How do your things define you?

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.

Bay Bridge in San Francisco at dusk

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.

OM door mat in San Francisco

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.

  • I love this post! I can tell you’re going to fit well with the Australian state of mind.

    And I can totally understand what you are saying. I had to make similar choices when I left for England two years ago, and I might just face them again very soon. Things are just things, very few of them are actually worth keeping for all sorts of different reasons. Things can be bought again if need be. The freedom of travelling lightly, however, might fade away when you least expect it.

    Good post!

  • Christine I LOVE this post! Very envious of your peace of mind….you definitely cannot put a price on that.

  • This is a great post, and so very true, we shouldn’t let things define us. But I will admit I look at the stuff I have now and feel guilty that I’ll have to get rid of it once I’m done my schooling and move out. And I definitely agree with your car sentiments, if I didn’t need one right now, I wouldn’t have one.

  • Really enjoyed reading about this, and completely agree. Every time I return home, I open my wardrobe, take a big box and start pulling inside anything I do not use anymore. That box, I give it away to charity. It feels good to get rid of things!

  • Love. I am so happy for you. I can imagine how freeing it must be to just sell everything and go. I can’t wait to read about all of your adventures!

  • Great post – I totally agree. We sold almost everything to live in an RV, and in another six months we’ll sell the rest and live out of a couple suitcases while we travel. We’re hoping to have one suitcase, one backpack and one laptop bag each…. which both seems like a lot and hardly anything at all! 🙂

  • My friend Mike, is in Australia now, too on what he calls his grateful for journey. Check him out! http://mygratefuljourney.com/

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  • Refreshing read 🙂 After I graduated from college, I sold my car and moved to Chicago. I LOVED taking the L trains! The ability to hop on, hop off, and not have to babysit a car was so cool. Just last month my boyfriend and I moved from Michigan to California. Whatever we could fit in his Passat wagon came with us. The rest was left in a crawl space at his parents’ house. Funny though, if all of that stuff disappeared, I probably wouldn’t know the difference. It’s amazing how little we all really need.

  • I’m sure it was so cleansing to get rid of the “stuff” you thought you once needed, but now have grown apart from. Really insightful read–I am much more in line with the buying experiences than buying things. The novelty of an it purse lasts a season, an adventure lasts a lifetime through memories. Easy choice.

  • Great points! making six-figures in experiences should be the goal. I have thought much about these same themes lately and have come to realize that as long as I have my computer, I have access to friends, family, memories,and information, and that is all I really need!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you lady! There will definitely come a day when I’m a bit more ready to settle down, but not quite yet 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Here’s to not paying for gas again! Crossing my fingers that there will come a day when you no longer NEED a car 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I like the thought that for every thing you get, you should get rid of one thing. Keep things in balance!

  • Anonymous

    It really is freeing–although there are definitely certain things I’m missing now! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I definitely know how you feel–sometimes I feel like I have way too much and other times nothing at all! Either way, I know that it’s much less than what many people have. When you have to carry it, you keep it to the necessities!

  • Anonymous

    I definitely will–thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it funny? I left a few boxes at home, but I realize that I must not really NEED anything in them or else I would have brought it with me! You’ll have to let me know how car-less life goes in California–it’s got to be tough anywhere but San Francisco!

  • Anonymous

    Love how you sum it up–lasting a season or a lifetime. Well said, lady!

  • Anonymous

    That’s so true! I value my technology a lot–having a computer and a camera allows me to document and connect my adventures, which is huge. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Liv

    It all comes down to making a choice doesn’t it? Perhaps more importantly, being brave enough to make that choice. You either choose the experiences or the possessions.

  • Choco_mademoiselle

    Just stumbled upon this quote:
    A Thai monk once told me: “You know why you like to travel? Everywhere you go, nothing belongs to you. When you’re home, you’re weighed down by your possessions.”

    🙂 your post made me think of all the books I have…and all these other things… I moved to this city a year and a half ago (came here to study)and the amount of things I brought along is…… HUGE! 🙂 actually, I brought pretty much all of the things I own. I like having things around, reminders, books, photos, old albums, magazines, ….
    etc. Wonder if I’ll ever be able to get rid of any of these……?

    Good job! 🙂


  • This is absolutely great Christine and I resonated so much with it! There was something liberating when I sold the last big thing before I hit the road, which was my car. My mom almost begged me to keep it because it would be paid off in a couple months, but I knew it was just one of those things I had to do. Traveling around with little more than a backpack, laptop, and “satchel” have certainly made me re-think what defines me. Such a beautiful post Christine!

  • What a great reminder to not allow your things to define or consume you! Whenever I return from a trip I definitely have a strong desire to purge. When you travel one of the reasons you feel SO free is because you have unburned yourself from all of your things.

  • That’s awesome! I was just having a conversation about “stuff” last night with a friend. I’m trying to enjoy all of the “things” that have come to define me before I – I hope – travel the world for a year (in 4 or 5 years) or make a permanent move someplace dreamy like Paris. I feel like all of my physical possessions weigh me down and hold me here, to a degree. I am such a homebody when I am at home (as opposed to on a trip) and am very much into making my home a haven. Though I’ve been able to divorce myself from materialistic things like designer clothes, shoes, and accessories, I’d very much like to get rid of it all and travel with just a small carry-on. Ah. That would be so … freeing.

