Simplifying, Downsizing, and Going Nomadic

Recently I decided to undergo a major lifestyle transition. In 2015 I plan to go completely nomadic.

No stable home. Very few possessions. Living and working from the road.

For the past several weeks, I’ve already been taking action to prepare for this shift, but I still have a ways to go because I need to sell my house and process everything inside of it.

Timing-wise I’m not sure how long it will take to actually get on the road. I’m not in a rush, but most likely I’ll list my house for sale in the Spring and hopefully sell it in the Summer. The main limiting step is how long it takes to sell the house. I’m happy to keep making forward progress each month, but I’m flexible on the timing.

Rachelle and I are doing this together. She’s been spending the past several weeks downsizing all of her stuff.

This is something we’ve both been leaning towards for a long time, and we finally decided to go for it.

How long will we stay nomadic? Since we’ve never done this before, I have no idea. We’ll try it and see how it goes. We might burn out after several months. Or we might love it and keep going for several years. I suspect the latter outcome is more likely.

Our current intention is to travel somewhat slowly since switching locations too often seems more likely to lead to burnout. We’ll likely pick a city/country we want to visit for a while, rent an apartment or AirBnB place, stay for 2-3 months, and repeat with a different city when we’re ready to move on. Automatic tourist visas are commonly granted for 90 days in many places, so this should give us plenty of options.

I have a number of friends who’ve already done this. Some have stopped after a few years. One has been going for 10+ years and still loves it. But everyone seems glad to have done it.

Initially I suspect we’ll spend a lot of time exploring Europe since we both love it there.

I’d like to go minimalist and travel with as few possessions as possible. As a test last year, I traveled through Europe for 5 weeks with only a carry-on bag and a laptop bag — no larger suitcase. I felt like I could have traveled even lighter.

Making it Work Financially

Working from the road should be very doable since I can easily run my business from a laptop and a cell phone. I could also do co-creative projects with other people along the way, such as the newly released Imaginary Men audio program. And of course I can continue blogging, speaking, and doing workshops.

Financially I expect that it will be less expensive to travel continuously than to stay in my house, even if we stay in hotels everywhere we go. I’ll lose a big tax deduction by no longer having a mortgage, but I’ll also eliminate tons of expenses including the mortgage itself, home insurance, property taxes, community association fees, landscaping expenses, utilities, repairs and maintenance, and more.

Without the car I’ll no longer have car-related expenses like gas, insurance, and car maintenance.

My work is already well-suited to going nomadic, but I still need to figure out how to handle not having a stable physical location for my business, such as for receiving royalty checks. I still have more research to do along those lines though. I’m sure there are solutions for every situation since many people are already living this way. I’d just like to keep the business and legal situation as simple as possible.

As for physical mail, personally I think it’s obsolete. I’d rather not have a physical mailbox at all if I can avoid it since 95% of the items that arrive there are junk mail, and the other 5% are unnecessary anyway. Anything information-based can be sent electronically. My state’s tax agencies recently stopped mailing out paper tax forms, so they have to be downloaded or filed electronically now anyway.

While some people really like the nesting benefits of owning a home, I’m not a very good nester. I crave variety and stimulation too much. There are times when it’s nice to have a stable home, but I don’t feel I need or want one right now. I’ve lived in my current home for 7+ years and feel ready to let it go.

I know that continuous travel will bring its own challenges and issues, but right now I’d rather deal with those than deal with the more familiar challenges that come with owning a house. I don’t dislike the house; it’s a nice place to live. I just prefer the road more.

The house is more comfortable. The road scares me more; that path is much less predictable. I know I’ll grow more on the road.

Fast or Slow?

Once this decision was made, I realized there was a fast way and a slow way to transition.

The fast way would be to dump all of my physical stuff as quickly as possible and get on the road ASAP. To make this work, you have to suppress or transcend your emotional attachment to your stuff and quickly let it all go. This means you can’t take the time to process items one at a time. You have to dump, sell, or donate everything en masse.

