is quite similar to a post we wrote this October and we couldn’t agree more. http://patascha.bplaced.net/wordpress/why-are-we-so-materialistic/ You’re writing about the same feelings and thougts we have for the moment and this is why we decided to get rid of everything we don’t need anymore…and it feels right 🙂 Go on, you’re doing a good job! We love to read your posts about Puerto Viejo and your adventures. Greetings from cold Luxembourg. Tascha & Patrick
Thank you so much Patascha. That’s awesome that you guys decided to simplify and that we share so many of the same sentiments. So nice to hear that you enjoy my posts 🙂 xo
I completely agree with you! Not only do material possessions NOT equal happiness, but the endless cycle of buying and wanting and buying some more has created an incredibly wasteful culture in western society. We buy things, and then when they break or we get tired of them, we throw them away and buy new ones.
I rarely buy ‘things’, but a little while ago I made a resolution: any things I DO buy I would buy second-hand. This way I recycle instead of consuming, I save money, and I lessen the demand for needless manufacture (in however small a way) thus contributing to saving energy and preserving the planet.
Wow, gone off on a bit of a tangent there…but this is something I feel very strongly about! Owning stuff certainly does not solve our problems.
Awesome thanks Miranda! Yes it’s true beyond just “buying’ the problem is also our obsession with “newness”. That’s great that you’ve made the intention to reduce, recycle, reuse 🙂
As I grow older, I realized the happiness that money can’t buy; from “wanting things” to “wanting experiences” = Travel
I couldn`t agree with your more. I recently moved back to the mainland from hawaii. Before moving out there I had all this stuff that I was so excited to get rid of and simplify my life. It was an amazing experience, I learned so much more about life, I did not have much just what I needed. Now being back home for almost a year I have accuired and bought a apartment full of shit. Dont get me wrong I am a home body and enjoy the comfort but soon enough my girl friend and I will be leaving it all and heading out to the land of pura vida. I planning to bring down the least amount of things.
Well Thanks for the post I like it alot and well keep checking out your others.
Thanks Anthony, so glad to hear that you are making your way back to the life that makes you happy 🙂 !!
Namaste Camille and fellow simple life lovers! I whole heartily agree that “Less stuff=more happiness>” I have the great good fortune of being retired. I am 70 yrs old going on 45:) I moved from Manhattan to Cape Cod in 2007 to have a simpler life and to be surrounded by nature. I did the simpler life unthinkable and just moved to a bigger house. The raison d’être having lived in various small but lovely studios my whole life…I wanted space! Not space to fill but just space to live in. For all appearances my house is uncluttered. But I continue to remove things that I do not need. Although the house is larger I actually need less. I have no desire to live a nomadic life of travel for I have traveled abroad and to the Far East, but if you are young enough to do and want to…”Go for it” as we would say. Consumerism is the big culprit and … part of the problem is that things are built NOT TO LAST and we are bombarded w having the latest. I appreciate what Camille is offering although extreme for me is a great reminder and incentive to continue to remove every item, no matter how seemingly insignificant IF I do not need it. I am a very organized person. A few yrs ago I realized that organization sometimes can be the enemy of decluttering…because ….I was organizing stuff i should be getting rid of! Decluttering is a process and my favorite book for yrs is Karen Kingston little book called CLEAR YOUR CLUTTER W FENG SHUI. Decluttering and simplifying involves not only removing, but NOT bringing more stuff in.
Long live the simple life..whatever it means and works for you. Eat whole foods, grown some of your own food or visit farmers markets, get rid of your TV, do whatever you can to help save the environment…recycle the tags on tea bags, remove red meat from your diet..more negative effects on environment than pollution from cars. so many ways …and it is like voting. Many people think that their one little vote does not count. It counts and whatever you can do to save the environment counts. Simple living helps you and the environment. Thank you Camille.
Thank you Celine. It sounds like you have a lovely life in Cape Cod! I’ve always wanted to go there. Love all of your advice too!! 🙂
Your words are so beautiful, and they have helped me a lot.
I recently lost my dear grandfather to an illness and have found for my father especially it has caused him a lot of grief losing his own dad – i’ve noticed he turns to his work/technology to keep his mind busy, always checking emails & not being ‘present’ – one night at the table I said to him ‘Dad you need to turn off, be present and with the people that are here now and who love you’ as I could see he wasn’t himself – this is not the answer to healing, and what is is being here now in the present, and be thankful for the people and experiences that you have in your life and have had.
The world needs switch off from technology/phones/email and just be thankful for the here & now – life is about rich experiences and it is simple, but so beautiful.
Yes, thank you so much for sharing this Holly. We seem to have gotten into this pattern as humans of covering up and numbing our wounds instead of facing them, breathing through them, and allowing ourselves to heal. Keep sharing this message and your light. Hugs and love to your family in this time of grief and transition <3
Hi, Camille! I just wanted to say that I’ve been enjoying your blog and it’s helped me to make the decision to get out of the consumerism cycle… well, mostly! I’ve decided to start saving for a sailboat to travel the world. Luckily my job (tattooing) is something that I hope I can do in different places I visit. But the first step is downsizing and saving. So thank you for reminding us that things don’t fill your heart! And the next time you’re in Seattle, I’ll buy you a drink! ^_-
That is SO awesome! I am really happy to hear it 🙂 Please keep in touch and let me know how your journey unfolds xx
So tempting … I live in New York and your blog is really speaking to my wanderlust. I can almost get onboard with this, except for one thing that really breaks my heart. What about the books? :p
I know, after much resistance I finally got a kindle. And I have to say, while I do love holding a book in my hands, it’s soooo convenient. I also give books away and think about how much they will touch the person I give them to. <3
I connect with this on so many levels, I feel so liberated every time I purge something from my belongings. I just moved [back] to Korea for a year of teaching here and although I don’t have much, my possessions compared to my one backpack I grew accustomed to for the last two years are weighing me down. I think for those not in transit one super important rule to implement into your life is a ‘one in, one out’ mentality. Obviously shopping is a social event so you can’t completely delete it from your life, but if you donate/throw away or pass on one item for every one you buy you can avoid that overindulgence. Slightly jealous of your beach abode but I’ll be back there before too long I’m sure.
You most definitely will, and yes absolutely, even with my backpack right now I feel like I have way too much, lol!
Hello! First off, I want to say I love your blog! This article is is one that really spoke to me. I have moved home after a year and a half living aboard. Having moved home, I have finally come to terms with the simple life style I want to live, which is different from my peers. I am working on decluttering what I own and using the money to travel some more. Thanks for all the great tips from your blog!
You are so welcome! I wish you all of the best during this transition <3
I am beginning my journey of shedding ‘stuff’ and having read your account , its how I have been feeling and what I am searching for…. Stuff at the moment is making me ill! I used to put such alot of emphasis on owning things and thought it would bring me happiness but it doesnt. Thanks for an inspiring account and and am now off to give more of my stuff away! I live in the UK.
Lets all live simply.
You are so welcome angel <3 So much love to you as you free yourself from more stuff!
This is just wonderful! I have been getting rid of my stuff for over a year now and feel so much lighter!
My daughter is going to college and I fell in love with traveling as an Army brat years ago..
I intend to make this travellife happen! I am not exactly sure how yet…but it has always called me…
(I have to see if there is a way for my husband to travel sometimes too…)
Thank you for this blog!
That is awesome I am so happy for you 🙂 xx