Live Simply, Happily & for Yourself


An all too typical response to seeing our family out and about traveling full time is “How do you do it?” There’s an assumption that we’re dirty hippies living hand to mouth or perhaps backed by some inheritance that never seems to run out. Nothing could be further from the truth, we’ve earned every penny we’ve spent, and we’ve learned to make our dollars stretch into the places they count. Gathering the tools (or lack of) you need to be able to maintain a constantly mobile lifestyle consists of three things:

  1. Become your own income.
  2. Avoid burdens.
  3. Simplify your needs.

This is nothing that hasn’t been said before, but I want to quickly reiterate these ideas and then show you some of my favorite places for inspiration in all of these arenas.

Become Your Own Income

A steady paycheck from an employer is seen as security. That baffles me actually, because when you rely on your employer for security, you’re only safe while they deem you necessary. Some 20 million people were laid off, let go, or otherwise lost their jobs in the United States in 2011. That’s about 1 in 13 Americans of working age (if you consider 15 and over “working age”). An employer is not a safety net, they’re simply part of a larger illusion we’ve created for ourselves as to what a safety net looks like. When you take control of your own income, by figuring out what your skills are, what your passions are, and how they might work together, you become responsible for your own livelihood, and I can personally guarantee you that if you truly put your heart and back into it, you’ll be able to make it on your own.

While we’re on the note of personal security, I like to remember that trading security for freedom tends to leave us feeling like we’re living in cages. Speaking of which…

Avoid Burden

I don’t know if it’s an innately American quality, or if it’s humanity at large, but we seem to have a knack at building up cages around us and then complaining that we’re not able to break free. Why are bachelors, retired old men and female divorcees so often idolized in movies? Because we all secretly want what they have: simplicity.

Sometime, typically in our twenties, we begin amassing things in our life. We get a dog, buy a car, get married, have children, buy a house, buy another car, and as our employers see fit to raise our income a few percent every year, so do we raise our bills: basic cable becomes some lavish 450 channel package we barely make use of, we buy insurance from a duck to supplement the insurance we already purchased from a gecko, and so on. All of these things are unnecessary to our happiness. Now, if you love dogs, that’s great, I’m not telling you to take man’s best friend down to the pound and give him the slip. If you have kids, good for you. If you’re married, no one’s telling you to get a divorce in order to be free. But it’s one idea, for sure.

Don’t let your kids be the reason you don’t follow after what it is you want in life. “My kids need stability,” you say. But what does that mean? Going to the same school every day, meeting the same people, learning the same lessons over and over again, only to come home to unhappy parents? Stability does not need to come in the form of an address exclusively. Stability is created by the environment of emotions that a child lives in, not necessarily the stick walls of their home. When adults pursue their dreams, they teach their children to do the same. I firmly disbelieve in living for my children, because my children we be adults one day and have a chance to live for themselves as well. While we are adults, it’s our job to live fulfilling lives, and that’s the only way we can teach our kids to do the same when it’s their time to make the big decisions.

The non-living ties we have to this world are a lot easier to let go. If your dream is to sail around the world, well that $1500 / month mortgage isn’t going to get you there. Selling that house very well may get you the funds to buy a boat and get your business off to a start, though. If you wished you exercised more, try trading that $100 / month cable bill for a bike. Look at what it is you want to do, and look at what it is you are doing. Best case scenario, you can trade what’s tying you down for what could set you free.

Simplify Your Needs

Touching on the cable bill theme, there are a lot of bills in our lives that we could do without. Remember when you were just getting started and you could get by on minimum wage? I recall thinking, at 22 while I was making around $23,000 / year, if I could land a job that made $30,000, I and my family would be set.

But as my income crept closer and closer to that mark over the next few years, I still didn’t have any more extra cash in my pocket than I did at $23k. Then I looked in my mailbox. A cell phone bill and a landline, a Netflix subscription, cable TV, Aflac, all of these bills I’d been creating out of a false sense of need.

I’ve quickly learned over the years that insurance is just a way to trade all of the health and opportunity you have now for a chance at having a little better life later. That is, if you think of your health like a video game character, when you’re 20 years old, you have 100% “life”. Every year you lose about 1.5% of that “life” until, somewhere in our 80s or 90s, we die. At the same time, in a video game you often have money which you can use to do the things you need to in the game. In life, as in a video game, we don’t all make money evenly over our lifetimes, there are ups, downs and in betweens. Some people stumble across a treasure chest and others lose their treasure in a shipwreck. Still, we all have some amount of cash that we’re accompanied by throughout our adventure, and it typically gets larger as we get older. The current model of insurance says that if we spend those years while our “life” is up around the 90% – 100% mark trading our then small cash reserves on insurance, when we’re closer to the 30% or below “life” level, and when our cash is inversely likely to be much larger, we’ll get a few extra dollars at that point to help keep us at 30% for as long as possible (or until your insurance benefits run out). Essentially, purchasing insurance is trading enjoyment in your youth for prolonged old age.

When you start to look at things like this, as though everything has a value based on the time it takes and the time you have, then you can start to really pick apart what’s complicating your life and get down to doing what you want. If you claim to want to see the world, well that takes time to do, and spending four hours a day in front of a television means you’re trading those four hours watching ABC for four you could be spending touring the USA.

But eliminating bills is just the start, truly living simply goes far beyond that. Do you need four pairs of jeans? Aren’t they all just blue pants? Try and get by with one pair (that’s the beauty of jeans, they’re meant to be worn more than once). Are there sixteen people in your family? No? Then is it necessary to own sixteen place settings? The obvious benefit is that you save money buying clothes, dishes, towels, furniture, whatever. The side effect is that you spend less time cleaning clothes, dishes, towels, furniture, whatever.

When you begin to reduce your own life’s overhead, you become like a lean, well run business, and the product you’re creating is your own happiness. By simplifying, you give that business more money to operate on and more time to work with.

Learn More

These ideas are not new, I did not invent them, even if I came to some of them of my volition. They are, often times, easier said than done. Over time I’ll try and expand more on these ideas, but in the mean time, there are a few people out there already doing a really great job of explaining how they’ve used similar principles to make their lives all the more fulfilling. Check out their writing, their philosophies, and start thinking about how you can apply it to your own mission to get the life you want.

Joshua Fields Millburn, along with his friend Ryan Nicodemus, are the Minimalists. They write about simple living, how they ditched their big money jobs to work for themselves and now feel more satisfied than ever, and do it all with beautifully woven words.

Colin Wright is young, he’s free, he’s entrepreneurial. He travels the world and lets other people tell him where to go, selling t-shirts and himself along the way. Well, kind of.

Janice Waugh travels the world alone after her husband passed away, and is looking to help other (especially female) people experience this world all for themselves, too.