I know at least one person who used this approach. It works if you can handle it, but I don’t intend to go that route.

A slower transition appeals to me. It can be a powerful growth experience to process and think about my possessions as I release them. I think about how and why I acquired each item in the first place. I feel appreciation and gratitude for the value each item added to my life. And I gain some peace by consciously saying goodbye and letting go.

I began downsizing my possessions and clearing out clutter from my home several weeks ago. I’ve made good progress so far, setting aside many cubic yards of items to sell or donate. A lot of items are already gone now. But overall I’d say I’m only 10-15% of the way into this process. I still have so much more to do.

I’ve never considered myself a clutter-bug, but once I began processing items from my garage and going through my closets, cabinets, and drawers, I realized that I really do have a lot of stuff.

Why Did I Keep This So Long?

Many items that I’ve processed were obvious junk. I wondered why I even bothered to keep them. Junking or donating them was a no-brainer.

I had kept some obsolete items around because there was some effort involved in processing them, and at the time it was easier to shove them into a drawer, forget about them, and let my future self deal with them later.

I found two old cell phones that were still functional (once I recharged them). I only kept them because I still had to wipe the data and reset them before I could donate them. One phone contained over 900 digital photos that I’d never transferred to my computer, mostly from 2009 to 2011, including photos of my Paris trip with Rachelle. I imported the photos, wiped and reset the phones, and donated them to a charity.

In another drawer I found an old Kindle 2. It was completely dead and unusable; it wouldn’t restart or recharge, even after trying with different chargers. In fact, the rubbery plastic coating on the Kindle charger’s power cable had become completely brittle and began cracking off as soon as I picked it up, exposing the bare metal wires inside. Just moving it around caused about half of the wire’s casing to fall off. Nice job there, Amazon!

This experience of processing so much old technology gave me a reminder that it would be better to recycle my old tech as soon as possible instead of shoving it into a drawer or stuffing it in the garage and letting it age until it’s so obsolete or dead that it would be insulting to even donate it.

Why do I still have four CRT monitors? Why do I still have three PCs that are all more than 10 years old? Why do I still have a Palm IIIxe? Yes, really!

Processing Emotions Tied to Possessions

Other items trigger memories as soon as I see or touch them. It’s so easy to get lost in nostalgic feelings and memories as I do this type of processing.

One of the first things I processed was my entire personal growth library on physical media, including hundreds of books, audio programs on CDs and cassette tapes, DVDs, home study courses, etc. Many of the items I picked up triggered powerful memories, such as an audio program I used to listen to in college or a cherished book that helped me through a rough time.

Many of these books were signed copies, gifts from the authors that included personal notes, sometimes thanking me for inspiring the authors to write them. I even found some handwritten notes from authors dating back as far as 2005, several of which I’d never read before. Many years ago I had to remove my physical mailing address from my website because authors, publishers, and publicists would mail me items just about every week, often hoping to get a review on my blog. I’d probably have thousands more items stacked in my garage now if I hadn’t nipped that practice in the bud.

A lot of clutter accumulated in this area because people kept giving me gifts. When I give a speech, do a workshop, or host a meet-up, people often give me small gifts to express their appreciation for my work, especially things they created like music CDs, books, or small pieces of jewelry. When I travel continuously though, I can’t be accumulating little gifts as I go. So next year I’ll have to figure out a nice way to politely decline such gifts, or to graciously accept them and re-gift them to someone else. I do appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t need the possessions.

One book that I picked up made me smile as I reflected on where my path with a heart has taken me. I was a big fan of the author of that book about 20 years ago when I first read it, right around the time I was just starting my computer games business. As it turns out, that same author is now a fan of my work today. There’s no way I could have predicted that. This sort of thing has happened more than once.

As I processed old books and computer games from my days as a game designer and programmer, I thought about my old office in El Segundo, California, where I did lots of game programming work. I later found a few photos of that office. That was a very stressful time since my business wasn’t doing well financially at all. But fast-forward 16-18 years, and now I have a tendency to remember those years with fondness and nostalgia.

