During our years in London (8 for me and 5 for Ann) we lived in quite a lot of places. Once I worked out that in my 8 years in London I lived in 11 places…I don’t even know how that’s possible. Throughout our time in London we accumulated a certain amount of stuff, but then during the last 2 years or so, we consciously went through the process of getting rid of as much of it as possible in light of the fact that we decided we would up and go volunteer in the Philippines. At that point we knew we were leaving for a while but we had no idea when (or if) we would be back in Europe to live. We wanted to travel light and there was only so much we could bring back to France to leave in storage at my parents’, so we had to take action.
During our last 3 or 4 moves, we either donated, left behind or got rid of a lot of stuff, or at least what felt like a lot…but each time we finished moving in, it still felt like we had tons of this “stuff”. By our last move, we managed without a car (OK – it was pretty much just across the street but still, it was nice). Then, during the summer of 2010, just before leaving London, we really did our best to empty our flat. We told all our friends that pretty much everything was up for grabs on a first-come-first-serve basis. One particular Sunday, a couple of friends came by and picked up the things they wanted. We were quite happy to give away a whole bunch of stuff in one go but after they left, the difference was striking, the flat felt really empty…that was weird.
I’ve had a bit of an obsession with “travelling light” since a solo trip in Central America in 2004. At the beginning of the trip my backpack weighted 15kg (33 pounds) and it was a major pain to haul the thing on and off buses and through unknown streets while looking for hostels. At the end of the trip, it was 9kg (just under 20 pounds). I left clothes in various countries, my electric shaver in hotel in Guatemala, and in my travel guidebooks I tore up the pages of the places I had already visited. Towards the end of my journey I felt sick and having a backpack that was as light as possible was indeed very welcome. So from a purely practical point of view it was nice to have few possessions with me but it was also quite liberating (something that admittedly mostly westerners have the luxury to concern themselves with)!
On subsequent trips I always tried to pack as few items as possible. While preparing our trip to the Philippines (and the US road trip before that) I came upon various websites/blogs (theburninghouse.com / http://exilelifestyle.com/minimalism-explained / http://www.becomingminimalist.com ) dealing with and/or promoting a minimalist lifestyle. The idea appealed to me on various levels and when we left London, despite how hard it had sometimes been to let go of many of our “possessions,” I was happy with having kept only things I really really wanted to keep. It was therapeutic in a way.
Forward a year or so later. We moved back to France and just found a flat. Great! Except that in France the vast majority of places for rent come empty. And I mean empty. In the ads, a semi-equipped kitchen will have a cupboard and a sink. That’s it. I suppose most people our age have, over the years, accumulated enough furniture, dishes, and the like to be able to move in to a flat without having to buy a whole lot of stuff. Not us…the only furniture we owned was a coffee table.
So we had to go out and buy buy buy. I had never had to buy a bed before. Nor had I bought a washing machine. And I never had to buy a whole lot of kitchen objects in one go before. We didn’t buy everything new – we got lot of great second hand stuff in “brocantes” (sort of flea markets) and from my parents – and we did restrain ourselves by many standards in terms of how much stuff we now have in the apartment. Nonetheless, it feels strange to go from being able to fit almost everything you own in a couple of cargo bags to having furniture, a dining table and a fridge!
I’m not too sure there is a point to this post. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately because of our current situation. I don’t feel completely comfortable with owning this much stuff. I really like the idea of trimming down my possessions as much as possible. We do live in a a society that puts A LOT of emphasis on material possessions and tries to make us believe that accumulating more and more stuff will put us on the path to happiness. It’s total BS in my humble opinion but it’s not so easy to resist the temptation of buying things I think I need when in fact I just want them rather than actually need them. I’m not aiming to own nothing at all, I’m more looking to strike a balance whereby I think twice about buying something rather than just being impulsive. And most times when I do that I end up not buying the object in question. I (and I think Ann is of the same opinion) want to keep the flat quite sparse because I think I value space more than stuff, but on the other hand I’d really like to have a couch! Oh dilema!
I also wanted to post one photo, something I’d like to do more this year. It’s the first susnset of 2012 taken from our window in our new flat full of new stuff…though at the moment I took it none of that stuff mattered.