About 2-3 years ago, I decided I wanted to start to declutter my life gradually. I went from one backpack and a carry-on bag to just one backpack. I count the following things as my belongings at this point:

  • 6 T-shirts
  • 2 sweaters, 2 hoodies
  • 1 coat
  • 2 pairs of dress-pant sweat-pants
  • 6 pairs of socks and boxer shorts
  • 1 backpack
  • An iPhone, a Kindle, 1 notepad and a MacBook Air (+ keyboard and mouse)
  • Gym shoes and gym shorts
  • Various toiletries like toothbrush, contact lenses, etc.

bag

When I say “things that I count,” it does actually mean that I’m somewhat cheating. I did only live with the above things until I moved into an apartment earlier in 2014.

Since then I bought some kitchen utensils as well as a mattress, bed, a couch, some lamps and a desk. I do plan on getting rid of these things in early May again, so I’m putting them on a separate “temporary” list in the meantime.

Declutter your life, declutter your mind

If you have ever cleared your desk one morning before working, you’ll know the feeling of tranquility and peace this can give you. I found that that is exactly what happens when I got rid of most things I owned, apart from the crucial essentials.

Here is a list of the amazing benefits I observed from getting rid of stuff:

  • No decision-making about what to wear in the morning, more decision making about stuff that actually matters
  • I can pack for trips in 5 minutes
  • I go clothes shopping about once a year (more on that below) and don’t waste any more time on it
  • There are less things to think about and there is more simplicity in my life
  • I don’t spend a lot of money on stuff
  • I indulge the “Is this all you have?” questions at borders after a long-haul flight

In order to see things clearly in life, and observe reality as it truly happens, owning less stuff is a super valuable step. Of course, I’d never claim to be at a place where I can truly do that—see things as they are, without attachment or judgement—but I have an intuition that owning less things sets me on the right track towards that.

Replacement shopping

There are of course moments when you have to go shopping and buy new things. I managed to do this while keeping to a minimalist lifestyle with one simple rule:

Anytime I buy something new, I need to throw out the equivalent of what I’m already owning. 

So if I buy new shoes, I throw out my old pair of shoes. If I buy a new coat, sweater or T-shirt, the old sweater, coat or T-shirt are thrown out or given away. Between my co-founder Joel and myself this lead us to call it “replacement shopping” or “clothes replacement day.”

Over the last few years, I also went up in quality gradually every time a new clothes replacement day came around. Recently, I invested in a MissionWorkshop backpack ($380), ordered a pair of custom tailored jeans from Gebrueder Stitch ($535) and bought a coat from Burberry ($2200).

The prices for these things may sound expensive at first, but I plan on owning and using them for several years to come, which makes this well worth the cost broken down over that period of time. I’ve also made an effort to prioritize function over form—although at a very high level of quality, luckily often both are included. Dustin Curtis had some great thoughts on this with his post “The Best.”

Getting started with one bag living

The thought for many to get started with one bag living is a scary one. Luckily Greg McKeown wrote a terrific book titled “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” where he outlines a very handy technique:

“Set aside some time where you go through your stuff and decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. You’ll end up with a few things that you can throw right out. Then you’ll end up with a few things that you’ll want to keep. Then you’ll end up with a few things you’re unsure of.

Put anything that you want to keep, but haven’t used in a while and anything you are unsure of in a box. Now, see, if after 3 or 6 months, you’ve actually taken out any of the things from that box and used them. If you haven’t, you can calmly through them out without having to worry whether you’ll need them in the future.”

Jessica Dang also wrote a great getting-started guide on one bag living that you can check out.

One-bag living has simplified my life in a way that very few other things have and I can highly recommend giving it a try.

Have you given minimalism or one-bag living a try? What did you find out as a result? I’m keen to hear your thoughts and insights in the comments!

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Written by Leo Widrich

Co-founder and COO at Buffer. I enjoy writing about Buffer’s lessons learnt, social media tips and updates to Buffer. For some more personal posts, check out leostartsup.