What do I do with all of these old possessions that connect with so many memories? Do I say goodbye to all of them? Do I keep some of them to put into long-term storage? Which ones do I keep? How do I prioritize my own memories?

The oldest item I found was my second grade spelling contest trophy from 1979. I won first place. I even remember the word I won with — crayon, which my final opponent misspelled as C-A-R-Y-O-N. I recall standing in front of an outdoor school assembly, feeling shy and nervous, while the school principal presented me with the trophy. I’ve kept that trophy ever since. It was the first academic prize I’d ever won. Do I keep it still? Or let it go?

What about my speech contest trophies? My colored belts from martial arts? My finisher’s medal from the L.A. Marathon? My high school and college diplomas?

How many of these items do I really need? Should I downsize to the hilt, or should I keep some items in long-term storage, just in case?

When Rachelle was downsizing her possessions, she even found the corsage from her high school graduation dinner-dance.

Decisions like these can be more difficult than they seem, especially when you have to make so many of them in a row. After 3-4 hours of processing, I feel completely exhausted — not physically but emotionally.

The physical processing is actually pretty easy. All I do is pick up items and move them around. But every item requires a decision. And so many items are attached to memories. That’s probably why I kept them in the first place.

One good way to release physical clutter that has some emotional residue is to photograph the items. Keep the digital photos to make it easy to retain the memories, and then let the items go. That works well for some items, but for others the photograph feels lacking. Looking at a photo of a trophy or medal isn’t the same as holding it in your hand. And what if there’s a scent associated with the item?

I even found my very first business card from 1994. It includes a logo with a bow and arrow that I drew 20 years ago, based on a real bow and arrow. I scanned in my hand drawing, digitized it, and used it as my company logo for years, including on the splash screens of our first several games. Do I toss that card or keep it? A business card hardly takes up any space, but I could replace it with a digital photo.

What about my handwritten notes for dozens of different speeches I gave? Those should be easy to digitize if I want to keep them. But I know I’ll be tempted to remember every speech as I look them over.

When to Let Go

As I go through this downsizing process, I’m observing that every physical item has a mental representation in my brain as well. Keeping the item makes it more likely that I’ll retain the associated memory.

When various items that I’ve owned for years finally left my home for good, I sensed that my memories of those items were going to fade towards oblivion. A year from now, I probably won’t even remember that I ever possessed some of them. Partly this is because the items are no longer around to refresh the memories. But I also felt that I was giving my brain permission to finally forget, so the associated neurons could be repurposed for something else.

That was a strange sensation — believing that I was going to permanently forget these little pieces of my past. One part of me felt sadness, as if I was permanently erasing a small piece of myself. Another part felt relief. And still another part felt an increased capacity and desire to go out and create some amazing new memories.

Giving my brain permission to forget has been a surprisingly freeing part of this process. With each item I release, I feel lighter. But I don’t think this feeling of lightness is due to the removal of the physical item, but rather from the extra mental relaxation that occurs from no longer needing to remember.

I actually feel like I’m becoming a different person as I process and release more and more possessions. I’m feeling less anchored to the past. I feel like I have more freedom to create and direct my future path. That’s a bittersweet feeling though.

I like taking it slow here. I think that if I raced through this process, it could feel stressful and ungrounding. When I process a batch of items and then take a break for a week or two, it gives me time to settle into each tier of release before I tackle the next one. It’s like walking down a staircase, one step at a time… as opposed to jumping out of a window.

I also feel like I’m freeing up more mental and emotional capacity to pour into other parts of my life, such as creative projects and my relationships and social life. Working towards this mutual goal has been great for us. Our hearts and minds are very aligned with making it happen. It’s really nice to work on this goal together and to support each other each step of the way.

As I’ve been going through this process, I’ve been feeling very introverted, mostly keeping to myself and connecting with Rachelle and not accepting or making many other social invites. It’s like going through a tunnel. I know I’ll eventually emerge on the other side, feeling lighter and more social. But for now I want to stay focused on traveling through the tunnel. I’ll take a break in January, when Rachelle and I are heading to Switzerland for the Lifestyle Design Convention.

