Real Life Minimalists: Robert Wringham

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 until May — but if you don’t mind waiting, feel free to send me your submission!)

Today, I’m happy to share this contribution from Robert Wringham. He tells us how he’s pared down to the essentials, and how his minimalist lifestyle has enabled him to start his own business. Very inspiring!

Robert writes:

Robert Wringham

Robert Wringham

Hello! I’m Robert Wringham. I’m a writer and performer and I’m the editor of a magazine called New Escapologist. (RSS).

Out of both necessity and preference, I’ve always been pretty mobile. When you move around a lot, it really helps to travel light.

I moved out of the family home in 2004, taking three heavy suitcases with me to Scotland. One contained clothes and the others were filled with books, DVDs and CDs. Three suitcases may seem a small load to a lot of people but it seems rather excessive to me now.

Over the next few years, I moved house a few times. The cost of ownership was made clear whenever I had to schlep these bags up and down the streets and staircases of Glasgow. I realise that most people have more stuff than I do and that they will have to hire a van to transport their stuff. To me, this doesn’t even bear thinking about. What a burden! I resented having to move even three suitcases. Mobility is everything.

In 2009, enough was enough. I had always enjoyed the aesthetics of minimalism, always preferring clean and manageable living or working space. At work, my desk was always clear while those of colleagues teetered with paperwork. At home, I’d always preferred neatly curated and optimum-stocked bookshelves to disorganised piles of excess. Given these preferences and the experience of carrying my stuff up too many flights of stairs, I became a proper minimalist.

I pared my life down to essentials: practical things; a few precious keepsakes; and a selection of entertainment products. By the end of 2009, my entire cache could be accommodated by a 5 square-foot storage locker. A good job too, because I would soon relocate to Canada.

Upon emigration, I seized the opportunity to minimise further. I didn’t want to lug any more than one suitcase to Montreal.

I sold off some CDs and DVDs but the main innovation in this area was to remove the discs from their cases and to file them alphabetically in a portable DJ case. Music and movie fans are always shocked by this, but I have little attachment to plastic boxes and bad graphic design. Financially, DVDs are worthless now (you might get an average of £1 each) and will be worth even less when digital movie distribution becomes the norm. If you thought the obsolescence of VHS tapes left swathes of waste behind, wait until you see how many DVDs line the shelves of charity shops next year. Digitising my collection would also have been folly: it would have taken hours of my time and vast swathes of computer memory to store them even at a lossy low quality. What I have now is a portable box of high-definition favourites. If pressed, I’d get rid of these too. Why own a single movie or album when cinemas, libraries and the Internet exist?

I minimised my wardrobe by vowing to dress smartly every day. I now own a suit, a few shirts, some t-shirts, underwear and some casual pants. I have three pairs of shoes: formal, casual and snow. Half a suitcase. Why any human male would need anything else is beyond me.

The thing about minimalism is that it prompts you to ask what is important. DVDs? Paperbacks? CDs? You can allow these things to be ephemeral. Clothes are important but you don’t need as many as you may think. These days, a material object has to have a damn good reason for hitching a ride on my back.

The best effect of curbing my consumer habits has been the opportunity to quit my job and start my own business. Instead of slaving in an office all day to pay for my artificially-stimulated consumer wants, I now have the financial clout to work on creative projects full-time. The process of making money from these is slow but thanks to my minimal overheads, I only require a minimal income.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

28 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Robert Wringham

  • Layla

    You seem interesting :) and good idea of what to do with DVDs. Also, with those glasses you look a bit like David Tennant (doctor who)

  • Tessa

    Neatly Curated: what a fantastic, powerful term you used! Isn’t that the very essence of a minimized life: thoughtfully edited, involving the best, elegant.

    That will be my guiding term for what to keep/lose on my minimalist quest: I want a neatly curated life.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Tez in TX

  • et

    Ah, another urbanite who can’t imagine a life different than his own (Why any human male would need anything else is beyond me.).

    Think: making a living at least partially outdoors, in a place with 4 seasons.

    • Hi et.

      You are right. I must confess that considerations of the non-urban lifestyle don’t always readily occur to me. I never consciously felt that websites such as this one were geared toward city dwellers, but I suppose that is a prejudice some of us have. I retract my unintentional and solipsistic slur and would welcome all non-urbanites back into my definition of the human race! (As if you should give two figs!)

  • “The best effect of curbing my consumer habits has been the opportunity to quit my job and start my own business.”

    This says it all to me! Because of scaling down my consumer habits, I have been able to take a job in non-profit working in animal rescue for very little money. I could never have pursued this passion of mine if I was still consuming like there was no tomorrow.

    I enjoyed your post Robert and best of luck with your new business and magazine!

  • This is one of my favorites, Francine!

    Just reading Robert’s words has me breathing easier (a phrase I use to express the opposite of cluttery-stress in my life)….

    “At work, my desk was always clear while those of colleagues teetered with paperwork. At home, I’d always preferred neatly curated and optimum-stocked bookshelves to disorganised piles of excess.”

    “…vowing to dress smartly every day”

    Just great!

  • I have done the same thing with my DVDs and stuff: all the cases are long gone! My very favorites get ripped to my hard drive, but I have decided to not even bother with most of them. It would take up too much time to bother with things I don’t watch that much anyway. Eventually when the kid grows up they will probably go by the wayside anyway!

