I’ve not lived in my own place, with furniture and belongings around me, for a good chunk of my life.

Image via benchandcompass.tumblr.com

I’ve never owned a fridge. Nor a washing machine. Nor an iron.

Six years ago I gave everything away, reducing my belongings to two suitcases, and decamped to a (frugally furnished) army shed in the forest just outside Byron Bay.

Since then I’ve lived out of two suitcases of belongings (sometimes just the one, for six months at a time), buying very little and roaming from Byron to Sydney to the Northern Beaches to London to Europe. And back. In and out of Air BnBs. Creating a community around me in Paris, London, Narrabeen – finding great yoga classes, cafes and libraries to work in, friendly grocers, friends in random places.

I got as far as buying a couch once. But moved before really getting around to sitting on it. It’s now in a tiny storage shed, along with a few other bits and pieces. I’m down to one suitcase again.

There’s much to say on living life as a nomad. Perhaps I’ll say more soon.

But today I wanted to share another thought I picked up in Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City (last week I shared the value of loneliness).

She, too, is a nomad, living between sublet accommodations. Like me, she enters other people’s spaces, and “borrows” the sense of home for a while, before moving on. She creates her “home” from whatever’s going.

This temporary, “borrowed” existence and lack of cosy ownership informs her treatise on loneliness.

In her account of Laing’s work, Maria Popova points out that this way of living is actually a metaphor for life.

“We are, after all, subletting our very existence from a city and a society and a world that have been there for much longer than we have, already arranged in a way that might not be to our taste, that might not be how the building would be laid out and its interior designed were we to do it from scratch ourselves. And yet we are left to make ourselves at home in the way things are, imperfect and sometimes downright ugly.

“The measure of a life has to do with this subletting ability — with how well we are able to settle into this borrowed, imperfect abode and how much beauty we can bring into existence with however little control over its design we may have.”

My goodness, yes! This really does sum up one slice of the pie that is my drop-in-drop-out existence. I’m a control freak and I do think that to a certain extent I gravitate to this enforced lack of control and contrived imperfection as a way to challenge me beyond my fears.

Of course, there’s much that could be said about my fear of settling and my need for freedom, too. But that’s for another post.

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • It’s really interesting to me that this way of living appeals to you as an introvert (I think you’ve said previously that you’re introverted?). As an introvert, I find it a little terrifying, the idea of not having my own space/sanctuary to return to…

    Having said that, I think our childhoods were quite different. In Canberra you mentioned feeling ‘stuck’ as a child and dreaming about the day you could leave – my childhood was quite nomadic, as we moved from place to place (army family). I was jealous of those who grew up with their friends and was desperate to just stop somewhere and not have to keep saying goodbye. As an adult I think this has translated to me feeling the need to firmly put down roots in one place! (But still getting itchy feet every now and then, so programmed am I into living a life of change…) And I’m a control freak.

    • I get you. It’s funny how the same circumstances can swing different people…

  • Emily Southerden

    Sarah thank you so much for this article. I can so relate to it. I’ve struggled for years with the fact that I don’t own property and don’t stay put for very long because this is what most of society does. I totally respect that however believe at such an intrinsic level that we are on borrowed land which we share with nature. I’m very comfortable sharing and contributing to the resources of others and am super grateful that I’m happy with subletting my existence 🙂

  • Travelling Coral

    I am not sure I could live this life full time. Currently in a second house sit in Melbourne and loving it. Their couch, Netflix and WiFi. And the neighbourhood which is very Greek and friendly. I could live here. After 2 weeks travelling and camping in NT this is bliss – but I know I will be ready to move on, to Sydney, to Brisbane and New Zealand. And then to UK back to my new small house (downsized significantly) to renovate – and plan the next trip.

  • mw

    Just as long as you aware that this lifestyle choice will increase the likelihood that you will experience loneliness .. go for it. Sounds Great ! I did this for 10 years. The couch will wait for you. A loving partner not so much …

  • Kate O

    I think that a lovely life choice, as a way to navigate with as much ease as possible – as I think you’ve put it somewhere before, Sarah – through the slipstream of life. It’s light and agile. My life has gone down a more traditional, settled path of husband and children, and whilst the ‘stays’ in one place might be longer, you can still keep a nomad state of mind going, if you keep things simple, minimal and try not to get bogged down too much (either physically or mentally) 🙂

  • Su

    This post really spoke to me. I’m a similar age, and have only intermittently managed to settle in my own place. My (waning) possessions have been in storage for years. Today I find myself packing up my belongings for another move, heading off to sunnier climes as the UK autumn approaches. I love that you articulate this modern nomad vibe so well. I’m so far off achieving accepted social norms that my family gave up expecting the home + husband deal of me years ago. It’s definitely through choice, I love my freedom. And the idea of settling down is something I’m currently grappling with – looking forward to reading more posts! Thanks 🙂

  • KT

    Better you than me 🙂 couldn’t think of anything worse – but you would think the same of my lifestyle – love how ppl are so different – love your posts and always look forward to reading them xx

  • I love this subletting metaphor for life. Right now I am in a room on a greek island. With period pain. And a rattling fridge. It’s raining. The word that keeps hitting me in the frontal lobe is ‘adaptability’. I am but a passing tenant…

  • I love the feeling of groundedness that my home, my beautiful sanctuary in the trees, gives me. I love to travel, but I love to come home too, and now that I live in a small community I feel very connected and nurtured by that too. That said, if we can find that sense of home and grounded feeling within us wherever we are, then we can always feel comfortable and safe.

  • Feeley Vee

    I’ve also been nomadic for nearly four years. It’s been difficult but also liberating and it allows me to do my writing, for which I’m grateful. But it is a totally isolating and sometimes deeply sad existence. I’m grateful for it all the same, though it does hurt at points.

  • Geena Gaffney

    Sarah how do you juggle the nomad life and the sustainable life together? I flip between family dwellings all the time. I make all my own food generally and take Bone Broth frozen shots here, there and everywhere but I find traveling with my own food a bit of a struggle. I guess you probably go out and buy stuff when you change location? As a single person I find it difficult to get small portions and not waste any. I’ve taken to using a whole veg in one dish (e.g. cauliflower soup) and slow cooking meat and storing frozen leftovers in peoples freezer….=)

  • Eva Bloch

    Funny you say that.
    Family of 4, two teenagers aged 15 and 17yo and we’ve been doing that for 6 years now.

    Yes it is a journey with great value. And I would not change a thing!
    Teaching the next generation about what it means to earn things and how to spend and share what you have is a lesson that more more people should learn.

    I have not met many people like you, like us, but I am pleased to see that within my loneliness, that am not alone.

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Dominic Bond

    Hey Sarah, I read a piece about you in the Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks back, and then you came up again when I mentioned you to Georgia an old friend of yours… we’ll you’ve inspired me, I’ve moved out of my house and I’m starting the house sitting, couch surfing, air BnB life to see where it takes me.. Thanks for the inspiration, I’m really excited to be a traveler in Sydney.. calling Clareville, Artarmon, Paddington, Manly and who knows where else home….