What About the Kids?

I could have done this years ago, but one thing that always blocked me from making it happen was that I have two kids (currently 11 and 14). They live with their Mom, but if I travel continuously, that has obvious consequences as to how often I’d be able to see them.

As the desire only grew stronger, I began to question whether this was a truly intelligent reason to delay the goal… or a convenient, believable, and socially acceptable excuse. I suppose that’s a matter of perspective. It depends heavily on which values you use to make the decision. There are different trade-offs either way. For instance, I can think about the time I wouldn’t spend with the kids, or I can think about the time I wouldn’t spend with all the people I’d meet traveling. Do I give the kids higher priority for my time because they’re my kids? Or do I give other growth-minded people around the world higher priority for different reasons?

I began sharing this desire with various friends, just to see what they thought. Time and time again, I got the same reaction. People encouraged me to do it. Some said things like, “I can tell you’re going to do it,” or “It’s obvious that you need to do this.” That surprised me because at the time, I wasn’t seeing it as something real and possible yet. It was a nice dream, but I didn’t expect to do it until the kids were older. I’ve long felt that I’d eventually take a few years to travel around the world… just not for many years. Maybe in my 50s.

Even when people encouraged me, I always told them I couldn’t do this because I had kids, and the kids were pretty well rooted to Las Vegas. But most of the time, the reactions told me that people didn’t really believe me. Some of them even told me they didn’t believe me. But c’mon here… this isn’t just some feeble excuse like the ones I love telling other people not to succumb to, right?

So I decided to stay put till the kids were older. That seemed like the only intelligent and responsible choice. But after making that choice and exploring that path, it became increasingly clear to me that this was the wrong choice. I couldn’t make it work for me.

Whenever I’ve tried being the traditional Dad and playing the role that society expects me to play, it genuinely turns my stomach. When I’d spend time with the kids while trying to fit into this role, I’d sometimes get physically nauseous. My whole body would tell me it was the wrong path. But I stubbornly kept it up, for as many years as I could, each year feeling more and more checked out from the whole idea. The more I tried to turn in this direction, the more I felt like I was betraying another part of myself — the part that wanted much more learning, growth, and exploration than I’ve ever found in a traditional parenting role. I knew something had to change.

I can handle making decisions where the whole world labels me the bad guy, as long as I genuinely feel I’m doing the right thing, staying true to my values, and following my path with a heart. But it’s much harder when I’m not sure which path is really right.

I shared the idea with my ex-wife and the kids, telling them how deep down I wanted to leave Las Vegas and travel continuously, knowing that they’d shoot it down hard and fast. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about it. They’d hated the idea of my leaving and would have none of it, and that would make it easier to shove it onto the back burner for several more years and prevent it from encroaching on the front burner.

Unfortunately and very surprisingly (at least to me), they were actually supportive of the idea. Huh? My daughter even talked about wanting to travel with me at some point. I couldn’t squeeze any meaningful opposition out of them. I didn’t expect that kind of reaction. I kept checking back in with them to look for some honest opposition, but either there wasn’t any, or they were really good at hiding it.

That got me wondering and thinking more about the idea. I began thinking about it more seriously, pondering how it could become real instead of just treating it as a fantasy.

I realized that the social math was actually on the side of making the goal a reality. I would surely learn a lot, connect with many more people, and probably do a lot more good along the way. Most of all, my heart was truly aligned with this goal, and I just couldn’t deny that anymore. I saw no point in continuing to force something that wasn’t working. I saw that making this goal a reality now was the more intelligent choice for all involved. I had already tried staying put, and it wasn’t working, so I didn’t see the point in continuing.

I’m sure some other parents will sternly disagree with me. I’m okay with that. In this case I’ve put so much careful thought into this decision that I’m able to feel congruent with it now. If I hadn’t reached that point, I could never say yes to it. Nevertheless, this decision has been taking a lot of trust in the universe.

