Minimalism on a Bicycle
Nearly fifteen months ago, we turned the lamp off in our apartment for the last time, left the keys on the counter, and pedaled away. We had slept in the living room on that last night because the apartment was empty and it was kind of spooky to sleep all the way back in the bedroom. After many months of dreaming about this trip and an extremely harried six weeks of moving everything out as quickly as possible, we were finally on our way. A long time has passed since we left our previous lives, enough time to forget what it was truly like, but we haven’t forgotten the experience of making that intentional change to living the way we are now.
Over these past many months, we have been extremely fortunate to be able to stay with dozens of generous and kind people across the US. All sorts of folks with different backgrounds and different living situations. And each time we step into a home, we find ourselves comparing this place where we will stay the night to some nebulous idea of a future home-of-our-own. ‘Could we live in this type of place?’ we wonder. After all the effort to get rid of everything many months ago, it is strange to even wonder about settling into an apartment again. We shudder at the idea of again accumulating all the accoutrements: lease, utilities, pots and pans, towels, furniture. It all feels so unbelievably foreign and burdensome.
Yet, we have also discovered that the urge to “have” does not go away. I do not want to buy more things and haul them around with me on my bicycle. But I also have a love of reading that can easily manifest itself into three paperback books at a time, each of them tumbling around in my pannier. And I cannot express how much I truly and deeply miss having a refrigerator and an oven and sleeping on an actual mattress. We ride through towns with a a great bike culture and we long for lighter-weight bicycles of our own, perfect for bombing through city streets. We laugh about how we did not reach that level of minimalist nirvana, of rising completely above the desire for stuff. Rather, like other cycle tourists we know, we have become mildly obsessed with our stuff, knowing that we have to carry each individual thing, so it all needs to work really well and serve an extremely useful function.
There are a lot of ideas milling around on the internet about how to achieve minimalism. Many of them fall into the “count your things” category. I recently stumbled onto the 333 Fashion Project, in which you cull your wardrobe down to just 33 items and wear only those pieces for 3 entire months. It’s a fascinating idea, and I love to see folks rally behind a project that will help them think more critically and live more mindfully. I also chuckle a little bit because I’ve been living my own 15-15 Project:15 items of clothing for 15 months. Of course, it’s not a contest, but it does give me pause. Do we need something bigger than ourselves to tell us when enough is enough?
Ironically, neither of us were self-defined minimalists before this trip. We had so much stuff spread all over our way-too-big apartment. Every attempt to cull a few things just ended up in frustration and resignation. Now, though, as we begin to think about slowing our momentum and staying in one place for the winter, we realize how nervous we are about the possibility of collecting stuff again. I think about the things that we might find ourselves wanting and needing over the winter – sheets, towels, blankets, u-locks, a better rain jacket – and I cringe at the idea of purchasing and owning all these items, finding a place to put them when “at home,” and getting rid of them all again when we hop back on the bikes. All of this has made us realize that minimalism isn’t about the actual stuff you own (how much or how little), but about your relationship to that stuff (your thought process upon purchase and awareness of its impact on your life-at-large). And it’s also not something we can just check off a to-do list, it’s something that we have to continually think about and work on, even when everything you own has to fit on a bicycle.