Oh, I see! moments
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Decluttering to Become a Digital Nomad

by Joyce McGreevy on July 5, 2016

 A living room filled with banker boxes in the midst of decluttering by an owner who is becoming a digital nomad. Image © Joyce McGreevy

I downsized from two bedrooms and countless books to one suitcase and a carry-on.
© Joyce McGreevy

Minimalism and the Art of Travel

It was my travel posters that made me hesitate. For years, I’d decluttered my condo with the passion of Michelangelo releasing sculpture from stone.  Then last year, decluttering took on new purpose: I wanted to become a digital nomad.

But those posters anchored me. So I took a break from filling bankers boxes to contemplate the art of travel.

Toddler at Large

Joyce McGreevy, who is now decluttering to become a digital nomad, with Wallace McGreevy on a TWA flight in 1958. Image @ McGreevy Family collection.

Dad savors a rare moment when I am sitting still, as Mom takes a snapshot.
© McGreevy Family collection

I’ve been a happy wanderer since age two. That January, I wriggled out of my snowsuit, ran naked into our New York garden, and scaled a redwood fence.

What on EARTH are you doing? my mother shrieked as she bundled me back inside. Apparently, I answered in a tone that implied Good God, Madame, isn’t it obvious?

“I’m singing to the snowflakes.”

I loved being outdoors and on the move. When I turned three, my family moved to California. Convinced that my new cowgirl outfit gave me license to roam the Wild West, I set off across the fields one dawn. The Law, a.k.a. my long-suffering parents, quickly caught up with me.

At age four, I crossed the border into Canada, fortunately with parents in tow.

When Freelancers Go Free-Range

Over time, travel made possible my happiest life experiences, from the birth of my son in Ireland to a meeting with Samuel Beckett in Paris. Best of all, travel taught me to feel at home almost anywhere.

This year I am embracing that free-range sense of home.

After minimizing household contents by 95 percent, I sold the house. Then I called my adult son and informed him that his mom had become a vagabond.

Exterior of So's Your Mom, a deli in Washington, D.C., one more reason for decluttering to become a digital nomad. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Being free to travel while working adds variety to lunch breaks, I discovered in Washington, D.C.
© Joyce McGreevy

Eoghan seemed to think this perfectly normal.

Then again, he had just returned to Los Angeles from a research trip to Tunisia and was heading to North Carolina the following day.

Now as I zip up essentials into one medium suitcase, allow me to “unpack” a few concepts.  Like minimalism. And nomad. And What on EARTH are you doing?

Minimalism Isn’t About “Containerizing”

Nor is it about living with bare walls and one potted orchid. It’s about tending whatever you most value and clearing away whatever distracts you from it.

Document shredding/e-waste Roundup in California, a reminder that decluttering is key to becoming a digital nomad. Image by Joshua Barash is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Most communities host free events to help you declutter a wide range of household items.
Document Shredding/E-waste Roundup” by Joshua Barash is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Thus a fridge covered in your kids’ drawings is not automatically cluttered. By contrast, one item too many—an “investment” outfit you never wear, a gadget that doesn’t work, that pile of papers you always step around—is definitely clutter.

Why? Because it literally and metaphorically blocks your way.

Just ask Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less: Finding the Life You Love Under Everything You Own (WaterBrook, 2016). Spring-cleaning his garage triggered a life-changing decision. Three hours into thankless labor, he was no closer to getting time to play with his 5-year-old son.

Then a neighbor said something that sparked an idea: “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.”

Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less (WaterBrook, 2016), the essential guide to decluttering, even if you're not a digital nomad. Image @ Joshua Becker/Becoming Minimalist

“Fill your life with experiences, not things,” says author
Joshua Becker. “Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.”
© Joshua Becker/ Becoming Minimalist

Becker’s family began donating, recycling, and removing whatever subtracted value from their lives. As he researched minimalism, Becker learned that the average American home contains 300,000 items.

Today Becker presents online classes and commentary on owning less and living more. I took those lessons to heart–and to the airport.

The Moveable Office

A conservatory in West Cork, Ireland becomes an office for a digital nomad. Image © by Joyce McGreevy

An online conference call in West Cork, Ireland connects business team members
from London to Los Angeles.
© Joyce McGreevy

Meanwhile, my wish to own less and travel more led me to become a digital nomad. Another term for this is location-independent professional. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that’s at least partly compatible with telecommuting.

In the digital economy, going to work needn’t mean being tethered to a fixed location. Last year, for example, I was based in Chicago, but met my winter deadlines from islands in the Mediterranean and while visiting family Out West.

Gold ornamentation on St. John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta, a rich, visual reward for decluttering to become a digital nomad. Image © Joyce McGreevy

The income of a digital nomad is typically modest, but the benefits are pure gold.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta
© Joyce McGreevy

Global Localism

What’s the difference between location independence and other travel? Plenty. Instead of frequenting hotels and restaurants, you rent a modest home and shop at farmers’ markets.

