I’m about to leave the United States for a year. It stands to reason that I can’t take everything with me. Throughout college, before I went to Sweden, and then Iceland, I’ve had manic purges of my material possessions, so I already don’t have too much. I’m now at a point in my minimalist journey that my spider sense starts tingling with just a quick glance around my room or into the closet. I know when it’s time to get rid of stuff, and I’ve grown pretty adept at cycling out the old for the new.
Moving back home for ten months absent fear of not being able to get my rucksack on the plane without paying oversized baggage fees has left me complacent. There’s a good deal I can part with before China, I just wasn’t ready for it before. That’s the thing with decluttering; it has to be done in stages because there is always something you’re not willing to part with at any given moment. Just give it time.
I thought I’d give you an inside look at just how exactly I’m getting rid of my stuff this time around. In my quest for carrying one bag into China I’ve risked the sketchiness of Craigslist, unloaded a few tomes at my local used bookstore, consigned clothes for cash, hocked old cellphones and even visited some pawn shops. And of course, when I ran out of methods to achieve some personal gain for my clearing out, I reluctantly donated.
I have varying rates of success with Craigslist. First of all, it really isn’t that sketchy. Just use your brain. If someone asks you to meet them inside a condemned building at 11pm (not joking) it’s probably not a good idea. You can usually judge by the wording of the emails if it’s a good offer. I do usually discriminate by proper spelling and grammar. This time around I’ve made off with about $100 from my CD collection and a few pieces of used hiking gear. Not bad at all; just a few bucks shy of covering my visa fees.
I frequent Edward McKay here in Greensboro, NC for my music and books, although recently I’ve been adding to my Kindle library. Thanks to George R. R. Martin’s literary crack I have no time to trifle with going to a bookstore when more of Westeros is just a click away. Ed McKay’s gives you the option of taking store credit or cash when you trade in books, CDs, DVDs and games. If it’s a lot of cash, I’ll take it. If it’s very little cash and a good amount of store credit, I’ll use the credit to get a book relevant to the country I’m about to go to. Just search for used book stores in your area and I’m sure you’ll find something similar.
I try to be moderately fashionable, and I usually spring for higher-end clothing that I know is going to endure the rigors of travel a bit longer than cheaply made stuff. It’s preferable to have one pair of super durable raw denim jeans over five pairs that are going to fall apart in a few months. It does save money in the end. Uptown Cheapskate is a high-end clothing consignment store in my area where I can buy as well as sell just the clothing I’m looking for. Right before I leave I’m going to exchange a big bag of clothes for store credit and hopefully pick-up an expedition-grade jacket from North Face before heading off to brave the -25 °F winter of Heilongjiang Province.
In my experience, pawn shops feel even more awkward than a Craigslist transaction. There are some that I would never venture into based on their exterior appearance. And I guess there’s that connotation of desperation that’s rooted in their origins as an establishment where people who have fallen on hard times go to borrow credit by giving up their most prized possessions as collateral. However, they’re still a great source of quick cash before a trip. Before I went to Sweden I sold some old coins and a silver bar I had been holding onto for $400. Not bad at all. I’ll definitely swallow my cynicism and paranoia to try this again before China.
There are some mobile phone repair shops that will buy your old phone from you - even with a cracked screen and other defects - because they can strip them down for parts. I sold my trusty HTC Incredible for a not-so-incredible $8, but there’s no use in having two phones, especially one with a cracked screen. My little Razr flip phone from my roaring high school years fetched exactly $1.00. I didn’t even walk away with a tenner but it’s the philosophy that counts. Some of the shittier phones are spruced up and sent to troops overseas, so that’s nice.
I always save donation for last, not because I’m mean, but for the satisfaction of dropping off a bag of your last remaining excess stuff. A weight is lifted and when you return home, and everything you see around you has some utilitarian purpose. There’s no more useless fluff. Also, you get that warm, fuzzy feeling from giving your things new life and knowing that someone that needs them much more than you will be able to use them.