  • Eric Wood

    I need a swift kick to get me moving on this. Well written Leo. I’m going to do that box idea on my unsure items. You can expect a “thank you” letter from my wife who has been begging me to get rid of some of the things I have been holding on to.

    • LeoWid

      Hi Eric, yes, the box idea makes it super easy and removes some of the fear associated with getting rid of things. Ha, sounds great! :)

  • Very inspiring. Fits into the do more with less Ethos. There is definitely something calming about being not have things tie you down. Have you read the Power of Less?

    • LeoWid

      Thanks so much for stopping by James! That’s an awesome idea, I’ve not come across it, I’ll add it to my list asap!

  • I’m definitely not close to one-bag living at this point, but this is great inspiration to know that it is extremely possible. I think Mary wrote a previous post about getting rid of one thing per day, which is something I’ve been working to implement in my house – once you start, it’s hard to stop! :)

    • LeoWid

      Yup, one step at a time is certainly the best!

  • Brian Gardner

    I love the phrase “one-bag living”, because it’s something that can be used metaphorically in other areas of our life. I’m on a similar journey as you Leo, and mine is wrapped around design. (the No Sidebar project I created.) I know that for you it’s about owning less, and for me it’s about putting less on our websites. But both of our movements are built upon the principals of “Declutter your life, declutter your mind.”

  • I’m planning on doing a work trip for 3 months in Central America and was planning on one plan… then someone got into my head and said a second smaller bag would be ideal to also carry. This article has made me rethink things…

    On the personal side, I’ve gone from a 2 bed/2bath & garage to a 364 sq. ft studio. Reducing that much stuff was liberating as I just threw out stuff I hadn’t touched in 3 years.

    • LeoWid

      wow, that’s awesome Derek, great progress!

  • Ivana Gazibara

    So, I really love this approach (more people need to start thinking like this!), with the exception of throwing stuff out. The idea is to close the loop rather than increase flow of stuff going to landfill. Have you thought about organising ‘swishing’ events where you can trade clothes with friends, donating, recycling or even upcycling if you’re the crafty type?

    • LeoWid

      Hi Ivana, great point! I agree completely – I should have added, I’ve donated most of my things to Goodwill when I got rid of them, so that might be a good route!

  • Nancy Sheed

    I am so far from this “one bag living” concept – but aspire to be closer as I will one day soon spend more time living on a boat!

    Curious Leo – what’s happening in May to cause you to get rid of the “other” stuff?

    • LeoWid

      Hi Nancy, great to see you here!

      I’ll be moving out of my apartment and plan on nomading around the world living solely via Airbnb! :)

      • Sounds awesome. Just curious, how do you plan on traveling to each Airbnb spot?

  • Timothy J. Ward

    Great article! I am currently living out of two bags with plans on consolidating down to one. I love the feeling of freedom it gives me and the simplicity it has brought into my life.

  • Mike Brice

    We are in the process of downsizing so that we can travel more, and it is very liberating.

  • James Henderson

    Great article! Says a lot about you. I’ve alway believed that if your environment ( home, auto. Office. ) is cluttered with “stuff” then your mind is as well. Less is more!

  • Beckie Peacock

    Thanks Leo. Some great ideas in this article. I’ll be giving the box idea a go as we are planning a house move this year – my better half will be so grateful to you ;o) *heads off to empty her closet*

  • Everything my kids own fits in 500 backpacks.

    • Amy McNamara-Higgens

      Yes! you summed up what I was thinking in one sentence. I love the idea of this, though.

    • Ha! @EspinosaJoey:disqus your comment has me *literally* in tears! Too funny! :)

  • Peter Cralen

    Great post Leo.
    Life is simple, I love simplicity anywhere, how you mentioned … everything is more easy, no more fights this or that, no choice, no option, just solution … that is freedom :)
    I lived with one back 10 years about, I had no problem take my socks from one continent and land in another within two days.
    How Brian mentioned we can apply this anywhere, on our website too. Its more simple to update one plugin instead of tens :)

  • steve849

    I came here via seeing this story on TNW, and have a question I hope you can answer.

