My stuff is me:
On my last post I talked a lot about simplifying your backpack gear, and more broadly, about simplifying your life. That was about a week ago and I’ve had some time to just think about the overall theme of simplifying or minimalism. I realize that a lot of people identify themselves with what they own. For example, for many people, they might identify me as simply being an ultralight backpacker, because that is what the title of this site is, what my book is about and in general what my gear and hiking is like.
The truth is, that my stuff does not make me who I am. These are two completely different concepts altogether in my world. When we start to minimalize our lives, we start to identify ourselves not with what we own, but by our values and goals. When we minimalize the whole point is to disenfranchise ourselves and our identity from the bought and paid for consumer. (or brainwashed consumer who just needs stuff to be whole). For most people we automatically assume that we are our own person, that we have created ourselves from our values and goals. I used to think the same thing about myself. Until of course I started going on long walks with nothing more than my backpack and a few essentials to keep me alive.
You see, when you start going on long walks in the wild, walks for days and weeks at a time, that is when your soul is truly exposed for all to see, not the least you are exposed for yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to see the true self, when we are constantly stimulated with TV, internet, ipads and god knows what else, keeping us distracted, keeping our brains busy, never allowing us to just sit and meditate and to be honest, bored.
When we are bored, that is when the creative juices start to flow, that is when our true passions start to shine through, you just have to fight the urge to stick something in front of your face.
In any case, my point here is this; give your soul a chance to present itself for, yourself. Unplug your brain and your passions will start to pronounce themselves, and the drive to follow through.
To this day I still identify myself to an extent with what I own, it is a constant struggle because this is how I was raised. Money and the fight for money is how I have always valued my life. While I don’t love money, I certainly love spending it. This is a habit I am ever so slowly trying to change. I realize of course, that it doesn’t matter how much I make, this constant hoping after higher wages doesn’t really do much for my happiness. Both me and my wife make great money, we are both on the upper middle class pay scales, yet, at the end of each month we have managed to nearly spend most if not all we made and we both get slightly irritated with the other because of this. Sound familiar? We don’t have a lot of debt (outside of mortgage), which is a plus, I don’t own a credit card and never have, but to be honest I know it won’t matter if we double our salaries, we will still have the same problem.
See, while my backpacking self is about exploring, minimalism, being creative and loving the “now”. My home self is something completely different. I am trying to dissociate myself with my belongings, but there is always an attachment. That Sega Dreamcast I wrote about last time might be worth something someday, those rare video games can make me a millionaire when I’m retired, so on and so forth. At home, my stuff is me. Yet, looking at my stuff at home I literally have no idea who I am if I am to judge in that manner. I, and I should say we (my wife and I), have all kinds of shit for all kinds of occasions. But this is not about my wife, this is about me. To give an example of the different stuff I have at home and what this would say about me I will detail in the following:
- I have a broken down Saab 900 turbo and a garage filled with tools to fix it – that means I’m a mechanic that likes to be home and work on his car right?
- I have a long distance recumbent bike – this means I like to get out and go on long world wide bike tours?
- I have a very nice gas stove and really nice kitchen equipment – this means I am a cook, I like to be home and make food?
- I have backpacking gear – means I like to get out and adventure?
- I have a shelf filled with Roleplaying games – means I like to be home and invite friends over to play dungeons and dragons??
- I have a shelf with a Playstation 3 and a ton of games – ok, again, I like to be at home and play games?
- I have a shelf filled with LP Singles from my DJ days… Must mean I’m still a dj right?
- I have Studio monitors, keyboards and guitars – must mean I like making music?
- I have a bookcase filled with books on subjects from fishing to home ownership, politics to the climate crises, novels and philosophy.. Maybe this sums up everything.. who knows?
See what I’m getting at here? If you were to judge me by the stuff I own, the only thing you could really gather is that I like to buy shit and I have money to do so. This seems like a complete contradiction from the “real” me. The “me” that likes to spend time with my family, who likes to explore the wild with a backpack, who loves to write and take photos.
I think it takes us all a while to break from our mental chains, like most things it takes a trigger of some kind. For some people this comes quicker than for others. My trigger in backpacking came a few years ago when I couldn’t understand why I had to bring 20kilos of gear with me for a 3 day hike. My trigger now for the rest of my life is from realizing my time is so limited, regardless of how much money I have. When I come home I am stressed out because I have a broken down Saab 900 that needs to be fixed, I am stressed because I own things that I never use. Things that steal my time, focus and energy.
Will I ever DJ again? probably not, it quit being fun. Will I ever bike around the world? Probably not, I like being home with my family. Will I fix that damn saab? no. It takes too much of my precious time. Will I make music? maybe, maybe not. Will I ever re-read my books again? no. Will I play that Playstion again? no, I find no joy in video games anymore. Will I play roleplaying games with my friends? I would like that, but it’s probably not going to happen.
Such as in backpacking, the art of minimalism is about getting rid of the cludder, to break down what you do, need and aspire to be. By getting rid of this list of shit that I have, I will be able to focus my time and energy on the things I aspire to be. To focus on my values. To once again allow myself to be bored.