Save. Spend. Splurge.

Couch Surfing is not Minimalism

I read this article on Altucher (whom I greatly admire), but with only 15 possessions I had to ask the Elephant of a Question that is in the room.

Is living with only 15 things, couch-surfing and being a modern nomad really a sustainable lifestyle, particularly if you start having children?

My answer?

No. It isn’t.


(Presumably quite close to what Altucher owns in the world.)


That couch you’re sleeping on?

It was paid by your friend(s)/family.

That bathroom you’re using at their home?

Also paid for, and staffed with electricity & water by your friend(s)/family.

Unless you’re living in a hotel, to which I can speak about because I have actually lived in a hotel full-time and found it was cheaper than an apartment at the time, couch surfing and basically living from friend to friend means using THEIR hard earned resources and assets.


I am not saying they resent you, and I am not saying this is a bad thing, nor am I saying that Altucher doesn’t contribute or pay anything to his friends when he does this.

I am only trying to point out that he is living off the permanent non-nomadic residences of his friends, which… makes me wonder how truly minimalist or nomadic one can become if we are trying to be solo & independent.

I am reminded of a friend of ours who had to work in another city full-time (for about 6 months to a year), and asked to crash on the couch of another friend of ours.

They put up with him for a whole month before finally firmly and politely asking him when he was planning on getting his own place and/or if he wasn’t planning on leaving, if he would contribute to the running of the household.

He was shocked!

..and privately, WE were shocked that he didn’t think about it!

How can you possibly intrude on your friends and think that it is perfectly fine to be making a salary in another city, and couch surfing for an indeterminate period of time without contributing?

(Again, I am NOT saying Altucher is doing this.)


My point is that you are using THEIR resources instead of your own.

Is that really sustainably, independently minimalist of you?


We have been minimalists for the past 10 years, and we know a lot about not buying things that are permanent, heavy, too hard to store, carry or move with.

We have even moved 19 times in a single year, and that was done in a day or so because we just had so little, it was dead easy.

Once we had Baby Bun, however, it was a little more time because I was out of commission as I had to take care of Baby Bun while my partner moved, so we lost half of the labour to help pack and move, so to speak.


Nevertheless, even without half of the labour & assistance, it took us my partner 3 days to move the entire family into a new apartment.

As it stands, our track record is that we can pack and move in about a week, all inclusive, even if we are both working full-time (we do a bit each night, and power move on the weekends).

With Baby Bun, it is now more that he has stuff. Sure, he has very few things, but he has things, and we have to also take care of him while we are packing the cars and so on.

To move 19 times in a year? Not recommended with a child.

Furthermore, we bought a $600,000 condo in cash (this is why we bought a home in cash without a mortgage), but it was because if I were to be truly honest at the end of the day….


Landlords, the nonsense of having to coax them to fix things, strange lease clauses, not being able to put holes in the wall or paint, and all that nonsense is done and over with.


This is my heart’s desire after years of being a modern nomad: I want to settle down in a permanent place and raise Baby Bun.

He will eventually have friends (even now, he has playmates he is familiar with), and without a doubt he is able to move and be completely adaptable in doing so (we are thinking of relocating to France for a few years in the future), but it is nice to have a familiar place, home and routine.

I wanted a permanent place where I could finally have the organized closet of my dreams, and Baby Bun can have actual books that are certainly too heavy to keep & move around with.


We are still minimalists at our core so we do not plan on buying much furniture even after moving (no couch, for instance), but we will be buying a huge, solid wood table with 6 solid chairs and perhaps put in a bookshelf for Baby Bun’s future academic endeavours.

We’ll also need a permanent place so we can have bicycles, and finally have a fully stocked kitchen with all of our cooking things that we have kept stored away for years because it was too much of a hassle to keep moving everything that was non-essential (Le Creuset pot for instance) each time.

All of this, requires a permanent place because we are not the kind of people to want to hire movers for thousands of dollars just to move our STUFF.


So.. once Altucher has kids, will he keep his minimalist, nomadic lifestyle?

I thought I would, and to some extent, we will continue to travel and see the world once Baby Bun gets older, but I can tell you that our constant moving days are over.

We will still be minimalists, but now we are no longer modern nomads with a permanent place. We’re settling down, putting down some roots and frankly, this is what eventually happens when you are no longer single and/or childless, even to the most minimalist of folks.



  • Sarah Li Cain

    I follow JA quite a bit. He does have kids and visits them, and him and his second wife parted ways. I remember he did a podcast where he goes over some of what you say. He did mention explicitly you can’t do what he does if you have young children. He merely mentions what he does as an experiment, which is interesting to me.

    I’m at the stage where I want something more permanent, but I’m conflicted with my desire to travel AND own a house. I guess once I crunch more numbers it’ll make more sense in my head.


      Thanks for the clarification! I don’t follow him, but I do admire him and that is great that he understands his life is not sustainable.. and it’s an experiment, not a permanent thing.

  • Christina

    Great article again, Sherry! James has kids: 2 or 3 daughters from his previous marriage, and was/is married to a woman named Claudia, who was apparently the love of his life.

    There are no mentions of them in the NYT article you are referring to, although I believe his daughters live with his ex-wife and I’m not sure what happened to Claudia…


      Thanks for the note. He might as well be a single guy or a DINK (dual income no kids) because he doesn’t take care of them. I’m thinking more of fathers who have to take care of their babies and toddlers like my partner…

  • raluca

    Why do we need all these labels? Nomads, minimalists, only 15 things? Who comes up with these rules? Why can’t we just have lives instead?

    I’m a minimalist in my closet. I have 151 things all together. Yes, that includes work clothes, underwear, stockings, shoes, hats, bags, jewlery, home wear, athletic wear and the one umbrella.

    But I’m not a minimalist in my kitchen. Because I like eating locally and I like preserving and I like cooking. And we almost always have friends over in the weekend so we have all the extra plates we might need and we have a big table and a lot of extra chairs, that we stack up when they are not needed.

    I’m not a minimalst in my garden, where we have hoes and rakes and about 20 more gardening implements. Because our yard is big and we like getting fresh fruit from it and we’re planning a vegetable garden next year and those tools make everything easier.

    So what label should I assign to myself? Well, I like to think I’m a normal person, who has a fun and fulfilling life, who likes some things and doesn’t much care about the others. And when I have children, I’ll do my best to raise them to not need a huge amount of things, but they will probably have sports equipment and books they love and their favorite toys and pets. And as long as our house is full of laughs as well as things, that will be ok.

    • K

      An eclectic minimalist? LOL; personally, the idea for me is to not become dependent on owning things and not to feel like buying stuff will make me happier.


      That’s exactly how we feel. I still identify as being minimalist because I am very active in making sure we pare down on things we have no enjoyment out of. My grey area here is clothing shoes, etc… I really enjoy fashion so this is a very Un-Minimalist area, but if you look at what we have for Baby Bun, you’d be shocked compared to other kids and parents. Even books which I love, I have to stop and censor myself in how many I buy for him and to keep in mind that he will get older and want other books so I will only be keeping 5-10 MAX of his baby board books & reselling the rest … 🙂 space is a consideration in a small apartment but also because while I love libraries and the look of them, I don’t feel a need for a physical one in my home… My ereader is enough and maybe as Baby Bun matures he will feel the same or continue culling his collection.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *