November 1, 2010

Lighten the load…


‘A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.’ ~Lao Tzu

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Francine Jay of Miss Minimalist.

I’m often asked what inspired me to become a minimalist. The answer: I fell in love with traveling lightly.

After over-packing on a few trips—and suffering the misery of lugging around a heavy suitcase—I vowed never to check a bag again. On my first trip to Europe, I opted for a small carry-on instead (replacing my wardrobe of clothes with a packet of laundry detergent).

The experience was exhilarating! I was mobile, flexible, and fancy free. I felt like I could go anywhere, and do anything, when I wasn’t loaded down with stuff. And I thought, wow, if it feels this great to travel lightly, how wonderful would it be to live this way?

I began to edit the contents of my home with the same fervor as I had my suitcase. As I slowly ditched the extra “baggage,” I could feel the weight being lifted from my shoulders.

Lighten your load

Excess possessions are like excess luggage: they can tie us down, get in the way, and drain our sense of energy and adventure. (Have you ever passed up a job offer because of the hassle of moving, or a vacation because there was nobody to “watch the house”?)

Conversely, the less stuff we have to worry about, the more nimble we become—and the better able to embrace new opportunities and experiences.

To regain our freedom, we simply need to lighten our loads. We can accomplish that by borrowing a few packing techniques:

Start with a clean slate. Travelers start with an empty suitcase, and select each item that goes into it. Take a similar approach when decluttering: empty the entire contents of the drawer, closet, or room you’re working on. Then carefully consider each item, and decide whether to return it to the space. Choose what to keep, rather than what to toss.

Question every item. In a small carry-on, every item must pull its weight. Demand the same of your household possessions: have a conversation with your stuff, and ask what value it adds to your life. If the answer is “not much,” give it the heave-ho.

Set limits. To keep his bag light, a traveler might limit his pants to two, his shirts to three, and his socks to four. Use a similar strategy to keep your stuff under control: decide, for example, to own only five sweaters, fifty books, or the amount of craft supplies that’ll fit into one storage box.

Use modules. Take inspiration from packing cubes, and gather like items (cosmetics, office supplies, video games) into separate “modules.” Consolidating your stuff helps you see how much you have, weed out duplicates, and keep a lid on further accumulation.

Think versatility. To save space, light packers favor items that do double- or triple-duty (like clothes that can be dressed up or down, and layered for different climates). Use the same principle in your home: choose versatile or multi-functional items (like a sleeper sofa, or all-purpose saute pan) over single-task ones.

Digitize. Digital music, books, and documents are not only easier to transport—they’re also easier to store. Use technology to transform physical possessions into bits and bytes: scan paperwork, convert CDs to MP3s, and buy electronic books instead of paper ones.

Live on the edge. The light traveler addresses her needs as they arise; if she runs out of toothpaste in Tokyo, she simply buys some more. Adopt a similar philosophy at home: instead of stockpiling stuff or holding on to “just in cases,” acquire things on an as-needed basis.

Lighten your step

In addition to lightening your load, it also helps to lighten your step. Life, like travel, is no fun when you’re plodding through each day, checking off an itinerary, or worrying about what might go wrong. It’s significantly more pleasant, in the words of an old Chinese poem, to “drift like clouds and flow like water.”

Some tips for traveling well through life:

Take the slow train. Instead of speeding through your days, slow down and savor every moment—we only get to take this fabulous trip once. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly in no hurry to reach the destination.

Look out the window. Too often, we approach our lives with tunnel vision—focusing only on the road ahead, with our foot on the accelerator. Instead, give up the wheel and enjoy the ride; look around, and take in all the beautiful scenery.

Ditch the itinerary. Much fuss is made over goals, plans, and schedules. But any good traveler will tell you that the magic happens when you let go of the reins, and let things unfold of their own accord. Take each day as it comes, and be surprised and delighted by what transpires.

Be mindful of fellow passengers. You’re not on this journey alone; be considerate of your travel companions. Smile, be polite, and respect their privacy and space. Don’t be the guy that nobody wants to sit next to.

Go with the flow. Not every route will be smooth, nor every connection on schedule. Don’t despair if your plans fall to pieces; be fluid, and welcome the possibilities a detour may hold.

When we approach life like wayfarers, we realize that “more” isn’t necessarily better—and in fact, can be downright burdensome. I’ve never known any traveler to envy how much luggage his neighbor has.

“Less,” on the other hand, can be absolutely liberating—and make for an easier, more exciting, and infinitely more interesting journey!

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