Well known start-up founder and conference organizer Andrew Hyde (@andrewhyde) recently decided to sell most of his worldly possessions. He currently owns only 15 things. Look around your office or home, I’m sure you can see more than that number of owned items around you right now. I bet some of you have nearly 15 items on you, between clothing and what’s in your pockets.
I interviewed Andrew about his motivations and experiences as an American with so few things.
SB: Given our hi-tech, gadget obsessed, culture, minimalism is not the typical lifestyle a young American would be expected to pursue. How did you get interested in minimalism and what motivated you to make this change now?
AH: I dabbled over the last few years by taking a small backpack on 3 or 4 day trips. I was shocked in how much stuff I had. Even when I had packed my apartment, I was still shopping for more. It wasn’t about need anymore, it was just habit. Realizing that changed the way I looked at buying stuff. I just stopped.
I remember reading a post by Fred Wilson with the message of “when was the last time you didn’t spend any money in a day?” That made me think. I experimented from those thoughts. I left my wallet at home to see how I would ‘get by.’ Turns out, everything I spent cash on was pure comfort goods, and I could a week without spending cash besides groceries. My regular coffeeshop was more than understanding if I forgot my wallet, so were my coworkers and friends. It created a non confrontational way for me to really start aggressively saving.
This whole experience has taught me something very simple: debt kills dreams. Debt is cash, things and fear.
In one my favorite films, Fight Club, Tyler Durden says “the things you own end up owning you” which is likely a riff inspired by Buddhist or stoic philosophy. What do you think of this phrase? And given your current lifestyle, can you think of a different quote you’d offer in response?
The book is also fantastic, a must read for me. Although I love it, I have still never been in a fight. I love the message of the movie- relationships, not stuff, matter, and message runs community.
I don’t have much right now. 3 shirts, a pair of pants and shorts. Some odds and ends. I do some pretty interesting and amazing things everyday, and not once in the last month did I really want anything more.
It has turned by life from stuff centric to relationship centric.
To get down to 15 items must have taken serious thought. Can you describe the process you used? Did you do it all at once, or one or two items at a time?
The 15 items was a simple goal. I was trying to tell my friends that my life would fit into a backpack. It wasn’t until I turned my life into a number before the trip was official. I started with my clothing basics. 2 shirts, 1 pant, 1 short, 1 sandals, 1 sunglasses and underwear. I added a few ‘must haves’ for me like an iPad and camera. I added a backpack, toiletries kit, towel, and a few random things (pen, connector cable, chargers) and tried it out. After five weeks of the trip, there is more that I have not used in the bag than there is in the bag.
Given how few items you possess, has it changed how you look at your friends, family or other people you meet on your travels?
The weirdest thing is I don’t have a home to go back to (homeless, you could say). I see a guy who owns a bag like me and spends his days begging or with nothing to do. I choose to have a bag and travel around while there are many I have talked to that do not choose to live on the streets. The guy is surviving, and it is really sad to think we are both equal except I have more in relationships and bank accounts. That is hard to see.
It is pretty funny to see peoples faces when I show them by bag and tell them it is everything I own. People either get happy or confused. The happy ones challenge themselves to think if they could do it (with wonder) and the confused tend to tell me that I shouldn’t travel to ‘dangerous’ countries like Colombia.
One of my favorite interactions was at JFK. I talk to a lot more people now that I don’t have a job, it is just interesting to see what people are up to, where they are going, what they are living for. A middle aged guy said I was elitist for traveling. I was standing there with everything I owned on my shoulders, being called elitist.
Update: Check out Hyde’s book on what he’s learned in his travels: This is a book about travel