A serial ex-pat's journey to minimalism

Minimalism. What does it mean? At the risk of sounding vague, this absolutely depends on the individual. However I am approaching it from the point of view of a serial expatriate, and as a TCK. And I'm sure other serial ex-pats and TCKs will be able to relate to this.

As I have stated elsewhere in my blog, I am in my 50s. I traveled extensively growing up and some of my earliest memories are both packing and unpacking these huge wooden crates, shipped by sea, that contained all of our family's household goods. Took ages for them to arrive. It was like Christmas every time we got them because we had always forgotten what we had packed :-). Back in the 60s and 70s it was quite a chore moving an entire household from say Pakistan to Africa, because usually that meant moving everything from one country back to the United States, and then to the next country that we were moving to. And of course we would add to our material goods along the way when in the United States because, that was then, and it still is now, one of the best places in the world to shop.

Then ... when I started globetrotting again on my own in the year 1990, I myself had started to repeat the cycle. I packed up everything that didn't go to my ex-wife and son into a storage unit and headed to Istanbul with two large trunks and two large suitcases. From Istanbul onwards, what I chose to bring with me from country to country tended to be my books, my music CDs, and usually some type of bedding (because I became addicted to high thread count sheets), my clothes, plus whatever computer equipment I had at the time. My moves did not involve containers and and shipping crates like my parents did, but it was still a fair amount of stuff. I stopped taking appliances and electronic stuff right from the word go. Just sold or left it in the country I was leaving, and bought new where I was going. Different plugs, different voltages ... I remember my dad struggling with that constantly ... because he DID haul all that stuff from place to place. I was too lazy to repeat that :-)

Now I did have one stroke of luck, because in the year 2000, I got a call from my ex-wife. I was in the Philippines at the time, and she was calling me from the United States, to inform me that the storage unit where all of my family's goods (and mine)  were stored (everything left over from my parents, my military stuff like guns, knives, uniforms, all sorts of photos and memorabilia, and tons of furniture), had been in some kind of a chemical fire that razed the entire storage complex to the ground. Well, there wasn't much I could do about that, so after being in shock for about two or three hours, I left it in the past. I mean really ... what else can one do? The stuff is gone, nothing you can do will bring it back, so, move on. Although even to this day, I can be thinking about some item ... and then ... like a jolt ... I'll remember it went up in the fire :-) ...

In the years since 2000, I have frequently had occasion to think of that event is a blessing. Those things were an anchor. They were always going to be there and at the back of my mind. I should go get them, ship them to me, I need a house to put them in … etc. So I'm glad that they are gone. It was a freeing event. I mention this because I know it really hard for some people to let stuff go.

I've been in Asia now, based more or less in the same country, for quite some time, and over the last 15 years here I have accumulated a bunch of furniture, some appliances, and of course my book and CD collection has growen massively over the last 26 years.

A few years ago, I had read something on the Internet about minimalism which really interested me. At the time I was experiencing a huge amount of stress, and the idea of cutting back on everything I own just struck a huge chord with me (finally ... something I could control). And at this time technology had gotten to the point where it actually a huge help.

First of all I ripped every CD that I had to an MP3 file and put it on my hard drive. (Now several years later I still have a shipping trunk full of 800 CDs which I have no idea what to do with:-)) (...if anybody has ideas about this please let me know). And then there was the day that I discovered Amazon and Kindle. I'm a huge reader; I love science fiction, murder mysteries (English country house), technical tomes, travel & language books, and generally I am just a big book hound. Well books, especially hardcovers, are a bulky thing to carry around from country to country. So having discovered Kindle, I have steadily, over the last few years, been converting my book collection to electronic format. So what used to occupy several shipping crates, I can now carry around on my iPad. Cool!!!! :-)

Okay so much for material stuff. But what else is minimalism about? I'm not really sure if there is an intended pun here or not, but minimalism is also about all the other baggage that one carries life. Bad feelings about other people, stressing about things over which you have no control, worrying about problems that are not your own, wishing you could change other people, etc.
 
I started off by trying to cut back on my material goods. I have done so, it made me feel really good, I feel a huge amount of pride that I can for the most part, pack up what I need in two or three suitcases and move to another country within a matter of hours.I have really lost my attachment to ‘things’.

But in my mind that type of minimalism is just surface veneer. True minimalism is having a mindset of only worrying about ... no - let me change that ... worrying is not the right word. True minimalism is having a mindset that encompasses only those things, attitudes, and people, that are truly important to you, and ... that are important to you in a positive way.

And that, my friends, is a harder thing to be a minimalist about. That is something that I work on every day, and have been for the last few years. But it is a good journey to be on… I won't deny that. And lately it seems that I have been getting better at being able to get rid of the emotional baggage that I have been weighed down with all these years.

Don't get me wrong, I consider myself extremely fortunate person. I am neither complaining nor whining. However, there is always room for improvement. And with the help of good friends, and prodding myself so I'm not sitting in isolation anymore, I have been able to gain a much greater appreciation for my life, my friends, and how fortunate I truly am.

I do frequently worry that I'm too old to change, but … that is complete rubbish, really and truly. It is never too late to do something to change yourself. I truly do believe that and I have been living that journey myself now for several years. It can be done.

Whatever you decide to change; your health, your emotional state, your eating habits, your weight, etc. … You just have to decide that you really want to do what it is that you are thinking about, and then just get started. Nike really did corner the market with that phrase "Just do it!"… But you can't fault them for that. :-) … It says it well.

I will add though, that one should not be overwhelmed about trying to change everything at the same time. That truly can be an impossible thing to do. But decide where you want to start, pick one small thing, and change that. If that works for you, you will find that the next step will be easier. I really look forward to hearing from anybody who reads this with whom it strikes a chord.