Ten things I can’t live without

Coffee on desk

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We can all live without most things. As humans, we cannot live without air, water and food. No matter where I am (and how warm it is), I need clothes and shelter. So maybe this article title should really be Ten things I don’t WANT to live without.

Also, things are not necessarily physical items. After all, I am a minimalist, and my need to own objects is relatively low. And I say own vs have for good reason. Sometimes it is easier, more cost-effective and better for the environment to hire or borrow an item.

Anyway, back to my list of things I can’t live without. At the moment, these are (in no particular order):

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Good coffee in the morning

It is not an addiction, but I like to drink a cup of good coffee in the morning. If I’m at a café I order a long black – a double-shot of espresso over hot water in a 200ml cup (stronger than an Americano but weaker than a double espresso).

In January 2020, I was exploring the city of Antalya in Türkiye as well as getting some dental treatment carried out. I had my teeth whitened and decided to reduce my coffee intact to once a week only in the weekend. A sort of treat. But also to not return my teeth to the state they were in before. Initially I went cold turkey (excuse the pun) and had massive negative side effects which does show the impact that regular coffee driinking has. Fast fforward to today, and I’ll still have one to two cups of coffee every day. I’m more aware of its effect.


Before I was even ten years old, I ran. My stepbrothers made me run to the local convenience store to buy their cigarettes and drinks. If I didn’t return fast enough, I’d get a thumping. I learnt to be fast at an early age.

Moving to Auckland to live with my mother in my teenage years, I carrried on running with dreams of the Olympics. My heros includes the New Zealand greats of athletics – John Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon. Joining the Auckland YMCA Marathon Club, I decided to run a marathon while still at Auckand Grammar School. I was 15. They said I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t allowed to do it. In fact, I had to lie on the entry form as the official minimum age was (and still is) 18. I ran the 1981 Fletcher Challenge Marathon in Rotorua, New Zealand and finished in a time of 3 hours 59 minutes. I was elated, and at the time, addicted. Before I turned 20, I’d run another nine marathons. And even managed to come first in my age group (Male Under 20) at the 1985 Winstone Marathon at Wiri in a time of 2 hours 54 minutes.

I didn’t run for 12 years from my late 20s, but when I turned 39, I started again, and I haven’t stopped since. I try to run at least five days a week and always have a big goal to aim for. Fast forward 15+ years  and I ran the New York City Marathon with my son, Benjamin in 2016. It was his first and it was one of my proudest father-son experiences. Running gives me purpose. It is great for my mental health.

Paul midway through Nagano Marathon

Running midway through the 2023 Nagano Marathon - I have a goal of completing a marathon of every continent before I turn 60

Keeping in contact with my children

Whether it be via email, Messenger or just by reviewing their social media pages, what my kids do, what they are planning and how they are feeling is really important to me. I don’t worry about them, I just care and love them so much that they are regularly on my mind. I miss them a lot while we travel the world. but take comfort in knowing that they live their lives to the fullest.

My oldest son, Matthew has Cystic Fibrosis, an inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body. In 2020 at the height of COVID-19 restrictions, he had a double lung transplant at Auckland Hospital. His health had deteriorated over the years so it was fortunate at the time we were back in New Zealand to support him. He now leads a relatively healthy life, holding down a full-time job, going to the gum and even the occasional run with me.

Benjamin married his childhood sweetheart, Miky and they have two wonderful children, Rosie and Penny. They are both successful busy professional parents who have a great work/life balance attitude. We miss them all when we are away, but always have quality time when we are back in New Zealand.

Ben and Matt

Ben and Matt are the close brothers - the best sons that a father could ask for

Having my wife by my side as we take our journey together

Since we started our minimalist journey in 2016, Sandra and I are together almost 24 hours a day. I know it takes a strong relationship to be able to sustain the equilibrium and commitment we have for each other. The fact that we have very similar values helps. I really enjoy being able to have discussions about almost anything with her. I couldn’t imagine taking this journey with anyone else. It is a unique partnership that works for us. Every night, before going to sleep, we ask each other “What are you grateful for today?”. It helps to appreciate the little things in life, to be able to reflect on individual and shared experiences.  

Paul and Sandra at NSW beach


Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the following quote: Live as if you were to die tomorrow, but learn as if you were to live forever. I wasn’t the brightest or most attentive student at Auckland Grammar School and I wasn’t encouraged to go to University after that. A job and settling down was a priority in my late teen years. But what I did enjoy scholastically was taking short courses on topics that advanced my career.

Joining the New Zealand Army almost straight out of school allowed me to obtain trade qualifications that I wouldn’t have been able to obtain without enormous costs. My City and Guild catering qualifications were great while I was in the Army, but hospitality wasn’t the career for me. While looking to transition to another career in the Army, I was fortunate to attend several computer-related courses. Does anyone remember Aldus Pagemaker 3.0, Lotus 1-2-3, or ABC FlowCharter? I was an expert – at the time.

