Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details. (Note: the schedule is now full through January — but if you don’t mind waiting, feel free to send me your submission!)
This week, I’m happy to introduce you to Sherry Ott. She’s a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcase to Backpack, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice, and one of the driving forces behind Meet, Plan, Go! events across the country to inspire more people to get out and travel. You can find her on Ottsworld, her personal around the world travel blog, writing about her nomadic experiences.
Ever since I graduated from college I was on a quest; a quest to be ‘grown up’ and successful and to own furniture that doesn’t come with assembly instructions. I still remember the first piece of furniture I ever purchased – a couch from Sears. Then came a bed, some side tables, kitchen appliances, works of art, pottery, clothes, more clothes, shoes, and handbags. Somehow over 14 years, I moved from my apartment in Omaha, which was furnished with furniture from garage sales and posters framed in plastic, to a beautiful loft in Manhattan with real wood furniture and actual art on my walls. I had a real ‘grown-up’ life I purchased for myself.
Just when I thought “I’ve finally made it!”, a time when I could live in comfort and style, other parts of my life were out of balance. Work became my enemy. I disliked my job/career which funded my lifestyle. I looked around at all the stuff I had acquired through the years and realized it’s really my enemy. It’s holding me hostage. But who at 38 yrs old in their right mind gives it all up?
I eased into a minimalist lifestyle in a way with the idea of ‘out of site, out of mind’. I quit my 14 year corporate IT career, and decided to sublet my apartment for 1 ½ years to travel around the world and find some clarity. I lived out of a suitcase while traveling to 23 countries; never once did I miss anything back in my apartment. I replaced my ‘stuff’ with travel experiences instead.
By getting out of the US and away from the constant barrage of ‘more is good’, I was able to look at consumption in a different way. In addition, I found that I loved traveling and I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to find a way to make travel my lifestyle. When I arrived back to my apartment and looked around at everything I never missed, I knew what I had to do; sell it all. I needed to get rid of the ‘weight’ so that I could be free to travel and move around.
I sold 90% of my possessions leaving only some family heirlooms, art, and clothing in a small storage space. I sold my stuff off to my family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Even though I knew it was what I wanted to do, it wasn’t an easy or comfortable situation. As I handed over the items I worked so hard to acquire I tried to think of it as if my couch was really shackled to me and now when someone bought it, it was now shackled to them, keeping them weighted down and unable to move. I on the other hand became lighter and practically lifted off the ground as my bed and last pieces of furniture and kitchen gadgets left my apartment. Now I was free to fly to Vietnam, Brazil, Kenya or anywhere else I wanted, and stay as long as I wanted.
That’s just what I did. For the last 3 years I have been completely nomadic, moving from place to place, staying with family, friends, villagers, renting short term rooms or apartments, and house-sitting. I lived and worked in Vietnam for a year, hiked the Annapurna circuit in Nepal, did a US road trip across the country, house-sat in Brussels, volunteered in remote villages, and simply connected more with my family. But my life fits in my backpack. Is this extreme minimalism? I suppose so, but for me it’s all about choices and determining what’s important in your life. I had to step away from my stuff and my own culture to realize what was important to me.
Do I ever miss my stuff? Sure, sometimes. But then I look out across the Gobi Desert and remind myself that this view is much better than sitting on my couch.