Unencumbered

old luggage
This was my original luggage plan. Only the big duffel remains and it stays home at my daughter’s house.

I have been an unknowing minimalist for at least a decade now, developing over time into a knowing one.

My theory is that most people who have ultimately become minimalists don’t come by it through theory but rather by some circumstance of their life. I came into my own through falling in love with a movie – as I have done in so many of my life changes.

It was the 1991 film My Girl, in which a young girl goes through a series of changes in her own life, one of which is acquiring a stepmother – Jamie Lee Curtis – who arrives in an RV. Curtis is a single woman traveling around in her little “house-on-wheels” and I instantly wanted to be her. I distinctly remember that in one scene you see the inside of her tiny domain and she has turned a railing into a bookshelf of paperbacks. That was the clincher.

My own RV came along in 2009. The previous owners called her Wanda and she was 23 feet long and fit my dream beautifully. Over the next 6 years I became a minimalist as I adjusted to living in Wanda. It happened slowly as I became aware that going to places like Wal-Mart were no longer a free-for-all for me. No amount of organization could expand my space and I realized I didn’t actually need most of the things I automatically threw into my shopping cart.

That knowledge changed my life. Never having been much of an accumulator anyway, it wasn’t seismic but slowly I began to look at my possessions differently. Near the end of my days as a home-(RV)-and-car-owner, a propertied woman, I began culling through things, selling most in preparation for my travels and giving away many. I pared them down to a couple of plastic bins of memories, two suitcases and a huge duffel bag of things I thought I had to keep. Over my eight months in SE Asia, I ended up dumping the second suitcase and lightening the duffel bag. At my daughter’ home, I still store those bins and that huge duffel bag filled with clothing I change out each trip.

Now, while traveling, I simply have one large suitcase and a regular backpack, not the monstrous kind. Oh, and a camera case and purse. But even the biggish camera case fits inside my backpack with my laptop and some emergency supplies, like an extra set of clothes. This trip, to Mexico, I even ended up with extra room in my one big piece of luggage. I didn’t know what to do!

There is a tremendous amount of freedom in not owning things, or in reality, being owned by them. If you really need or love a thing, you carry a fear of the loss of it, unless you are an extraordinary individual and have managed to overcome that particular anxiety. So, I have felt lighter in general, but hyper aware of the whereabouts of those things that I still possess: my phone, my laptop and my camera.

Things are not all you give up in a life of minimalism. Friends or relationships that not do have meaning on some level tend to fall away. You also give up a sense of normalcy. You are different than most people. For me, this really hits home when I visit the States, because I’m no longer interested in doing the same old things I did before – like shopping. I thought I would be hungry to shop when I returned after my first big trip, but quickly realized I wasn’t shopping in my previous sense of the word, but rather restocking. There’s a big difference.

And it’s tremendously hard for me to spend money on “going out”, which really means eating and shopping, maybe the movies. Now that I’ve lived in other parts of the world, I automatically translate that money into what it would buy overseas. Years ago, I had that problem with slot machine gambling – mentally converting quarters I squandered into loads of clothes washed at a laundromat. Unfortunately, I got over that.

So, in conclusion, I like to think of myself as unencumbered, but in truth, my encumbrances have simply changed. Where I no longer need to acquire stuff, I am more deeply attached to what I do own. While I don’t pursue relationships that were mainly built on activities like shopping and dining out, those that are much deeper require more upkeep and I treasure them much more than I did before.

Now, however, I wouldn’t use the word “encumbered” because what’s left doesn’t weigh me down. I think of it as converting a bunch of “stuff” into gold coins I carry around in a leather pouch, close to my body – a much lighter load, but still precious.

The word “attached” is now a much better description.

my new luggage
My much lighter load. Both camera case and laptop are in that backpack!

Author: Kathy Lynn Hall

I've embarked on the lifestyle of vagabond as a solitary woman and I'm excited about sharing my experiences with you.

7 thoughts on “Unencumbered”

  1. I really like your approach! I don’t travel much, but in a sense trying to avoid plastic is doing the same for me: making me realise how much I don’t need.

  2. My wife and I share your reality of a minimizing due to our travels. After seeing the plight of the poor in India, I am majorly questioning the American obsession with acquiring stuff. On to the next phase.

  3. Yes – the comparisons of other cultures do affect us. For me it was the extreme poverty of the Philippines, for such a large population. Heartbreaking. I find myself doing small things to help. In Guadalajara, there was a man who was always asleep in the nook along my walk to the grocery store – obviously homeless and probably sick. I couldn’t get my own food without also getting a small bag for him. I’d just put it next to him because he was always asleep. Travel changes you.

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