Drifting

Drifter {definition}: a person who goes from place to place, job to job, etc., remaining in each for a short period.

Two years ago, when I moved to the UK, I thought it was pretty impressive that I lived out of a duffel bag for six weeks.

Ha! I’ve been doing it now for over three months.

My husband and I gave up our flat in February, and decided we didn’t want to commit to any long-term housing options. Therefore, we’ve been in and out of hotels, sublets, and extended stays ever since.

In two weeks, we’ll be moving into our fifth “home” in less than a year (“home” being somewhere we’ve stayed longer than a month).

Last summer, my home was an 800-square-foot two-bedroom flat. That’s where I started this blog, and wrote my book.

Last fall, my home was a 390-square-foot one-bedroom with high ceilings and enormous windows. That was my first taste of tiny living.

Earlier this year, my home was an extended stay studio with yellow walls, green carpeting, a red sofa, and a small kitchenette. That’s where I filed my tax return.

Right now, my home is a 1200-square-foot apartment in a grand old Victorian mansion. Architecturally, it’s one of the most stunning places I’ve ever lived, but is filled top to bottom with someone else’s stuff. (I fantasize at least once a day about emptying it out and painting it white!) That’s where I’m writing this post.

Next month, my home will be a small one-bedroom in a converted warehouse, in close proximity to a lovely park.

I know it sounds like a royal pain to be always on the move, and hunting for new digs. Fortunately, though, we’ve been lucky enough to find nice accommodations; and moving day has been reduced to stuffing our bags in a cab and taking it across town. To be honest, this nomadic life has been quite easy and carefree—and dare I say, it’s begun to feel “normal.”

I remember when my husband and I bought our house back in 2003. It took about a month before it really felt comfortable to me, before I could walk around in the middle of the night without bumping into things.

Since then, my adjustment period has drastically decreased. Now it takes me all of a few hours, from the time I first plop down my duffel bag, to think of a new place as home—even if it’s furnished with stuff I’d never choose, or the closets are packed with someone else’s clothes.

I’ve become accustomed to (and quite fond of) the fact that the sum total of my possessions are in packing cubes in my duffel bag, a toiletry case in the bathroom, and a handful of cooking implements on the kitchen counter.

I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to put my clothing in a closet, my books on a shelf, my spices in a drawer, or my lotions and potions in a medicine cabinet. It feels like ages since I’ve slept in my own bed, or received mail at a regular address. I’ve become adept at tracking things down on an as-needed basis: I’ve borrowed office supplies from hotel reception desks, cleaning supplies from housekeeping, and kitchen supplies from various landlords.

Furthermore, I now analyze the portability of every potential possession. I buy shampoo, laundry detergent, and olive oil in the smallest bottles possible. I calculate whether I have room in a packing cube for a new shirt or pair of socks. And yesterday, I passed on buying a bag of flour because I didn’t want the hassle of moving it in two weeks.

Most importantly, though, drifting from place to place has changed my way of thinking. Lately, I’ve been contemplating, do we ever really own anything? Whether it’s books, clothing, tchotchkes, cars, or even houses, things feel radically less permanent to me. In the grand scheme of things, it seems they’re all on temporary loan until we can’t (or don’t want to) use them anymore—at which point we pass them along, or they get passed along for us.

As such, I think material things deserve far less attention than we tend to give them. I’ve become more and more enamored with the notion of the itinerant monk, wandering with only what he can carry and meeting his needs on the go. Sure, I’ll never reach that level, but I like it all the same. :)

I’ve become acutely aware of how possessions can needlessly complicate things. If I were carting around a houseful of stuff, this past year would have been nothing short of a nightmare. However, it’s been just the opposite: minimalism has made this experience surprisingly pleasant and enjoyable. As someone who thrives on change, I love the novelty of trying out a variety of neighborhoods and living arrangements. I like the idea of not knowing where I’ll be three months down the road.

I can certainly see the value of having roots, a community, a permanent address. But given our current situation, it’s just not in the cards right now. We’ll likely be drifting for the foreseeable future, and to tell you the truth, I don’t mind a bit.

{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.}

Related posts:

  1. The Exquisite Lightness of Being
  2. Housing Crisis
  3. Born Minimalist?

48 comments to Drifting

  • JBear

    This is very impressive and sounds like a great adventure for you but I am guessing that you had a secure childhood and didn’t move too much. For those of us who were forced to move a great deal as children ( 6 address and 5 schools in 2 years) the emotiveness of home as somewhere you can just stay put, at least for a good while can’t be over-estimated. I am wrong about your childhood, if I am , I salute your resilience.

