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Life in a Bag #CreativeWriting

Posted by in Creative Portfolio | 11 comments

I may as well let you in on a quirk of mine: I own things in sets of fives and tens. From perfectly spaced hangers dangle ten t-shirts, five shirts in the other category, five sweaters, five pairs of pants—and five sets of nicer clothing, which I hardly ever and hate to wear. Why this obsession? I used move around a lot and I have my wardrobe down to an art since the places I moved to and from provide minimum amounts of square feet.

The bulk of my clothes—those articles essential for protection, warmth, and fashion—fit in the main compartment of a sturdy duffle bag. I could get by on less, but that would mean doing the laundry more often. This bag also has two end compartments: one side accommodates toiletries; the other side fits ten sets of white sport socks, five pairs of black socks, five sets of wool hiking socks, as well as five pairs of pantyhose, and yes, ten sets of matching bras and panties (I will not wear ones that do not match). Anything else that is crammable can come along too—camera, squishable shoes, battered paperbacks. You get the picture. My life fits in a bag.

When my life began expanding beyond what could fit in this bag, I experienced unpleasant bouts of anxiety. But how did I find comfort in living out of a bag in the first place?

I learned the importance of living lightly when I had to pack for a summer job in Yellowstone National Park. All I really needed to bring were clothes, but I opted for my own blankets and CD player since I had the luxury of a car trunk. Not until I traveled across America from Wyoming to Florida and back on a Greyhound Bus did I discover that all I needed could travel with me.

Yellowstone National Park Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone Matt Bickett Jeri Walker-Bickett

We all know that feeling—the feeling that we must buy something or die. Trendy shirts (picture those oh-so-flimsy peasant blouses dyed in loud notice me colors) or perhaps twenty shades of eye shadow (whose names invoke fresh springtime beauty) gather dust, all for the sake of momentary satisfaction and a high annual percentage rate. This urge is tamable. We can want—not need—to collect Tiffany Lamps. A trip to the mall necessitates disciplining The Greed Monster. For me, buying anything is a big deal, not only because what I buy must be easily transportable, but also because I cherish every object I own. When life is reduced to the contents of a duffle bag, things have a way of falling into place.

At the garbage dump, Grandma and Grandpa used to dig for discarded treasures. Junked items—bent frying pans, stained photo albums, rickety furniture—were rescued and deemed useable. They had good jobs, but they liked rummaging. One person’s junk may very well be another’s treasure, but my credo differs. Why do we need so much stuff? If we haven’t used something for a few months, we should give it to Goodwill. Periodically, we should ransack our homes, cleaning out our closets as well as our minds.

This brings me to the bouts of anxiety I mentioned above. I hate to buy things. I hate to spend. Diligently, I save for a second car because I no longer have the time to ride my bike six miles to work (thanks to the physical and mental strain of graduate school). But when it comes to clothes and food and books, I am frugal. Of course, I enjoy material possessions, but I feel most at ease when I have less to keep track of.

While finishing my bachelor’s degree, my husband and I set-up house for the first time—a far cry from the dorm-style rooms we’d occupied before in national parks. Buying a kitchen table and matching chairs nearly caused me a mental meltdown. I agree with Thoreau that belongings cause the owner stress. My future plans do not involve enslaving myself to house, car, or children. I want to be on intimate terms with myself. Nonessential items such as caller i.d. and cable television interfere with my wavelength and prevent a clear reception of life.

A former roommate’s wardrobe filled two closets. The metal rod holding her essential fashions gradually sagged and broke. I once rebelled against her knick-knack habit and encouraged Mr. Kitty to walk the stairway rail where she displayed them. His bushy tail sent those dainty bears flying. My roommate possessed a fancy red car, a gorgeous new house, and a used-up soul. She utilized my rent money for outings to the bar so she could bring home men. She (and her soon to be ex) lived under a pile of bills and owned everything but stability. She cried a lot.

My chief want in life is to live lightly. In the past, I migrated seasonally, north to south, job to job. My one consistent goal is to explore and thus own the world. Owning anything else takes second place. Books, sunsets, hiking. And husband, my best friend. Our love transcends material bounds. This love is so big that it envelopes my mind and travels with me. Unfettered and too big to fit inside a bag, it’s the biggest and best thing I could ever own.

What about you? Have you ever lightened your load of wordly possessions? What did that make you feel?

Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use the image in this post.

