Wilmington, NC | 34° 13' 32'' N, 77° 56' 40'' W | May 5, 2018
Standing in the driveway at my parents' house, my gaze shifts from my childhood home to the dented trunk of my Honda Civic. I pop it open and stare at a mess of bags and boxes.
I’m not moving back in with my parents. But since I’m spending the next three months traveling (both for work and for fun) it made sense to rent out my house in Chapel Hill for the summer. In order to sublease my place, I had to clean out all my drawers and closets. Fortunately, dear old mom and dad graciously agreed to let me store some things at their place.
“I’m just going to dump it all in the living room, and then I’ll go through everything,” I tell my mom.
Mama Lide is being cool about her 30-year-old daughter dumping a bunch of crap in her pristine house, and I appreciate it. “Of course sweetie.”
I’m exhausted. Hauling boxes and bags is fine, but the mental fortitude required to go through everything I’ve ever owned necessitates a different kind of strength.
In my 30 years of existence, I’ve accumulated an immense amount of stuff. Being a life-long writer and a photographer doesn’t help—I have over 20 notebooks and at least a dozen photo albums.
The average life expectancy of a white American female is roughly 80 years. Assuming I live another five decades, I may well accumulate over 100 notebooks and hundreds of thousands of photos.
And then what? I’m not planning to have children. What happens to all this stuff when I’m gone? Jasmina and I have talked about this at length before. She and I both have stacks and stacks of journals. To what end? Do we really need to go back and read our thoughts, insecurities, or random dreams from five, ten, or 15 years ago? Should we stop keeping journals?
I’m not going to stop scribbling down my thoughts or producing my art. But perhaps, with the newfound transient nature of my lifestyle, I should purge things a little more frequently. It’s good to hold onto things we consider special—things that truly make us smile. But when we hold onto everything, the whole notion of “special” becomes obsolete.
Sitting in my mom's living room, sorting through everything, I find a notebook from the first year I spent with my college boyfriend. He and I frequently wrote in it together—inside jokes, details from our dates, lists of things we wanted to do together, and places we wanted to go. When we broke up two years later, that notebook felt like a knife in my heart. I couldn’t stand to look at it, much less read it. Now I scan over the entries, laughing and rolling my eyes at my 20-year-old self. Then I chuck it in the trash.
Some of the things I find are true treasures, like my journal from the Outward Bound trip I took freshman year of high school. This goes even further back—to my 14-year-old self. The pages are soft from being soaked in the rain and shoved in a backpack repeatedly. I look at my loopy handwriting and remember exactly how I felt the first time I carried a heavy pack up a mountain for the first time.
It’s one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I’m leading again; it’s so hard to stare at the never-ending uphill climb we have to do and keep going. Kerry said she wouldn’t be able to keep going if there wasn’t someone in front of her. Well, I don’t have anyone in front of me but what keeps me going is knowing the sooner we finish the climb, the sooner we’ll be able to rest or get to camp or whatever.
Now this is priceless. I wish I could go back in time and tell that prissy 14-year-old girl to stop moaning and groaning. Just wait sweetheart. When you grow up, you are going to love climbing big mountains more than anything else in the world.
So this little journal gets to stay. But the ex-boyfriend notebook and the old college planner and a hundred other things I once thought were special have to go. Placing so many things into garbage bags and boxes (trash or donations) generates an immensely gratifying sense of lightness.
I’ve never read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (or any books like it) but I get the idea. A weight is lifted. The feelings of heaviness and stress dissipate. It reminds me of a line I read a few years ago, when I was going through another breakup and a heaping dose of change. Every life needs a little space—it leaves room for good things to enter it.
Once I finally finish the purging, I turn to face my next challenge: packing and preparing for all the adventures of this summer. Three expeditions. Twelve weeks. Ten thousand miles. I need clothing and gear for just about every climate—from a research vessel in the Pacific Ocean to the beaches of southern California to glaciated volcanoes in the Cascades.
As I pack, I try to picture my future life. If I continue to travel for five or six months of the year, does it make sense for me to have a house? Should I just rent a storage unit? Should I live out of a van? What kind of space do I want to inhabit? And most importantly, how much stuff do I really need?
The short answer is I don’t know. The slightly longer answer is that I’ve been thinking about it a lot—hence this blog post.
Perhaps my travels this summer will bring some clarity on how to make my transient lifestyle feel more sustainable. In the meantime, I’m figuring it out as I go—and I'm slowly but surely making some improvements.
When I finally finished packing this morning, I still had a little space.