    • Mrs Brady Old Lady

      JBear I agree – I’ve moved a lot as a small child too and have lived in the same town since moving out of the parental home. Took me ages to get enough self-confidence and feeling of security to let go of my possessions which are a kind of security blanket to me.
      But fear not JBear – even I am slowly but surely decluttering.
      Am looking forward to living in this apartment for the next zillion years – but my little home will eventually be clutter free!
      Have courage, JBear.

      • Debbie M

        Wow, that’s very interesting. I also moved a lot as a child (an average of three times every two years from age 0 to 12). I felt it made me better at dealing with change that I otherwise would have been. It definitely helped that I had a brother.

        I tried to stop moving after grad school. Having lived all kinds of places, I felt I’d found my favorite place. I finally decided that I will always be moving, so I should always stick to furniture that’s easy to move. (I say no to sofa beds and yes to my dining room table that can be disassembled.) I continued feeling this way even after I bought a house, but I’ve managed to stay there for 12 years in a row and in the same town for 25 years.

        I do like having my wall decorations that always make a place feel like home–I hang them pretty soon after arriving even if I don’t quite know where they’ll end up once I’m done unpacking.

        As far as clutter in general–I do have a problem with clutter. I don’t think it’s a security blanket for me, but that’s an interesting idea. I’ve always thought of it as more of a fear-of-poverty thing. But I am also learning that I am happier with space, with having only things I really like, and with knowing exactly where everything is than I am with hanging on to everything I get.

  • Laura

    What a brilliant way of living for a couple! So much freedom.

  • Mick Biddulph

    A peaceful nomadic lifestyle and a brilliant mindset -I AM envious – in a good way :D

  • I can only dream about such life…
    Recently I was reading a lot about bohemian lifestyle and you wrote about the same. Its great to see someone actully living it.
    Studio with yellow walls sounds interesting. Pls publish some photos if you have taken…
    Enjoy

  • Fawn

    Thinking of all possessions as being temporaily on loan is somthing I have been doing for awhile, even though I own a house and a rake (make that 2!) and a dining table and six chairs.

    It’s usesful now. When it’s not, I can let it go to someone else who can use it.

    Not being emotionally attached to stuff is one of the best gifts that minimalism has given me. I can be more emotionally available to people.

  • Amy

    Thank you for that post. I find it so inspiring that you can live a lifestyle like that. I just recently started reading about minimalism 2 months ago. Before that I had about 100 RSS feeds for different decorating blogs and now I have 10 on minimalism. I decided one day to delete all of the other feeds because I felt they kept me wanting for more stuff. I also went through my whole house and began purging. I should mention that we live in a 2500sqft home and now I long to have a house half that size. I haven’t been shopping for household items or clothing in three months (other than rubber boots for my 2 children) and it feels so nice to not constantly want for things. I’ve discussed a smaller house with my husband and he doesn’t think it’s financially wise right now to sell (with all of the fees and the market).
    I’ve gone off on a tangent that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your post. Your comment about the monks made me think….you appreciate their lifestyle but don’t think you could ever live it. I also appreciate your lifestyle but don’t think I could live it. But it does give me something to strive for. I think this is a real start for me – if you asked me a year ago what I thought about minimalism I would say ‘cold and boring’. But today I think “freedom”.

  • Amy

    Just one more thing (let’s get it all out)…..

    I would love you to comment on this….Part of a nagging feeling I am getting is that my desire for a smaller home is just another want of mine. Every since I can remember I’ve always wanted more. Is this new desire for simplicity just another want?

    • Robert

      I’m interested in this aspect of minimalism also. No matter how much stuff I get rid of, I can’t help but feel I have too much stuff and get a thrill from getting rid of more stuff. It always feels like I haven’t gotten rid of anything yet.

      But I sort of see it as a “good addiction”, as long as getting rid of stuff doesn’t negatively impact my life, I think it’s OK. And so far, it’s only improved my life. You could call it a “guilty pleasure”. :)

    • Ariel

      I feel the same way!

  • You have a very good mindset that regards this phase of your life as such an adventure and not as something that has to be endured. It can be fun to “gypsy” for a while and is a great way of exploring and getting to know a city. But I did wince when I read “yellow walls, green carpet and red sofa”! Ouch… Sometimes hard to live with other people’s taste (or the lack of it). As there are two of you I guess you are each other’s security and it is not your home that provides your security. I dont think it would be as much fun on your own. But the main thing is to enjoy it and get the most from it. It wont last for ever. Good luck!

