Posted on 16 June 2009 by Carl
Posted on 26 February 2009 by Carl
“How do you do it?”
“Live with just that?”
What we were talking about is my suitcase.
How do I live out of one suitcase?
Here I’ll explain a little about my process of downsizing and the effort to simplify my existence by removing the burden of possessing. In essence Living out of a Suitcase 101.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.
- Epictetus, Stoic Philosopher
In a little more than a year I have gone from having an apartment full of the accoutrement of daily life (bed, desktop computer, kitchen wares, bookshelves filled with books, etc.) to living out of one carry-on sized suitcase and a messenger bag. My initial downsizing was forced when I was denied reentry to Canada for a year. My following downsizing has been by choice.
I moved to New York City in January 2008 with a rolling garment bag, a smaller suitcase, and my Chrome messenger bag. I lived with friends for two months while I searched for a room of my own. That room came in the form of a converted office adjoining a bedroom in a triplex in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. It was six feet wide and at most ten feet in length. I had a large window to a balcony, a scavenged end table and bookshelf (as dresser), and slept on an air mattress.
November 2008 I was laid off. Relationship came to an end. I had no reason to stay in the City or the Northeast for that matter. Within two weeks I had decided to leave New York and try my hand at vagabonding. My process of liberation was at hand.
Our crude civilization engenders a multitude of wants. . . . Our forefathers forged chains of duty and habit, which bind us notwitstanding our boasted freedom, and we ourselves in desperation, add link to link, groaning and making medicinal laws for relief.
-John Muir, Kindred and Related Spirits
On the road it is is justifiably more difficult to live with an excess of things. There is the sheer physical weight of carrying your stuff from one place to another but ever more burdening is the attachment to possessing.
Attachment to possessing burdens me whether I am vagabonding or working in an office 9 to 5. It is easy to fall prey to, and I have no exception to this weakness. It is already an old adage that we are bombarded by advertisements, that we live in a society of consumption, and that we measure ourselves by the things we have.
Breaking out of this perspective is our first step.
To do this I took a cue from Aristotle. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” To live more simply I had to act by breaking the chains of attachment.
The initial action is often the hardest.
Confronting the prospect of going through my possessions and classifying them as donation, junk, store, or take was daunting. I was amazed at the accumulation of things that were mine, and it is still not all whittled away. Where did I start?
Just go and don’t ask questions.
Rather than debate each item, I attacked the problem as aggressively as I could throwing things into piles based on my initial reaction.
Going with your gut, or, the Ready, Fire, Aim method is the quickest way to get started. You can always backtrack a bit and move things around later but your biggest obstacle is starting.
I had long ago realized I wore only a small percentage of my clothing regularly. I would not miss the rest. They were merely the outliers of my outfit regimen, benefiting me only a fraction of what they cost me in keeping. Those few items I believed would be required later in the future were pressed into storage, the rest bagged and donated.
As for the rest of my possessions, very few of the things that I had would benefit me on the road. With my Macbook Pro and iPhone I had all the necessary means for communication and working covered. I had a copy of Vagabonding, a notebook, a safety razor and a few odds-and-ends. Anything else I have needed I have picked up on the way or borrowed.
Once you’ve cut out all of those non-essentials looking at your suitcase or backpack as the only burden on the road will make the road ahead appear closer, more accessible and lighthearted.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.
-Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
This simplicity gives us liberation. Taking responsibility of the things we possess and reducing that to an understandable level gives us freedom to live.
We become eccentric. Unconventional. Foolish. Free.