The estimated reading time for this post is 7 minutes
What if you had to fit everything you own into a school bog? How bad would that be? Or… how fantastic would that be? An experiment in minimal living while traveling in China suddenly became a new lifestyle when I got sick and suddenly found myself, let’s say, “home free”.
it all fits in this tiny school bag or on my head
all my clothes
stuff (click to zoom)
toiletries (click to zoom)
toiletries all bagged up
these are for special occasions
great wallet I got in Argentina
first pair of shoes to really fit me
Now, I cheated a little bit. The pictures below do not include a power cord and the iphone I used as a camera. Otherwise, this little collection of things is all I have been living with for more than eight months and I love it. Are there trade offs? Of course, and I’ll talk about that in the next post. Are there delights? Yes.
Note: links to stuff are affiliate links.
Just a quick note on ziplocks: fantastic. You can compartmentalize your stuff with bags that are lightweight, water tight and easy to see through when scrounging for stuff.
Modern tech is what makes all of this possible. You can now buy a complete set of clothes that look good, weigh almost nothing, and dry in a few hours. That means I can wash everything I own in a sink (never takes more than 10 minutes), pick it off of my clothesline the next morning clean and dry, and roll them into my little bag as I walk out the door to a coffee shop leaving nothing behind. If there’s no sink available, I can use a ziplock bag.
What if you woke up in the morning and thought, “what should I wear?” and could only choose from your 4 favorite shirts and 2 pairs of pants. How much time does it take to decide? A fraction of a second. I spend almost no brain power on dressing. A little bit fancier? The red shirt. A little bit more free form? T shirt or green shirt. Done.
Yoga? Swimming? The light pants are great for climbing or yoga, the board shorts work for yoga, swimming, running or hanging out.
Shorts? The long pants turn into shorts and the board shorts are already shorts so there are two to choose from!
Yes, each item costs a lot more than my thrift shop clothes. My shirts went from $4-6 to $20-50. But I only need two $50 shirts and they look better, last longer, and are more versatile and comfortable than anything I had before. If you only own four shirts you pick out the very best– so you are always wearing your very best! (That said, my best socks were less than a dollar for three pairs in China. Cheap polyester dress socks wick moisture and dry instantly!)
Note: I can’t seem to find the Columbia ultralight pants anywhere. Are these no longer made? I bought mine for about $2.50 at an REI garage sale, and after 7 years or so I’ve only had to replace the button and a clip.
I cannot stress enough how awesome a bit of alpine cord can be. Better than duct tape? Often. All it requires is learning a handful of knots and you can make anything from a bottle sling to an arm sling to a clothes line. You can strap temporary gear to your bag. You can lock a door shut to keep dogs out. You can rescue a friend from a small crevasse.
I would provide a tight little list of the minimal knots everyone should know, but Andy at A Site About Nothing already built the swiss army knife list of knots. Go internets!
What’s up with that umbrella, you ask? Why would I carry all of that weight? Because umbrellas are magic.
I made those sandals myself from a kit by Invisible Shoes (now called Xero Shoes). They are designed to feel like you are running/walking barefoot and they’re super thin so it’s easy to slip them into the bag!
When I left for China I wept to get rid of my 100s of books. I think at best I made $50 total on a massive collection. Suddenly I needed my whole library to fit into something that squeezed into my bag. Fortunately, the Amazon Kindle and my choice at the time, the Nook, made this mostly possible. (Sadly, there are still a lot of books not yet available.)
Of course I have a Leatherman Wave, but I have to keep stashing it places when I fly so it’s not pictured here. I always feel naked without both a pen and a sword. That little guy has saved my and many other butts countless times over the years.
Bags of Bags
The beauty, again, of new technology is that my one bag can contain several micro, tiny light bags and suddenly I can pull out a huge supplementary shopping bag or even… a backpack! This Sea to Summit backpack squeezes into a little bag about half the size of my fist. I wish it had a place to put a water bottle, and it would be nice if the straps were a little thicker, but then it wouldn’t be so incredibly tiny. I love being able to ditch my bag of everything and just throw some sunscreen, towel and a wallet into this thing.
The is chico sack is the same deal, but a big shopping bag when exploded. Well proven over years of kale and onions. I got this one free at a film festival.
The garbage bag is a fantastic cheap addition for waterproofing the whole shebang in a sudden rain or wrapping it all to seal it from cat hair. For keeping track of garbage I just pick up used plastic grocery bags along the way. Light and small and recycling is good! I also use these bags to separate my dirty laundry.
The one oddity in here is the WWII era double edged razor. I know, it’s weight. But I refuse to support the shave industrial complex that keeps adding ever more blades at ever more cost and ever more waste. The next step beyond this is to go with a completely reusable straight razor, but then I couldn’t get on airplanes. Of course, being completely honest, it’s also just seriously cool to shave with a beautiful old device like this. (If you’re interested check out classicshaving.com.)
So, it’s true. Technically I have 2 bags: one is the book bag and the other is the soft gig bag for this tiny 3/4 sized Baby Taylor guitar. Aaaaaand… sometimes I cheat and use the pocket on the front of the gig bag for a paperback book. But I can get on a plane with both bags, guitar overhead and backpack under the seat, and as any player knows: having a guitar makes so many things better. I was tearing it up at the Greyhound station in NC a few weeks back during my long wait and time and smiling people flew by. I’ve had this guitar for about ten years now and I’m still amazed at how good it sounds for being so tiny.
Apps for that: I ditched all of the usual guitar appendages for weight reasons and got iPhone apps. I have a metronome, tuner, and chord charts all in an app called Guitar Tools, and I’m still sifting through recording apps to find a nice 4-track recorder. (Suggestions?)
As a long time video editor I’m a mac guy. This one is a 15″ Powerbook, but when it wears out, I’ll likely replace it with an air. At that point they’ll be fast enough to edit (almost are already) and the weight savings will be huge!
A laptop is really one of the keys to this whole way of living. I can make enough money to eat from almost anywhere in the world. I can amuse and fulfill myself by creating. I can communicate with friends and family anywhere. So much of all of our lives is now compressed onto a tiny flat machine we can carry on our backs. That would sad if it weren’t for the fact that it’s so portable: we can make the rest of our lives about anything else and anywhere else we want.