The Sensible Thing to Do
Predictably, I’m met with mixed reactions whenever I tell someone that I’m getting rid of all my stuff. A lot of people understand immediately, because they themselves probably have a lot of clutter that needs chucking out too. But there’s always the other half, who are unaware or simply ambivalent to the rampant consumerism that is almost synonymous with the typical American lifestyle. They ask “why” in a way that suggests they’re a bit confused or almost threatened in some way. I’ll tell you why.
1. Everything I own has a purpose; there is no point to excess. Life is easier when I know exactly where everything is for a given purpose.
2. I don’t have to worry about where I’m storing everything when I travel. At the very most I’m only leaving behind a small plastic bin.
3. I can travel lightly. At the most, I’ll only be moving through the airports of the world with one checked bag and one carry-on, even for long-term moves.
4. I have a clear idea of what I need. There are no random shopping sprees sapping my bank account unless I have a legit reason for replacing something. More fun money!
5. In addition to being very “zen”, this way of living has a lower environmental impact. Nature takes less of a hit and I can travel lightly to see it more easily.
These are five main reasons I subscribe to the minimalist lifestyle of having less stuff. I’m sure I could think of more if pressed. For now, go here and here to read more about this type of thing. Later on I will write a post specifically about packing for China and what exactly I’m taking with me to get through the year. Until then, if you ever feel sad, remember there are trillions of cells in your body, and all they care about is you.
Okay, let’s be real, travel is a glamorous lifestyle to lead. You’re going to party like it’s 2033 (Svedka anyone?), eat a bunch of really strange stuff, and have transcendent experiences you could never anticipate, nor really be capable of explaining to anyone. Even the most miserable things that will happen to you make for great stories later on. If Anthony Bourdain and the Dos Equis guy got together, you fancy yourself their lovechild.
But what about the lulls between the adventures? As much as you may hate it, you have to go home at some point whether it’s to renew your visa, save up some money, or simply visit friends and family. Well, don’t be surprised if things have changed. Different people will react differently to your travels. Some will be ambivalent, others jealous, a few will feel alienated by your leaving, and the worst, some will act like something is wrong with you.
All of this can make for quite a lonely lifestyle. The time I spend at home is probably when I feel most alone for a number of reasons. I’ve just left a ton of new friends behind who, realistically, will eventually lose touch with me, although there’s a few exceptions. It’s mutual. We’ll talk on Facebook a few times, maybe even Skype, but ultimately it will fade. You really just meet too many people abroad, and when you leave them for home you rely on your buddies you’ve known for years. Unfortunately…
Your friends are travelers too.
This is one of the biggest reasons I find myself having more nights in than out when I’m in America. All of my best friends are traveling! When I’m here, they’re not. When they’re here, I’m not. Just the other day we had a small send-off (read: the two of us getting drunk and watching Year One while everyone else is asleep) for my best friend Dylan Waller who is returning to Southeast Asia for another round of teaching abroad. He was one of the few people that I have face-to-face contact with that understands. We can talk for hours about crazy travel experiences without wearing on each other’s nerves (the usual outcome in that situation).
People don’t understand you.
Whether they want to know or not, you will feel the desperate, involuntary urge to talk about your experience abroad. You don’t want it to end, and the best way to relive it is to talk about it. Sharing is caring, but they might not see it that way. Between bouts of verbal diarrhea, you may notice one of two things: 1) people seem to not give a shit, or 2) they stare at you like you’re an alien. Maybe it’s just that I’m from the South that it seems people become completely alienated when I say that I lived in a socialist country and loved it. When you live abroad - and not as a missionary - you’re met with that what-so-america-wasn’t-good-enough-for-you sentiment. ‘Murica. I highly doubt this is limited to the South though; it’s probably just reactionary, especially from people you know because you’re seen as sort of forsaking your roots. Whatevs.
