The Things I Carried

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Live simply.

It’s something I’ve always preached, one of the few things I’ll stand on my soapbox for and the underlying principle behind Live Outside and Play.

In fact, I feel so strongly about the importance of living simply that I actually included it in a presentation I gave this week to a group of students from Garrett College.

“Live simply,” I told them. “If you can learn to be happy with less, you’ll find more fulfillment in your lives.”

I stand behind that statement and, judging from the number of nods-in-agreement that I got from the students, I think most of them do as well. But after the presentation, I opened the door to my Jeep and immediately felt like the biggest hypocrite that ever walked the face of this planet.

Sweatshirts, empty cardboard boxes, a bag of almonds, hand lotion, old batteries. My passenger seat was literally buried beneath a heap of stuff.

Now, I’ve never been one for OCD levels of organization. In general, my life is perfectly content to exist as, what I like to call, “organized chaos.” What may at first glance appear to be nothing more than a pile of crap is actually my organizational system. You can ask me where anything in my car is and, usually, I can tell you exactly where to find it, down to which pocket of which Deuter pack you’ll find my blue Petzl headlamp.

I think I’m okay with this approach because, in general, that pile of organized chaos only contains the stuff I need. But on further inspection of my passenger seat, I realized that I had a number of things with me that were just that – things. They had no real intended purpose and I hadn’t touched them in the seven months I’d been on the road. Why had I let these things sit here for so long, cluttering up what little living space I had?

The truth is, we’re all hoarders in some capacity, perhaps not to the extent that you associate the word “hoarding” with, but regardless of how simply we try to live, stuff accumulates and surprisingly quickly, too. With houses and apartments though, you can hide that hoarding pretty well. Basements and attics and crawl spaces, sheds and garages overflowing with items who’s sole purpose is to sit and collect dust. Boxes, junk drawers, baskets for old bank statements. Whether we’re out buying new things every week or not, somehow, we magically end up with more stuff than we know what to do with.

Living on the road only heightens my awareness of how often this happens. I can’t live in denial about it, because that junk sits right there in the passenger seat, staring me in the face. Yet somehow, I haven’t fixed the problem. No matter how many times I clean the Jeep, all it takes is a weekend of adventuring, a few days at a festival, really anything, and it’s back to looking like an overflowing storage shed. Granted, yes, I know other people have the same issue with their cars. Even when I wasn’t living on the road, I always felt like my car acted as a second closet of sorts, a catch-all for anything and everything I might need if I was away from my house for more than a day – sleeping bags, extra sets of clothes, dishes, running shoes. It was like a yard-sale-on-wheels.

But as I sat there staring at what once was my passenger seat, I decided I needed to end this once and for all, even if it was just one baby step at a time.

That night, I took the first 10 things I laid eyes on and spread them out on the floor. The goal? To get rid of one thing from that pile.

As I picked up each item and held it in my hand, I realized that my problem was worse than I initially thought. Not only had I let this junk accumulate, but I’d actually gone as far as to associate a memory, an emotion, an attachment to this stuff.

There was the coffee mug I bought for $5 during a trip to Asheville with my best friend, a photograph of the Blue Ridge Mountains at sunrise that I’d taken on my first day of road life, a bar of handmade soap from my best friends’ wedding, a customized pocket mirror my great-grandfather made for my great-grandmother (family heirlooms warrant attachment), a palm-reader-doohickey my mother gave me during our two weeks together on the road, my first pocket knife (heavy as it is), the purple spork I’d taken to the Amazon, an empty harmonica box I’d bought with my father at Cracker Barrel (for the record, there was a harmonica in it at one point), and last but not least my road warrior Tang, a hand carved jaguar I bought on the streets of Brazil.

Part of me didn’t want to get rid of any of it – they represented such positive moments in my life, memories I never wanted to forget. But the other part of me screamed, “Just throw it away and be done with it!”

I mean, think about it, do I really need any of those things? Even the pocket knife I’d never used for anything more than opening boxes and spreading peanut butter. The answer is, obviously, no, but throwing the entire lot in the trash would have been a drastic step.

Nonetheless, I was committed to my goal and decided to part ways with the empty harmonica box. I shed a little tear as I watched it slide down the walls of the trash can but knew that the decision was for the best – my goal now is to continue downsizing, one piece of crap at a time.

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What are your thoughts on living simply? Any tips for eliminating junk from your life? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

 

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