A beginner’s guide to one bag living

For many aspiring minimalists, the golden grail is One Bag Living, or what I like to call OBL. It’s a lifestyle that comes from being able to reduce everything you have to only what you need and reaping all the rewards of not being weighed down by junky, excessive baggage.

If you’re interested in what it’s all about you’ve come to the right place.

what is OBL?

Firstly, I should mention that one bag living isn’t for everyone, just in case people start to think I’m advocating everybody and their grandmothers start throwing stuffed backpacks on their shoulders and hitting the road. Nor am I saying it’s a permanent way to live – although I know it is possible to live long-term. Yes, the kind of OBL I’m talking about works best for single people but that’s not to say that downsizing for a couple or even just a little for a family isn’t possible.

For the last couple of months I’ve been living out of a suitcase… but I’m having the time of my life. I realize there’s something about the words ‘living out of a suitcase’ that scares people. It has bad connotations, as if one has no stability or adequate income or that someone is just unable to settle. But for me, these words have come to mean something completely different. They have come to mean freedom, fun, exploration and discovery.

‘One bag’ doesn’t necessarily mean a concrete measurement like 1x 30 inch suitcase or 1x carry on. Essentially, it means reducing your stuff down to a level that’s right for you, which all depends on what you do for a living, how much you can handle, where you want to go and what you need for your interests or job and so on – as long as you get everything down to only. what. you. need. It’s also not necessarily about fishing rolled up shirts from a zip-up suitcase or hotel-skipping, although it can be. You can do OBL from your own home, the point is to clear out anything irrelevant so that you can focus on what matters to you – whether that’s travel or family, school, hobby, art or even your business.

However, if you manage to reduce your things to about one (or maybe even two or three) suitcases, you can also just about live anywhere in the world. You don’t have to earn millions to be able to rent a small place in even the most expensive cities (believe me, I know). Or, if you’re not interested in travelling, clearing clutter can do wonders for your focus on your goals.

With OBL, the possibilities are endless. In fact, with all this freedom, you’ll be surprised to learn what was previously impossible is actually within reach. Things that ‘only happen in movies’ can become real life.

a clean slate

Imagine for a moment that you got to start again. For some reason you got a rare chance for a fresh start. You don’t own any clothes, shoes, bags, gadgets, books, toiletries or furniture. Then somebody gave you one suitcase and you could put everything you needed in it for two or three weeks. How would you pack? What would you choose?

What did you realize you really had no need for?

5 steps on how to effectively live out of a suitcase

1. Eliminate. The first, most important step is to get rid of everything you don’t need. Things that you’ve kept ‘just in case’, extras, backups, things that don’t work or fit, things you don’t use or have forgotten about or simply don’t like – it’s all got to go. Most people have more things they don’t need than they do, so a sensible approach that might make it easier would be to mentally get rid of everything then bring back one by one things that are most essential to you. Be strict and firm and ask questions such as how often you actually use it and what reasons you’re really keeping it for.

2. Digitize. Whilst eliminating, you might find that a lot of the things you have can be replaced, so you won’t have to lose them forever. Paperwork, photos, CD’s and books are just a few of the many things you can keep if you can get them in digital format. My less-than-half-an-inch thick kindle has replaced dozens and dozens of my books (and made them instantly searchable!) and my external hard drive replaces boxes of lecture notes, shelves of CD’s and albums of photographs.

3. Minimalize your wardrobe. Clothing is usually the most difficult area to tackle when it comes to downsizing. When you have fewer garments, it’s important that most items can be worn in most kinds of weather and occasions. It also helps to choose neutral colours (which you can brighten up with one or two accessories) so that you can pretty much mix and match whatever tops and trousers you would like to wear. (See the link for more).

4. One in one out. Just because you’re down to less stuff, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop buying altogether. There’s nothing wrong with getting something new if you swap it with something you already own (preferably by donating it away) since you’re not actually gaining in quantity. Think carefully before you buy – how long will it last? How useful will it be? Is it worth looking after it?

5. Adapt. If you find yourself starting to accumulate stuff, try to remind yourself why you chose OBL in the first place. What are you doing it for? Has it benefited you so far? Sometimes it happens because people are too strict and allow themselves too little, remember that minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of things that you want, it’s about freeing yourself from the clutches of consumerism so that you can get what you want.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that situations and people change, and that not many people can live a single kind of lifestyle forever, whether it’s OBL or living at home with one’s parents or a college, or corporate, or even country lifestyle. People crave excitement, and OBL can give it to you, but don’t be surprised if you see yourself looking for a change again – maybe a change of wardrobe or maybe a change of scenery.

I’m nearly finishing up with with my travels now and I can’t believe some of the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. I know I’ve made memories I’ll remember for a long long time. It wasn’t always easy, but because of OBL, I managed to get through some rough times on the road and have the adventure of a lifetime that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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  • Randi

    So glad you did this post!!! I’ve been needing a boost to do some summertime cleaning out. And this is just what I needed to read to get me motivated again! Thanks Jessica

    • http://minimalstudent.com Jessica

      Hey Randi, thanks for your comment! Glad I could be of help :)

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  • http://alex-rubenbauer.de/ Alex

    Great post! Welcome back :)

    • http://minimalstudent.com Jessica

      Hey Alex! Thank you :)

  • coco

    Love this!

  • http://germancostabile.tumblr.com Germán

    I found this life style so interesting, and I am probably getting into it very soon. I really like your work here, thanks for all the info and stuffs, and good luck!

  • http://teenageminimalist.blogspot.in/ Sarah

    Great thoughts. I love the idea of one bag living. I’m not able to do any traveling right now, but I really enjoy taking just my messenger bag whenever I do go on trips. Nothing beats the freedom of one bag!

    • http://www.minimalstudent.com/ Jessica Dang | Minimal Student

      Hey Sarah, thank you for your comments! I also just checked out your blog, I absolutely love your design, it gives so much more emphasis on what you’re writing. Hm, it makes me want to rethink mine, redesign soon maybe? :)

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  • Rishi Vasandani

    This is fantastic :) Very inspiring!

    • http://www.minimalstudent.com/ Jessica Dang | Minimal Student

      Thank you Rishi!

  • http://greenminimalism.com/ Eric Minimalism

    Hey, this is great info and it’s nice to see somebody else living out of a really compact suitcase. I find it liberating. I’m writing about it too and how you can live FULL TIME out of a suitcase or in an RV at http:// greenminimalism.com

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