I’m returning to UK after spending a month in France. We travelled in my small VW, hence storage space was at a premium and we were forced to pack light.
Minimalism has recently been in vogue as a self-help method to lighten the load of consumerist culture, to create the simple mental and physical relief of empty space, or in the extreme, a pilgrimage to spiritual purity.
We didn’t fully commit to the minimalism as we’ll explore in this blog. Instead, we’re rationalised the possessions needed to live comfortably during our extended holiday, adding a richer layer to our basic needs and wants. Instead of minimising solely to have only our basic amenities, this is a higher step to understand and have only the possessions we actually use to improve our lives (while still appreciating how lucky we are). Call it ‘Minimalism-Plus’.
1: Cover your basic amenities needed for survival – shelter, food and warmth.
We’re fortunate that a tent, stove and sleeping bag (and AirBnb) can cover this when we are out of reach of the generosity of relatives and friends.
2: But what will you spend your time doing?
If you’re reading this, you’re likely a lucky person. We’re lucky to live lives rich in time and money and hence often have an extensive range of leisure and pleasure activities we like to do.
Which of our toys do we decide to bring on holiday? France is a huge country with sea, coast, lakes, country and mountains. Do we bring the road bike, the wetsuit or the surfboard? Do we bring one book or five? When we’re on holiday, what will we really spend our time doing?
This exercise seems like I’m revelling in extreme privilege. While it does reflect how lucky I am, it also puts the fortune of our ability to spend time and money on leisure into a critical spotlight.
In other words, when we have the time, will we use all the stuff we spend our money on?
What will we take on holiday, but more importantly, what do we leave behind?
What did we take?
We took stuff that got some weird looks, such as our wetsuits and extra stuff for open water swimming. We also took our road bikes. And autumn* cycling clothes, helmets, a tent, roll mats, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, hiking clothes, waterproofs, hiking boots, trekking backpack, necessary hiking safety equipment, road running and off road** running shoes.
*That I have seasonal gear demonstrates how easy it is to buy into specialist kit and concepts.
** That I have both road and running shoes says something about a difference within sport and exercise too.
It sounds like a lot, but 1) the car had space left over, 2) it pales in comparison with the stuff I left at home and importantly 3) we actually used the stuff.
As an aside point, carrying all this kit was a constant reminder to us to use it. When we were in Brittany, the weather was typically drizzly with few bursts of sunshine. Going into the water wasn’t always the most appealing thing to do, but because we had lugged the wetsuits so that we could go swimming, we felt that we should go swimming so we did go swimming.
The same goes for the bikes – it’s a real hassle carrying road bikes on the roof down to the French Alps, keeping one eye on their security and other eye on the added fuel consumption – so I took every chance to ride that appeared, whereas in similar circumstances back at home I might have deferred to sunnier days.
What did we leave at home?
This bit made me realise that I have lots of auxiliary ‘stuff’ that forms the fluff around the edges of my toys.
E.g. Bike tools. I packed a pump, but specialist tools such as a chain whip and cassette tool? Don’t think so. I use it once a year when servicing my bike, so hopefully I won’t need it now.
Duplicates of clothes. How many pants/jackets/hats do I need? When I’ve packed all I ‘need’ (and then some) into a bag to last a month, it feels silly to see the redundant clothes left in my wardrobe.
Hmm. Do I need cycling sunglasses and driving sunglasses? Probably not.
And more substantial things too. A mountain bike. A touring bike. More bits of kit that cost money, but are currently sitting in a storeroom waiting for me to return.
What didn’t we need?
I didn’t think I had brought that many clothes, but I have a few reflections:
I’ve successfully lived on much less than half my wardrobe. Both my girlfriend and I packed a minimal amount of clothing. When I didn’t pack enough (two t-shirts wasn’t enough for a month), the decision to buy a quality additional t-shirt had an actual reason behind it.
Travelling re-frames the purpose of clothes. Aesthetics and looking good is often a priority for people and still will be so, however, versatility gains more credit when on the road. Having one item of versatile clothing makes another two redundant. Furthermore, by owning specialist clothing we own something that has limited uses. I’ve carried a suit and a pair of smart shoes for about 2000 miles, to be worn once. Is that an effective use of space in the car, fuel burned, or money spent on clothing?
At a nerdier level of detail, ‘technical’ fabrics can be useful and a hindrance. For example, the ‘natural technical fabric’ of Merino wool makes useful clothes that are versatile for travelling and sport – they keep you warm enough, cool enough and a resistance to accumulating smell after exercising. I brought merino socks, t-shirts and a cycling jersey, which on this trip have all out-performed my cotton or nylon stuff. On the other hand, anything made from Gore-Tex can be a pain when travelling, needing frequent washing and re-proofing.
What did I wish for?
There were times when I wished I had a mountain bike, especially when driving through the Alps or the Jura mountains. There were times when I wished I knew how to kitesurf and had all the kites, boards and hydrofoils, seeing people catch the wind in Brittany or Annecy.
But, the desire to do these things didn’t equate with the time actually available. Owning these possessions would be useless in real life if even when on holiday I did not have the time to do them. Unless I move to a lake or the sea, it wouldn’t make sense to own these items – and if I did, I should reconsider the items I already own and the time I could spend doing them.
What are the take-aways?
- I’ve lived a month away from home and have been fine. This suggests that many of the items and clothes I own are redundant as objects that I need to own outright.
- We’ve been able to borrow lots of things. How many specialist items do we accumulate that we use only rarely, but that many people have a need for?
My example earlier was specialist bike tools – Do I need to own them? The appeal of ownership is that I would otherwise be dependent on bike shops. Is there a medium state where we could have a repository that people could loan to and borrow from – a community bike-tool library?
- We’ve had to buy very little. Just as a rolling stone gathers no moss, travelling in a small car and moving around frequently has resulted in a lack of accumulation of stuff. No Amazon Prime deliveries tomorrow. No need for two potato peelers, or any potato peeler.
We’ve just bought to replace what has been used or is irreparable. It would be good to continue this – want less, buy less.