  • KateyJ

    I’ve been reading your blog for ages, but haven’t ever felt like I had anything to add until now.

    Your post today made me think of a series of books that I love about a man named Jack Reacher (or just Reacher as he’s generally called in the books). He’s retired from the military and doesn’t want to own anything so he lives the life of a drifter. He goes from place to place (sometimes by bus, other times on foot) and only carries the things that he absolutely needs. The clothes on his back, a comfortable pair of shoes on his feet and a toothbrush in his shirt pocket.

    He buys new clothing when what he’s wearing is inappropriate for his location (typically this is due to climate, not social situation) and throws the old stuff away (since he tends to be hard on his clothes, he has some adventures, you see).

    The books are a bit violent and definitely masculine, but I love them. I hadn’t really thought of Reacher as a minimalist, but he absolutely is. In one book, a house is left to him in somone’s will, and he doesn’t do well with it. Owning things just doesn’t suit Reacher.

    The series is by the author Lee Child and the first one is called “Killing Floor.” (There are 16 books in the series so far, most are available on Kindle or Nook so there’s no need to buy a physical book.)

    Thanks for writing such an aweome and inspiring blog. I’m not likely to get to a point where I have as few possesions as you, but I am certainly down several thousand pounds thanks to the ideas and concepts you discuss.

    • Robert

      I love these books too! I’ve only read two, but want to read more. (actually, I listened to them on car trips, made the trips go really fast).

  • Brenda

    Great timing for this post because soon I will be going through my fourth move in four years! Through these moves, I’ve learned the importance of not being too encumbered with things because more than likely, they will have to be moved again. In fact, I credit these moves for starting me on the “path to minimalism”.
    I will be moving from a 2-bedroom duplex to a shared house, so I’m *really* trying to pare down my belongings. I’m losing patience with stuff that isn’t serving me for anything and is just taking up space. The prospect of having to lug something you don’t use very much to yet another residence is great motivation to get rid of it!

  • kaori

    there was a movie way back in the 1980s i think – starring Madonna and called “Desperately Seeking Susan.”
    to me she’s the original minimalist glam girl – like Francine, she lived out of one bag (in her case, a circular
    instrument case, probably for a french horn) painted over and plastered with cool stickers and she was really, really gorgeous. no one could reach her since she had no permanent address and when her boyfriend wanted to see her, he put an ad in the paper: “Desperately seeking Susan!”
    from the moment i clapped eyes on that film i wanted to BE her and it’s a state of mind i return to whenever i feel like adults and adult life is closing in.
    lovely post. i would say good luck with finding a place but then i guess that’s the last thing you’d want!

    ps: and the original minimalist freedom fighter is “Momo” created by Michael Ende.

    • Mrs Brady Old Lady

      Yup, desperately seeking Susan, I remember the film well. And yes, Madonna lived out of a round small suitcase. Never thought of this film as minimalist – thanks for pointing this out to me!

  • Sarah

    What a great post, I admire your courage to forge your own path.

    What immediately came to my mind on reading your post is a brilliant novel by Marilynne Robinson called Housekeeping (it’s from 1980). It’s one of my all-time favorite books and its most interesting character is Sylvie who is a drifter. She comes to take care of her nieces, but retains her drifting ways, perhaps to be able to stay in one place for longer, or so thinks the narrator, Ruth…The atmosphere in the novel has always fascinated me. I recommend it.

    I also loved Desperately Seeking Susan!

  • Heather

    Once again, you amaze and inspire me. I am half Gypsy souled, so I understand completely. : )

  • Robert

    Wow, awesome post! This takes me back a few years when I had my own little adventure and went out to Nashville TN to work for a summer. I stayed in an extended stay motel for 3 months and loved it. Coming back to Ohio and my house full of junk in the fall was painful and it inspired me to really declutter. But I actually had wished that old house had burned down while I was away so I would have been forced to be truly free (I’d MUCH rather have the insurance money to spend on extended stay motels and eating out! :)

    I can so identify with this post, even though I’m not adventurous enough to live that way myself. Thank you for letting me live as a drifter vicariously through your Blog, Miss Minimalist!

  • Betty

    I’m envious of your freedom! I recommend doing this before having children as it could be a difficult lifestyle with little ones. My husband and I have a travel trailer we consider our minimalist home. We love to run away in it and have only the bare necessities. When we return, our home seems huge (1700 sq. ft.) and full of stuff even though it is mostly decluttered.
    We keep threatening to sell our house and travel full time but hate to leave our sons and grandchildren and have a permanent home for family get togethers.
    So….do it while you’re young!!

