Full Interview with Colin Wright

By

By

The last of our series of full interview from our article The Rise of Less, a Story of Minimalists, this time around we present the insight of Colin Wright.

Wand’rly
Did you get into minimalism as a result of wanting to travel, or the other way around?
Colin
Definitely ended up discovering minimalism as a result of wanting to travel, and it was purely by accident.

I was living with a massive amount of stuff in a great big townhouse in Los Angeles. I got rid of some clothing I hadn’t worn in ages, and it felt great. Like, really great. I got rid of some more, then some more. Pretty soon I was culling everything I didn’t need, and the more I got rid of, the better I felt. I realized that good feeling was coming from no longer being responsible for guarding and maintaining and housing those things. I was freer and freer with every garbage bag taken to Goodwill.

The initial spark, though, was me wanting to reduce my load a bit for when I started traveling several months in the future. The unexpected consequence was that I ended up only owning a little over 60 things in the whole world, rather than owning just enough that I could store it in a small storage facility (as originally planned).

Wand’rly
It seems like slow travel is more than just important to you, it’s the foundation for your entire travel. Do you think you learn more from being immersed in three or four different countries a year than you would from moving around a bit more?
Colin
For me personally, yes, this style of travel is ideal.

When I’ve only got a few days, or even a few weeks in a new place, I don’t treat it like home, which is what I do when I know I’m in it for the long haul. I don’t invest as much time meeting people and putting down roots. I don’t establish habits or explore quite so much. When I know I’ve got the time to enjoy those friendships, though, and go back to the cool places I find around town, I make an extra effort. I build upon the foundations. On short trips, I seldom make it past the foundation stage, and things stay very surface.

Of course, this keeps me limited in the number of places I can visit in a year, but that’s preferable to me. I enjoy traveling quickly, and hitting many places in a short period of time, but I do that for a few weeks in between each longer stop. That allows me to take in the best of both worlds, and helps me gain a breadth and depth of knowledge.

Wand’rly
You’re a young guy living what appears to be a very exciting and certainly unusual lifestyle, and obviously you’re damn good at what you do. Do you get a lot of naysayers or people who blow off what you’re about in the name of “well you’re a kid, lucky for you” or “yeah but I’m too old to do something like that” and if so, what do you say to them?
Colin
Haha, not as much as I used to, though I do get a lot of casual brushoffs of the ‘yeah, it works for you, but you got lucky’ variety.

And it’s true, that my circumstances were pretty good segues into this kind of lifestyle, based on the skill sets I’d developed and interests I’ve always had. I made some choices that ended up being smart, but there’s a hell of a lot of luck with anything you do, and this was no different.

That being said, most of the naysayers these days are either from people who 1) haven’t read much of my stuff and assume that I’m trying to sell a lifestyle, which couldn’t be further from the truth (this is definitely not right for everyone, but I share what I learn in case it can be useful to others), or 2) love the idea but want to make it sound less appealing or possible so that they don’t have to pursue their dreams of doing something similar. If it’s impossible, they can’t be blamed for not taking the risks associated with it, and there are myriad risks. Can’t blame people for wanting to maintain a comfortable status quo.

I do get the periodic older person saying something along the lines of ‘yeah, I used to do something similar when I was your age,’ sometimes followed up with a phrase that, when boiled down to the essentials, reads ‘but you’ll grow out of it like I did.’ I appreciate this kind of comment as part brushoff, part compliment, as anyone who’s lived longer than I have comparing me to a younger version of themselves are admiring you for the same reasons they admired themselves, but also trying to instill some deeper knowledge they feel they’ve learned since then. I’ve no doubt they have a lot to teach me, so hearing these kinds of things keeps me aware that above all else, one must be humble on the road; always ready to take in new information, and never sealing off any fount of knowledge.

Wand’rly
When it comes to minimalism, I’ve seen you refer to it as an experiment. In that regard, is it something that you may abandon or put on hold in favor of other experiments, or has it proven itself worthwhile enough that you’ll likely embrace it for life?
Colin
At the moment, it certainly feels like something I’ll adhere to in some way, shape, or form long into the future. But I’m also aware that my only constant is change, and if something better comes along, I’ll change without a backward look (maintaining the lessons I learned, but also pursuing new lessons in whatever happened to replace it).

That doesn’t mean that I’m wishy-washy on the topic — I think minimalism is rad, and it’s one of the better philosophies I’ve come across and explored — but I don’t know what I don’t know, and that means there could be something out there that’s better for me now, or will be better for a future version of me with different hopes and dreams and priorities. Saying that I would embrace something for life while still in my 20’s wouldn’t be showing much respect for my ability to grow as a person!

