There is a popular documentary on Netflix right now called “Minimalism” For those who don't already know, minimalism is my generation's counter-approach to the American Dream. The idea is to live on as little as possible, such as only having sixteen items of clothing or owning one bike instead of three cars. Many of these minimalists even move out of their suburban houses in favor of a small one bedroom apartment or even the highly coveted, mini-houses that you now see on HGTV.
I watched this documentary a few weeks ago but I wasn't too impressed. The people in the film said over and over again how much “happier” they were now that the had much less to live off of. I wasn't sure what irritated me about this response until a good friend of mine watched the film and followed up with a few questions sent to me directly.
She wanted to know if I was “happier” in Australia since I was living on so little. Her and I both had seen the parallelism between the minimalist attitude and the backpacking attitude. Both lifestyles require a person to live on 10% or less of everything they own.
I started on my journey with a fifty-pound suitcase and a small backpack. After two months I sent a large box back home and donated about five things. Another month in and I was sending back half of the contents of my suitcase without hesitation. I needed a lighter load and I hadn't even touched a majority of the things I had packed.
Basically I had about four outfits and two pairs of shoes. I carried a toiletries bag and my personal necessities of watercolors and at least one book. That's about it. To be honest, that was still a heavier load than many of the other backpackers. We all lived that way and no one worried about a thing.
So was I “happier” because of my lack of stuff? Everything I owned was on my back and under forty pounds. Did that transform my life into a blissful utopia? Not necessarily. I was happy before I left. I am happy now that I am home. Yet I was happy the entire time I was gone. I believe that being happy is a choice each of us make every single day. Did I have plenty of worries when I was working at the Chamber and driving my red car? You betcha. Did I have plenty of worries when I was sleeping out of a car in the middle of the outback? Darn right.
The elimination of stuff doesn't instantly make us happier. There will always be things to worry and fuss over. There's always a negative friend or co-worker and you'll never escape the reality of paying bills and figuring out your next meal. While a backpacker may have more basic survival worries, they still have the same choice you do. Happiness or perpetual complaining?