    I am not to the point where you are, but even with that you are an inspiration! Thanks for sharing!

  • Cecilia

    Being a mother of three and living in the same place for the last 23 years means it is all too easy to not bother getting rid of things, but just the thought of being able to own only a suitcase full of belongings is tantalising…Thank you for sharing your story…you have inspired me to get rid of a lot that I really don’t need!

  • Miakat

    I love this series, Francine! You always find the most fascinating people. Robert sounds like a great guy, and very inspiring!

    I actually moved house just this last weekend, and the last thing before I did was to move ALL my CDs and DVDs into soft cases, just as Robert suggested. At first I felt awful throwing all that plastic waste into the trash – it took up half my large outdoor bin for a fairly small collection! But I am so glad my stuff takes up so little space now. And that (with the exception of a few pieces of furniture like my bed) I was able to throw all of my possessions in the back of my car and go!

  • Fawn

    Wow! et–you must have swallowed something really bitter this AM.

    Cecilia–mother to four here, and it can be done. You can follow the single parenting minimalist life at

    Hope you don’t mind Francine, me plugging my own blog.

  • I love the idea about the DVD and CD storage. I have a real sticking point when it comes to getting rid /paring down my collection and i think this may be the answer.
    Thanks Robert

    and thanks Francine for posting this- I love this series of posts it is always so inspiring- there is always some idea either practical or otherwise i can draw from the featured minimalist’s.

  • runi

    Fantastic, Robert! Over the years, I have just about tamed my possessions down in answer to the question “What would I take if I had to evacuate?”. (This was spurred by the fact that I did have to evacuate once for only a few hours.)

    The cat and her soft-sided carrier, a few papers, cash, a couple prescriptions, a change of clothes, and a few personal hygiene supplies. The cat in her carrier and a medium size shoulder bag=quickly on the bus.

    Owned DVDs and books? Not necessary.

  • […] wrote a little piece about my relationship with minimalism for Miss Minimalist’s blog. Enjoy! 16 Feb 2011 No […]

  • This was beautifully written. I love the idea of dressing well every day–I think most people would be better off if they tailored the contents of their closets to that maxim. And oh my gosh. My stuff would take more than one van to schlep around. I should really remedy that.

  • Caroline

    “Why any human male would need anything else is beyond me.” lol

    I had some kind of radar that compelled me to sell all my CDs (in 2004) and DVDs (in 2008) while they still went for something. I’m going to dig for more premonitions… I should learn more about stocks :P

    Love the inspiration I receive from people’s stories! I have another pile of stuff ready to be adopted by a stuff-lover.

  • Hi Robert,

    I love your point about CD’s and DVD’s. I only wish my husband could see the light! I’m sure he’d be into giving away or selling our dusty boxes of CD’s, but definitely not his movies…

  • Gil

    “I have little attachment to plastic boxes and bad graphic design. Financially, DVDs are worthless now (you might get an average of £1 each) and will be worth even less when digital movie distribution becomes the norm”

    Very inspirational, Robert. I no longer have any CDs, but burned everything onto my IPOD. The DVDs I did manage to keep, I took them out of the jackets and placed them in CD envelopes. The same went for my few video games.

    I do have a few more items of clothing than I would like, but I everything does get worn eventually. I could still probably pare this down a bit more.

    I have to ask why would ANYone, male or female live with more than they need? Life would be so much easier.

  • kll

    What I never get though is how a book person could really do this. We have a lot of books – books not available as e-books, and largely books that a) need to be kept for resources for professional or hobby reasons and/or b) are usually not readily available at the library (or some at all).

    • Hi Kll,

      I can sympathise. I’m a big book person. I used to collect books and I used to be a librarian too. But they do account for a lot of ‘stuff’. The choice is yours though: mobility or books. You certainly don’t have to ditch your books if you prefer that option.

      Personally, I now indulge my love of books by spending more time in libraries. These are TEMPLES to books and no matter how much love you might put into a private collection at home, you can never have the resources commanded by the library system. I like public libraries, but the more serious bibliophile (when wanting to spend time immersed in books) might like to wangle access to university libraries, national libraries and private subscription libraries (which can cost a pretty penny to join, but probably not as much as I used to spend in bookshops). A golden rule (not just for book) is “Access trumps ownership”.

      It might sometimes seem that libraries have limited stock but they can actually let you access any book ever written. Here’s a little piece I wrote about it:


  • […] Years ago, I minimised my DVD collection by jettisoning the cases and filing the discs into a handy DJ case. I now have an alphabetised DVD collection the size of a shoe box. It’s a work of art. […]

  • Tina

    I requested a book from my local library. It will come from a university library. I have a few favorite authors and keep one book by each one. I took another pile of books and magazines to the library yesterday. There is another bag for Goodwill started. I like the idea of curating possessions. Only the best and most necessary will stay.

  • Tina

    I saved one set of instructions for each hobby I enjoy. Crochet, collage, Zentangles, brush painting, a few sudoku books, altered art, etc. Then if I need more books I take them out of the library. As we grow and change, our interests change. I used to crayon a lot and now I don’t.

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