What is an Untethered Life?

untethered life

The word tether, as a noun, is defined as a rope, chain, or the like, by which an animal is fastened to a fixed object so as to limit its range of movement.

Human beings are animals, but the difference between us and the dog on a leash or cow tied to a fence is that we often choose our tethers. Those tethers cost us money, and many of us—sadly—believe that by collecting tethers our lives gain meaning.

What tethers us?

  • Debt: mortgage, credit cards, payday loans, college loans
  • Social obligations: networking events, “friends” we don’t really want to meet up with but feel we must, parties that we don’t enjoy but will feel FOMO if we miss them
  • Material possessions: more clothes/shoes than you need, anything that you either don’t actively use or don’t actively love
  • Work we hate: the 9 to 5 where you can’t leave your desk even though you would be more productive and happier if you were working remotely, the career you choose because of money—especially money that goes to buy you material possessions you don’t need or love
  • Unhealthy relationships: friends that tear us down, romantic partners that aren’t growing with us, any relationship that causes more harm than good… and yes, this can even be family members at times
  • “Shoulds”: I’m Y years old I should be married by now, I’m X years I should have a baby by now, I should go to college, I should… anything that you have to convince you should—versus innately knowing it is right, true or something you actually want.

Leading an untethered life is as simple as cutting out, or minimizing, as many tethers as possible. Instead of striving for material possessions (something that is proven to make us miserable), untethering means getting rid of everything you don’t either love or need (similar to the philosophy espoused in Maria Kondo’s book on tidying up).

What’s the difference between choosing to live untethered and minimalism?


The difference between living an untethered life and minimalism is a simple one. Minimalism focuses on living with the least amount you need, whereas being untethered means no item, relationship, career, or other chosen path, ties you down unnecessarily.

Granted there are exceptions, as with everything in life, you wouldn’t say “my nursing baby is tying me down, so I’m going to leave her at the fire station”. No, that’s silly, you’d just be a selfish mother; unless you’re a truly terrible mother—then maybe your child is better off being raised by a pack of kind firefighters.

I digress… outside of the extremes let’s look at more common use cases:

You can live an untethered life, yet own a hundred pair shoe collection, as long as you love every single pair and you are not overly attached to them. This means one day you may hit a point where you have to sell those shoes, or your house catches fire, or a thief who shares your exact size and taste robs you of every last pair. Part of living an untethered life is having a Taoist view of possessions, which is summed up nicely (oddly enough) in this quote from the book of Job:

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away — Job 1:21 King James Bible

Whether you are an atheist or Muslim, the passage above transcends religion and instead is a beautiful way to look ato our relationship, as humans, with material possessions.

Note: I am by no way disparaging minimalists like Josh & Ryan. Minimalism is great for those it works for—I just like untethered living a bit better because to me it is more of the “middle path”.

Being untethered means figuring out what matters to you

What do you love? What do you need?

It’s a simple exercise. You will be far freer and happier when you have fewer possessions and unnecessary attachments. So figure out what you love and what you need.

You need some form of shelter. This could be a house like I inhabit or an RV like a friend of mine lives in—even though he has enough money to own several homes. Why does he live there? He likes it, and he doesn’t need more space. Simple as that.

untethered life

You need something to cover your body from the cold… and potentially prying eyes. I guess this depends on how in shape (or out of shape) you are. I personally have very few clothes. Partially because I hate shopping for them, partially because I have questionable taste in what looks “good” and partially because my money currently needs to be spent elsewhere. But there is a simple solution: I choose to wear only black unless it’s a dress, this makes matching EFFORTLESS.

Some people really enjoy dressing up, and there is nothing that clashes with having a fabulous wardrobe and living an untethered life. Just make sure you love everything you own, and the moment you don’t donate it to a worthy cause like Madison’s Closet.

You need to eat. This one is simple: try to eat healthy most of the time, occasionally indulge in sweets or a drink (unless you’re an addict), don’t be a glutton. Food and drink can be massive tethers in your life. Check yourself and your habits from time to time to make sure that things going into your body on work to benefit you, not to hold you captive.

You need love in your life. This can come from friends, family, partners and from your connection with the divine/nature/yourself. Experience love in an untethered way by not putting undue pressure on those you love, or who love you, to fulfill voids that no one but you can fill. Try not to look for love in the wrong places. Avoid fair weather friends and people who may prey on your love.

Living the untethered life at work

Working as an independent contractor for sites like CloudPeeps or Wonolo allows more physical freedom than a 9 to 5 job, but what matters the most in bringing untethered living into the workplace is the emotional/psychological tethers you feel to your job.

Some people are free as birds and work 9 to 5 at a machine shop. If it’s work they love and it’s providing for their needs, then it’s a win. Other people crave the freedom of entrepreneurship or freelance work, still others can be happy working a corporate job as long as they have the ability to work remotely.

At the end of the day, don’t be tethered to a job you hate or work that doesn’t meet your needs. Figure out which tethers bind you most strongly, then try to align yourself with work that gives you freedom from those ties.

3 steps you can take to begin untethering your life:

  1. De-Stuffify. Yep, you read it, a new word being born right here and now. Pick a weekend and go through your home and donate/get rid of everything you don’t love or need. This one thing can change your life if you let it.
  2. Dig deeper by reading  The Untethered Soul by Michael Signer. this book has changed my life and I believe can have a profound impact on anyone who opens their mind up to it.
  3. Think before you tether. Whether you’re considering buying a new jacket, or a new home, weigh in your mind the two questions: 1) do you need it? 2) do you love it? The less mental baggage you have from “stuff” the more room you allow for creativity, abundance, happiness and adventure.