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."