    Here’s to a life loaded with experiences and light on things material 🙂

  • Kim

    I love this post. I’ve been writing about very similar themes lately as we go about the process of shedding our belongings to travel the world. We aren’t want we own, despite what the advertisers and consumer culture wants us to believe.

  • Anonymous

    That’s very true–I don’t think many people even see it as a choice! They just choose possessions!

  • Anonymous

    I love that quote! There’s another one about travel and routine, how it’s amazing to travel JUST because we don’t get stuck in a routine!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! I will say that I did do one responsible thing, and that was put the money from my car directly into a Roth IRA. Not as much fun as spending it to travel Australia, but at least I feel a bit less guilty about getting rid of it–it is doing me some good!
    Also, Sydney is such a car city–I’m getting acclimated to only using public transport, but can see the value in having a car here! This certainly isn’t Europe–oh well 🙂

  • Anonymous

    So true–I’ve always loved getting rid of things! I wish that I could get rid of one thing for every one thing I buy–not there yet, but someday!

  • Anonymous

    I was getting a lift to the airport in Dallas to fly back here to NZ. I was with my bro-in-law’s bro who is very successful and subsequently has lots of, ‘stuff.’ Cars, boats, houses, etc. Yes. Plural.

    I explained how I was heading back to New Zealand, had a backpack, and would find a place to live once I got there. He couldn’t quite fathom how I … well, owned absolutely nothing. 🙂

    I’ve since bought a flash Mountain Bike … one of my few assets!

  • Very introspective. As I move around Spain and shed things one at a time, I feel like I’m slowly starting to figure out who I am and what’s important to me.

  • I am in love with this post, and its message, Christine. So very well-said. It makes me want to get rid of all my crap and be free!

  • Anonymous

    It’s definitely tough to go against what society is telling us to do–especially when it’s manifest in people we know and respect! Tough, but certainly not impossible–keep on shedding!

  • Anonymous

    Ooooh a new bike! The one thing I will say is that it’s a lot easier to not own a car in places like Europe. The infrastructure in Australia is similar to the US–built for personal cars!

  • Anonymous

    Getting rid of “stuff” certainly helps you figure out what’s really important to you–what’s worth keeping around.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks! I think the most important thing is being aware of what we have, what we need and what we just want. There are important distinctions to be made!

  • Anonymous

    love this christine! i’m getting rid of nearly everything i own right now- hoping to get it down to a box or two, but just recently added a vehicle! the difference in my case, is that this vehicle will be my home for the rest of the year and will take me on those adventures that will help define me in lieu of “stuff.” i’m downsizing to 50 square feet of living by doing so and it feels so good! i’m just starting to go through the things that have defined me and remembering to take deep breaths and let it go. so true that consumption is rampant. the gulp, gulp, gulp is almost audible!

  • Anonymous

    So glad you were able to relate. I’m unfortunately building up again living in Melbourne–but I think it’s just important to remember the difference between what we need and what we want!

  • “By constantly evaluating just how heavy your bag is, you realize what’s necessary.”

    Very good point that many people don’t mention: it’s a philosophy of *maintenance*. Because Stuff has a habit of creeping into your life. I’ve moved house 6 times in 10 years and each time it’s been horrific to discover what I own. Now I’m working my way up to longterm travel, it’s an ongoing battle. For years I cheated, hoarding stuff in my old bedroom at my Ma’s house. Now she gives me grief every time I go home and see her, and rightly so – it’s out of control in there. But I’m working on it.

    Dematerializing (erm, or whatever the word is) is like getting into shape: let it slip, and the pound pile back on.

    And the other half of it, the getting accustomed to not being defined by what you own…that’s also a long-term programme.

    Yep, it’s not just one big garage sale. It’s tough.

  • You know how everyone quotes St Paul (think it was St Paul, but someone like that anyway) as saying that, “Money is the root of all evil”, when the correct quote is that “Love of money is the root of all evil”? I think it’s like that with possessions. It’s the excess of attachment we have to them which is out of proportion, maybe, and not the possessions themselves.

    I’ve gone through the downsizing thing several times (going back to 40 year ago even), and then let possessions mount up again. If we all decided to live with only 10 things or 100 things, what would happen to all the people who used to churn out the stuff we used to buy? We have enough problems in finding work to keep half the world busy as it is. Absolutely, if you are traveling, then travel light if you have to hump the stuff about yourself, and I love the feeling of freedom I get when I arrive somewhere for the night and spread out my stuff and it’s all kind of controllable, but I also like having nice things around me when I’m static. The thing is, I won’t get so attached to them that they become an inconvenience when I want to move on. I’ll get rid of them then.

    Oh – and, Mike – if you read this – hope your mom isn’t thinking of traveling, because I have a spare room half filled with my boys’ stuff, and I’m wondering what to do with that when I want to go off for a while!

  • Anonymous

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve already started picking stuff up in Australia just because I have a room and space to store it–doesn’t mean I necessarily need it. I love the diet analogy: it’s sort of like picking at food just because it’s there, not because you’re hungry. Thanks for the insight.

  • Anonymous

    I definitely agree. I’ve started picking up a few more things in Melbourne or accepting hand-me-downs from travelers who are moving on so that my room starts to feel like a “home.” But I know that I’ll be OK getting rid of it all whenever I do decide to move on. I think the most important part is realizing that it’s just stuff–as my dad always says, “When in doubt, throw it out. If we don’t have it, we can buy it.”