You carry a mobile hotspot, not souvenirs, and develop a fondness for hand-washable black separates. You meet the neighbors, learn the language, and explore local arts and culture.

Yes, working full time while traveling takes discipline—especially during “the festival.” And there’s always a festival.

It’s 9-5 Somewhere

View from a table at Charles Grech Café in Valletta, Malta, one more reason for decluttering to become a digital nomad. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Morning coffee break in Malta.
© Joyce McGreevy

Ah, but even the busiest days  end in celebration. You close the laptop, disable the wifi on your cellphone, and give thanks for where you live.

You cross the Galata Bridge in Istanbul as minarets glow in the sunset. Wander a wild garden in Ireland.  Listen to birdsong as you hang laundry on a balcony in Malta.

You meet a friend for tea in Bloomsbury, or Ann Arbor, or Sydney, or wherever your small, uncluttered home happens to be.

Last of the Packing

Remember those posters  I hesitated to let go of? Ultimately, they triggered an “Oh, I see” moment: I could stay at home and have my travel posters—or I could have the travel.

So I began to declutter and became a digital nomad. As time goes by, I hope you’ll travel with me and my fellow writers at OIC Moments. How have your own travels made you feel more at home in the world?

Calligraphy by a friend is photographed as part of decluttering to become a digital nomad. Image @ Joyce McGreevy/Jules Larkin

Some keepsakes can be digitized.
© Jules Larkin/ Joyce McGreevy

Find out more about Becoming Minimalist here.

Learn about responsible decluttering in your community here

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.



18 thoughts on “Decluttering to Become a Digital Nomad

  1. Joyce, OIC, it really is the journey that matters! You are an inspiration, I am completely motivated to want less and experience more. Thank you for sharing your enviable, beautiful travels! (That fly on your shoulder is me!) Where are we headed next?!

  2. I just had a vision of a lemon colored balloon floating past me in a deep blue sky. It swiveled lightly and revealed your smiling face on one side Joyce. I will do my best to think of that vision when I make my next “to do” list, which inevitably includes things to buy and things to get rid of. It’s a vicious, meaningless cycle. It is not what I want to remember when I am old and not what I want to be remembered for. Thank you Joyce!

  3. I love the direction you are moving in your life. It is not for me right now but I can take many lessons from you in removing possessions in my life that no longer serve me.
    I wish you well on your travels and look forward to reading about them.

  4. Joyce, thanks for including me in your ‘West of Ireland’ group. I’ve just read the article. Brilliant and so inspiring. Just what I needed to move forward and take that first step! I dream of decluttering at night but by morning can’t face it. Stuff everywhere. I’ve kept everything. Help ?

  5. Joyce,in the words of St. Augustine “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
    You my dear are reading a chapter!.I love you.

  6. Joyce!!! I love this so much…I’ve been spring cleaning for weeks and do feel the sense of how the piles are blocking me from singing to the snowflakes…much love to you and I can’t wait till your living room is in LA for a bit…or we will meet you in Palm Springs or maybe Malta???

  7. Your adventure continues. . . .

    After all, what IS the point of freedom if one does not exercise it.

    I still recall the news film of a polar bear at Lincoln Park Zoo after zookeepers let it out of its cage into the new, more natural setting. After years behind bars, it walked back and forth, as if still caged.

    Enjoy being a free range writer!

  8. Loved your post. I want to be you! I love Joshua’s book and have been following his online group too. Congrats on doing what you love, the way you love to do it. Very inspiring.

  9. My sister, Joyce! You are amazing! You are one of the most creative, courageous and adventurous people I know!! I thoroughly enjoyed the article and love the family references. I am envying your fabulous life right now!!

  10. Joyce, that’s the most inspirational piece I’ve read in a long time! I’ve been dreaming about hitting the road to be a gypsy minstrel. I’m literally tingling (I’m using ‘literally’ literally) as I contemplate the joys of letting go of all the unnecessary STUFF that hangs around on my floors, desktops, shelves, garage, etc. There is fear that I “just can’t” do it, but you are re-inspiring me! I’ll take a look at the book you recommended. But I might have to hire you to come out for a weekend and help set me straight (or, actually, more crooked, which feels like my natural bent!) Bravo for your brave and creative lifestyle change and for sharing it with us!

    • Well, Rick, if I MUST travel to the spectacularly beautiful Monterey coast (& hang out with favorite people & listen to great live music by Andrea’s Fault), that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make…

  11. Joyce,
    I really enjoyed your post. And being a fellow writer on the road I can relate to the idea of freeing up space for experience.

    Also, great writing! I particularly liked this line: “For years, I’d decluttered my condo with the passion of Michelangelo releasing sculpture from stone.” It really gave shape and feeling to the idea.
    Happy travels!

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