Six months ago, I gave up my lease on a Manhattan apartment and embarked on an Airbnb adventure, living in a new place approximately every month.
Before then, I’d lived in a large studio in the east 20s for several years, filling my apartment with stuff and slowly realizing I needed to do something different. I didn’t know what “different” should mean. I’d have a tough day, come home, and buy dresses online to make myself feel better. It was a good feeling that lasted for about 30 seconds after I hit the “Buy” button. Dresses would arrive in boxes, and I’d let them sit in the entryway for weeks.
My parents would bring stuff too — more clothes, knick-knacks, kitchen implements, a form of love that fit my life at the time. I bought feng shui items to try to make my cluttered home feel more open. It worked for a while. But I came home one night last December, walked into my apartment bursting with stuff, and burst into tears.
I felt suffocated. I didn’t know why I was doing this. Why did I need to accumulate more, what was the point, if it held me down and prevented me from trying all the things I wanted to try?
I started to think about getting rid of all my stuff.
Getting Ready for the Leap
I watched videos online of people who’d done it. They had one backpack, and they were roaming the world, doing what they felt like.
That level of minimalism was not for me. I wanted more than one backpack. But I decided to start paring down and see how far I could get.
I gave notice on my apartment at the end of February and called the Salvation Army to set a pickup date. I browsed Airbnb to find promising listings for my new adventure. I wanted roommates, because I’d lived alone for too long. I wanted to shake up my way of life entirely.
One month later, I had three bags of stuff.
I walked through my apartment with the super, then closed the door behind me and took a taxi across town to my first Airbnb apartment. There was no moving van and no giant moving fee and no hassle. It was awesome.
Airbnb 1 – April
I chose a loft in Chelsea for the first month, April, living with a fashion photographer. It was directly across from Google and half a block from Chelsea Market. It was also convenient to the subway, which was great because I was still working. I was still weighing whether I needed a change of everything, including my job, or just a change of scenery. I gave myself one month to decide.
The loft was gorgeous, a self-contained space with a living-room area, desk, small mini-kitchen, and loft bed. The walls were covered with artwork, a friendly cat and dog lived in the apartment, and my roommate was the most amazing person I could have hoped for. We talked about life and he cooked delicious breakfasts and we watched Game of Thrones every week. I read programming books in my spare time. I looked out the window and felt life speeding up. At the end of the month, I gave notice at my job.
Airbnb 2 – May
On May 1 I moved to Brooklyn, to a two-bedroom apartment in Boerum Hill. My roommate was in technology, and with similar interests we had great discussions about technology and politics. It took a few days to adjust to the slower pace of Brooklyn — I’d wanted to try it, but at first it felt suburban, and I wasn’t sure about the low-key vibe. By the end of the month, I felt at home. I became friends not only with my roommate, but with his dog, and enjoyed the fully equipped kitchen and projection screen. Also, for the first time, I felt like part of a new community. I was moving toward something instead of away from something.
At the end of the stay, I decided I still had too much stuff. Moving was a struggle, and my suitcase was too heavy. So I left the suitcase behind for my June travels, and just took a backpack and a shoulder bags with a small purse inside of it.
Airbnb 3 – June
After my last day of work, I went to AltConf in San Francisco, so I didn’t rent a place in New York for June. Instead, I stayed in a Pacific Heights Airbnb for a week, in one of the most ideal rooms I could imagine. The Airbnb listing didn’t have professional photos, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the place was a tiny brick house on a hilly street, the apartment was clean and quiet and full of light, and the room in the back had a bed, a futon and a tiny fireplace and desk. I slept so peacefully there that, once again, I felt San Francisco embraced me as a visitor.
Airbnb 4 – June
In between trips to visit my parents and to see friends in upstate New York, I spent a few days in Manhattan in late June. I chose the West Village, since I’d always wanted to live there. It was a great experience but really no better than other neighborhoods, which allowed me to put to rest my inflated expectations. The best part was meeting my host and the other travelers staying with her. This is something I’ve found to be true with Airbnb — there’s almost always another roommate in the picture at some point. I’ve been fortunate to have great experiences, but it is something to be aware of, if you’re thinking of booking a private room instead of an entire apartment.
Airbnb 5 – July
After traveling in Canada (at an official B&B, not an Air), I returned to New York in late July for Hacker School. I chose an Airbnb room on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, directly across from a Le Pain Quotidien. I needed more than just a backpack for the next three months, so I bought a tiny carry-on suitcase that was easy to carry up and down stairs. Along with my backpack and shoulder bag, this was all I had and all I needed.
I loved living in Brooklyn Heights. The room was quiet, huge, and beautifully furnished. I could look out my window and see people dining on roof decks and then go downstairs to see people dining on the street. I didn’t see my roommate much, but enjoyed the conversations we had and then enjoyed the peacefulness of the space and the neighborhood.
Airbnb 6 – August/September
My final stay in New York was in Dumbo, where I’m typing this now. I live under a bridge, and the noise of trains is my companion. I love it, for the time and the place and the atmosphere and the industrial/new/old feeling. The apartment is a mid-century furnished loft, my roommate is amazing, and the little dog is incredibly friendly and playful. The water is filtered, there’s a trampoline to jump on for exercise, and I’ve gotten a lot done while living here.
I’m also ready to move on to what’s next. My “rent” next month will be in Florence and Tuscany, where I’m traveling for a post-Hacker School change of scenery. My goal is to maintain my pace of learning while seeing new places and having new experiences and considering what’s next.
I’ll be back in mid-November to decide for sure. My period of discovery will need to shift to a period of implementation or form a strange hybrid of the two, which could be even better.
But I still won’t have any stuff. And I’m happy about that. The important things in life are love, experiences and giving back — leaving something good behind. Stuff has no place in that equation, for me. It gets in the way. It’s a placeholder. I’ve learned to admit it, and clearing my life of stuff has done me a great good. It’s allowed me to see what’s important to me, focus on what’s important, and get things done.
Traveling in my own city, with Airbnb, has been an amazing experience.