You and your friends drift apart.
This is a pretty common thing that would have happened even if you didn’t travel. As you get out of that social framework of high school and college, your different interests become more defined and lead you to different places. That’s okay. You definitely shouldn’t sacrifice your goals in life to “continue the party”, so to speak. This phenomenon is going to be amplified by your comings and goings, and you’ll honestly notice a change each time you come back. I realize I’m painting kind of a depressing picture. In my experience, your besties will always be your besties, and that’s good enough for me.
Periods of self-deprecation and doubt.
After you experience all of the above, you may wonder if you’ve made some sort of mistake. Do the doubters have a point? You start to think that you’re not as awesome as you actually are. The Dos Equis guy would never hang out with you. If you’ve come back to make some money, you’ll feel like an unemployed loser next to people you know who have had a steady job for a few years now. After you’ve woken up at the crack of noon in your parents’ house for the fifth consecutive day, you feel like the embodiment of the plot of Failure to Launch (shitty movie but an appropriate reference). You have to keep busy and you have too look forward. Remember why you chose to travel and all the memories it’s given you so far. Also, you’ll feel better if you throw away some of those beer cans.
Bonus Pain: You met your GF abroad (and she’s still there).
So last summer I did my volunteer thing in Iceland. I met my girlfriend there, and of course we tried to “keep it casual” but that plan was doomed to fail. We signed up for the otherworldly cruel long-distance relationship, although we don’t really perceive it that way, but call a spade a spade. So far I’ve been there (London) once and she’s been here (North Carolina) once. It can be excruciating at times, although it’s been well worth it so far and we’re looking forward to spending a year together in China come August.
Deal With It
All of these things are beyond your control. You will feel alone. You will want to leave again just as soon as you’ve returned. And you will sit in a dark corner brooding over your photos and journal entries. You will have to actually make an effort to reclaim some semblance of a social life, as the sheer novelty of being from somewhere else isn’t good enough to get random people to invite you out.
There’s no silver bullet for this, so maybe I’m just ass for doing a post stating “this unavoidable bad thing will happen to you, so yeah” but it’s more of a cautionary tale. If you want to travel long-term, you will have to make some sacrifices. A normal, consistent social life is one of them. I started out ahead of this one as an introvert, but that doesn’t make me immune to the loneliness.
My best advice is to keep truckin’ as best you can: watch travel docs, read travel writing, plan your next adventure and get excited about it. You know how awesome traveling is and you can get through this brief diaspora from that lifestyle.
I’m concluding Minimalist Month with a post that is going to seem really cutthroat and make me look like a cold dude, but I promise there is virtue in it. What’s left to cut out of our lives after excessive material things and unnecessary, time-consuming obligations?
Unnecessary, unproductive, unfulfilling, time-consuming, toxic relationships.
We’re social creatures, and Maslow argues that one of our core needs is love. Friendship, a sense of belonging, sexual intimacy; stuff I would never say is a bad thing. They’re all great things. Which is precisely the reason we go rushing in, head down, into relationships without thinking. We crave them to get us over the next ladder rung on the way to self-actualization.
The result is a few great relationships, several moderate meh’s, and some outliers that provide little reward in exchange for a lot of work. The minimalist should be mindful of who he or she decides to give his or her time to. The aim is to clear the chaff until we’re left with great relationships, and to continue to pursue relationships that have the potential to be great.
Do not enter into or continue a relationship with an individual (friend, buddy, bro, significant other or otherwise) if…
…they create or facilitate drama.
Drama. A lot of people secretly love and crave it. I personally hate it. It’s a time-waster, especially if it arises out of some pseudo-problem that is commonly generated to satiate someone’s need for drama in the first place to make their life interesting. Every time I have offered to listen to what sort of drama a friend has gotten themselves into, a pattern emerges that breaches all genders and age groups. It’s all self-inflicted. Sure, we all have our problems, but going on about the juicy details, developing a cast of characters without even hearing their side of the story and subsequently praising them or demonizing them is far from a productive solution. Find some friends that value more in life than this petty he-said, she-said shit.