One question I asked myself is what I’d want my kids to do if they were in my shoes. I’d want them to follow their paths with a heart, even when it feels really difficult to do so. I’d want them to lean into what they feared doing. I couldn’t advise them to do what society expected of them if it wasn’t aligned with their hearts.

Oddly, when I finally said yes to this path, I felt a strange weight lifting in my relationship with my kids. A lot of blocked energy in our connection has been getting unblocked. I had a really nice time hanging out with them last weekend. It seemed easier and lighter than usual. No more knot in my stomach. I was no longer using them as an excuse. I felt glad to have them in my life.

Deep down, I can feel that everything will work out well for everyone in the long run. It’s taking a while for my logical mind to catch up, but it too is gradually seeing that this is going to work out okay.

Synchronicities Galore

As often happens when I follow my path with a heart, I saw a mega-surge in positive synchronicities as I began leaning into this goal. Parts of my life that were previously feeling stuck or blocked became unblocked. Things that were unfinished actually began getting finished.

Looking back, it was as if my life was largely on pause, waiting for me to finally come to terms with this decision. That’s really how it felt — it felt like I didn’t actually make the decision. It felt like the decision had been made for me, and that the universe was just waiting on me to accept it.

Life was never blocking me from pursuing this. I was blocking myself. I didn’t feel ready to experience it yet. And so everything in my reality reflected this blocked state. I assumed social resistance (and probably created some) where none was actually present. I set up false barriers and blocks to transitioning, so there was no point in thinking about it.

When I finally said, “Okay, I’ll do it,” the barriers and blocks just melted away. And some positive resources flowed into my life to make the transition seem closer and more realistic than I’d imagined.

Why Continuous Travel?

I’d like to simplify my lifestyle.

One thing I like about traveling is that I can’t take too many things with me. As I do more traveling, I keep noticing how happy I am to be on the road. I seem to be awash in synchronicities when I’m away from home; it’s so easy to stay on my path with a heart when I’m no longer anchored by possessions and memories.

There’s no specific place I want to travel to, other than anywhere and everywhere. I want to see more of the world and connect with people from different cultures. Mostly I just want more freedom to follow my path with a heart in a more literal sense, so if I feel the impulse to go somewhere and see synchronicities pointing in that direction, I can just go — no need to fuss over a house and a bunch of stuff.

I don’t feel there’s anything else in life I need to acquire right now. I have everything I need to be happy.

I want to shed the unneeded parts of my life, so I can focus more energy and attention on exploring, experiencing, creating, connecting, and contributing. I don’t need a stable home or a car to do those things, just a willingness to follow my path with a heart.


What about after traveling?

Suppose I travel for a few years. Then what? Will I return to Las Vegas afterwards? I doubt it. I still like the city, but once I leave I don’t think I’ll be coming back. If I do settle down again someplace, I think it’s more likely to be somewhere else, perhaps even outside the USA. There’s a part of me that wonders if I’ll ever want to resettle in one place for as long as I’ve lived here (coming up on 11 years).

I can’t predict if, when, and where I’d want to re-settle after traveling because I know that the experience of traveling will change me. I won’t be the same person I am now, so I won’t be the guy making that decision.

Leaning into this decision is like leaping into a void. I really don’t know where it will lead. I just know that I have to do it and that resisting it makes no sense.

The explorer part of me loves the uncertainty and the mystery of it. I love not knowing where this will lead. I love not knowing which city I’ll begin with. I love the idea of living in greater alignment with my heart and going with the flow of invitations and synchronicities as they arise.

Most of all, I love that I get to do this with Rachelle. I feel very blessed to share my life with a woman who can receive and amplify all the craziness I can dish out. <3

Update Nov 2015: In mid-2015 my priorities and desires shifted away from this goal. I decided to work on other projects such as re-designing and updating my website. Doing a test trip for a few weeks also convinced me to put this goal on hold and to work on more aligned goals first. I may eventually circle back to it, but it’s no longer a priority for me. Time will tell.