How Being an Expatriate Taught Me About Minimalism

January 23, 2017

boxes and minimalism

Packing our things

At the end of June we waved goodbye to all our belongings as they were neatly packed into cardboard boxes and driven away. The only belongings we had to our name were in a trusty suitcase and a pack on my back. Days later we left Michigan with the expectation that our things would be meeting us in Mexico in 6-8 weeks.  I would be in Asia for the next 7 weeks and B would be in Mexico.

Arriving in Mexico in early October

I  was surprised to find that our belongings had not yet arrived and it didn’t look like they were coming anytime soon. B’s temporary residency was taking far longer than expexted. This was a requirement for our things to make it across the border. For the next few months we were to live in a very empty home in Mexico. No appliances, no furniture, and only the summer clothes I packed for China hung in the closet. To look on the bright side Mexico doesn’t get too cold, but let’s be honest one should only walk around in Chacos for so long.
The first few weeks I reacted in a way I am not proud of and honestly looking back I realize how pathetic it was. Why was not having our “things” such a big deal? It wasn’t or it really shouldn’t be. I didn’t need them to survive or to be happy.  Once we replaced the basic necessities of a home like a refrigerator, washer and dryer I began to not miss my things very much at all. B and I started to play this game where we imagined we could only pick three things out of all of our material possessionsMy list consisted of the things I missed the most: our down comforter, coffee and tea mugs, and my external hard drive (I can’t believe I allowed this to be packed). Those movers are quick and will pack anything when you are not looking! Bobby’s picks were much more sentimental and practical such as a memory box filled with photos and cards, his “legacy drawer” which is a filing cabinet with all of our important paperwork, and his clothes. It was an insightful game that made me realize how fortunate I actually was and I could easily live without even my top three things.


This reminded me of the yoga Yama Apparigraha. Over the past year I have been studying and practicing the eight limbs of yoga, finding them applicable to all challenges life has put in front of me Apparigraha is the last of the 5 Yamas of yoga, translated as non-greed, non-possessiveness, or non-attachment. This yama refers to letting go of things that no longer serve you whether it be material possessions, emotions, expectations, memories or relationships.
 “Studies of happiness have shown that it is not determined by material wealth and comfort. In fact, the more dependent we become on externals for our happiness, the less we experience satisfaction from them. The fear of loss that quickly follows the acquisition of something external affects the mind in negative way, keeping us in a constant state of dissatisfaction.”
This quote comes from True Yoga: Practicing With the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual FulfillmentAt the end of November our things finally arrived and while we had grown mentally less attached to our possessions  we were still physically attached to a lot of things, a whole 180 boxes to be exact.


Since our things arrived 2 days before we were to leave to go home for the holidays we quickly unpacked about 70% of our boxes and left the rest for when we would return in January. I guess the universe was telling us we needed even more distance from our things. This space allowed me to  realize how embracing a life of minimalism allows one to exert their time and energy into experiences and relationships instead of things
So this year I have made a commitment to get rid of the things that no longer serve me, reducing the amount of things I purchase, practicing a perspective of abundance and focusing my energy towards relationships and experiences.


What are your goals for the New Year?

Have you made any efforts to do more with less?

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Expat Minimalism



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More about Eemma Iseman

    1. Great reflection! <3 i've been one of your witness, i think i can even better understand you… Lots of kisses emmah

    1. Absolutely loved this blog of yours! Hubby and I slept on a mattress on the floor for months when we first migrated from South Africa to Australia – and you know what – the moment we had a bit of extra money that you might think we would have used to buy a bed – we bought dive gear to enjoy our first chance to learn diving now that we are living only 15 minutes from the beach and not 7 hours 😀 So absolutely agree with you – exert time and energy into experiences and relationships instead of things 🙂 This is the first time I’ve heard of the yoga yama Apparigraha – love the message behind it!

    1. This is just a very good eye-opener especially in this day and age wherein material possessions are just mostly wants rather than needs.

    1. As a Buddhist, the values of yoga are very similar. Non-attachment is probably one of the most difficult things to practice – that and mindfulness. I do hope your belongings arrive soon – you’ll be amazed how quick you can forget about material things when you don’t have them and occupy yourself with something else 😉

    1. Aggghhhh…. this blog has got me thinking. Im already a minimalist but never thought it in this sense. Great write up 🙂

    1. I totally get it. I’m also a expatriate, so I had learn fitting my stuff in only a suitcase. Now my strategy is to fit useful stuff in a smaller backpack when travelling.

    1. This post is so amazing and it gave me a totally new perspective. We are thinking about moving to another country and I was worried about the things we would leave behind. Now it is clearer that those are just things.

    1. When I moved over to the US, I didn’t have any furniture to bring – but I shipped all of my favorite books (Harry potter the original sets), textbooks I wanted to keep (my attemps at a library), and two suitcases of clothes. I ended up donating most of my stuff lol. You certainly realize how attached you get to your stuff (or not!) when you are an expat! Hope you are settling down well!

    1. I’m amazed you were able to deal without your material possessions – I’m not sure it’s something I could do, although it’s something I’m trying to work on!

    1. This new year, I plan to spend less on frivolities and more on experiences. I’ve invested in a Go pro and hiking shoes and that’s it for the year for me!

    1. I love this piece and it’s something that really resonates with me as a Mexico City expat myself! I’ll share on my facebook page 🙂 (Northern Lauren)

      P.s. I’ve still yet to visit San Luis Potosí so I’ll be keeping an eye out for any other posts you do about the place.

    1. That’s a very loose translation of “tapas”! “Austerity” might be a better one, especially in this context. Sanskrit and the Vedas are the source of great wisdom; the hardest part is applying the principles.

      It is very true that things cannot bring happiness. Ask any collector – they might strive greatly for a scarce item, but once obtained, they don’t stop, no they are after the next item. It never stops. True happiness is found in the moment, in what you have already.

      But I think I am preaching to the choir here! Thanks for this post. It is rare to find a travel blogger digging deeper than the surface pleasures of a place before heading off to the next one on the list.
      Pete recently posted…This changes everythingMy Profile

      1. Thanks so much for commenting Pete. I would agree and think austerity is a more accurate or traditional translation. I found this illustration online and thought it was nice depiction of the yamas and niyamas, but it could use some rewording. I have been learning about and working to apply the yamas and niyamas to my daily life and consistently fall short. I have found them to be a great guide as I learn and grow. Thank you again for sharing! recently posted…Chronic Wanderlust: Latin American Expat Blogger SeriesMy Profile

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