…you need them to be a source of validation.
Basing your actions on the approval or disapproval of others is a great way to limit yourself. If you told your entire network of friends that you were moving to China to teach English for a year, how would they react? Hopefully, regardless of how crazy they thought you had become, they would encourage you, because that’s what a true friend would do. Asking for advice is one thing, but letting your big decisions and goals in life depend on the weight of someone’s words is not healthy. Requiring their approval for whatever reason will crush your potential and hold you back from major achievements in life. If you can’t break your dependence on their opinion, it’s best to sever the relationship.
…they’re a black hole of negativity.
This type of person can take on many shapes and forms. It could be the average Debbie downer, negative Nancy, or Dolorous Ed, or they could be as hostile as a black hole of negativity that strives to hold everyone around them down their level. These sorts of people are the embodiment of the old adage, misery loves company. Stay away from them. Negativity and minimalism simply do not go together.
…it’s just out of habit.
I can’t think of many worse reasons to continue a relationship that has ran its course. Different people experience personal growth and evolution at a varying rates, and it’s only natural that we sometimes outgrow our friends. It can be a painful thing to realize, but it happens. Pursuing continuity in stagnated relationships will burn your time as you try to feign interest in interests that have diverged from your own over the years. Luckily, these things usually come to a natural termination as you lose touch over time because of your growing apart, but it may be up to you to end your association and seek out more like-minded individuals.
The Great Facebook Cull
The easiest way to start untethering from toxic or simply outdated relationships is to thin your herd of Facebook “friends.” First of all, how many of these people are actually your friends? The last time I had a Facebook culling, I even found people I rather disliked on my friends list. Social media is great, but it has begun to redefine friendship and reduce it’s meaning down to a very disingenuous level. It’s a great tool to keep in touch with friends abroad, as well as friends back home, but our friends lists should reflect our attitude towards relationships in the real world. Simply pare it down to meaningful relationships, even ones that exist solely online. A great time to do this is during any major election. Keep Facebook open; the ones that fell through the cracks will slowly reveal themselves.
Less People More Enrichment
The crux of minimalism is less is more. This concept works with virtually everything, including the amount of people we spread our time across at a given moment. If we strive for a concentrated network of people who value us as much as we value them, support us, encourage us, and hold us accountable, all the while engaging us in stimulating, thought-provoking conversation, then we are on the right track.
But I guess I could just be a cold bastard that doesn’t have time for petty bullshit. I’m going back to my cave now. Have a nice day!
“Hey, can you help me with this thing that you probably have little to no interest in doing, because I procrastinated for too long?” No. “Hi, I don’t know you, but can you come to my kid’s piano recital?” No. “We’re starting this new bi-weekly community thingy —” No, no, no, a million times no. Sometimes the right answer is a simple, but polite, “no.”
We all have stress in our lives, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Some good, some bad, some more or less than others, imagined, or very real and overwhelming. Stress creates undulating waves of pressure and unease that pervade our minds, and if left unchecked, our bodies. Its nebulous nature can make it hard to pin down sometimes. Ironically, the only way to conquer it is to do just that.
If we want more room to breathe in our lives, we have to eliminate stress while also adding a filter that selectively allows more good stress. This filter should prevent petty and unnecessary obligations from being added to our already busy lives, and preserve a comfortable pace of living that allows us to maintain a comfortable line of balance between life and work. However, this filter should allow opportunities that could benefit us and amplify our experience.
1. Identify the stress you already have.
The first logical step before taking on any additional obligations is to be aware of everything you already have going on. Half the time we’re so stressed because we don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, or when it needs to be done by. We need to organize the shitstorm we already have building in our brains before we let anything else in from the outside (that we have control over). The best way to do that is to make a list. Traditionally, I use pen and paper but recently I’ve taken a liking to WorkFlowy, a list app for the web, iPhone, and iPad.
