Life Is Like A Road Essays

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30 Things I’ve Carried For 15 Months On the Road (An Essay On Minimalism)

Thirty things. Ten pounds. That’s all.

Fifteen months ago, I left my job, sold 90% of my things and set off on the road.

The things I carry have evolved with me. Many things went. A few new things joined. The process was refined.

I’d like to show you what I carry.

But before we take a look, a word on why.

Why own few things?

“Having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” — Spock

I lot of the smartest (and happiest) people I know are habitual simplifiers. It’s not a hobby. They do it because it works.

Minimalism isn’t an end in itself; it’s a powerful tool for getting what you want from life.

My thoughts on the why behind simplification —

  • Reduce decision fatigue. The Zuckerbergs, Bransons, hedge fund managers of the world are wearing the same few things, eating the same few things and trying to work in the same few places. Save energy on pointless choices and spend it on doing great work instead.
  • Practice in poverty. Routinely exposing yourself to fear, stress and hardship in a stable environment to bulletproof your mind for when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.
A relevant quote from the great philosopherSeneca — “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’
  • Minimize to maximize. I’ve effectively done surgery and removed certain life decisions — I can’t purchase a car; I can’t buy heavy, expensive things; I can’t gorge myself on souvenirs at the local night bazaar. This creates space for doing other things.
  • Identity. When you own fewer things, what you own starts to take on more meaning. Elsewhere on the blog, I write on the importance of principles and personalphilosophy as drivers for word class motivation. One piece of the puzzle is how you see yourself.

Okay, enough contemplation. On to the list…

The Things I Own

Okay, let’s take a look at the goodies.

What I focus on when purchasing:

There’s more to life than function. Travel without looking like a traveler. Any extra cost pays over to social and business life. This is one thing I see most travelers ignoring.

I purposely choose clothing so that, no matter what combination I wear, it looks presentable and the colors match. This saves me from worrying about ‘outfits’. In the morning, I can just grab and go.

If possible, I want to buy things for life. Not for frugality purposes, but because I don’t want to waste time searching for new gear (which could take hours).

For me to own something, it has to either be (1) usable every day, (2) extremely useful in emergencies, or (3) flexible. When possible layer clothing. Use your socks to store things. Use your backpack as a gym bag.

Second Order Effects. 
I don’t own things to own things. I own things for positive life impact. I carry what I do because it is as close to optimal as I can get for what matters to me — my movement practice, doing great work, and a community of amazing people.

On to the list…

Jansport Backpack

I’ve had this guy for 8 years now. The color is fading, the leather is stained and it’s fraying a bit at the seams, but I bet it’s got another few years in it.

It’s simple, cheap and doesn’t break easily. Lifetime warranty. Save yourself that $200 it would cost for a ‘quality’ bag and spend it instead on friends, books, really good teachers, or game-changing life experiences.

12-inch Macbook (Thai Version)

This is where the magic happens. My most important (and most expensive) item.

My first week on the road, my old laptop broke. I had work to do, so I went to the first Apple store I could find in Thailand and bought this guy.

It’s super-light (~2 pounds) and has the flawless, Steve Job-ness of a Mac computer. The productivity benefits from a Mac computer are easily worth the extra price tag.

Motorola Nexus 6 (Google Fi)

I was a beta user for Google Fi — Google’s pay-as-you-go phone plan that gives you service anywhere in the world.

The plane lands, airplane mode goes off, and…service. It’s that easy. Flat fee is $20/month plus $10 for each GB of data used. I rarely go above 2GB here, so I’m paying $30-$40 a month for service anywhere in the world.

The only other comparable plan out there is T-Mobile, which gives free service anywhere in the world if you use their plan.

Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody

I’ve had this guy for almost 3 years now.

It’s ultralight but extremely effective at blocking wind. Which means 20+ degrees of warmth when it matters. The cuffs and waist pull tight to keep warmth from escaping. And it’s water resistant to boot.

There are other comparable wind jackets out there there, but this one made the look the most like a ninja. Which is, of course, the #1 priority.

Wool & Prince Merino Wool Button Down

I’d heard people praising the wonders of merino wool for ages, but, being the skeptic I am, I held off on it for years. I finally gave in when I needed a nicer shirt to wear to a wedding.

You can wear this for weeks without washing. I have. It fits well, doesn’t itch, and works for both formal and casual events.

Montbell Lightweight Merino Wool T-Shirt

Merino wool t-shirt that looks good and doesn’t itch. ‘Nuff said. I wore this to the gym 5 days in a row. No smell. No itch.

