In the first half of 2019, I lived and studied four and a half months in a foreign city five hundred kilometers away from my hometown Nuremberg.1
Since I traveled via train to my ready-furnished apartment, there was no way to carry a large 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 the rooms and to transport all the boxes and other stuff (e.g. bicycle, weights) downstairs into the cellar.
Toiling and sweating I noticed with interest what incredible amount of items had accumulated over the years. Books alone made four cardboard boxes.
Beforehand, I had handpicked those things which were an absolute necessity for my survival abroad and stuffed them into my bags (in the end I had to carry one big sports bag with clothes, a laptop bag, and a backpack stuffed mostly with camping equipment). Nonetheless I expected it would be unavoidable to purchase certain items on the spot for a second time.
1 if you are interested in details about this venture, here is the link
I think it is worth going a little more into detail here, before pointing out why I was fairly wrong in my assumptions about absolutely necessary items.
To give you an idea, my possessions comprised essentially (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 plus amplifier, one laundry basket full of CD’s, one laundry basket full of DVDs, one cardboard box replete with 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’ or relatives’ possessions.
But for me, it was still too much.
As said, I was fairly wrong in my assumption that I have to purchase a lot of things on the spot during the time abroad.
There was no workplace to go to (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.
Except for the travel-guide, I rarely looked into my books (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 computer and smartphone, when needed.
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 (my bike was the only exception).
No book, no shirt, not one of my fancy electronic devices.
So, after two months, I began to get rid of some of the non-essential possessions I brought. For the simple reason that these things not just occupied space in my bag and it was quite unwieldy to carry them around, but also for the reason that this junk occupied space in my head.
“The things you own, end up owning you”
– Fight Club
After I got back to Germany, I grabbed 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 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 many people’s lives than the fellow human being.
My theory for a why is:
Frustrating jobs with the lack of purpose, isolation of the individual and, most of all, boredom are fons et origo of modern consumerism: something has to fill the void.
I concluded for myself, 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 anxious.
I hope by getting rid of all the mostly useless crap, I can gradually regain the most valuable resource: time.