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Living out of a Suitcase

by Jeremy McCarthy

After two years of covid-related lockdowns, for most of the world, travel is back. In my case, it is back with a vengeance as I try to catch up with the pent-up demand for business and personal travel that has accumulated over two years of restricted mobility. This year, I feel like I've been around the world twice since I visited almost all of our hotels, saw family and friends I hadn’t seen in some time, and managed to squeeze in family vacations along the way.

So I’ve spent much of the past year living out of a suitcase. On my longest trip, I was away from home for almost three months, with only enough clothes and belongings to fit in to a single suitcase. Perhaps the greatest and most interesting realization from this experience is that, although I left behind closets and dressers full of clothes and boxes and shelves full of belongings, I really didn’t miss any of it.

Everything I needed was in my suitcase. I had a couple of outfits to wear for work, a couple of outfits for play, a couple of outfits for exercise, and a swimsuit… and little else. But, it turns out, little else is needed. We can get by perfectly well with far less than the massive amounts of personal property that most of us accumulate over the course of our lives.

I only missed my guitar and my surfboard

When you travel for a living, you find the tricks and strategies that make living out of a suitcase easier. You pack clothes that  mix-and-match well for a variety of outfits  suitable for a variety of occasions. You bring quick-drying socks and underwear that can be easily washed in your hotel room shower if needed. You find the two pairs of shoes that are dressy enough for work and comfortable enough for sport.  

By the time I got home, I realized there were only two personal belongings that I missed: my guitar and my surfboard. Everything else was optional. Coming back to all my belongings I realized that not only did I not miss anything, but there are some hidden costs to having excess belongings:

  1. It takes time every day to find and decide what clothing to wear.
  2. It is harder to maintain, manage and organize the inventory.
  3. Clutter creeps in to your environment, and as a consequence into your mental state of well-being, getting in the way, clogging up energy and creating stress.

Living out of a suitcase for a time gave me the confidence to know that I could eliminate some of these items with very little negative consequences, and so I purged—sending carload after carload to the Salvation Army, and lightening my load considerably.

You can travel lightly through life

If you are considering shedding your excess baggage (both physically and psychologically), you might want to try one of these experiments in minimalism:

  1. The Suitcase Experiment. Pack your bags as if you are going on a long trip (even if you never leave your living room) and spend a month using only what is in your bag. Notice what else you needed (or didn’t) during this time.
  2. The Moving Experiment. A more drastic version suggested by minimalists is to pack up ALL of your belongings in boxes as if you are moving. Only take out or unpack the items that you need along the way. At the end of a year you will find that 75 percent of your stuff is still in boxes. Get rid of it!
  3. If the first two ideas seem dramatic, you can simply separate out a small subset of your belongings that you deem as the most useful. Put your most worn clothes in the front of your closet and in one drawer of your dresser. Put a few dishes and silverware into a separate cupboard. See how long you can go using only these designated items and nothing else. Sometimes this is what actually forces us to make a permanent change.

The good news is, if one of the strategies does help you to get rid of a significant portion of your belongings, you probably won’t miss any of it.

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