How do your things define you?
Before leaving for Australia, I sold the car that I bought when I turned 16: the one that I drove back and forth to high school lacrosse practice and my first job, as I moved a few hours away to college, halfway across the country for a newspaper internship in Colorado, to my first real PR job in Silicon Valley.
On the back, it sported a Chico State Alum sticker (I carefully clipped as not to imply that I had a car full of alumni—it was just me!) and a Sacramento Kings license plate frame that I received before I even turned 16. The yoga mat in the backseat, my college graduation tassel dangling from the rearview mirror, the stash of high school era mix CDs: my car was an extension of me and who I am.
Now that my car is gone, who am I? I’m someone who’s not always eco-friendly, but who believes in the good of public transportation and who enjoys a brisk bike ride. I’m someone who’s always hated to pay for gas, and who is secretly thrilled by the possibility of never again swiping my credit card at the pump. I’m someone with fewer bills and responsibilities, someone who feels remarkably free, even though the concept of owning your transportation is supposed to be the most liberating thing of all.
I also sold my precious red leather loveseat: my first big purchase with my big-girl paycheck. I sold the first pair of designer jeans I ever bought, and the sparkly dress I stumbled across in London and wore to my last sorority formal. I sold heaps and heaps of books, cheap paperbacks and expensive textbooks.
Bit by bit, I sold the things that once defined me, the things that I carefully chose to act as an extension of myself. My closet seemed strangely airy, my parking spot oddly vacant. The emptiness around me seemed to manifest itself as calm: fewer things, fewer choices, fewer worries.
I have one suitcase, one laptop bag and one tote with me in Australia: I’m by no means a minimalist. But while my friends exclaim that’s all!? in disbelief and hard-core backpackers marvel you’re taking all that?!, I’m perfectly content with being able to live with the wardrobe choices I can comfortably carry.
American consumerism runs rampant: there are advertisements for shoes in the airport security line baskets and an entire YouTube channel dedicated to SuperBowl commercials. We learn early that things mean power and influence, that things are how we define ourselves.
But by traveling, you also choose to have your experiences define you. You can choose to spend your hard-earned money on a plane ticket rather than the latest it bag. When you’re choosing to sell or store, you’re remarkably aware of just how much stuff you have but don’t really need. By constantly evaluating just how heavy your bag is, you realize what’s necessary.
As my things dwindle but my experiences stack up, I’m secretly glad that my life is absent of the markings of success—a car, a house, a flashy purse. Peace of mind isn’t exactly something you can put a price on.