I have officially been living out of a bag for three and a half years. It’s been
43 months or
127 weeks or
Am I amazing for doing that? No.
Am I totally happy I did it? Yes.
Has it been much longer than I planned? Yes.
Has it been that big of a deal? No.
Can anyone do it? Yes.
Does everyone want to? No.
Am I going to keep asking and answering my own questions? Maybe.
Like anything, you get used to it. Up until just one week ago, I was still using ‘tiny’ hotel soaps and tiny shampoo bottles and a tiny toothbrush. Okay, I am not that good. I do travel with a regular adult-size toothbrush.
In many ways, life was so much simpler and easier. I didn’t have to agonize over ‘what to wear’ each day. Owning a lot of ‘stuff’ can be more of a mental strain than we realize. All I had to worry about was my one bag. I wasn’t really deprived of anything (others may disagree). Although I will admit, that it wasn’t always easy to resist purchasing new things (like the cheap boots I bought in Spain, but I had a date and just couldn’t wear my tiny Sketchers!). Nor did I love the fact that I had to keep wearing the same clothes all the time, but most days, I just didn’t care. It was so nice to just be casual everyday and throw on a pair of comfy cargo pants or shorts and t-shirt. After that much time, though, I allowed myself to make trades. If one shirt had just had it, I would give it away and then replace it with a new one – usually bought at a cheap store or from a local outdoor market – very common all over the world. I remember buying a couple of cheap tank tops at the big market on the Asian side of Istanbul or twice buying a winter coat from a street market in Spain and then a year later in Italy. Coats were just too bulky to pack, but being able to snap one for $20-$30 was perfect. I literally left a decent, clean pair of ‘not so gently-used’ Abercrombie and Fitch jeans at a hostel in Cairns, Australia. I figured someone would need them and use them. And then I went to the mall there and treated myself to a brand new pair. Just about one year later, I did the same thing and bought another pair of jeans in Israel. Wearing the same jeans over and over for one year – that’s pretty good. Never in my life, did I really use and wear out my clothes and shoes like I did during this last 3 ½ years. And it was a good feeling – to know I don’t need as much as I really have. And to know that I was really ‘using’ what I did have. At home, I had probably more than 10 pairs of jeans and dozens and dozens of shirts (t-shirts, tank tops, button-down, short-sleeve, long-sleeve, etc), sweaters, fleece sweatshirts, pants, shorts, skirts, dresses, workout clothes, socks, sleepwear, shoes, and more. And I actually still have less than many people I know.
And now it is over (just my bag-lady life, not this blog). Well, at least for right now. I have just officially signed a 12-month lease on a new apartment in Chicago – my very own space in the world. I just moved in and was reunited with all my ‘stuff’ that had been in two storage PODS for all this time.
It was definitely a bittersweet day. There is something much more final about unpacking all of my crap, than just physically being back in the United States. This was really setting down some roots. “Stuff” does that to you.
I hired a couple guys to help me move my things out of the U-Haul storage pods. They were from a local moving company called Move-tastic! And they were fantastic! Not only were they on-time, friendly, and professional, the pride themselves on being FAST. In fact, they promote the fact that they literally run up and down stairs and back to the truck in between box runs. And they did. It was cute and they moved all my belongings in 50 minutes. Job well done!
So there it was. All of my stuff. My life represented by material possessions. Important stuff like my meat tenderizer and rolls of Christmas wrapping paper. You certainly don’t need this stuff when traveling. But when living at ‘home’ you just never know when the mood will strike to pound meat or wrap some gifts.
It was like unearthing a time capsule. Okay, only a 3-year-old time capsule, but still…
Things I actually missed or at least was happy to see (seriously):
- My cozy, down slippers (for 3 years, I’d used flip flops)
- My bicycle (now my main vehicle)
- A bigger selection of bras (yes, it was nice to have all my clothes, but…)
- A bigger selection of clothes in general
- A few extra bars of soap circa 2006 (real, adult-size soap!)
- One roll of paper towels (always handy to have on a moving day)
- Cable ties. The best invention ever!
- My Dyson vacuum (if I could only hop on and harness its sucking power to propel me around the world!)
Things I did not miss
- A bigger selection of clothes in general (yes, it’s on both lists)
- My CDs (are these extinct now?)
- My airless official NFL Football (acquired at a leather factory shoot – yes it’s cowhide, not ‘pigskin’)
- Toilet brush (haven’t had to ‘clean’ much except my body and my clothes while traveling)
- My bed’s dust ruffle
- Plastic Wrap, Aluminum foil, trash bags, cleaners, scissors, extension cords, a colander, broom, tools, medicines (all expired…I was supposed to be only gone ‘a year’), creams, and dozens of other home ‘necessities’
It all just made me realize how many things I just don’t need. Of course, I can utilize them when I live in a house or apartment…there are leftovers to keep in Tupperware, I simply need a can opener if I want to make a tuna sandwich, it’s messy to shower without a shower curtain, and, once a year, maybe I will want to toss a football around. But when traveling…you just need so little. And when staying at someone’s house or even in a hostel…there will be paper towels and dishes and skillets to use…all there waiting for you. I also seem to have an inordinate amount of candles and candle holders. I do like my ambiance and mood lighting.
One of the first things I did was take my couch cushions out of the plastic and get the couch ready. Then I assembled my bed. It’s always nice to have a place to sit and then lie down after a day of heavy lifting. Then, of course, I got my internet connection up and running…gotta feel connected with the outside world or I’d sit around eating cheese all day and become a recluse.
So as I sat amidst boxes here…I realized, it felt good and bad. I just spent $70 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond! Ugh. I have all this stuff I just unpacked and yet I needed more crap. And so it goes…
And it’s the first time in 3 years that I have a bedside clock. Time has changed for me. Oftentimes, I would not know they day of the week or the time of day. And luckily I grew better at the art of doing nothing and allowing myself to not feel guilty as time passed and I hadn’t ‘accomplished’ major tasks. Just being and living…was a major accomplishment.
In a way, I still do feel freer now than I ever have. I know I can still get up and go if I want to. I know I can still sell off stuff (thank you, Craigslist) or put it back in storage…or more likely just rent out my place furnished or maybe even do a home swap. That’d be cool. Hmmm, the wheels are turning already.
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Nothing says comforts of home like a roll of paper towels and a collection of bras.
I don't have words for this post – except for the sake that I can profoundly relate to every funny, moving, introspective word you wrote.
Bra choices….clothing choices…the dust ruffle…priceless.
After reading it – I honestly and happy and sad for you too. Such a weird feeling.
However, just think if all Americans did what you did for one year – put everything they own in storage, and then see what they REALLY need…it think it would change many things in our lives and societies. Then again, who am I kidding…
Welcome home! Good luck with the adjustment. I found it to be harder than I expected it would be, but time makes it easier. And, hey, at least you live in Chicago, which is one of my favorite cities. Enjoy rediscovering it.
Congrats on the move back to Chicago.