Is a minimalist technophile an oxymoron?

Those of you who know me know that I am a bit of a gadget and gear junkie. For those of you who don’t know me: I’m a bit of a gadget and gear junkie. To be fair, I don’t have an iPhone, so I guess I can’t be that much of a technophile. But we do have lots of video game systems, an HDTV, DVR and a storage space full of bikes and camping equipment, skis and snowboards, golf clubs and golf shoes, and so on and so forth. I’ll readily admit, I do like having all of my own gear to go camping or skiing or golfing on a whim (and avoid rental expenses), or to host Super Bowl parties or Rock Band parties.

But probably a bigger reason why I have all of these things is that I’m a sucker for a good deal. Pretty much all of these things I’ve gotten at a steep discount to retail price. This is great when its something we’re looking for at the time we need it. It is, however, less useful when its something we don’t really need at a time we won’t really use it. I’ve been working on curtailing these kinds of purchases the past few years, since like Theresa says, everything we get will have to be packed up and stored so there’s no sense in getting things we won’t use. They’ll just take up space. But there’s one particular event that’s my greatest weakness: the REI super clearance sale.

For those who don’t live in an area with one, REI is an outdoor gear outfitter based out of the northwest, though they have stores all around the country. It’s a great store with all sorts of gear at decent prices and sales people who – gasp! – actually are knowledgeable about what they are selling. Whenever we are in Seattle we try to go to the flagship store downtown – it’s amazing. But twice a year, it gets better: they mark their regular clearance items down another 50% in their super clearance sale. Now, in the past, I’ve gone way overboard and bought multiple jackets, bags, etc. But this year we narrowed the focus to just things we would need for our trip. Yet still I sit here tonight after picking up our order with my floor covered in gear from REI. Actually having something to shop for rather than just casually looking for good deals may be even worse for my deal seeking habits. We got a set of titanium camping cookware to match the camping stove we also ordered. We bought three backpacking bags trying to find the perfect one for our trip. I bought two soft shells and a pair of pants that don’t fit. Though I think we found a winner with the thin yet warm travel blanket for $8 (to solve Theresa’s trouble shaking the “chillies”).

Anyway, the larger point I’m trying to make with this is that I’m planning on spending a full year on the road with just what I can carry on my back. If I want to get to the finish line without a permanent hunch, I’m going to need to be very selective and minimalist with what I take. This is not something I am used to, or particularly good at, doing. Sure, I’m good at taking relatively few clothes, shoes, and toiletries. We rarely have to check luggage for trips under a week. But everywhere I go I seem to take my laptop, Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, iPod, a couple of magazines, etc etc. And its exactly those things I’m going to have to eliminate or seriously pare down. Plus, the open ended nature of the trip is going to lend itself to all kinds of convincing … “I just might need that warm fleece plus the soft shell” or “Why not one extra pair of pants, they could come in handy.” So I’m going to have to be really honest and really critical of how much I will use something. But thankfully, I have Theresa, who’s very good at eliminating excess in many ways. I have a feeling I’ll lean on her a lot through the packing stage (or at least acquiesce when she berates my desire to take something frivolous). I’m gonna say it right now though, one place I will not skimp will be underwear. I’m gonna have enough of those, by god.

3 Replies to “Is a minimalist technophile an oxymoron?”

  1. “or at least acquiesce when she berates my desire to take something frivolous”- You hit the nail on the head with that line Jeff. I’m sure there will be plenty of paring down with Theresa’s “help”. But good call on the underwear.

  2. I’m a gear nut too and the toughest part was definitely deciding what to take/leave behind. I thought I’d made ‘tough’ decisions and was taking just the essentials, but still ended up with more than I needed. Electronics was my Achilles heel and among other things I think I could certainly live without taking my laptop next time. It was a ‘nice to have’, but not a necessity and definitely felt like a liability sometimes. I’d just put everything online and access it from any of the cheap internet cafes you’ll find everywhere. My iPod, camera and travel alarm ended up being my most/only used electronics.

    As for clothing, don’t be afraid to take too little. Buying stuff on the road can be refreshing after wearing the same stuff repeatedly for months. Just one new thing can make you feel like a new person. Plus, haggling for t-shirts in Thailand, a new daypack in Cambodia or tailor-made clothes in Vietname made for memorable experiences. Finding an REI-esque store (Kathmandu) in Australia/New Zealand that was having it’s own super clearance while I was there was great too. As I’m sure you already know, you can buy just about anything you need in just about any country you’ll visit.

    REI is certainly the best and I bought my core, technical gear there (and a lot more). But, since things are likely to get stolen, lost or damaged, I opted to buy some things (polyester underwear, synthetic socks, quick-dry t-shirts, sunglasses, etc) at places like Target. Still got decent quality, saved a bundle, and it all held up surprisingly well. Plus, I didn’t hesitate when I left a few of those things behind in a Bangkok hostel room because I just couldn’t stand to wear that blue t-shirt one more time no matter how well it ‘wicked’ away perspiration!

    The best advice I wish I’d followed more closely was the oft-repeated traveler’s adage that just before you leave ‘cut your pack in half and double your money’.

  3. Thanks for the comments Scott. It’s nice to hear from the other people like me I know are out there. We’re planning on having the iPod and camera with us, and *we think* we’re taking a computer with us, since Theresa is planning on doing a fair bit of writing and freelancing while we’re traveling. I like the advice about getting “cheaper” stuff not just because its cheaper, but because you’ll be less attached to it when it inevitably gets ruined. Very true. We’ve got some more gear posts (we’re trying to sort out packs … yep, the ones from the REI sale) coming so stay tuned and we’d love to get some more thoughts from you.

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