    I want to declutter, and can get rid of lots of things, but I am paralyzed at the prospect of getting rid of them efficiently. There’s something to be said for putting everything in the garbage, but I feel obligated to sell, donate, recycle as efficiently as possible, to the point I do nothing. If you could tell me what you did with the things you got rid of I think I’d find that helpful.

    • LeoWid

      great one! I’ve given a lot of things to Goodwill, so I think that might be a good approach. Throwing them out I think is also good for things that you don’t think are worthy of donating. :)

  • Jean-Baptiste Joulé
    • LeoWid

      haha, that is funny!

  • Great post, Leo. I just relocated from Minneapolis to SF so this is very timely.

  • I’ve been on the road for 9 months, traveling full time with my husband and living in 275 sq ft. Robert is speaking to HR professionals & business leaders about values in business, and we’re scheduled to travel most of the USA in 2015.

    We have come to the delightful realization that less really IS more!

    I hadn’t heard of the term “one-bag living” – but it fully covers what we’re experiencing. The initial purging Feb/April 2014 felt so empowering – we rid ourselves of 30 years of stuff we’d collected while raising two kids. Yes. I’d recommend it to anyone at any age or stage.

  • Jason Evans

    Hilarious that this post is authored from the perspective of a “minimalist” with one, if not two, superfluous Apple products. The contemporary definition of minimalism has certainly changed from the days of Chris McCandless

  • TJ

    I was gonna try this, but my T.V. is just too heavy and bulky to make it practical ;)

  • Avaka

    this is great, but if you really wanna simplify you should ditch the iphone and mac for a windows laptop and android cellphone. iphones will need replacing every 2 years as they will be slowed down too much to be functional, and macbooks are useless unless you only use it for email, in which case your phone would suffice. they also discountinued the air, the new “macbook” has only 1 usbC port that functions as power and all usb ports (u will have to buy a dongle) apple is a very corrupt company in everything from how they create a elitist mentality to how they treat their own employees and customers, but most of all they are the opposite of everything you are trying to promote here.

    also why do you keep the tablet? why not do the tablet stuff on your cellphone or laptop? that would take out a good chunk of space and simplify even more.

    edit: OMG i just read more about this buffer deal and realize its all a sham…lol had a feeling when ya mentioned the apple products.

    guys if you can take away something positive from this guy that helps you in your life, that’s great, but he is a liar and a con man and if you give him your money you are only being used, but in the end its your life and decision, i just felt it was my duty to warn people as i try to be a decent human being and i hate seeing people get take advantage of.

    • A MacBook is useless? My 2009 MacBook Pro got me through seminary, has been my primary computer for everything else in life, and is now my audio workstation for recording and editing audio books. I had to replace the hard drive once and I upgraded the RAM myself. Thanks for letting me know how useless it is, though. Silly me for being so productive with it the past six years.

  • During a time when many of us question if our devices and gadgets are weighing us down with distractions, this post offers a counter thought. I notice several of your possessions are devices/gadgets, obviously because of your lifestyle and your career choice. It’s my view that devices such as smartphones, e-readers, and laptops can actually help us declutter our lives by consolidating formerly unnecessary items into smaller, fewer ones. That is, if we have the discipline to rid ourselves of things that are superfluous and meaningless.

  • Kelli Tennent Griffis

    What are “dress-pant sweat-pants”? Is this a typo or does it just mean they are made of sweat pants material but look dressy? Just curious.

  • Aaron Ridout

    Everything I currently own can fit into an 80 Liter Army duffel. I have recently bought a 40 Liter backpack and am in the process of need vs. want in order to fit into my pack. This article helped greatly.

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