The Elegance of Bare Necessities

J. Joab Garza
7 min readJul 22, 2017


Sunrise at the port of Capurgana

Children cry a lot different here
It’s fun to watch all the gringos
Try and keep up with the lingo

As the summer of 2015 approached, I had initiated a purge of the things I had accumulated within the span of seven years. The collection of things made it’s beginnings in 2008 when my professional career started. Three years later, I left my family home for Austin, Texas where I purchased “house things” and several objects of instant gratification — self-awarded trophies of an entry-level income.

You don’t quite see your own consumption occurring until you’re surrounded with things that fill every space in your home (or belly).

I have the belief that our day-to-day surroundings and interactions serve as metaphorical parallels to what is occurring within us emotionally — analogous keys to the subconscious.

The surmounting clutter began seeping into my life choices: I kept slugging along at a job that didn’t motivate, entertaining friendships for emotional consolation, continuing a romantic relationship that lost its legs and pursuing ambitions that lacked any personal depth. It took about five months, but I finally acknowledged the truth of the lackluster love my relationship had devolved to.

I began to let go, ridding myself of everything occupying me.

I held garage sales, gave things away or simply dumped them. I reduced everything to fit in the trunk of my Nissan Sentra. I quit my job, bought a ticket to Panama City and settled into the reality of a minimalistic lifestyle before my departure.

No longer was I going to risk not taking risks; to do that, I began listening to my heart’s true desires.

When the internal head space and external living space is occupied only by what’s essential, it is simpler to listen to intuition, to really begin doing what you’ve desired all along.

A week before I left to Panama City, I met an incredibly special girl. Within the week, our relationship turned into an emotionally-rewarding romance. We spent each day of the week together, daydreaming of our future and reveling in the occasion of mutual exploration. We fit quite nicely.

At this point in my leap toward the unknown, I would be staying in Panama for about 40 days, after which I’d return to Austin — and now because of this new romance, I’d be returning to her as well.

“You know what this journey is teaching me? Make no goddamn plans because God damns plans.”

— Journal entry, 8 September 2015

The reason I chose Panama was that I had a couple of friends venturing down there in order to have a natural birth and raise their child in the early months among the Guna, a native tribe that lives along the northwestern coast of Panama. This naturally became my starting point for the backpacking trip, testing the waters before fully embracing a vagabond lifestyle.

While on the island of Narascandup Pipi in Guna Yala (the native’s territory), I partook in Guna ceremonies, swam alongside barracuda, waded amongst sharks, entertained playful flirting with Guna women, but it was in the stillness of island life where I spent the majority of my 33 days thinking about something I dubbed “the Elegance of Bare Necessities.”

“The foundation of a minimalist is to secure only those things necessary to the immediate lifestyle. Minimalism is not a lifestyle, but a prefix to one already being lived. And by adopting minimalism into everyday life, one can grasp the ability to live happily with less.”

— Journal entry, 16 July 2015

Minimalism is the fortune of the first world: the option of living with less even when the alternative of excess is available. With the pretext in place that Minimalism is not a lifestyle but a modifier to your current one, I was choosing to be a minimalist backpacker.

This 24L backpack and the things that hung off it were all I had on my travels

Upon returning to Austin from my preliminary stint in Panama, I was picked up from the airport by the girl I’d left behind. She managed to write me a letter while I was on the island, and I read her the notes I wrote for her while I was away.

This perplexed me. Not only was I lingering on a heartfelt romance, but still gravitating toward thoughts of exploring places I’ve never visited, relishing in the elegance of bare necessities.

Despite the painful emotions I was about to exchange, I knew what I needed to do. Clear of clutter and extra noise I decided to buy a one-way back to Panama City, say goodbye to her for good and prepare myself for travel.

The romance ceased at my insistent need to travel. As quickly as it ignited, it faded out the same. Sadness still surrounds this decision, because I didn’t need to travel to wind up where I wanted to be — I was already there, but it took me having to travel to understand that.

“The first world is absolved of the bare necessities that plague third world or primitive communities. That elegance of bare necessities found in low-tech regions is what drives their survival.”

— Journal entry, 22 July 2015

The obnoxiously pretentious prenotion of minimalism dissolves when it’s understood why it can be good practice.

It has taken me about two years to fully cleanse the unnecessary elements in my life and totally focus on the essential needs for a fulfilled existence. It all began in 2015, when I ended the failing relationship and then walked away from the quick romance. I recognized that romantic love wouldn’t quiet the stirrings of my heart for fulfillment. The bountiful clarity that minimalism brought allowed me to revisit similar themes over and over as I made my way passed the shores of Panama, through the hills of Colombia and into the cloud forests of Ecuador.

It was in Ecuador, isolated atop a rainy hill near the town of Mindo that I realized the cure had become the cancer — backpacking was not answering my needs. It blurred my clarity, causing frustrating distractions from what I truly desired. I longed for a slower pace, to keep exploring a foreign land, but I needed a routine. No more guessing what’s around the corner, living in hostels, unpacking and packing up. I needed my own space in an urban setting where I could thrive at the things I loved doing.

Medellin, Colombia — View from Comuna 13

I spent about five months in Medellin, Colombia. While there I created lasting friendships and opened up my house to other travellers, sharing the wisdom of my minimalistic travels with them. I worked in the field of UX, something I’d always wanted to know more of, and helped a friend launch a coffee shop. Medellin helped me find my chill, my peace and right pace.

People ask me often why I came back if I had it all and was totally happy.

A few things drew me back home: my dad’s deteriorating health, the opportunity to work alongside a close friend in an exciting role and the recognition that after living in Colombia for some time, I had to right some wrongs back home, clear some debts and focus on planting roots somewhere — if I was to do the latter, it was necessary to shed my Colombian aspirations, because it held a very temporary position in my mind.

The key to finding that Elegance amongst the bare necessities is to be totally honest with yourself about everything in your life — your current location, relationships, posessions, thoughts, communication, decisions, meals, entertainment — all of it. Look at your life through a sharp lense and be truthful about what you see.

This helps to sort the empty baggage from the fulfilling materials; be certain to focus on not just the things that bring happiness, but those which further ambitions and personal missions.

“My life has transformed because of minimalism, not only in the amount of things I have, but how I spend my time. My time is spent thinking about things that not only fulfill me, but contribute to my community — awakening joy within me, and igniting a fervor to contribute at a higher capacity by sharing knowledge and wisdom to the world”

— Journal Entry, 8 November 2015

Reading my travel notes serves as a reminder of the original intentions of why I set out to explore minimalist backpacking. All through the second-guessing and hasty decision making, I am beginning to understand myself more fully. Now, I’m pursuing my goals with greater wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the world around me, because letting go of the unnecessary accentuates the vital things that keep me focused.

It begins at the center. Once the interior self is understood through mastery of self-awareness, what is beyond the self becomes a lot easier to comprehend.

And that’s just the beginning of the elegance of bare necessities, how it is utilized is what truly matters.



J. Joab Garza

Blockchain Gaming from Tezos to Ethereum. Find my work at and