Saturday, August 13, 2011

Packing, Part II

Have you ever seen Hoarders? I'm not saying I'm that bad.....but I have accumulated a lot of stuff. I've always traveled heavy. When I went 'backpacking' in Central America in 2002, my backpack was the largest back-country model available; I set it on a card table at the airport while going thru Mexican customs- it broke the table. You could seriously fit a 5 year-old kid in there. There was all the usual stuff: clothes, sleeping bag, first aid kit. In addition, I hauled $200 worth of Guatemalan fabrics south thru Nicaragua and Costa Rica. And I kept a rolled-up posted from Honduras and large wall maps of South America in there . And I fit hammered metal wall art and a round tortilla basket from Oaxaca in the bottom. On my freakin' back, people! When I went to study abroad in Russia I took the usual 2 suitcases and 2 carry-ons, plus an extra duffel bag of shoes. High-heels for the club. For what turned out to be a 4 month stay. During winter. And then, I had to carry them back. All the way across Russia. On the train. In a small compartment with 3 other luggage-heavy people.
I think this is the extra ticket I had to buy in Moscow to fly all that luggage to Yakutsk.... eek!
(In my defense, the last several years have been better. 99% of the time I've managed to limit myself to a simple school backpack, even for trips up to a month long.)

I used to buy stuff for fun. It's pretty common in the states, right? Years and years of accumulating possessions just because you can. Then a year ago, we when *thought* a  departure to Russia was imminent, I started reevaluating things. Actually, I started panicking, but that later turned in to a more calm and rational process and lifestyle change. A year ago, during those days of panic, I started a control journal, something similar to what FlyLady recommends for house cleaning. Every month I sit down and very consciously appraise 8+ categories worth of belongings (clothes, books, cosmetics, etc). Every month I make a plan for how to own less by the following month. From the perspective of a year- holy cow!- it's been a year of 'stuff' anorexia. The funny thing is, though, like an eating disorder...the more 'stuff' you lose, the more drastic measures you need to take to feel satisfied. But that aside, I am happy to be where I am today, possession-wise.

If you came to my house now, it might not look that full to you, but I can feel the psychic weight of these items. It really feels better to own less. Everything you own requires an investment in some form- a book waiting to be read, a Spanish language program languishing in exile, a kitchen table needing to be cleaned, clothes desperately searching for an iron. The worst thing for me now is owning something I don't use. It feels like a dead weight, whereas before it was invisible. The last year, this year of the control journal, has opened my eyes to clutter I didn't know how to notice.

If you watch Hoarders, you know how it goes: the cleaning team and psychologist come, everyone's all pumped up, the hoarder is put in a folding chair to oversee the operation....and then everything grinds to a halt, because instead of letting people make rational decisions (throw away a moldy Halloween pumpkin or broken toaster), the hoarder has to personally handle and decide on each item. I'm just like that- it's hard to indiscriminately throw things away; I have to go through things piece by piece. I feel like if I just manically cleaned house I would be cheating. I would just end up accumulating stuff all over again. This piece by piece process is my punishment and redemption. Through it I'm earning a simpler future.


  1. This is SO true...and I'm sure you know Jenn's favorite show is Hoarders. What happens when your kids are grown and out of the house get rid of a lot of crap and keep what you need. My boyfriend has a saying, "We spend the first 50 years of our lives collecting stuff and the last 50 trying to get rid of it all." You're an old soul, it.

  2. I like your boyfriend's saying :p I guess I'm trying to get a head start on things!