2. Filter out petty obligations.
Stop doing things that don’t maximize your time and enjoyment. Stop doing things simply to please people who are barely acquaintances, let alone friends. It is absolutely not wrong at all to be selfish sometimes. We only have so much of ourselves to give, and we should choose wisely when faced with relinquishing even the smallest piece to to someone else. The time you spent making a flyer for someone who “heard you knew how to use Photoshop” and didn’t want to spend money on a designer could have been spent reading a book.
3. Let in opportunities.
Some obligations can be life-enriching opportunities. The trick is taking the time to identify them before having a gut response to the person in the hallway asking something of you. Could I use the article this person wants me to write in my portfolio? Better yet, a “let me get back to you” while you consult the list you made earlier would be a great move.
I realize that this way of thinking sounds pretty selfish to a lot of people, but just think about it. You have one life. You should look out for yourself in that short duration instead of continually worrying about pleasing people that have no bearing your life.
Genuinely wanting to help someone is completely different. Helping someone just because you want to appear a certain way to them and others taxes your time and is disingenuous. It’s much easier and much less stressful to be honest with them, and use your precious time the way you choose to.
Obligations are one of several components that comprise the substance I call mental clutter. It’s trickier to get rid of than clutter in the physical realm because we can’t see it until we make an effort to be more mindful of it. Getting rid of it has the same freeing effects: more time, more energy, and room to breathe. So stop picking up the slack for others and spend that time creating, traveling, hiking, running, knitting, reading, partying, reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.
Imagine a life in which everything is exactly where you think it is and you never have to look for anything again. You have only what you need and everything has its place, and you’re happy. That’s my life and the life of a growing number of people that has been on the rise since the start of the recession in 2008.
Of course, minimalism existed long before economic Armageddon, before the U.S. even (think monks), but has recently been popularized by a fringe group responding to the rampant consumerism in the U.S. Minimalism became popular out of the recession because several people decided to cut the excess out of their lives simply as a way to make ends meet.
I personally started paring down my life during my first semester in college. Dragging all of that stuff to my dorm room and seeing how little space remained was a flash-point. That and my childhood room I had left behind was still half-full of stuff I would come to never use again. What’s the point of holding on to it all? And so I began my first major purge of things I do not use, all the while reading some minimalist blogs like Zen Habits for advice.
By 2010, I felt that I had my stuff down to a manageable amount, but knew I could take it further. I couldn’t get passed the whole “but I might need this someday” line that we all tell ourselves when we try to get rid of things. But after spending more and more time hiking, including a couple of week-long outings on the Appalachian Trail, I was slowly realizing how little I actually needed to be happy.
I proved it when I studied in Sweden for 6 months, living out of one bag and a carry-on. I reluctantly returned to the U.S. freshly infected with wanderlust, got rid of even more stuff to make traveling easier, and flew off to Iceland later that summer to live out of my backpack for 3 months. You can guess what I did when I got home (if not, I got rid of more stuff). That’s the short version anyway.
A simple Google search will reveal hundreds of strategies for decluttering and getting organized. Different ways work for different people. You’re on Spartan Wanderer, so I’m going to speak from my experience. This is my strategy and I’ve been at it through multiple rounds over the years.
Depending on how organized or messy you are, this could be a massive undertaking. Start by tidying and don’t worry about getting rid of stuff just yet. Simply put everything where it needs to go. Put the clothes in the closet, file away or stack the papers, and put the other stuff where the other stuff goes. Even throwing away trash and clearing dishes can make any situation a bit more manageable.
Keep, Maybe, Trash
After you’re all tidied up, tackle the clutter room by room, section by section. If you compartmentalize like this then the whole process is a lot less daunting. For each section, make a pile of stuff that you definitely want to keep, a pile for things you’re torn about, and things you want to trash (or recycle, donate, sell). Even the messiest closet or work area can be dealt with in one decluttering session. If you try to do every room at once, or even an entire room at once, you’ll have piles all over the place and it will seem like you’re making the situation worse.
