If a Backpack Was Your Only Storage, What Would You Put in It?

A drastic but simple way to live a minimalistic lifestyle

Image by the author. Original photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

I used to hoard video games. I had a collection of hundreds of games, all in their physical form. On top of that, I’d buy every new gadget that came to market, especially if it came from Apple. I was an Apple fanboy in denial. My storage consisted of unused gadgets and games I’d likely never touch again.

Over the years, the clutter was only piling on. I hadn’t noticed how much I had accumulated. Sounds familiar? Most people I know are in that situation and there’s a good chance you are too.

My mom’s clutter

My mom lives alone in a house where we used to be five people. She owns things that are over 30 years old. Of course, it’s dusty and will never be used again, but it has sentimental value, so it’s hard to get rid of.

At one point, the clutter in her house became overbearing. She had lost control and the clutter was dragging her down. It affected her mental health in ways she never expected.

So, one day, about 3 years ago, I helped her free up some space. I was like a tyrant who was ordering her to just throw everything away. It was hard for her, but she came out much happier in the end.

The problem was, her house didn’t shrink, so guess what that means? She filled the space up again! That’s what we do with space — we just have to find ways to fill it up!

There’s really only one way to reduce the clutter: reduce your available space.

Getting rid of my clutter

Getting rid of my video game collection was hard. I had spent a lot of money on them and countless hours playing them. Living at the far end of town, games pretty much were my only childhood memories. Like my mom’s belongings, they had a lot of sentimental value.

But I had to get rid of them. I was going from having a decent-sized apartment in downtown Toronto to having no apartment at all; I was preparing to travel with a backpack around the world for a year.

Guess how much you can fit in a 33-litre backpack? Exactly, 33 litres worth of stuff, if you somehow manage to fill 100 percent of the space.

I had to be very selective about what would go in there. The crazy thing is, I found ways to still have room for things I’d pick up while travelling. In most countries you travel to, all you really need are some clothes, essential care products, and a credit card. Maybe some cash.

I had 5 changes of clothes, deodorant, my toothbrush with toothpaste, and a MacBook Air. My wife had a little more, but she still fit everything in a 55-litre backpack.

Because that’s all we could carry, we gave everything else away, including my video games collection. We donated all our furniture to charity and to friends. We got rid of 99 percent of what we owned.

Being free

We felt free. I can’t think of a better word. Owning nothing sounds scary in theory, but in practice, it’s freeing. Nothing holding you back. You’re nimble. You can do whatever you want when you own nothing.

Travelling with nothing for a year was really eye-opening. We never looked back on our minimalist lifestyle. We came back to Toronto after a year of travelling, and we never bought furniture. We owned nothing but cookware (we missed cooking). We had a mattress on the floor, and a carpet with pillows in the living room. That was our “couch”.

Now that we have a son, we had to gear up again, but we always try to limit what we get. And, for the first time in over four years, we now own a microwave. It had become some kind of game about how long we could last without one. The answer was four years.

But enough about my stories!

If a backpack was your only storage, what would you put in it?

Whether you want to actually do it or not, I think it’s a good exercise to figure out what really matters. You can live in a society with only a backpack’s worth of stuff. I’ve done it in the past and so have others before and after me.

Start by asking yourself:

  • What would I add to it first?
  • What would I add only if there’s enough space?
  • What would I do with the rest of the stuff I own?
  • What would I gain from living the minimalist lifestyle?

Now, how about you try it out in practice? You could stuff your backpack today and try to live off of only the things in it. Try that for a day. Then a week. Then a month.

If you don’t have a backpack, try a suitcase or a storage box. Involve the rest of the family or roommates in the process. It’s always more “fun” when you do it as a group.

I don’t expect this experiment to change your life, but if I can plant a seed, then my job is done. So, try it out and see how it feels.

You can do this!

— Danny
For more inspirational stories, check out dannyforest.com.

dannyforest.com <- my new home. I don’t write on Medium anymore.

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