The first time I came home from 9 months of backpacking through Asia and China, I was afraid to unpack. I kept wearing my same ratty backpacking clothes for weeks. I was more comfortable that way.
I could barely bring myself to even look in my closet, at the rows of neatly folded, fresh clean clothes. Clothes I hadn’t work in nearly a year. There were so many of them, and they seemed like something from an entirely different life. I had gotten so used to living with two changes of pants and 6 t-shirts that anything more than that was entirely overwhelming and unnecessary.
Of course that didn’t last long. In just a couple of weeks I was back into my old sundresses, cardigans and silk tops. I probably even went shopping, even bought some new stuff (after all, my clothing was all woefully out of date). I hadn’t needed a damn thing for months but all of a sudden I NEEDED new clothing.
Isn’t that a fabulous and terrifying trick of American consumerism?
Selling all your stuff to travel is a popular trope among travel bloggers. It’s considered an essential part of the change-your-life-and-see-the-world process. I’ve even written about it here. Travel bloggers love to write about packing as light as possible, as small as possible, carrying as little as possible. The party line is to look on too many possessions with disdain, to see owning things as a weakness.
And maybe it is, but if so, my confession is that, I am weak.
So let’s talk about “stuff.” By which I mean clothes, books, shoes, all that stuff you have that goes above and beyond what is strictly necessary. I have a complicated relationship with “stuff.” Which is to say I used to be a stuff addict, and I could totally become one again. That rush you get from shopping, I used to refer to it as “pure optimism.” That flash of envy seeing a friend’s overflowing closet. The irresistible draw of an online sale.
Deep down I know that things don’t make me happy. They are a temporary high and than a monumental pain in the ass. They can hold you down and hold you back from so many things. But man, that siren call is strong.
My one saving grace is Mike: a true minimalist at heart. Unlike myself he truly walks the walk. He legitimately downsized his life 5 years ago (not just half-heartedly, like me), and has never looked back. Even now as we pack for Seattle, my stuff is about triple his.
When we’re on the road, it’s fairly easy to resist the siren call of the shopping cart. I have bought a few too many souvenirs it’s true, but even while living in Mexico I successfully avoided purchasing any unneeded “stuff.” Although I did buy a lot of ebooks, I’m only human.
Now we find ourselves in a strange position. We are moving to Seattle, leasing an apartment, and we own nothing. No bed, no couch, no desks. No spoons, no plates, no bath towels. No shower curtain, no sheets, no measuring cups. Aside from our clothes, our electronics and our many random souvenirs, we have none of the things you need to successfully live in an apartment.
You know what that means. It’s shopping time. Normally I would be jumping up in down in anticipation, but the sheer outlay of money involved, and our conflicting views on stuff ownership, mean this is not going to be the easiest task we’ve tackled as a married couple. There have already been several intense discussions over which is more important to buy first: couch or TV.
It IS kind of scary. I know I can easily fall back into the cult of things. We are settling down but we are never too settled- who knows if we will stay in Seattle. Maybe we’ll end up in Italy after all, stranger things have happened. Buying this couch may be the biggest commitment we have ever made together.