I’ve been living abroad for almost 4 years now and in that time the amount of stuff I own has decreased phenomenally. Before I left Canada in 2012, I had so much stuff. Books, DVDs, clothes, furniture…but one thing that I did partially to fund my trip and partially because I had nowhere to store my things, I sold most of it. One day only fire sale…everything must go! Of course I kept some things, personal mementos etc. I’m not heartless. I put a couple of boxes and a suitcase in storage at my friends and off I went.
A year and a half went by and I returned to Canada and started going through all the things that I had left behind, I didn’t want my friends to be burdened with my crap if they ever decided to move to a new place. (Sadly, I wasn’t clear about what I was getting rid of and they kept everything when I left again so I guess I need to do it all again…Hahaha).
As I’m preparing for another move from Slovakia to Chile, I thought I would impart some of the minimizing tricks I’ve learned over the years. I don’t know if these will work as well for long-term travellers but they really help when you live abroad and move a lot .
1) If you don’t use it, lose it.
I have a strict rule; if I haven’t used it in 3-6 months ditch it. You only have limited space and a limited weight limit so keeping that shirt, “Just in case” is probably not a good idea.
When living abroad, stuff gets a little bit more difficult. It’s hard to stick to the 6 months rule if you are thinking about belongings that you left at home. How can you use it if you live on the other side of the world? Part 2 of this rule is if you don’t think about it you can probably get rid of it. If it’s not important enough to you that you think of it at least once while you are gone, you probably aren’t going to miss it that much. Okay…fine there are some exceptions, that teddy your grandma gave you, that high school yearbook, those concert ticket stubs. That’s okay. You are allowed to keep memories or personal things but all that other useless crap you have laying around. Chuck it.
2) Destroy your sentimental heart
I just had to do this with a few things, the “Oh but I got this free t-shirt in Laos”, “I’ve had that since Bali”, “These are cut off bracelets from that thing I did”. You don’t have room for those things. I have…or HAD so many t-shirts which make me think of a special time or a particular place but I never really wore them. I’d wear them for pyjamas and that was about it. So I donated them but before I did I took pictures of them. It might sound silly but you still have the reminder you just don’t have to carry them around with you.
3) Embrace the digital lifestyle
Digitize everything. I read A LOT. In fact, a good chunk of my initial savings for that 2012 trip came from selling my books. I have fully embraced the e-book. Not only is it significantly cheaper to buy one and *ahem* find books on the internet somewhere than keeping up a book a week habit but it also cuts down on a lot of space too. Believe me, if I could afford or travel with 1000 books I would but this is the next best thing.
As I said before, take pictures of everything. If you don’t desperately need the item but you just want the reminder or the memory, take a picture of it. I guarantee you won’t miss that Bintang tanktop but it’s nice to have the memory of the trip.
Just don’t forget to back it up! Keep a few memory sticks with you and occasionally send one home- if you have one.
I work as an English teacher and I’ve made quite a good collection of resources over the last little while. I make my lesson plans, notes, games, ideas and save them on Google Drive. I know it’s not a very revolutionary idea but it definitely cuts down on space. Or again take picture or scan the document and save your digital master copy. But of course there are somethings that you just can’t save online, what can I do with my masses of flashcards?
4) Send stuff ahead.
Okay, this might be cheating a little bit but it cuts down on your suitcase weight. For this trip to Chile I only have 20kg checked baggage allowance and trying to make it under the limit is getting tough. I did a practice packing run yesterday and I am just at 20kgs but I don’t know how good my scales are. I checked the excess baggage fees and it’s cheaper for me to send the extra weight to Chile than to pay it at the airport.