  • tina

    Amy,
    It could be a new want, but I downsized a year ago & got rid of over half of our possessions & it was the best decision I have ever made. Go for it! You won’t regret it. It is so freeing.

  • susan

    There is a remarkable woman named Peace Pilgrim who realized possessions did not give her happiness. So she divested herself of all possessions except what she carried in her tunic pocket, and began the life of a “pilgrim” walking until given food/shelter and espousing the simplest of missions, the way she determined would lead to peace: “overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” She walked from coast to coast in the U.S. over 7 times & did this for about 30 years. A true minimalist (and a drifter, I guess you could say!).

  • I so envy this lifestyle, I too love change. My family has been in the same city now for 11 years and I’m so itchy, been itchy for years now. Stay because hubby’s job allows us the ability to travel a lot, which helps ease my nomadic mind. We are in the beginning stages of Minimalism with our first big step happening this year with selling our 1700 sq ft home and moving into our rental house of under 900 square feet. This will house our family of four, 2 kids (8 & 10) and 9 fur babies. I can’t wait. My biggest hurdle is that I currently have the two unused rooms holding a ton of unused items that I need to get listed on Craigs list and I can’t seem to get motivated to do it. I know I’ll feel so much better when it’s all gone. Then we can start eliminating furniture, Hooray!

    Just started reading “The Joy of Less”. Loving it and I can feel my engine revving. I can that this lifestyle of less ‘stuff’ can become addicting! At least I hope so.
    T

  • SS

    I love this photo!! Where did you get it?

  • theo

    sounds like a great lifestyle i would love to try out, the only thing im concerned about it income, i know that natural talent is usually what gets people by in these situations, and i have yet to realize what mine is…. any tips?

  • Miami

    This is the most inspirational blog post I’ve read for a long time.

    I’m also on my way towards minimalism. Now I live in a room with curtains and 2 carpets and a table and chair borrowed from the common room. I’m going to buy couple of (maybe four would be enough) white storage boxes and return the table.

    I’ve been living here 4 months and I’d like to move already. Not that I didn’t like the place, but I just love changes.

  • biosail

    Great post!
    I have a practical question, how do you store your spices?
    I have tried a variety of methods, from buying the ’6 spice dispensers’ to storing spices in small plastic baggies in an air and water tight plastic container (glass is ideal but sadly it is heavy and breaks).
    Thank you!!!!!

  • I sometimes envy people like you who can travel so lightly and feel instantly at home wherever they find themselves. It may help that you have someone whith whom to share the experience – the joys as well as the challenges. Do you think you’d feel the same way if you were single and going it alone? Or perhaps, with only yourself and your own needs to consider, you’d be even more carefree (if that’s even possible).

  • Miami

    I also have some questions I’d like to know answers for. Like how do you organise your laundry? If you don’t own many clothes (may I even ask how many), you have to wash them often. Do you handwash much? How do you organise using your clothes the way that you always have some appropriate to wear?

    Thank you for sharing your life with us. :)

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks for all the great comments!

    Agenda for the weekend: see if Desp. Seeking Susan is on iTunes (I saw it ages ago, and now wonder if it subconsciously influenced my minimalism :)), read Peace Pilgrim’s book (free download here), and check out the other minimalist literature recommendations (thank you!).

    To answer a few of your questions:

    Re. income: my husband has been working full-time (in an office) throughout this escapade, and I make a living by writing.

    Re. spices: I store them in whatever they come in–no room for extra containers right now. :)

    Re. laundry: I have a simple mesh laundry bag, and take advantage of whatever facilities are in my current accommodations. Years of traveling lightly have made me very adept at handwashing.

    Re. clothing organization: I have packing cubes for different categories: one for pants, one for skirts/dresses, one for tops, one for socks/underwear. They’re like little drawers in my duffel bag. I keep my shoes in the side pockets.

    Re. marriage: Yes, having someone to share the adventure with certainly makes it more fun (and less intimidating–if I got stuck sleeping in a train station, I wouldn’t be alone!). From a logistics point of view, however, I think it’s probably much easier to be a nomad if you’re single (unless you’re both location independent, or independently wealthy).

    Re. is simplicity another “want”?: Perhaps, but the limitations it puts on future wants is well worth it. In my opinion, “wanting” less is a good thing!

    • Hello Francine,

      This is aboslutely fascinating — thank you for your story! I’m interested in reading your book, but don’t want to own yet another book that I then have to pass on to someone else. At the same time, I want to pay you for the value of your work. Do you have or have you considered developing a “hard copy book rental” option for people like me?

