A few weeks ago, I took a nine day trip to Greece with a group of people from my church. From some early information, I was expecting to be limited to a carry on…no checked luggage. I can deal with that.
I’ve gotten better and better at packing light. Last time I took a 10 day trip to California, if I hadn’t needed to take a significant amount of art supplies, including an easel, I could totally have covered it with a carry on.
I wish I had, since my suitcase was completely destroyed by the airline along the way. Destroyed enough that my hotel kindly mummified it for me in shrink wrap, not realizing I wasn’t heading back to the airport when I left, but just moving on to Santa Barbara, where it took me about 45 minutes to get through all the shrink wrap to my paints. Luckily, nothing fell out and was lost on the bag’s flight, but it was a brand new suitcase and cost me a fortune to ship it home. That experience left a seriously bad taste in my mouth when thinking about checking bags and I’d decided that I could go pretty much anywhere for any length of time with my carry on and a backpack.
Then we got to the final trip meeting and learned that we were only allowed a backpack. No rolling carry on. It wasn’t prohibited exactly, but strongly discouraged because of the type of travel we’d be doing, the schedule we had and the places and length of time we’d need to be moving it around. Nine days with a backpack only was significantly more of a challenge for me. Plus, I needed to include space for two books and 23 six inch square art prints I needed to take as gifts.
I tend to be a road trip girl. I take far more trips in my car than by plane. I’ll pack up my car and drive just about anywhere. When traveling by car, it’s easy to be sloppy about packing. That extra pair of shoes (or three)? Sure, toss them in a separate bag, they’ll fit. All the camera lenses? Sure! I’ve even been known on a few recent trips to forego the suitcase and bags completely and just toss a laundry basket or two in the car. Which actually worked surprisingly well. Packing for an airline trip requires more intentionality, more decisions and more focus. Packing for a few weeks with only a backpack was a bit daunting.
I’m not a hoarder, but I’ve accumulated a lot of things over the last 50 years and in my 40’s I went through occasional purges. The first time I did it was after separation from my husband and I was living in an apartment with a toddler. I decided we really didn’t need as much stuff as we had and I went through each room with a goal of eliminating 50% of what was there. It went better for me than for the toddler.
Fifty percent is a significant purge. I exempted my kitchen, my shoes and my books at that time. But, in more recent purges, I’ve included those as well. And I still have too much stuff. Way too much stuff. This week, I’m eliminating the nine lineal feet of dressers in my bedroom (that were quite full) and fitting all my clothes into my closet. It’s an average sized reach-in closet, not a big, walk-in one. My goal is that there will be plenty of room for it all. That the closet will feel spacious, not crammed.
The first time I went through a purge, it was painful. Really difficult. But, the feeling afterwards was freeing. I felt a thousand times lighter. Which is odd really, we don’t realize the weight of all of our stuff until it’s gone. Minimalism has been a growing trend for the last decade. Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus are known as “the minimalists” and have a website by that name (as well as a podcast, documentary and books to their credit). They define minimalism as, “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”
Not only are we in love with stuff in this country, but we eagerly give it control of our lives. It controls how much space we need to live. How much money we need. How much money we spend and how we fill up our time. Those may be somewhat sweeping statements, but aren’t far off the mark. How much of your time is spent thinking about acquiring new things, actually acquiring them, working toward getting them, maintaining them or cleaning them?
Consider for a few moments if you traveled lighter. What if you didn’t have all the stuff you surround yourself with? What if next time you went on a trip, you only took half the items you normally take? What if you worked to rid yourself of the emotional baggage you’ve been carrying around with you for years. What if you eliminated 1/3 of your commitments? What if you got rid of toxic relationships? Bad attitudes?
What could traveling lighter do for your health and happiness? Your freedom and purpose? Your schedule and contentment? How would it impact your quality of life?
I used a sneaky trick with my backpack this trip. I used compression bags to gain space and help keep me orgnaized. And I managed to pack fairly well. I was comfortable on the 90 degree days and on the cold, windy, rainy days. I only had a few things I didn’t need. I had all my stuff under the seats in front of me on planes and on my back on the uneven cobbled streets of Athens. I had no problem schlepping my stuff around for long periods in airports, subways and streets.
But, I could have packed much lighter. I could have packed half of what I took and been just fine. Next time I’ll do it differently.
When we travel or live with less, we realize how much of what we have is unnecessary and unimportant. When faced with real need, we realize how off base our excess is. When we find purpose and meaning outside of our things, we find a certain kind of freedom.
The art this week is a picture of a carved stone bust in the Archaeological Museum of the Athenian Agora. The Agora today is a park-like area full of ancient ruins in the midst of a modern city. Athensinfoguide.com describes it as, “the heart of ancient Athens. It was the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural center and the seat of justice.” it was a vibrant place and is located near the acropolis and Mars Hill. There’s a small museum housed there which contains artifacts unearthed in the Agora, including pottery and everyday objects, as well as dozens of statues and busts like this one.
The carved stone statues we think of today (if Greek or Roman sculpture ever crosses your mind) didn’t always look like this. At least not all of them. Many were painted brilliant colors or portions of them were painted. At the Acropolis museum, you can see pigments like the ones that would have been used to cover the sculptures and walls and examples of how they would have been decorated.
What we see today is monochromatic; variations on one color only. And yet, has the art lost something over time as it’s lost its color? The stone has to speak for itself without relying on painted embellishment to tell its story. I tend to believe that it’s more powerful with no color getting in the way of me experiencing the human nature, the emotion, or the message the sculptor was intent on conveying.
Similarly, much of what we surround ourselves with…whether acquiring by habit or intent. Whether holding tightly due to fear or comfort level…much of what we surround ourselves with is unnecessary and keeps us from experiencing life to the fullest.
What if you traveled lighter?
Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week’s art on your phone: Episode 35 Downloads