Real Life Minimalists: Lydia

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.

This week, we hear from Lydia, who tells us how minimalism is helping her embrace a fabulous opportunity to study abroad!

Lydia writes:

I’ve always considered myself something of a minimalist. Even when I was a kid, I felt overwhelmed by “too much stuff”, and was happiest with just a few favorite toys and outfits. As an adult, I love sharing an apartment with a bunch of roommates, and I’ve never had more stuff than could fit in my bedroom (not counting my car, of course!). In the past year, though, I’ve been challenged to rethink whether or not I really need even that much!

Last August I went to Pennsic—it’s like a massive Renaissance faire, only instead of going home at the end of the day, you camp out with 10,000+ people for two weeks straight. I stayed in a tent with a waterproof bin full of clothes, a camping cot and sleeping bag, a cooler for food, and my ipod. And I was happier there than I had been all summer. I struggle with an anxiety disorder, and I realized afterward that I had not had a single panic attack since I unglued myself from the debt-ceiling negotiation news coverage, drove to Pennsic, and spent two weeks without news media fearmongering.

I loved that people there ate meals together around the campfire or at picnic tables set up in common areas. Most people had their own tents for sleeping in, and aside from that everything else in the campsite was shared space for socializing. In the real world everyone is so obsessed with having “their own” of everything and not having to share, from appliances and bathrooms to outdoor space and swimming pools, and I think that can isolate people. When I came back from Pennsic I gave my TV to my sister, and when something came up that I absolutely had to watch (i.e. my favorite football team in the playoffs!) I had so much fun going to a packed sports bar with friends and watching games with tons of other cheering fans.

Recently I found out that I’ve been awarded a grant to study opera in Paris. As an aspiring singer with a particular love for French Baroque opera, this is a dream come true for me. I decided right away that I would spend as little as possible on housing, furniture, and other material things there, so that I can have more money available for experiences. I’ve got my bed in one suitcase (a roll-up tatami mat and wool futon mattress, duvet, sheets and pillows), a laptop bag, a suitcase full of clothes and shoes, and another suitcase for music books and kitchen stuff. I sold all my furniture, except for a mattress and a gorgeous leaning desk/shelf set that my parents are borrowing for their guest room. Who knows how I’ll feel about how much I need to live comfortably when I get back to the US? I might decide that life is a bit too bleak without at least a few fun decorations in my living space, or I might decide I want a comfy sofa so that friends can come over and feel at home. I might want a dresser so I can shove my clothes messily in drawers without having to fold laundry! Right now, though, I’ve got the same free, joyful, happy feeling that I had at Pennsic living out of a tent. I don’t plan to buy any furniture when I get there either; I would rather spend 30 euros on a ticket to the opera than a coffee table. Wish me luck!

{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. Real Life Minimalists: muppet
  2. Real Life Minimalists: Sarah
  3. Real Life Minimalists: Sunny

29 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Lydia

  • Heather

    Good for you! Reading about your upcoming adventure and your recent “aha!” moments makes me happy. Best of luck on your adventure!

  • What an inspiring post! I love your bed in a suitcase idea, sounds perfect. It’s amazing how much stress is tied to belongings, and how long we can go without realising this. We moved abroad with just what we could take in our hold luggage too, and I haven’t felt the need to fill our apartment here at all. It’s furnished so that bit was easy, all we’ve bought is bedding, bowls and cutlery. Your absolutely right, experiences are so much more valuable. Have an amazing time in Paris, what a wonderful opportunity! Good luck.

  • Sara

    Lydia!!! Congrats I wish you the best of luck in Paris chasing your dreams! I want to share with you a great website called,, it is a great place to find new friends when you move or travel in a new country.

  • How exciting! Hope you have a wonderful adventure in Paris and good luck with your career. I so agree with you….stuff can isolate us.

  • So great to hear of your adventurous spirit and path. Keep up the great work and enjoy yourself :)

  • A

    What a lovely story and revelations, Lydia!

