Sunday, February 03, 2008

The story of stuff

Date: Feb. 3
Mileage: 8.2
February mileage: 73.5
Hours: 2:00
Temperature: 27
Snowfall: 4.5"

In August 2005, I was cinching up the roof rack straps on the 1996 Geo Prism that held all of my worldly possessions when it occurred to me - I owned way too much stuff. Two bicycles on the roof. A trunk full of clothing. Electronics and a microwave and dishes in the back seat ... everything packed and ready to make the 3,000-mile trip up the AlCan Highway to Homer, Alaska. I didn’t know where I would be living; I didn’t know where all my things would go. Some of it had spent my entire Idaho Falls residency stuffed in bins and hidden in drawers. But still I held on to it ... the remnants of priorities I thought I had managed to shed.

In August 2003, I was cinching up the panniers that held what for the next four months would be all of my worldly possessions. Even then, it was an obnoxious amount of gear to be carrying on a bicycle: four full changes of clothing, eight pounds of laptop computer stuff, two days worth of food, one day of water, a tent, a pillow,. etc. Still, I was amazed that everything I needed in life, everything I needed to pedal a bicycle 3,200 miles across the United States, could be carried on my bicycle or gathered along the way. I would make it as far as Wyoming before I mailed half of my clothing and several other miscellaneous gear items home. I kept the computer. Traveling light was one thing, but writing fed my soul.

In August 2007, I was zipping up the small frame bag that held all of the food I thought I could possibly eat in three days. Everything I needed to make a 370-mile self-supported bike trip around the remote Canadian loop known as the Golden Circle was contained in that frame bag, a small handlebar bag, and two small commuter panniers. Even when you think you have reduced your necessities to a bare minimum, there’s always room to shave more. I felt lucky to be learning that simplicity. I felt free.

Now, Geoff and I have moved ourselves and our stuff, again. We used to live in a small one-bedroom basement apartment. Then we downgraded. We moved in to a two-bedroom condo already occupied by a 30-something social worker. We are the roommates. Most of my friends and co-workers are confused as to why I would choose to go “commune.” The short side of the story is that Juneau is an expensive city. I could rent three places in Idaho Falls for what we paid for an apartment the size of a single-wide trailer on Douglas Island. But the long side of the story rests in the fact that we weren’t financially unable to pay those living expenses. We are crossing over to the lowest level of adult living conditions completely by choice. We make this choice because we know that the more money we can save now, the more time we can buy in the future: time to explore, time to enjoy, time to give, time to stock up our bicycles with all of our worldly possessions ... and just ride.

And as I packed up my stuff this time around - already much more gratuitous that the load I hauled up to Alaska in 2005 - I made mental notes of the things I should cull. Space is even tighter now, and the hidden things - the things in drawers and bins and boxes - will have to go. Our timing for this move has been terrible. We couldn’t have picked a worse time to uproot our lives. Still, reaffirming a detachment to my stuff has been refreshing. The things I really value - the winter camping gear, the bicycles, the insulation layers - have been lovingly sorted and stocked. The things I value less - the car already well into its twilight years, the mounds of T-shirts, the trinkets - I’ve put more thought into how easily I could live without these things. Some attachments still run deep. But right now, if you asked me what I thought the secret to obtaining happiness is, I’d say it’s simple: Need less.

Of course I have apprehension about the move ... especially when it comes to giving up current freedoms all on the hope of abstract future freedoms. But when it comes to my former home, the truth is, I don’t even think I’ll miss it.

After all, home is where your stuff is.

If you have a few minutes, you should check out the real "Story of Stuff."


  1. Interesting concepts, this orientation on stuff. I look around me at the excess in my home of now 13 years, and it is daunting to think of de-crapifying. So little of it applies to the current situation. And yet it lingers. Thanks for the food for thought. Spring is near, and the yen for a spring cleaning swells as I write. Spartan has to be a better way.

  2. totally agree.


  3. oh i know how you feel, i am constantly trying to keep things light, but books, paper and snowboards are heavy! keeping things simple does certain allow for a freer mind and lighter soul.. good luck with the saving ★

  4. I got married early December and I spent a couple months before hand just cleaning out my house. I have been there almost 5 years and I am not the kind of person that holds onto stuff, unless it is CDs. However, I could not believe how many boxes, boards from I don't know where and just stuff that I filed away I had. I got rid of copious amounts of just crap. For example, I got ride of an entire box of computer cords. I have no idea why I had a box of computer cords, let alone that I had such a box.

  5. i saw your references to idaho falls in this post and wondered if you were from there or just lived there for awhile. just curious as i grew up there. small world, sort of.

  6. Having only what's essential in a living environment is freeing. Realizing what you need, how little you really need, is eye-opening.

  7. "I’d say it’s simple: Need less."

    Good on you!

  8. I completely agree with feeling weighed down with stuff. We tend to move almost every year, which helps us cull our possesions. Moving everything you own with just a beat up old Ford several hundred miles helps you break away a bit. Of course, I should try it to the extreme like you have....

  9. When I moved down here from Alaska, all my stuff (including 3 bikes) fit neatly onto one pallet stacked about 4 feet high.

    However, I married into a family of pack rats! Our most recent move (about 8 miles) took me 12 trips in a rented moving truck over 8 days! AAAARRRRGGGHHHHH!

  10. Enjoying your blog, Jill. One of my favorite authors is Thoreau. Amongst his many quotes relating to having less, he said "simplify,simplify,simplify." I highly recommend Walden Pond as essential reading.

  11. more relevant words have never been typed.

    you wanna buy a slightly used sleeping bag or 4?

    how bout a couple of rakes?

    if nothing else...

    please take one of the dogs!!!

  12. There are three kinds of stuff you need to keep: stuff that you use regularly, stuff that keeps alive special memories, and stuff that makes us feel better. That last category is the one that gets me in trouble.

  13. xd ..

    I lived in Idaho Falls for about 10 months between November 2004 and August 2005. It was a short time, but I really enjoyed it there. Plus, it was one of only two short periods in my life that I lived completely alone, so I draw a lot of life-experience comparisons from my time there.


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