Make the Most of Everything
From the three piles you now have before you, you’ll want to make the most of two things: space and waste. Freeing up space is incredibly, well, freeing, both psychologically and physically. Becoming a minimalist means decluttering in such a way that what you have left is a completely functional and efficient existence. The extra space makes work as well as everyday tasks much more effortless than before. You no longer spend time looking for shit and everything left has a purpose.
As a new minimalist, you wouldn’t simply throw away your old stuff. A key facet of the lifestyle is leaving a small footprint, which means getting rid of your stuff responsibly. It sounds like more work, but it could also be to your benefit. Used bookstores and consignment clothing stores will buy your stuff from you, and you can also sell on Craigslist, making this positive lifestyle change profitable as well. Everything you can’t sell would definitely be appreciated at your local Red Cross or other thrift store.
Decluttering is great, but it does have the tendency to build up again if we don’t take measures to stop it. As long as we’re living, we will need things. We are constantly cycling things in and out of our lives. We should be aware of this as we go along and make sure that we are indeed cycling and not just accumulating.
One of the easiest ways to stop clutter in its tracks is to go digital. Start paying your bills online, subscribe to online magazines, and scan your paper files into your computer. I’m not a sentimental person so 99% of my photos are also digital. If you’re not an aspiring archaeologist that desperately clings to these relics known as paper books, you could invest in a Kindle and free up the space your bookshelf is taking up. Becoming more digital makes you more mobile, something all aspiring travelers would benefit from.
Make a list of things you’ve been considering buying, completely forget about it and come back to it in 30 days or so. If you forgot about something on the list you probably don’t actually want/need it as much as you think you do. This is a great way to prevent yourself from accumulating things you’ll be sending off to your local thrift store a year later. If you absolutely need something, see if there’s anything you’re not using that could be sold on Craigslist in order to offset the cost. One thing out, one thing in.
It’s not easy, and can be harder for some. But it is a significant lifestyle change, and the first time you do it will be the hardest. The process becomes more normal, natural, and almost reactionary each subsequent time. You may never get down to a backpack, but then again that’s not the goal. There really isn’t a goal in minimalism. It’s more of a journey, and each one is personal and different. More freedom of movement, more energy, more time, and less clutter, stress, and worry. Aim for that.
You are so busy that you feel like you are going to have a panic attack and/or brain aneurysm. The worst part is that you don’t really have a concrete idea of what you’re supposed to be doing; you just know you’re busy. We’ve all been there. The solution is literally thousands of years old!
That’s right, some of the earliest writings (that archaeologists surely enjoyed weeks of excited banter over when they were discovered) amount to nothing more than grocery lists. Do as the ancients did and prioritize by taking the stress out of your mind and putting it on paper.
When it comes to the list, it is a matter of personal preference. Some people don’t like looking at a monster with twenty things and counting on it. I personally think it can be therapeutic.
When I’m stressed, everything is bouncing off the walls in my head and it’s hard to know what to do first. When I have a visual representation of that stress, I can develop a plan of attack and I know I can conquer it.
I have a strategy when it comes to lists. Sorry if I’m over-complicating something simple, but this really works for me!
1. The Weekly List - This list is for the short-term. I make it every Sunday night, including every due date (that I’m aware of) for class assignments, meeting dates for group work, and mundane chores like paying bills. I hate this list, because it takes up the majority of my time, time that could be spent working on…
2. The Creative List - Here, I organize my design work for clients and any creative project that I have decided to go forward with, whether it be music, art, or writing. In an ideal world, I would love to concentrate on this list and hone my creative skills. Unfortunately, that is not the case as long as I am in college and classes are in session. I would say that these are somewhere in limbo between short-term and long-term goals.