    When I think of the most carefree times in my life, they are times when I didn’t have much “stuff” and it sounds like you’re a bird of the same feather!

    I hope you have a wonderful trip – and enjoy the flexibility and freedom!

  • Wow, have fun in Paris :) That sounds like a great experience to soak in.

    We also live with no TV. Much prefer not having all the negative information always filling our home. Sure, we need some news, but really way less than the TV tries to bring us.

    Have fun!

  • Claire

    Ooh, how exciting, Lydia! It sounds like you are all set to focus on nothing but experiences; good for you! I would love to hear how you make out. I’d like to recommend an obscure 1995 movie, “Celestial Clockwork” (“Mécaniques célestes”). It’s a weird and zany tale of an aspiring opera singer in Paris, structured around La Cenerentola. Best of luck in your career!

  • dianon

    great post, but a very silly question (not being an ipod owner) how do you recharge it while camping out-or does it hold up for 2 weeks of use. thanks.

  • Pennsic sounds awesome!! I can totally associate with this post. I always tell my fiance that if there were some sort of economic collapse or downfall of society, I would wear my RenFaire clothes (kind of like a fem ranger, lose fitting layers of awesome geekery).
    I love the minimalistic experience of that subculture. Props to you, Lydia! Good luck abroad!

  • LeeAnn

    Great story and one I can relate to. Loved my days in the SCA. Maybe someday I will get to Pennsic too. Dianon, I will venture to answer for Lydia, that Pennsic is camping with amenities, electrical power is available. Everything is dressed to look as medieval as possible, but conveniences are there to make life easier for all.

  • Sarah

    Sounds wonderful and really inspiring! I especially like the sharing part; you’re right about the isolation that often comes with wanting to have and keep everything for yourself alone. Sharing is caring.

    Good luck in Paris, Lydia, it sounds like an amazing opportunity :)

  • Cynthia

    Very wise of you to unplug from the media. I honestly think all the technology and negative bombardment of the media, as you stated, contributes to anxiety. Good for you that you had the self control and determination to let that negative stuff go!

  • Ann

    I can only wish you a wonderful experience. Many years ago, I spent two years in Europe, with two suitcases (which were based in London) and a backpack I carried with me, and very little money. It was the most formative time of my life, and I learned so much (about myself, and about the world around me, and the arts which I had previously not been exposed to). Stay free of encumbrances, and full of experiences!

  • Tim

    Wow! Have a fantastic time in Paris, Lydia. It’s always inspiring to see those following their dreams :)

    Maybe our paths will cross some day! Best of luck!

  • Lydia,

    Your story is so inspiring! i had never heard of Pennsic – seems like lots of fun and sounds like you had a wonderful experience.

    I agree that less stuff and less debt has a great way of reducing overall anxiety. My blood pressure is lower than it’s ever been, and I’m sure minimalism has a lot to do with it (along with exercise and having an awesome new job).

    Sounds like you really got a lot of clarity on this trip about what is important to you and how you want to live your life. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

  • Lilly

    Congratulations on getting the grant and following your dreams!
    I agree that a disconnection from the media and being outside can bring better health to anyone.

  • emma

    Wonderful post – have a truly great time in Paris and hope all your dreams come true.

  • JBear

    Wonderful story and good luck in Paris – there will be plenty of chances to live a minimalist life there because most flats there are very small indeed, but cute.

  • emmub

    Dear Miss Minimalist!

    My life is in dire need of a re-do and my house is drowning in crap I don’t need. I would love nothing more than to buy your book, but there is one problem: I can only pay with PayPal since my credit card is a Visa Electron instead of a regular visa. Is there any way of purchasing the book for my computer (Kindle app) via PayPal?

