It took me 4 trips, 3 backpacks, and a guitar to discover simple living.
In 2010 I backpacked for the first time. Eager to explore Europe, I lugged around a full 65-liter backpack, a smaller day pack, and a guitar. Five days later I was exhausted. And so in London — only my third stop — I left half of it at the hostel.
The following year, I got ready for the Trans-Mongolian, from St. Petersburg to Beijing. Lessons learned, I left with a smaller 40-liter, a small day pack and a guitar. But it still felt too heavy. This time, I left a donation in Kazan.
In 2012 I had my eyes set in India. The 40-liter was my companion again, but only two-thirds full. No guitar this time. I was confident. This was it, I had nailed it! It was easier to move around but still a pain in the ass to pack and unpack every couple of days.
Finally, 2013 came with my dream trip — 6 months in South-East Asia. I decided to buy a new smaller backpack: 26-liters was all I had.
It was perfect.
And I never changed again.
Simple Living: Backpacks As a Metaphor for Life
Limiting space forces you to test must-haves. With time and iteration, only the essential remains. Nothing more, nothing less.
Why not approach life the same way?
Don’t start from unlimited time and space. This leaves you exhausted. Set a limit it and check what fits. Make it smaller until you can’t anymore. Replace when you need to. Keep the essential and discard the rest.
Habits and routines.
Commitments and obligations.
Having and doing less frees your mind to focus on what matters.
Ready to embrace simple living?
Step 1: Decide Your Backpack Size
We want to cram everything into our life. Always ready to take on more. Filling our time and life to the point of exhaustion.
We start with a 65-liter backpack, a smaller day pack, and a guitar. Need to add more? Sure, let’s carry another backpack!
Life doesn’t have to be that way.
Do the opposite: find a backpack that you want to carry and work backward from it. Find your 26-liter bag.
Once you know your backpack size, it’s clear how you will divide your time going forward. How you will divide your time between work, relationships, and maintenance.
Simplify first, add later.
Step 2: Fill Your Backpack
Once you’ve picked a size, it’s time to start filling it.
Grab a pen and paper and list your:
- Material possessions
- Habits and routines
- Commitments and obligations
Pick one item from each list. One thing you love, a habit that makes you happy, a commitment you want to keep, a friend you want to nurture. Add them all to your bag.
Now put it on your back. How does it feel? Do you have room for more?
Add things until it feels heavy. You’re now at full capacity. Everything else must go. Carrying them will only slow you down.
Step 3: Keep Your Backpack Half-Full
The trick to simple living? Think subtraction, not addition.
In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
“Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
You have 26 liters but that doesn’t mean you need to use it all. Regularly trim what doesn’t add value from your backpack.
Opinions and perceptions change. What was valuable yesterday might not be today. Why keep the weight?
Have space for souvenirs.
Make room for spontaneity.
For freedom to choose.
Step 4: Upgrade What’s in Your Backpack
This year, I bought an awesome rain jacket in Peru. I can’t make my bag bigger so something had to go. And so something went. To be specific, my previous jacket went.
If you can’t remove, try upgrading. An old jacket for an improved one. A new habit for a better one. Your current job for something you’ll enjoy even more. Double down on a few relationships.
The weight stays the same.
But you’ll love everything you do and own even more.
Your Simple Living Journey
Congrats, you made it! What have you won?
- Time: fewer things means less maintenance and more space for the things you love
- Less Stress: there’s nothing quite relaxing as a perfectly balanced schedule
- Improved Health: simple living brings calmness and clarity to your life
- Better Relationships: you’ll develop closer friends that are better people to you
- Freedom: you are finally the one in charge of your life
The secret to genius is not complexity, it’s simplicity.
“Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.” — Charles Warner