3. The Life List - This is where I put my long-term life goals. It is essentially my bucket list. Currently, I have things ranging from learning a foreign language to writing a full-fledged novel to creating my own roast of coffee. Diverse, I know. Whenever I am able to cross just one item off this list, a celebration is in order.
4. The Budget List - I am a strong proponent of not buying crap you don’t need, which more often than not, is the majority of things I want to buy. So I make a list to keep my consumerism in check. I try to keep this one as short as possible and never, NEVER deviate from it (i.e. going on a random clothing splurge, or impulse buying anything). I need these things. Right now I’m considering hosting for my graphic design site as well as new business cards. In other words, these are investments.
Knowing When It’s Time to Drop Weight
Sometimes we make the mistake of taking too much on at one time. We stress ourselves out so much that we find we are not enjoying life for days, weeks even (months?!), at a time. During this time, it may be necessary to table something and just forget about it for a while.
If you try to broaden your focus too much, you will start seeing mediocrity in several areas of your life, and it sucks and is very disheartening. I know this from experience, and I know how to recognize it. There is as much of an art to knowing when it’s time to let something go than there is to making the list in the first place.
Recognizing an overfilled plate is a key discipline in the art of the list. Sometimes we just have to put some Saran wrap over it and stick it in the fridge for a while.
Caroline and I shared a bench on a bridge linking the two sides of Freetown Christiania over one of Copenhagen’s several canals. The day was almost over, and we sat basking in it as the short-lived Scandinavian sun made its early departure. You could smell the weed in the air, even this distance from Pusher Street.
My journal had been lying beside the bench on the edge of the bridge. Caught up in the air of the moment, and possibly a heavy contact-high, I kicked it over the side into the water below. It made a loud, flat splash, and I watched it float away until I could no longer distinguish it from the shadowy water. Caroline, a fellow wanderer herself, gasped, knowing full well how close a journal is to a traveler’s heart.
Before I defend my rash and, admittedly, environmentally unfriendly actions, let’s look at journaling. Why keep a journal? Why waste your valuable time writing about thoughts and experiences that you were already present in the flesh for? There’s actually a lot of good reasons. Here are several benefits I have found make journaling a valuable tool rather than an arbitrary practice.
1. It’s Therapeutic - Sometimes there are things we feel we have to deal with ourselves. We have to be our own therapists. Journaling is a great way to write yourself out of the problems you may be dealing with. It turns a confusing, soupy mixture of thoughts into a linear narrative, which is a bit easier to read than the nebulous chicken-scratch in your mind.
2. Thought Architecture - If you’re like me, sometimes you might be so busy that your thoughts and ideas are scattered all over the place. We may do well to write them down and organize them. The building materials for an idea may be rattling around in our heads, but a journal entry could turn them into a blueprint for taking further action. It’s the same concept of making a list when you have a lot of stress in your life.
3. Improve Your Writing - The best way to become a better writer is to…write. Journaling everyday exercises your literary muscles and gives you a playground to experiment with different styles, sentence structures, tenses, etc. Most of my blog entries originate in my journal, and I develop and edit them as I type them into Tumblr.
4. Reflection - Writing about events that are unfolding in your life, and your thoughts and feelings on them, can sometimes provide more insight than the events themselves. Sometimes life just feels like it’s rushing by us. Writing about it can bring things to light that we missed when caught up in the moment, and can help us relive some of our most cherished moments.
5. Sense of Self - A journal can be a physical manifestation of our thoughts and emotions. It can be a tome that reveals the deepest, sometimes darkest recesses of our own psyches. If you study your own writing, you become more in touch with your motivations and feelings, and consequently, more self-aware.
The journal destruction thing has been a ritual of mine since I began keeping one, although usually I set it on fire as opposed to being a litterbug. Unfortunately, there were a lot of imposing figures standing around the fire cans on Pusher Street today.