    Love, Emmu

  • Mims

    Good luck Lydia! Years and years ago, I moved abroad with only an siutcase and hand luggage (that is 28 kg worth of luggage, no overweight). I had one weeks worth of clothes and 1 smart outfit, some winter clothes, personal toiletries, a set of sheets, a cup, a teaspoon, a swiss army knife, a dip warmer, a small bottle of dish detergent, a dish sponge and a towel, a laptop, ipod with speakers, a cell phone, 1 journal, 2 pens and 3 of my favourite books. Four weeks later, we moved 3 people in a normal sized taxi! And it was deliberating. Over the years I accumulated more stuff, but tried to keep it to a bare minimum (like a pillow and duvet, a bath mat and a hot water bottle so I’d at least be warm in bed) and only buy good quality. My next move was alone in a taxi and after 5 years I had accumulated enough stuff to fill the back of a station wagon (though admittedly, I had been indulging in two new hobbies and one old as well as packed a couple of bottles of Georgian Wine and Russian vodka, several skeins of wonderful woolen yarn and a few other goodies that are either expensive or hard to come by where I was moving). I don’t regret accumulating most of that stuff (it was and is still useful, and it would have cost me more to replace it than to move it), but it would definitely have been deliberating to move with just one bag and a piece of handluggage again. You may feel that you need or really want something due to circumstances, and there is no shame in getting it when you do, because next time you move, you can always get rid of it again, should you wish.

    Incidentally, I just came back from a 12 day trip to Paris and Brussels, with just Ryanair hand luggage, which may not sound impressive, except I had to pack for a ball, a dance course, a knitting course and a birthday party, all requiring their own set of stuff (like knitting needles, birthday presents, dance shoes and a ball gown). So, not really the smallest hand luggage I’ve ever had, but small enough for me to only get a wee bit annoyed about having to run 2 km up and down several flights of stairs with all my luggage.

    • Mrs Brady Old Lady

      Knitting needles in hand luggage???? Aren’t knitting needles considered lethal weapons at airports???

      • Mims

        I have wooden round needles, and this far noone seems to have noticed them at the bottom of my hand luggage. Haven’t tried UK airports yet (as they actually specifically have knitting needles on their banned list), but in the rest of Europe at least regulations have been loosened with regards to the dangers of knitting needles. Loop needles have always been easier to get through than dpn’s or normal knitting needles (which I don’t use anyways) and wooden needles are supposedly considered not dangerous. There is off course the risk that you encounter a security person who has a bad day, and most knitters carry a pre stamped and pre addressed manila envelope for that particular reason, but I haven’t actually met anyone who had to use it lately (barring from the UK). When I go to the UK I usually bring non metal crocheting needles (wood or plastic) and I have never had any problems with them. After all, my wooden round needles are hardly more dangrous than pencils or shoe laces, and the yarn hardly more dangerous than a sock!

  • Rob Dean

    Travel and camping are both excellent opportunities to practice minimalism before jumping in with both feet. :)

  • Amanda

    I’m not even sure why she’s bringing the kitchen and bed stuff. I lived in Paris for a long time and a lot of apartments, often the cheapest ones, were already equipped with those things.

  • Gil

    Lydia..I appreciate your sharing. I’m starting to realize that there is a correlation between stress and too much stuff, lol. There is so much more time to devote to what’s important than being weighed down. My wife and I thought we downsized, but we are still getting rid of more things here and there.

    Thanks again!

  • Lydia

    Thank you all so much for the kind words and well-wishes! I really appreciate it. :) And thanks for sharing your stories and travel adventures; they were a lot of fun to read. It’s so awesome to come on sites like this and realize there are other people who ‘get it’ (and who don’t think I’m nuts for getting rid of my stuff).

    Amanda, I know there will probably be a bed and kitchen stuff in the apartment, but I’m kind of weird about wanting to sleep in my own bed. Even if “bed” is “goza mat and futon on the floor”. ;) (Which is surprisingly comfy, btw!)

    LeeAnn, definitely go to Pennsic! It’s absolutely magical. & Claire, thanks for the movie recommendation! That does sound like something I would enjoy. :)

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