These are only available in Japan. And it was only $38 — half of what the competition costs. In retrospect, I would buy the midweight version.

Outlier Climber Pant

Probably the most popular tech pant out there. These are waterproof, wear like sweatpants and some of the few “travel-friendly” pants that don’t look terrible. My only complaint is that the stitching is worse than it could be — I had several holes open up at the seams that I needed to get repaired.

Uniqlo Ultralight Down Vest

The best quality down jacket for a budget price.

It’s ultraportable (folds down to nothing) and light, but blocks the wind and keeps me warm in the winter. I usually wear this along with the wind jacket from Arc’teryx.

Assorted Clothing

Nothing impressive here. Just your typical athletic shorts and athletic shirts. I’m at the gym 2x a day most days, so I like things that dry fast and wick sweat. In a pinch, I can wash things in the shower too.

Stretch Band

A flexible tool for warming up, bulletproofing your shoulders, lassoing wild oxen, doing planche variations and stretching. A lot of people in the movement world swear by these.

Most people won’t need this, but I’m a movement fanatic and train a lot. It’s easily worth it for me.

Arc’teryx Aperture Chalk Bag

I use this to hold chalk for the gym. It’s great for any barbell exercises, leaving white handprints on your landlady’s furniture, gymnastic ring exercises, brachiating on monkey bars, rock climbing…anything that requires grip.

I like this bag because it twists shut to keep chalk from leaking into your bag.

Kikkerland Universal Travel Adapter

This is all you’ll need for your electronics to work in any country.

Light, cheap, flexible–what’s not to like?

Miscellaneous Tech

Some of the other bit and pieces that I carry: a backup battery, a smartphone tripod (for filming workouts) and the cables for my tech, earphones and a nail clipper.

The Takeaways

Remember, what you own is not important.

What is important:

  • Have a habit of eliminating what is not useful
  • How your ownership affects your lifestyle

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For almost 10 years, June and John Strothenke have been living on their small farm in Interior Alaska, raising goats, rabbits, chickens and cows. But now, it's time for a change.

A few months ago, the couple came to a sudden decision that, between health and job stresses, they needed to move on.

"Maybe it's time for us to spend a little more time with the family … and a little less on the farm," John Strothenke said.

So they're putting their home on the market, but with a twist. There will be no Realtor. Only an essay and a $1,000 entry fee. Write the winning essay, and the farm is yours.

It was June's idea, her husband said. Look around online, and you'll find stories of other properties put on the market via essay contest, she said. She didn't want to go the traditional route, with all the red tape of a typical sale. This seemed like a good option.

Now, anybody interested in the farm has a shot, if they can pay the fee and answer a simple prompt: "Why I would like to own a hobby farm in Fairbanks, Alaska."

The couple says they've put a lot of work into the 5-acre property off Chena Hot Springs Road, northwest of the center of Fairbanks. They just put in new windows. John Strothenke said he'll continue renovating the house as though they weren't leaving.

Wanting a healthier, sustainable lifestyle, they moved into the property in 2008. They started the farm with chickens, and it expanded from there. Eventually, most of their food came from the land.

"We were doing eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, honey, meat of all different varieties, everything that comes from the ground and garden," John Strothenke listed off.

They loved the work, but the days began at 4:30 a.m. and lasted until 10 p.m., John Strothenke said.

In the property description, they describe a four-bedroom home, a two-story barn, and large woodshed and carport, as well as other sheds used for livestock.

There's no mortgage on the property, and annual property taxes are around $5,000, they write.

The couple figures they need about 370 essays to make the contest financially viable. They will allow only 420 entries total — so the odds of winning are relatively good, they said.

For entry advice, June Strothenke said people should "thoughtfully (put) their heart in their essay. Because I think that's what's going to stand out to us as the initial judges."

The pair will choose the top 20 essays. As for the winner, that will be decided by three judges who have not yet been chosen.

"I would love for, you know, somebody, maybe a younger person who's got a small family," to own the farm, John Strothenke said.

First National Bank Alaska is handling the entries and money. The bank will send the essays to the couple, with all names removed, so that each one is anonymous. On Thursday, the couple wasn't sure if any entries were submitted yet.

If it goes well, they'll make back the cost of the house and some profit, John Strothenke said. If the essay contest doesn't pan out, they'll sell conventionally and all entry fees will be returned, they said.

The couple hopes to retire to upstate New York, where they are both originally from, and where family now lives. Both said they never thought they'd leave Alaska.

They have no regrets coming here, John Strothenke said. But he said he might regret leaving.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the First National Bank of Alaska. The bank's name is First National Bank Alaska.


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