Once a journal fills up, I don’t feel the need to hold onto it. I used it as a means to an end for personal growth, to understand who I am or who I’m becoming, and why. Whatever is in that journal after I fill all the pages is simply refuse of the past, someone who I was that I have evolved beyond. I have no need for him or his ways any longer.
So I destroy my completed journals in the spirit of burning the bridges of my past and increasing my forward momentum, hoping I’ve become a better person since the last iteration of my self contained between the pages.
That’s the crux of the exercise: self-improvement. In order to better ourselves, we have to understand ourselves first. We need to identify what aspects of ourselves that we want to prune and which ones we want to nurture. Journaling can provide just the exposé we need.
Travelers like to brag.
We love rambling on and on to anyone who will listen when we get back from a trip. We love swapping stories about the road, always trying to one-up each other with a funnier, scarier, or just plain crazier exploit. And of course, some super-competitive nomads will employ the coup de grace and slap their passports on the table.
Passport stamps can almost be a currency to some travelers who later use them to buy “cred” amongst other wanderers. I’ve never understood the ridiculous over-emphasis placed on these little bits of bureaucratic ink that are too often used as ammunition in pissing contests.
It’s not possible to quantify the enrichment we gain from our journeys. It’s like trying to count how much knowledge you have after you get a college degree. Some people study abroad for half a year and return feeling disappointed while others might stumble across an epiphany during a weekender. That’s why I prefer to take the stamp for what it is: simply a symbol of governmental bureaucracy, and nothing more.
The act of itemizing countries as something to be checked off a list turns an adventure into a project. I have a defined set of goals when I’m working and prefer not to apply my micromanagement approach to travel. I want the entheogenic, nebulous, and spiritual experience everyone secretly craves. I reject the former method because:
1. Haste Makes Waste - If our number one priority is to make it to as many countries as possible, then how the hell can we experience what each one has to offer at that pace (unless, of course, you’re completely loaded and choose to spend the money on traversing the globe, which if that’s the case, I salute you and am really jealous[care to make a donation])? Cultural exchange is not taking a running pass at a foreign culture. It requires you to talk to the people, visit their homes, and hear their stories. All that will be missed if we strip travel down to capital-hopping.
2. No Roots - There’s something special about living abroad for a while as opposed to jaunting around. You become a regular at some of the hangouts. You make lifelong friends. You start understanding the language. You’re putting down roots and making another spot on this earth a home. A place a thousand miles away that you can go back to and still know the streets like the back of your hand. Blowing through random towns as untamed as the wind is certainly a romantic ideal. But a tumbleweed has no roots. How will you be nurtured by the experience?
3. Quality vs. Quantity - I’m the type of person that when I get involved with something new, I completely embrace it, hit the ground running, and learn everything I possibly can about it. I want to speak the language, to know the history, the political climate, social cues and norms, demographics, and whatever else. I just have never understood how a Eurotrip could give one such a substantive experience for each country they visit. Don’t get me started on the ones who drink every night until they can only remember the daylight hours of their trips. Moderation, guys!
I admit that a lot of this is really just my opinion on the philosophy of travel. Who am I really to say how anyone should enjoy their experience? There’s no right or wrong way to wander. Everyone has a different personality with complimentary wants and needs. Take it with a grain of salt.
Building a new life somewhere is interesting to me. It’s challenging, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. When I went to Sweden, I knew one other girl in the entire state that was going. We hung out maybe a couple of times. So I started completely from scratch, building relationships mostly through each new cultural experience I encountered.
From all the time I put into Lund, I emerged with several lifelong friends that I would have never met were I just going to Stockholm or Lappland for a few days. Although chance encounters still happen all the time. Just watch Leaves of Grass.
NOTE: Oh yeah, and you basically have to ask for your passport to get stamped now anyway. I got one from the Danes when I arrived, but once you’re in Europe, you’re golden. Even flying into Iceland I didn’t get one. Read about the Schengen Area for more info.