Article by Jeri Walker-Bickett aka JeriWB

Jeri Walker-Bickett
JeriWB writes short stories, creative nonfiction, and psychological suspense. The rough Idaho mining town she grew up in populates her literary landscape. She also works as a freelance editor.
Jeri Walker-Bickett

@JeriWB

Author of short stories, creative nonfiction, and psychological suspense. Blogger of writing tips and lit chat. Freelance editor. http://t.co/sfCsmQ5hyM
Guest Posts: Topics and Submission Criteria http://t.co/acRIHcLvWC #author #editor - 22 mins ago
Jeri Walker-Bickett
Jeri Walker-Bickett
Jeri Walker-Bickett
I offer a variety of freelance editing services. Previously, I served as an editorial assistant with The Idaho Review, Boise State's literary journal.

11 Comments

  1. What a great thought provoking post. I am with you on the “use it or lose it” philosophy. It is so easy to get caught up in the “oooh isn’t that pretty” and then try to go the “do I really need it” thought. Many times we never get past our first reaction. It takes discipline (and practice) to keep it as simple as you have the need, room and resources. Thanks for sharing. :-)

  2. Hi
    I can’t agree with you more. I also love the header of your blog, the typewriter is way too cool. I remember my parents had a portable Remington, I actually learnt to type on it, while still in primary school. Touch typing helps me till this date.
    I came here from Bloggers helping Bloggers on LinkedIn.

    • Thanks. I have a thing for taking pictures of old typewriters. The one in my header was on display at the forestry center in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  3. Fabulous!! I like to keep things to a minimum, and I regularly purge my closet of unworn items, but you have inspired me to take even a closer look at my “stuff”!

    • When we moved last summer, one of the guys packing and loading our things commented on how little stuff (aka crap, stuff, and junk) we have in comparison to all the other people he’s moved. I took it as a compliment! Although I don’t think they were too trilled at all my boxes of books ;)

  4. Always travel light. For about two years I travelled all over the world and spent on average three months in various places such as Tokyo, Athens and Vienna. Started out with fairly light luggage. But since I had meetings with the leaders of the world I needed to buy more and more clothes. So in the end I was travelling with 90 kilos.

    Bought classical designer suits and the good part about that is that they are of such good quality. Will hence never need to buy designer suits again since they will never go out of fashion. So, like you, I can avoid spending:-)

    • I may live lightly, but when I went to Greece and Turkey two years ago, I quickly realized I did not pack lightly! Lesson learned ;)

  5. I love this piece. Do you still only wear matching bras and panties? That is pretty amazing. I don’t think I have one matching pair! I have moved house a lot and travelled a fair bit – most recently I moved from England with my husband and kids to the US, where we are now settled for at least a few years! We have had to be ruthless about our possessions along the way. Still we did manage to box up some rather random items and ship them across the atlantic, but much as I try to travel light, it also doesn’t feel good giving or throwing away useful items, only to have to buy them all again for the new house!

    • Thanks for reading and connecting. Nope, I gave up the matching bra and panties a while back. I’ll probably be moving again in a year or two and am definitely not looking forward to going through all that again!

  6. Love this post Jeri. Always been a big junk store shopper and regularly scour the house for things to take to charity shops. But your honesty and writing from the heart was what impressed me the most. Very refreshing. Than you.

  7. Although with our kids we have accumulated much more than we would have otherwise, for the most part we have always tried to maintain at least some semblance of a minimalist approach to things and stuff. One of the biggest is all the kitche knick-knacky stuff that tends to flood every empty space in the other’s homes. We strive to keep stuff like that out, but the flood always happens when people love to buy that stuff as gifts because this new trinket made them think of you.

    I think the worst time came when my wife’s mother passed away. We ended up with a space in our basement filled with almost every lest vestige of paraphenalia her mother had collected. Little by little we have managed to get rid of odds and ends but this has been through the tight reigns of my sister in law who can’t bear to part with anything. Imagine the minutiae of 15 decks of cards, and puzzles (missing pieces of course) or even dressers that have seen better years, fighting against the irrationality that if we lose anything we will be forgetting the life that it flooded.

    Add to this now with my daughter preparing for her baby. Odds and ends that make up all the items that go into caring for a new child, it is a wonder I have room for my own life at the moment. My favorite quote of the week came from my daughter recently, “Oh my god, babies have a lot of crap.” And to think this one isn’t even born yet.

    (side note) I apologize at this time. For some reason, as I read through older posts of yours I find some of them inspire long winded responses from me. It isn’t that I want to take away from you. But I do blame you for making me talkative.

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