Wand’rly
As a mobile worker and minimalist, how do you feel about technology? I think a lot of minimalists refrain from things like iPhones or getting too sucked into the online world, but if it’s the source of your livelihood, how does that balance out?
Colin
I’m not the kind of minimalist that shirks technology, though I understand why they do. Simplicity is the pursuit, and new tech tends to complicate as much as it simplifies. I love technology, though, in theory (for its potential) and its practice (for what it adds to my life). I don’t adhere to one brand over another, always replacing and trying new operating systems and solutions to things (at the moment I have an Apple laptop, an Android phone, a Kindle ebook reader, and a Canon camera, for example), but that’s really a ‘to each his own’ aspect of life. Someone without a fancy phone is no better than someone who has one, or vice-versa. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. I neither fetishize nor demonize technology.
Wand’rly
How do you feel about spending money on experiences? Is minimalism for you about not spending a lot of cash in general, in an attempt to work less and have more freetime, or do you have no qualms about consuming as long as it’s not necessarily buying “stuff”?
Colin
A little bit of both, actually. I focus my time, energy, and money on pursuing new knowledge and experiences over attaining more things, but I also like knowing that — if I want to — I can stop working for a while and still have sufficient funds to keep working or playing or sleeping in or whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.

I’ve done all these things, too. There was an 8 month period a few years back where I did absolutely no work. None. It was wonderful at the time, though I cringe a bit thinking about it sometimes, as I love my work, and wonder in retrospect what I could have gotten done had I continued moving forward professionally through that time!

That being said, I spent those 8 months learning more about myself and the world than I had in the previous 10 years combined, so it was a worthwhile venture. I like being able to take those kinds of opportunities: makes the risks and sacrifices one must make to achieve such a lifestyle very much worth it.

Wand’rly
There’s a photo on your site of you with about 20 items or so. Is that a picture of what you actually own? How do you decide if something’s worth having or not? Is there a big philosophy behind it all?
Colin
It could be! I have a few photos like that, and generally people think it’s fun to see me and all that I need to survive. It’s a heady feeling when you realize that you don’t need as much as you think you need, and seeing it all whittled down like that — especially for someone like me, who has to be able to survive in many different climates and social situations — tends to make people think.

Generally my method for reducing or adding things to my list of collection is purely practical. If I find I don’t have something that I need repeatedly, and it will fit in my bag, I’ll buy it until I find it’s either not worth the effort of carrying around, or not as necessary as I thought. I use a lot of things I don’t own, but I rent them — apartments, furniture in those apartments, flatware and mugs, sometimes cars or boats or bikes — buying something tends to be a big decisions, since I generally have to get rid of something in the tradeoff, to make room for it in my bag.

The philosophy is one of practicality. Being a full-time traveler as well as a minimalist makes deciding what to own an easy choice. The more I carry with me, the less I enjoy and can focus on my travels. That makes sure my priorities are front and center at all times.

Wand’rly
Where many minimalists tend to attempt to simplify everything in their lives, particularly work, you have your hands in many pots and seem to always be working on something new. How do you think that applies?
Colin
I think you take what you need from minimalism; it’s not a religion and doesn’t require dogmatism to be useful. I’m a curious guy, and I get bored easily, so I keep myself involved. Minimalism helps me remove the boring stuff or things I don’t need from my life so I can focus on moving ever-forward. That’s a huge factor in how I simplify my lifestyle, though of course other people have other priorities and therefore do it differently (which is just as legit…there’s no absolute right or wrong way to do things).
Wand’rly
Would you say you’re an evangelist of the minimalist traveling lifestyle? Apart from your online presence of course, do you find yourself spending a lot of time talking to people about your choices in life, even if they’re not in agreement with you?
Colin
I do! Though honestly, it’s been kind of by accident. I’m a huge proponent of finding your own answers, and I don’t think one ideology or way of life is right for everyone. We’re all different, seems silly to think my solutions would be totally right for anyone but me. But if someone asks, I’m always willing to talk about what I do and why, because they may be able to borrow an idea from me and fit it into their ideal lifestyle somehow (or vice-versa…just as often, I find myself borrowing an idea from other people I’m giving ‘advice’ to).

Unfortunately, the minimalism thing has become as much a trend as anything else, so there’s a whole lot of misunderstanding about what it is, and most of the mainstream versions of it I’ve been seeing look more like a religion than anything else, or focus purely on the experimentally-extreme aspects (like reducing down to the bare minimum possessions, or eschewing the use of technology, etc). I would advice that people not get caught up in the details and focus on the core message: minimalism is about getting rid of the things in your life that don’t add value so you can focus on the things that do. Beyond that, it’s a person-by-person set of rules.

Wand’rly
And finally, in your honest opinion, can anyone live a minimalist lifestyle? Do you think of it as a key that anyone can use to unlock happiness, or more of a personal choice that will probably only work for some people?
Colin
Oh sure, I think anyone can. Should everyone? Probably not. You really have to want it to make it work, because most of the messages we receive as a society tell us to consume, and it’s much easier to follow those instructions (instructions that perpetuate the consumerist economic system, by the way, so I guess if everyone went minimalist at the same time, we’d all be in big trouble!) and be contented than to drop everything and try to reboot your lifestyle.

Is it worth it? I think so, and I think most everyone could integrate some element of it and be happier as a result. It’s not really something that should be pushed on people, though, because then it seems like some kind of iron-clad set of laws or the like. It’s really just a practical way to reduce stress and clutter, both mental and physical. And I think the vast majority of people on earth could use a little reprieve from both sides of that coin from time to time.

Follow along with the fascinating life of Colin Wright via Exile Lifestyle, via @colinismyname on Twitter, or get in on his Words From the Road, Exiles.