Clearing Out and Clearing Off

I recently wrote about having lived on the road for 7 years. But here’s how it came about and how I made it happen…

Back in 2010, I decided to change everything and live life permanently in transit instead of being based in London. It was a perfectly rational decision. It had nothing to do with falling out of love with London, nor was it anything to do with being daring or having a mid-life crisis. I left because I had always spent a lot of time travelling, and it had now gotten to the point where living a life permanently travelling seemed more logical. Stuff was going on that made a life on the road within my grasp, and due to an increasing abundance of Wi-Fi and Airbnb homes, it was now sustainable long-term. I was at the point where not making the leap would have been the irrational thing to do.

In 2009, I had ‘relieved’ myself from having a geographically-grounding desk job. I’d shut down my Camden-based agency. I went freelance, staff-less and mobile. I realized with a whoop that I could now work from ANYWHERE. As a consultant, my new clients didn’t really give a rats-ass where I was as long as I was accountable and on the end of a phone call when they needed me.

There were other catalysts too. I’d just been dumped (again), I had a couple of dysfunctional friendships going on, and unlike my friends, I didn’t have kids, and I didn’t have so much as a plant, let alone a cat, and I didn’t really want one either. In short, I had no ties. I also had a new client that wanted me to write launch strategies based on research conducted actually in the new market. How much better that research would be if I was there for at least a month instead of the usual 4-day-brutal-work trip.

I did the sums and realized the monthly income from a London rental was the equivalent of about 6-months’ rent in Bogota. My flat was suddenly worth more with me not in it.

The decision was easy. Emotionally, professionally and financially, I was better off packing up and clearing off.

The toughest but ultimately most rewarding part was getting rid of everything I owned. A massive whatever to all your ‘Life-changing-Magic-of-Tidying Gurus’. 5 years ahead of you lot. AND I didn’t just do a bit of de-cluttering. I liberated myself from a lifetime of clutter.

I shoved 4 boxes of sentimental bits and pieces in my Dads loft. I restricted clothes ownership to just one (large) suitcase. And that was that. The rest was gone. I gave stuff away, dropped boxes off at charity shops and eBay, and dumped and returned. How long did it take me to rid myself of 40 years’ worth of stuff? One week.

Yeah, there was some worthy, philosophical thinking going on too: that perhaps we shouldn’t be grounded in just one place because of the things we choose to fill it with. That we shouldn’t be accountable to inanimate objects that will probably end up in a skip or being sold at some point during their transient life through your decedent’s lives. That there might be some real tangible relief in being freed from worrying about stuff, looking after stuff, insuring stuff, cleaning damn STUFF.

But back in practical reality land, the real reason it had to go was that I couldn’t rent the place out unless it was empty. And I sure as hell wasn’t taking it with me or going to pay for expensive storage. Job done, though; boy, did it feel good. And yeah, it was freeing, liberating and strangely exciting.

All I now own is a lap-top, work ephemera, toiletries, two lipsticks (not really sure I need both), a good old-fashioned Moleskin diary, a bunch of notebooks, a pen, a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses (which I never read), my camera and only clothes that I actually wear and/or need. I’d probably owned about 100 outfits but only ever wore about 10 of them. I don’t think I even know 100 people; never mind need a different outfit each time I see them.

You really don’t need many clothes. If you can master the art of layering, a small amount of gear can easily get you from summer to winter. When it gets cold, you just start wearing all of it in one go. At the end of the season, the winter coat gets left at my Mums to be replaced by the summer one. It’s a strict ONE of everything; ONE white T-shirt, ONE pair of dark jeans, ONE pair of light jeans, and so on. I own four pairs of shoes, one for every occasion. And there really are only four occasions: hot, cold, flip-flops and fancy. It’s a strict one-in, one-out suitcase policy. When the white T-shirt is dead, then – and only then – do I buy a new one. Don’t get me started on socks, though. They were and always will be a right pain. I’m forever washing socks in a sink somewhere in the world, and they take forever to dry.

And that’s pretty much it. I and the efficient suitcase have plotted over 100 Airbnb homes across 70 cities in seven years. I plug in, switch to Wi-Fi (usually called something like InhaleSatan) and crack on with life and work pretty much in the same way as I had before, albeit with a different view from the window. In 2014, I added a bolt-hole in Switzerland, and in 2017 I chucked out the long-term tenant in my London place and replaced them with Airbnb guests so that I could spend the occasional night in London, catching up with friends who, by now, I hadn’t seen in a really long time.

I’ll probably write a piece about useful things to own when you live on the road – especially since I’m pig-sick of journalists with no experience trying to do so.  But that’s enough for now.

As ever, if I’m passing through your town, be sure to say hello, and if you care to donate some socks, I’d be much obliged.

Professional work: Ideas Make Manifestos