      Cheers,
      Lissa

      • miss minimalist

        Hi Lissa! Unfortunately, I don’t have a rental option — but there’s always the library. :) It’s also available on Kindle (no need for a Kindle device — it can be read on your PC, Mac, iPod, etc); that’s *my* reading method of choice, since I don’t want to haul around hard copies!

  • Another fab post, Francine! Since reading your blog, my occasional trips back home have been so stress-free with your traveling light tips! Thank you for your continued inspiration.

  • Francine, I’m so glad you brought up your thoughts about possessions. It’s true, we don’t really own anything. Our lives are moments in time. Knowing that makes it easy to be detached from most material items or even to want for much.

    I’m preparing for my first move in five years, (possibly overseas) although I have moved 35 times in my life, and I can’t wait! I used to feel like some of the other posters about the need for staying in one place and attaching myself to a “real home”, but I’ve come to realize home isn’t a place or the stuff around me.

    That was the beginning of freedom for me. Now I’m working to unload an already pared down home and can’t believe how much I felt was necessary to set up house. I’ll never “own” this much stuff again. I’m free from debt and the responsibilities that families have, so it’s my time for adventure.

  • You’re such an inspiration! I love reading about your different apartments in England, and your weekend travels. I think that you make Minimalism seem very accessible and relatable.

  • Such a great post! I love moving, have been ever since I was a little kid. Going through everything, clearing out, packing everything down and then up is one of my favorite activities. Right now I’m living out of a suitcase, which has been a life long dream, and it feels so good! In a few days I’ll be moving for the fourth time in a little more than a years time (I’m 23 and have moved 15 times). I started reading about minimalism last summer and it has definitely made moving easier, and simplified my life in general.

  • I am somewhat envious of this life you describe! Hubby and I are considering RVing around the US, but another option we have considered is being caretakers for various vacation homes, etc. There is an online directory for people always needing this type of help. Hubby is a bit of a handyman, and this would give us the ability to live in nicer places than we could afford or would want to pay for. Many of these gigs are 2 weeks to 3 months. I guess I will have to get used to living from a duffle bag as well!
    My latest post is great about not wanting to be influenced by our society- Stop telling me what to do!
    Bernice

  • Meg

    sounds like a pretty cool life you are living. I am living in a converted warehouse right now that my boyfriend built out. I love it. I wish we had a little more space but it’s perfect for right now. I agree with you when you are always moving around the last thing you want is extra stuff so I am sure you are much more mindful about what you buy. I have less space now so I don’t want to buy anything since there is nowhere to put it. :) Good luck in your house hoppin!

  • I know what you mean about easily falling into the feeling at home. I’ve been living out of a backpack and messenger bag for the last six months. Once you get used to having only that, it really doesn’t take long to setup in a new room, and begin to feel at home. Especially since now I’ve trained myself to do everything on the computer, without the need to print anything out. The only thing though is that you have to adapt your cooking to the type of kitchen you end up with. But that is its own fun.

  • jenifer

    i’m in the opposite space, now. We basically got rid of everything to move to NZ — moved with 8 bags — and now we are moving into a neighborhood. I plan to live there a good long while (i talked to the landlady about renting for 3-4 years, and she seemed happy with that). I’ve never been well rooted (grew up moving), but with a business here, and a young son who is *super* social, I think it’s important to be in a place we love. Besides, we chose it. :D

    Nearly everything I own is used, now, and we are happy about that. Means we feel less attached when it’s time to pass it on to the next owners. :) It’s nice to be able to do so. :)

    I’ve done the one-bag thing for a few months every once and a while, and while i loved it, i have now come to a place where i want a simple, minimalist home. :D

  • Hi Francine,

    Your adventure sounds delightfully adventurous! My questions for you: Did you donate your few furniture items or decide to store them? Is it a temporary shifting in preparation for moving to a new town or are you both just enjoying the freedom and fun of moving frequently?

    Cheers,
    Tanja

  • [...] husband and I have been drifting since February—living in a succession of hotels and sublets—because we’re reluctant to commit [...]

  • Lina

    I love this blog, it helped me a lot to re-think what I REALLY want in my life and to set the right priorities- BIG THANK YOU for this.

    However being a very girly girl I would love if you or anyone share their experience with downsizing their cosmetics/make-up bag – as I seem to struggle in this specific area.

    I would appreciate a lot of your ideas, suggestions and all the info you can give me.
    Regards, Lina

  • [...] made this nomadic lifestyle possible, and enjoyable, for me. It gave me an incredible sense of freedom, enabling me to [...]

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