It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I attended the University of Auckland and obtained a Graduate Diploma in Business (Information Technology). It wasn’t all plain sailing. I started several courses and never finished them.

What piqued my interest as I moved up the corporate ladder were more formal professional qualifications including my Project Management Professional (PMP)® and AIPMM Certified Product Manager. These allowed me to secure better-paying jobs in Sydney and created the financial stepping stone to pivot to our lifestyle now.

With our nomadic lifestyle, my learning needs and desires have also changed. As we explore different countries, areas and cities, we are constantly learning… about cultures, languages, history and facts but also idiosyncrasies, differences and commonalities between people. I often see something while travelling and research it more fully when I have Internet access. I still dabble in intense formal learning sessions such as Effective Altruism, but it is with a view to a better understanding of the world. I also take paid courses and classes to improve my web development and marketing skills and my photography skills.

Some bucket list items remain. I would love to learn the Ka Mate haka and recite the New Zealand National Anthem (I know, it’s pretty bad not knowing the words to your country’s national anthem) My genealogy project will always remain an unfulfilled learning. As I reflect on my current learning needs, I realise it is something I can’t live without.


If you spoke to my close family and friends, they would say I have undiagnosed autism / OCD tendencies. My personal hygiene routines may be pretty normal to most people: I have to shower at least once a day, brush my teeth twice a day and put on clean clothes. Being clean and wearing clean, functional clothes at least at the beginning of the day, helps set the scene for the rest of my day. I don’t shave every day, especially if I’m not planning to leave the house.  

When we stay at a short-term rental or house sit, we occasionally have to clean the house when we arrive to remove the dust and/or feel more comfortable. 

Paul top half from back

My (almost) phobia for cleanliness stems from childhood experiences of being forced to only have one bath per week.

Being challenged

I like goals… goals that are smart… specific goals… goals that I can measure… I like goals that are (a little bit) difficult but that I can attain, goals that improve me as a person and goals that have a defined end. I’m certainly less competitive than I was in my twenties or thirties. I enjoy robust conversations about topics that I don’t necessarily agree with. I like that Sandra and I don’t always agree on the procedure or the process to achieve an outcome. We do things differently and she challenges how I do things. Some may call it arguing ;-). But I don’t want people to be Yes people around me. Being questioned about why I do what I do was not something that came easily. In the military, you are taught to follow orders. And we know from history, that not all orders are good orders. And not all have been obeyed or should be. Did you know that service members of the United States Armed Forces are required to disobey orders that violate the law? 

Bullseye on dartboard

I need a measurable achievable goal

Going to bed at night being grateful

I am grateful for being alive, for being healthy, for having and making opportunities, and for living the life I want. Every night, before Sandra and I go to sleep, we ask each other a simple question: What were you grateful for today? It is a powerful habit that helps us to appreciate what we have, what has been, and who we are and sets us up for a good night’s sleep.

Some things we have recently been grateful for include:

  • Spending time with our grandchildren and children.
  • Going for my run in the morning
  • Having a nice dinner that the other person made
  • Being able to enjoy a nice sunny day

As you can tell, they are everyday things that could often be taken for granted. Being grateful and acknowledging them, puts our safety, health and happiness into perspective.


My music library contains ~6,000 songs of a variety of different genres. When I run in the morning, I listen to my music on shuffle. Sometimes the music’s tempo (beats per minute) helps me run faster and makes me feel more reflective or just plain happy.

People at a concert

I was only 17 when I went to my first concert - Simon and Garfunkel at Western Speings, New Zealand in 1983

My memories

The good ones and the crappy ones… all made me the person I am today. Memories of experiences where I had an impact on others or others had an impact on me are the most rewarding. As we travel, some days mix together, but at every destination, there is almost always one memory that sticks – whether it be a view, a meal, a run, a conversation or just an appreciation for the life we now live. 

We take a lot of photos – for this website, for social media, for insurance purposes, and for the joy of showing the other person something we have seen. The images live in our cloud solution and help to invoke the memories from years past. You don’t need to keep them in physical photo albums or stuck fading on the lounge room wall. Digitising our photos (the ones we took before digital cameras and smartphones was one of the smartest moves we could take.

As you can see, none of the things above are material things. None are things I need to carry with me in my travel pack.

What can’t you live without?

I originally wrote this article after a discussion with a non-minimalist friend who asked what I could not get rid of in my life. What can’t you live without? What is important to you in your life?

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Author: <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulryken/" target="_blank">Paul Ryken</a>

Author: Paul Ryken

Paul Ryken is a goal setter, goal achiever, never tell him he can't do anything kinda guy..a grandfather, a husband, practising minimalist who makes sustainable, ethical purchasing decisions. His lives a values-based, quality over quantity lifestyle. For fitness and mental health, he runs six days a week and is on a mission to complete a marathon on every continent before the age of 60. As a digital nomad with carry-on luggage only, he chooses experiences over material items. He primarily writes about sports, travel finances and technology.