14th May 2012: I am driving at night a rented Fiat Ducato, and a grand total of 2500 kilometers, round trip, await me. In the cabin the only company I have is a computer screen weighing 15 kg, protected by a cocoon of blankets and pillows. There’s also a car radio which I couldn’t be bothered to tune into any specific frequency for the whole duration of the trip. In the cargo area, I hear my things rattling at the smallest imperfection of the road. That’s two bicycles, a Vitra office chair, a sofa-bed, a bright red office cabinet, my beloved collection of real insects preserved in resin blocks. Many more things are not rattling, but are definitely there: 4 black sacks filled with wrinkled clothes, two boxes of magazines on miscellaneous subjects ranging from ufology (my dad’s legacy) to fashion photography. And bed sheets, towels, a wine coloured fluffy bath robe, a small vinyl collection, and my “suitcase of memories”. It’s actually a black briefcase, with a combination lock, that I have slowly but inexorably filled with clutter which for some sentimental reason I have never dreamt of getting rid of. We’re talking about love letters, a map of Instanbul, my first cell phone (a totally broken Nec db2000), a bra I found under a pillow in a cheap hotel in Paris, and stuff like that.
I had decided to turn my job into a location independent version of it, and that night I was relocating from Milan to Berlin. That van weighed as much as the load that Atlas the titan was condemned to carry on his shoulders, but I was feeling free.
After less than one year I realised that that was not freedom but just infatuation with the romantic concept of changing the sky over my head, and that a life in Berlin was not for me. But I felt like I was stuck there because I didn’t want to deal with another logistic nightmare, and the prospect of having to announce to the world that I made a bad choice with Germany’s capital. So I procrastinated, until it got ugly. Escaping the sheets every morning started to feel completely pointless, I developed an eternal dry cough that needed opiates to be put out, and in general I was getting convinced I could never be happy again in my life. Four more months later I snapped. I realised that I had to do something radical, otherwise I could become a depression related statistic.Easter 2013 in Berlin
Those 14 months spent in Germany, and more than anything that eternally grey winter, had forced me to doubt every facet of my existence. My mental health, happiness, my job, my diet, Italy and Italians. And, after much pondering, I had decided to finally go to Thailand to become a scuba instructor (in hindsight, a very silly proposition I didn’t fulfil, luckily). In order for me to do so, I had to leave the apartment where I was paying the rent, filled with all the things I had brought from Italy and bought in Berlin, bed and desk made of solid wood included. I had to sell, gift, or trash almost everything, including a long list of objects I considered invaluable and which I always thought would follow me to the grave, figuratively speaking (being pragmatic, I would have left them as a legacy for those who would survive me, in the year 2074).
And so I did. The hardest part was definitely taking the actual decision, a bit like jumping off a diving platform. Once flipped the switch in the brain, gravity did everything for me. And so the mission was accomplished with a ruthless and smooth efficiency that still fills me with pride and that to this day I find bemusing. Craigslist, Ebay Kleineanzeigen, and the park next to my house (in Berlin there’s this healthy habit of putting what you don’t need in the streets/parks where someone who needs it is going to snatch it in no time) were my friends.
So I got rid of (almost) everything. I was free to become free.
I went to Berlin Schönefeld with a carry on luggage and two checked in pieces, one of which is my briefcase of memories. No van, no heavy screen, desk, bed, bath robe, sheets, ergonomic pillow, vinyl collection.
Fast forward 3 years and I can now carry everything that I own as hand luggage on a Ryanair flight, with this.
It basically contains my computer (I can’t make money without it) and a set of identical copies of my “uniform”. It took me years to find a look that I like so much that I can accept the idea of dressing that way every day. And what a difference it makes knowing that you don’t own clothes that you don’t really like wearing. So I went on a different direction compared to someone like James Altucher, a minimalist celebrity. He described himself in a blog post as someone who’s a bit disgusting, I guess because of his lack of interest in grooming. For me it’s important not to find myself disgusting (and to have a well maintained beard). Many doors opened to me once I found my look, simply because of the obvious increase in confidence.
I want to stress that becoming free of clutter is just the beginning of the journey to real freedom. There’s no use in removing the shackles from your “wings” if you’re scared of going places and meeting people you were used to distance yourself from your entire life. And no use in freedom without a purpose. Traveling for the sake of traveling is a recipe for a far more severe form of dissatisfaction with life. Once you realise you don’t feel happy even after you’ve done what your inner voice (and your digital nomad friend) was suggesting, you risk feeling like life has run out of options. And that can be outright terrifying.
My subsequent trip to Thailand was not exactly filled with bliss, despite the beauty of the fluorescent plankton I saw in my first night dive. I felt like I had to rebuild completely the foundations on which my life was resting, and I clear as day remember those morning in which I was waking up in weirdly humid places very far from home with a heavy weight on my chest. It took time, and a lot of work on my rough edges, to become comfortable with being as free as is humanly possible to be free. And to understand what the hell I was supposed to do with so much freedom. But it eventually started paying dividends.
Among other things, I got into surfing (the most potent source of endorphins and purpose I have ever tried) and I reminded myself that I studied photography for a reason.
Just in 2016 I slept on 36 different beds in ten different Countries, and I amped that number to 54 in 2017. I saved a ton of money on rent, not having to keep paying for a place I don’t use. I visited almost all my friends and members of my big family, who live in the 4 corners of Europe. I taught a million things about astrophysics to my little cousins in Sicily, because I was so free from stress that I was totally available to them. They could see that I was sincere in wanting to satisfy their curiosity.
I spent months in great hostels by the sea or in the centre of beautiful cities. A cat gave birth to 5 kittens on my bed in Morocco while I was still sleeping. You don’t get that in fancy hotels.We named him Meowhammed
Is this life for everyone? Hell no! What does it take? Hard to tell. I can throw a guess based on what I think helped me. I am what you would call a “zen” person. I don’t experiences extreme feelings, no nervous breakdowns and no ballistic euphoria either. I like silence and I love thinking, maybe because it’s the most minimalistic activity ever “invented”.
Also I accept the idea that I am not going to make a dent in the Universe (Steve Jobs’ obsession) and that, quoting Tyler Durden, Martha Stewart is polishing the door knobs on the Titanic. I would rather stay on the upper deck enjoying the sunset.