A key point in my minimalism journey was when I went backpacking for four months earlier this year. No, I’m not about to go all hippy on you and start describing the experience of finding myself whilst travelling the world. This post is merely about putting the items we have into perspective and understanding the value of those things.
When I was planning what to take travelling I watched videos upon videos about how and what to pack. I researched hundreds of different types of backpack to take with the perfect ‘day pack’ attachment. My very worldly step-dad AKA Bob-Dad told me not to pack anything unnecessary. Where on earth do you begin to understand what is necessary for a trip away for four months when all you have planned is your flights? Anyway, I packed what I considered to be essential and my shiny new backpack eagerly weighed in at 18 kilos. I remember thinking “this’ll be fine, I’m only going to be carrying this around the airports, in between public transport and up to my dorms in hostels”. Oh Lauren. Lauren Lauren Lauren. I did learn the hard way and what a great lesson it was. In my first week I discarded many items from the pack and donated them to the hostel. These items include: a selfie stick, an additional towel, some t-shirts I didn’t really like, some medication and a pair of shoes I didn’t really like either. Success! The bag was now 9 kilos and I was able to get rid of even more as time went on. I did feel better knowing life was going to be easier travelling with far less stuff and finding what I needed in my backpack would be much easier now.
I remember seeing other travellers who had been travelling much longer who had smaller backpacks to me with a lot less stuff. I remember feeling admirable they were able to live with so little. As time went on I did continue to decrease the stuff I had. The only things I really cared about were my camera, phone, a spare pair of clothes and travel documents. I can recall a long overnight bus journey thinking “if someone was to steal my backpack, then what I have left in my day pack is all I need.”
This was probably the first time in my life I have been forced to live minimally as in order to be comfortable and free to physically move. What a great lesson though.
A really good George Clooney film has a great metaphor on this subject. Read the quote from his 2009 film Up in the Air below:
“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em? Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things. The things on shelves and in drawers, the knick-knacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up. Then you start adding larger stuff, clothes, table-top appliances, lamps, linens, your TV.
The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. And you go bigger. Your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it’s a studio apartment or a two bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it? This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake, moving is living.
Now, I’m gonna set that backpack on fire. What do you want to take out of it? What do you want to take out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t remember. Drink some ginkgo and let the photos burn. In fact, let everything burn and imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing. It’s kind of exhilarating, isn’t it?
Now, this is gonna be a little difficult, so stay with me. You have a new backpack. Only this time, I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office, and then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend.
You get them into that backpack. And don’t worry. I’m not gonna ask you to light it on fire. Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake – your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders?
All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically for a lifetime – star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not those animals. The slower we move, the faster we die. We are not swans. We’re sharks.”
This subject has been discussed on The Minimalists recent podcast about relocating around America. Having less stuff allows you to move location more easily, physically and emotionally too. It’s worth a listen – episode 150 | City which you can listen to on Spotify and Youtube.
I’d love to hear what you make of this, whether you can relate and if you’ve been travelling then how you found trying to pack your life into a bag.
Me in Stanley, Hong Kong. Laughing for ages at this with the lovely Kenya I met and travelled with around Hong Kong.