If you have ever been on a trip with multiple suitcases you should be able to picture the following scene: a hotel room with every counter or dresser draped in a layer of clothing; books, magazines, and travel magazines thrown casually on available bed space; open suitcases and electronics topping every free chair. You have to pack to leave and discover layer after layer of items that have yet to be used or have been used continually. You need to charge your laptop for the flight and have to dig through the layers like an archeologist uncovering a lost city.
By the third hotel packing becomes less a game of Tetris and more of Thanksgiving turkey: no strategy, just put things where there’s room. And then there are the items you purchased. Perhaps you bought a few psuedo-touristy items for family, the occasional fragile vase or glass item, or perhaps just a few new items you picked up for your closet that no one you know will ever be able to copy.
When I picture this scene I feel stress and anxiety. I remember the moments I have spent in that picture and think of the items that got left behind. I think of moments spent hoping my suitcase will pop over the ledge at baggage claim and the relief and surprise I felt when it did. I remember being stranded in Salt Lake City with no luggage for three days or my wife’s panicked voice as she discovered her bag had been stolen at the Philadelphia airport.
I now travel with a maximum of four changes of shirts, one change of pants, sometime a second pair of shoes, and no more than four pairs of socks and underwear. I wear one jacket or hoodie. My electronics are limited to only necessity and I pack for averages not extremes, layering if it ends up cold. I pack a rain coat, which converts a regular coat into an insulating layer. And I pack it all into a travel backpack, leaving my hands free to do whatever I need. I have yet to have an issue with airline overheads but can throw my bag under a seat if need be.
And my setup will work for business or pleasure, summer or winter with very few modifications, and for most any climate that I would normally visit. And with access to a sink and a little detergent, I could operate with this same setup for weeks at a time.
The means to this exercise is similar to its outcome: intentional living. I know what I have and know it isn’t much. I can pack my belongings in a matter of minutes. I can run between gates if the timing is close. I will be let on when roller bags are being forced to check. I know where and what I have at all times.
I started traveling this way after converting my backpacking rig to an ultralight setup. I went from a 35lb base kit to 15lb. I packed only the necessities, including emergency gear. But I didn’t overpack. I packed the requirements for life: food, water or water purification, clothing, shelter. It was as though I lost 20 solid pounds have never enjoyed backpacking more.
The reality is that we don’t actually need much to not only survive but thrive. We think of items such as clothing as being necessities, and they are, in quantities because it feels strange to limit ourselves. The what if questions pop up – what if I’m at a party, what if I need to dress nicer, what if my casual black shoes get a hole, what if the weather changes drastically… And then we throw the considered item in our suitcase.
It is almost as though we want to be prepared for everything. But in that process we can lose out on what we are doing through having to haul and manage our preparedness. The beauty of travel becomes a stressful headache in having to deal with things, hoping for bags to arrive, and managing objects.
But then I start to wonder about my daily life and the closet full of clothing I manage and maintain. I review my collection of electronic items and rack of jackets. I see how these objects clutter and fill my life and time, how they overwhelm me with the space needed to posses more and occasional guilt that comes with overbuying.
If I can spend weeks with only a midsize backpack partially filled with items, why not live this way at home?
For the next 6 months I will be minimizing my life drastically. I plan to set out 5-7 button down shirts (though this is overkill), a few t-shirts, no more than two pairs of jeans, and as many shoes. The rest will go into boxes. I plan to see what life can be without having to think each morning about my clothing options. I want to see how uncomplicated I can make this one part of my life and see if there are opportunities for simplifying further.
What could we do with our lives if we were suddenly freed from non-essential and stress inducing clutter?