In the first half of 2019, I spent four months unpaid vacation in a foreign city five hundred kilometers away from my hometown Nuremberg.1
1 if you are interested in details about this venture, here is the link
Since I traveled via train to my new ready-furnished apartment, there was no way to carry a big set of belongings.
So the last day before I left Germany, I hauled scores of crammed cardboard boxes into the cellar compartments – my subtenants were waiting already and about to move into their new lodging during my absence.
It took me almost the entire day to clear my rooms and to transport all the boxes and other stuff (e.g. bicycle, weights) downstairs into the cellar.
Toiling and sweating I noticed with growing interest which incredible amount of items had accumulated over the years – books alone made four cardboard boxes.
Beforehand, I had picked those items which were absolutely necessary for my survival abroad and stuffed them into my bags (eventually I had to carry one big sports bag with clothes, a laptop bag, and a backpack stuffed mainly with camping equipment) – nonetheless I expected it would be unavoidable to purchase things on the spot for a second time.
I think it is worth going a little into detail at this point, before pointing out why I was wrong in my assumptions about absolutely necessary items.
To give you an idea, my possessions consisted primarily of (please take note that this is a single household):
Five shelf-meters books (most of these books useless generic self-improvement literature, or books about engineering matters I’d luckily not had to look into since ten years), two dozen pairs of shoes (some of them decades old and never worn), a bike plus implements, tools, toolboxes, two guitars and an amplifier, one laundry basket full of CD’s (among them my very first CD bought in 1993 – Master of Puppets), one laundry basket full of DVDs, one cardboard box full of electronic devices, weights, five drawers with exercises as a reminiscence of my engineering studies (I had 20+ in my prime as an engineering student), Judo and MMA impedimenta, lots of clothes and jackets, petty personal belongings like medals or soft toys, dozens of bottles of alcohol (the traditional birthday present), chessboards, magazines, photo-equipment, posters.
It was plenty of stuff (and I’ve not even mentioned all the kitchen equipment or the wreckage on my balcony), however very much less what the average person in the Western World owns.
As a matter of fact, it was only a fraction of my friends’ possessions.
But for me, it was still too much.
I was fairly wrong in my assumption that I have to purchase a lot of new things on the spot during my vacation.
There was not a workplace to visit (I solely attended university lectures), therefore wearing three shirts in rotation would have been more than sufficient (and for nightlife or dates a better one in reserve). Further, two trousers and two jackets would have been enough.
I rarely looked into my books, except into the travel-guide (even that was unnecessary). There was simply no point in sitting alone in my apartment and reading books. I had more than enough information at my disposal through smartphone and apps, if there was a need for it.
Shoes, sport-shirts and shorts were however well calculated. Camping equipment for my hiking tours also. And I also made use of my laptop, of course.
As language-learning, working out, hiking and meeting people were my main activities, I needed very little in a material sense. I was perfectly content, and I missed nothing (there was only one exception: my bike).
No book, no shirt, not one of my fancy electronic devices.
So, after two months, I began to get rid of some of the superfluous possessions I brought – for the simple reason that these things not only occupied space in my bag and it was tiring to carry them around, but also for the reason that this stuff occupied space in my head.
“The things you own, end up owning you”
– Fight Club
After I got back to Germany, I took a big plastic bag and started to select items for the garbage can.
This turned out to be an ongoing process since.
I’ve decided to get to a level with minimum possessions, but without overdoing or obsessing over it.
Keep it quite pragmatic: if something is not used for a certain period of time – it will be trashed.
Because my view is that there are hidden costs in everything you own, also and especially in those items that are never been used.
21st century homes are crammed with such kind of stuff.
Possessions and incessant consuming are bigger parts in most people’s lives than fellow human beings.
My theory for a why is:
Frustrating jobs with the lack of any purpose, isolation and – most of all – boredom are fons et origo of the modern consumerism – something have to fill the void in one’s life.
I figured out, that hoarding and gathering is not the answer and doesn’t contribute in any way to my personal happiness.
Quite the opposite – it makes me more miserable.
I hope by gradually getting rid of all the useless crap, I can regain step-by-step a very valuable resource: time.