Simplicity in Action: Jim’s Story

Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action. If you’d like to submit your story of how simplicity has worked in your life, please read more here. You can write about anything from decluttering a junk drawer to simplifying your diet. Let your small and big changes inspire others.


In 1998, I backpacked the entire 2160-mile Appalachian Trail. It took me almost 6 months of carrying my whole life on my back. That was an eye-opening experience, that all my daily needs could be reduced to almost nothing. You had a very direct connection with your “stuff” because you had to physically carry it. It made you appreciate somethings worth, or non-worth. The two skills you learned quickly were:

  1. If you didn’t use it every day, maybe you really didn’t need it.
  2. Items that could do two or three or more jobs were preferable.

While hiking the trail, my whole apartment was put in storage above my parents garage. When I came home, I realized that so much of that “stuff” wasn’t really needed and was able to donate almost half to charity. But after each subsequent bit of long-distance travel (6 months biking across the US, 6 months walking across Spain and living in a Buddhist monastery, and more travels), the amount of “stuff” in storage became smaller and smaller.

I have just returned from 4 years as a volunteer English teacher at a Buddhist center in Mongolia. The amount I left in storage was now down to a very small box that only carries my souvenirs from all those previous trips, one-of-a-kind items. Anything else usually gets given to friends or to charity.

I guess what I have learned from all this is that instead of spending so much money (and time working to make that money) on things, I would much rather spend both the time and money on other things like travel and helping others. And because of this, I have seen with my own eyes that much of planet lives, and thrives, on a very frugal and simple lifestyle. Our great-grandparents probably knew that lifestyle but most Americans have long forgotten it.

And to be honest, I think I am a much happier person for all that has happened to me on my “simple” path. [smile]

If you’d like to read more about Jim’s travels like hiking the Appalachian Trail or his last 4 years in Mongolia, he has a blog called



  1. says

    “And to be honest, I think I am a much happier person for all that has happened to me on my “simple” path.”

    Hi Jim,

    I am a backpacker so I know what you mean there. It is very gratifying to know that everything you need is on your back.
    I also study Buddhism, so yes minimalism has a spiritual aspect to me. By reducing our possesions we attain an understanding and appreciation of what is truly important in life.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Dan @

  2. says

    Thanks Courtney for posting my thoughts. That hike was really a life changing event, a trip of a lifetime.

    But what really made a huge difference was getting rid of all that “mental” baggage we carry around with us. After a month or two on the trail, at the end of the day of hiking, you’re just too exhausted to be anything other than the true you. No posturing, no false fronts. It was so refreshing to meet others in the same boat, just plain honesty in our human-to-human interactions. The world would be such a beautiful place if we could move in that direction even just a little bit.

    I hope these essays show others that “simplicity” is not a rare lifestyle, but there are many people out there putting “simplicity into action”, normal people, everyday people. It is so doable. Thanks for posting material like this. It does make the world a better place. SMILE

  3. says

    An inspiring example of living a simple life – valuing others above materialistic needs and egotistical goals. I agree that being less consumed with stuff would help so many people to relate better to each other. Reading this makes me want to continue aspiring to live a simpler life not one focused on stuff.

  4. Kathy Mader says

    Thank you, Jim. You are living proof that an American can be empowered to change his lifestyle. I so want to do it but haven’t had the courage of my convictions yet. One day I hope I wake up and “the student is ready.” The message is so clear, what holds us back?

    • says

      You’re welcome.

      And don’t worry. You don’t have to make big changes, just start with little ones. I know it sounds corny but the ocean is made up of drops of water – so little things do add up.

      Just smile….

  5. says

    Thank you, Courtney, for spotlighting someone who is an amazing example of ‘Be More With Less’. I participate in a Sunday Post challenge…interestingly, this week’s theme is Simplicity. You might enjoy seeing my post and checking the links to the others.

    Jim…thank you so much for sharing your incredible experiences…you are an inspiration to us all! When the Waldo Canyon wildfires approached the city of Colorado Springs this past summer, my husband rented a storage unit and I helped him pack up a bunch of vintage bamboo flyrods and dozens of collectible sporting books and assorted memorabilia. We made two trips to the storage unit…there were 100 boxes…99 filled with his stuff…1 was mine. For me, it is people who matter.:)

  6. says

    I know that there is no way I could ever carry all of my possessions on my back. I would need many many horses to carry it all around.

    But I am very happy to say that I would need much less horses than a year ago.

    I am working my way down to being location independent, and am very inspired by your story.

    Thank you so much for sharing it.

  7. says

    Thank you for sharing your story, Jim. It is so refreshing to hear you say that much of the world thrives on a frugal and simple lifestyle. Every day, my husband and I work toward simple. We’ve grown together by making Simplify, Prioritize, Automate, and Tweak our motto.

    I love how you mentioned that with each return you were able to live with less. I think that the mistake I made at the beginning is wanting to get rid of it all and beating myself up because it wasn’t so. Now, I am much more gentle with myself and realize that this is a lifelong process.

  8. says

    Hi, Jim – I have experiencing selling nearly all I own and moving overseas. Like you, when I came home I discovered the few things I’d kept were not necessities at all.

    I enjoyed seeing your blog. My daughter’s birth father is from Mongolia, so looking at your photos is exciting! I’d enjoy visiting Mongolia someday.