Almost three years ago I threw out all of my belongings, stopped renting an apartment and lived only in AirBnBs.
I moved every few days. I lived out of a carry on bag. I had fewer than 15 belongings, and if I ever bought anything new, I would throw out or give away one of the items in my bag.
People thought it was the coolest thing. Mostly guys – guys would come up to me and say, “I always wanted to do what you are doing but I can’t because of the mortgage, the kids, etc.”
(The New York Times covered the story. I got non-stop calls from the most famous TV producers after this article came out.)
But here’s the truth: I did the whole thing not because I’m a minimalist but because I was running from my life. My life had some trauma and I gave up trying to handle it.
The thought of taking care of myself and my possessions and rent and an electric bill, etc. was too much for me.
I gave up. I gave everything away except one–two outfits and a kindle, computer, phone.
In each Airbnb I knew there would be towels, Wi-Fi, beds, etc. so I wouldn’t have to deal with buying things. I also wouldn’t have to deal with choosing things. “Which bed should I buy?” would not be an option for me.
I threw out my diploma, photographs of my kids, I gave away thousands of books, I gave away artwork, I gave away or threw out 40 years worth of my belongings. I threw out all my books re-printed in different languages. I threw out my trophies from my chess-playing days.
I missed them. But they were gone.
A few months ago I saw a building that I fell in love with. It was one of the oldest apartment buildings in NYC.
Dozens of famous artists, writers, musicians, dancers, comedians had lived there. It had a courtyard that I felt like I could just sit there for a million years and feel relaxed.
(Louis CK even has a great joke about living here).
(Nora Ephron wrote “When Harry Met Sally” and a billion other movies and books while living here)
It had been a long time since I really felt relaxed.
I called a real estate agent. He said, “I can find you better.”
He wanted to show me other apartment buildings. I said, “You can show me all you want. I am only saying ‘yes’ to the apartment that’s available in this one building.”
This was sight unseen. I knew I wanted the history even more than I wanted the apartment.
(Joseph Heller wrote “Catch-22”, one of my favorite novels, in the apartment down the hall from mine).
I said to him, “please don’t negotiate. I don’t want them to say ‘No’.”
But he negotiated and got me a discount. “See!” he said. “You should listen to me.” But I was mad he risked me getting a “no!”
I am 50 and I had never rented or furnished an apartment by myself before. When I was younger I lived in the Chelsea Hotel.
I loved it but now it is only the second best place I have ever been.
(The Chelsea Hotel was an amazing place to live and I refused to move out even after I got married. Finally, three months after I got married I moved in with my then-wife. 20 years ago).
Then I was married and moved in with whomever I was marrying and they would furnish.
For awhile I lived right next to the river and in the middle of nature. That’s probably the third best place I’ve ever been.
Because I have never had a credit card, I have no credit history. So nobody wanted to rent to me. I had to pay a year up front plus two months security deposit.
“You’re making a mistake,” the real estate agent said to me, “You can get twice the size in a much better, modern building.”
But I wanted to live with ghosts. I wanted to live between the pages of history. I wanted to tap into the energy of my favorite authors, comedians, musicians who had lived here in the past, even for a moment.
(Cyndi Lauper lives here)
Finally the board said, “Yes.” YES!
I had no furniture at all. So I bought an air bed and just moved in so I could stay there.
It was me, an airbed, and several completely empty rooms. I felt weird living in my own place. But I also felt at home for the first time in decades.
It was MY home.
I felt a wave of stability hit me. It almost shook me. It felt good.
The afternoon I got the key and went into the empty apartment I felt so grateful. So blessed. I told the building manager, “I moved to NYC 24 years ago with nothing and lived on the floor of a studio with a roommate. Now I live in my own place.” I was like a 50-year-old child.
I felt anxious. Because every time I had treated myself to something nice, it had ended in me being broke. Maybe it will this time as well.
I spoke to my therapist about this. She said, “If not now, then when?”
I didn’t believe that being in a place should have the power to make me happy. I thought that not being attached to a location was freeing.
I was wrong.
That first day, in that apartment, was the best place I have ever been.
James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Wokandapix.