But don’t fret! What follows here is no invitation to the pity party, nor some ill-disguised plea to drop what you’re doing right this instant and send more stuff. Quite the contrary, in fact, considering the cardboard boxes scattered around my room, dusty remnants of a different me.
That sounds dramatic. But it’s the truth, laid bare, and the kind of realization that couldn’t have clicked until someone broke into my house and decided to fling stuff all over the floor. My stuff. Mountains of it, far more than anyone could ever plausibly need, but it was my property, people, and some of it was missing.
There, wading deep into the mess of my room, it hit me: holy hell, I have a lot of crap.
The knee-jerk reaction was anger. The later, more measured response was a blind rage, an itching to shout and stomp that didn’t fade until I sucked in a big breath and stopped to survey the damage. And there, wading deep into the mess of my room, it hit me: holy hell, I have a lot of crap.
I almost laughed. Not the normal reaction, sure, but there’s the kicker, the wake-up call shining like the (not stolen!) lamp toppled over at my feet. Ready for it?
I got robbed, yeah. And I’ll tell you why it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.
Think about it. Seasoned travelers, well-accustomed to long stretches on the road, often go about their business with little weight attached: the contents of a backpack, ideally, plus whatever knickknacks pop up along the way. Does this make for comfortable living? Nah. But this no-frills existence invites an entirely different approach to life, one that puts emphasis on places and people over things.
For days on end we live with a smile, building incredible adventures with little beyond what we can shove in our pack. And then we check back into society, stepping off that return flight and right back into the familiar culture of home. We come back to houses and apartments and mortgages and debts, walls and shelves sagging under the weight of the useless crap we accumulate during our regular, normal routine.
Put simply, we come home to stuff. And frankly, we need to cut this out. Don’t believe me? Take a count of the many innocent little items cluttering your desk. Add to that the number of boxes stuffed in your closet, and top that off with how many DVDs in your collection that you haven’t watched in months.
Got your number? Good. There’s no trick to this, really: whatever that magic number is, it’s probably way too high.
You dump most of it when you go traveling, don’t you? So why do you need it now?
The first sign, I think, was that brand-spankin’ new computer monitor dropped in a hurry by the front door. The second sign? The realization that a tornado had come crashing through my room in the few hours I’d been gone, spilling all my precious stuff to the floor. That’s a hard sight to come home to, for all the obvious reasons, but what followed managed to be even less thrilling: the arrival of the cops, nervous glances at the door, and reluctant calls to my roommates to describe in detail everything they’d lost.
Fun times, that. But what stuck in my mind long after that night was a single line given to the man with the badge: “Me? I just lost a monitor and some games. Got lucky, I guess.”
Lucky. Right. Looking at the colorful chaos in my room, the realization that I’d have to spend the better part of two weeks trying to put the pieces back together seemed like everything but a thumbs-up from the powers that be. How much time had I wasted already trying to keep everything tidy? Why did I have so much stuff in the first place? When had I managed to fill every inch of my closet and shelves with stacks of papers and boxes and clothes and … things?
That’s life, it seems — an endless parade of acquisition, the steady yearning to buy, buy, buy until the walls surrounding you burst at the seams. It’s a difficult cycle to ignore, even for those who’d rather spend every living moment on the road, but that little fact might make the change more important than ever.
Those dusty boxes now stacked in my room? Signs of progress, if you’ll believe it, visible proof of the push to free myself from the culture of stuff. The process hasn’t been easy — selling is way harder than buying — but the clutter is vanishing, slowly, fading like the memories of a room so cluttered I couldn’t see the carpet.
Cathartic? Definitely. Time spent organizing the endless mess is now time spent living, a change so simple and wonderful that the next step fell in line almost immediately: stop buying. That sounds a little extreme, I’ll admit, but putting it in practice warrants just a few tweaks — think renting versus purchasing, borrowing versus owning, and so forth.
You’ll need food, sure. And you’ll need clothing, transportation, and entertainment — and that’s fine. You don’t ask for much more than those basic necessities whenever you travel, so adopting a similarly lean lifestyle at home is half the battle. The other part requires a little digging, a few solid minutes of meditation on one of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself: what do you need to live?
Not much, I promise.
Here’s the obvious hint: you don’t need stuff. You need friends and family, memories and experiences, and a firm kick in the rear to realize that all of those are closer than you think. We might firmly associate each of them with travel. But even that attitude warrants readjustment, a reshaping to include a simple truth: the most amazing times of your life are waiting at home, too, if you’d just put down the stuff for one second and take a look around.
It’s easier than you think. Sure, it took a robbery for yours truly to realize it, but there’s no sense waiting for a stroke of bad luck to take your life into your own hands. Dump the stuff. Kick the crap to the curb, take a deep breath, and start focusing on what counts: three-hundred and sixty-five chances each year to live life to its fullest. The friendships and memories that naturally follow will endure far longer than anything you could find on a store shelf.