A young San Franciscan man sells all his belongings and gets the hell out of America. After a two month bike ride through France, Italy, and Austria, he now resides in Berlin, Germany. With not much more than a longboard to his name, he’s a self-proclaimed anti-materialist who finds his new lifestyle quite satisfying. Maybe he’ll make you want to sell your things too?
It is a Fight Club cliché, but I firmly believe that the things you own end up owning you.
Western Europe is by no means the pinnacle of anti-materialism. In all honesty, not many places remain untouched by the globalized economic and political system that is capitalism. Nonetheless, my move from San Francisco to Berlin has marked a stark change in lifestyle. The precursor to such change was the purging of my belongings.
I sold everything except what I could fit on my bike. I’d say the hardest things to part with were my skateboards and my books. I’d been collecting my books for over a decade, and my skateboards had become an extension of my body.
For my girlfriend, it was very difficult for her to part with her things. She was raised to be frugal and to always be ‘responsible’ with her money. Relieving herself of her possessions made her feel uncomfortabe, given the thoughtfulness she put into each small purchase. It was harder for her to let go of her things, but she did.
The sad truth is that we, like most Americans, are over-consumers. The American lifestyle perpetuates an addiction to consuming. It’s common to eat, drive and buy as much as possible. Our minds have been warped into thinking we need so many things, and the consequence of this delusion is that we get very attached to our abundant material objects.
People’s relationship with materials can leave them feeling stuck or in constant need of more. I encourage people to reconsider their relationship with material objects.
It takes a different mindset and lifestyle to be an anti-materialist; a different lifestyle than the average American. Our minds have been dominated by capitalism, but the difference between me and most other Americans is that I was able to give up everything for a lifestyle much less luxurious than the one I was living in San Francisco.
My lifestyle in Germany is more satisfying and liberating than my life in San Francisco. I was sad to leave my job as a teacher, and I was heartbroken to leave behind my many friends and books, but otherwise I am content to be making my way here in Europe. Europeans are much more interested in sustainability and practicality. Europeans don’t look to consuming as their sole source of happiness.
Biking through Europe left little room for things I did not need. The trip was physically exhausting, and that was with only a few pieces of cargo including a tent, hatchet, clothes and food. Surviving on so little forced me to be happy with what I have.You feel very powerful when you rely more on yourself and less on the things you own. When there’s nothing to hide behind it’s much easier to see what’s truly important in life. What’s important is the love of my girlfriend, the love of my parents, the love of friends, the creative and physical drive I possess to improve the world. These require very few possessions, but quite a bit of courage.
There are so many things we tell, or hope to tell, our children. Things such as “you can be whatever you want to be,” “you can do whatever you want to do,” or “you only have one life to live.” It doesn’t make sense to tell our children these things unless we actually lived them in our own lives. I made this transition for real and I won’t be telling my children that they can do the same, but rather showing them through my example.
One doesn’t have to make as radical of a change as I have to feel liberated from one’s possessions. I don’t believe one even has to leave America. In order to have a better understanding of consumption and to become less materialistic, one must realize that things do not create experience and experience is the most important part of life. You can’t buy the love of a beautiful woman and you can’t sell the love your parents possess for you, but you can reject the possessions that require you to serve them and be a lot happier for it.
Live your life, travel, and never be afraid to leave things behind. After all, they’re just things.