Monday, 6 January 2014
My Life In 30Kg
The wind comes in gusts again and again. I can hear it howling outside, as it races across the moor, carrying with it sheets of rain that hammer against the glass of my hotel window. Out there, just a stone's throw across the road, lies the vast, barren wastelands of Dartmoor. Inhospitable and wild, it's an empty, desolate place of rock, boggy marsh, babbling streams and tussocks of grass. To know that it is a place where trees refuse to grow says much about it. Winter on the moor, that's definitely not the place to be, so what am I doing here?
Inside the relative comfort of my hotel room, strewn out all across the floor, is my entire life. I came here, down to the edge of Dartmoor, to stay in a cheap motel, specifically with the intention of organising my belongings. It was a two pronged approach. Firstly, staying at my parents house, sleeping on the living room floor, gave me no space whatsoever and I very much needed space to spread everything out. Being a visual person, I needed to look upon my gear for my up-coming cycle tour of New Zealand, to pitch my tent (which I successfully accomplished using the bed as my base), to test my old sleeping bag with my new sleeping bag liner, and to ensure that I had everything that I needed. It was my first chance to combine the old with the new, to finally merge all of my adventurous life into one single, unified kit. The second need, and of equal, if not greater importance, was to examine everything that I own and to downsize and streamline yet again.
People have a way of accumulating things. I'm no different in that respect, although I have tried hard to limit my accumulations throughout my entire life. I cannot explain why, but even as a child, I never liked to have clutter and too many things around me. Perhaps, even back then, I felt the weight of it holding me down, keeping me in a place, when all I yearned for was the freedom to go and to leave whenever I wished it. Eight years ago, I was doing exactly the same as now, going through the first and the hardest downsizing, only back then, I had an apartment full of possessions accumulated over thirty five years of life, items that I had firmly believed absolutely necessary to my life.
The way I have always approached possessions can perhaps be best summed up with a kettle. That's not very sexy is it, but there it is. A kettle. I had the same kettle for fifteen years. I'd had it since I had set up home with my first girlfriend at the age of twenty. It worked, it did exactly what it was supposed to do, and it had never, not even once, let me down. It was functional, it boiled water, exactly what a kettle is supposed to do. It never occurred to me to change it. I saw absolutely no reason to do so. I came under intense pressure to change that kettle during those fifteen years and I resisted. Why though? Was I just being stubborn about it, or was there something far deeper going on?
The truth is that I have never been materialistic. (Yes, okay, I admit I did once waste a lot of money on a flashy sports car, but that same car put a smile on my face every time I looked at it, I grinned like an idiotic monkey every time I turned the key and I heard the 5.0 litre V8 engine fire into life, and I never regretted owning it, nor the expense that went with that ownership - not even once.) Possessions and ownership have never held much sway over me. The process of downsizing actually came as a relief to me. I was able to rid myself of this baggage that weighed me down, that held me in one place, and that took away my freedom. That first time was the hardest. Subsequent downsizing, or corrections as I now think of them, are much easier and completely necessary if I am to continue to lead the life that I wish to lead. This is a rather difficult idea for some people to comprehend, since ownership and increasing our material wealth is what capitalism is all about and what society tells us to do. Someone who does the opposite, someone who rejects what is at the core of our modern, economy led society, they must be crazy - right?
Well, if I am crazy, then I am happy to be crazy, because being crazy has given me a head full of the most wonderful memories and experiences, and allowed me to meet some of the most amazing and inspiring people. I could never have achieved that if I had maintained my previous lifestyle. I remember one day looking at the books on my book shelf and feeling proud to see all of these important novels that I had read. I thought it made me the person who I was, I saw them as defining my life. How naive I was! How could I think that what I owned was more important that what I was inside, more important than my heart and my soul? Besides which, what did it matter if I owned the book I had read, or if I had borrowed it? I had still read and enjoyed the book in either case, and people still saw the same person in front of them. I associated the ownership of the item as part of the experience and I found that ownership gave me joy and a sense of well-being, albeit a short term one that never lasted more than a few days or weeks at most. I had never realised or known back then that life is simply an experience, and it is the experience of life that brings the greatest joys and the memories that will last an eternity. How could I possibly have known it? Only by casting aside that old life was I able to discover the secret, to find enlightenment, and to experience the epiphanies that would come from being free.
Now, in this hotel room, I have been driven to downsize once more. It is the first time in over two years that I am with all of my worldly possessions. During that time, some of my non-essential items such as winter clothing, important documents and sentimental items, have sat in a suitcase in my parents attic. My thinking has been that if I do not think of a thing, if I find no reason to look at it, to touch it, nor to hold it, then it has no purpose in my life. I have to be tough about it, I am driven to be ruthless in that regard. I have given away and discarded much of what I once thought of as, with Gollum like reasoning, being precious to me. The truth for me at least, is that my possessions allow me to live my life, the life that I want to create, rather than my need to live to sustain my possessions. I am very cold about it. Only certain, irreplaceable items make the cut. Old letters from deceased family members, my travel journals, certain photographs (soon to be digitised), some greetings cards that hold sentimental value. Other than important documents that I must keep for legal reasons, nothing else remains.
30 kilograms or 66 pounds. That is the checked baggage allowance with Emirates airlines, with whom I am flying to New Zealand. It sounds like a lot, but it is not. Not when it is necessary for me to carry around the 16kg of scuba diving equipment, necessary for my being able to work as a dive instructor. That doesn't leave very much for anything else. With the purpose of my trip to New Zealand being a cycle tour, I need to pack a tent, sleeping bag and other camping equipment, as well as specific items for cycling I have never needed to carry previously. It is going to be tight. With no scales, I don't yet know how I have done. My guess is that I am still over the allowance. I know that I will need to leave behind two small backpacks with my parents - those are the legal documents and sentimental items. That's all I wish to leave behind. I've contacted someone about scanning my old printed photographs, that will reduce the size and weight some more. I've been in the local library and I've scanned some of the teaching materials that I need. I have some other papers that I will scan this week and then discard. Every little helps.
Life it seems, at least this modern life, requires us to keep certain papers, to maintain a fixed address. I would like to be completely free but that, I know, is not possible. Bank accounts and credit cards allow me to travel, they make life easier and for that, I must pay the price with a little of my freedom. Besides which, there are certain items that I would hate to lose, that are irreplaceable in the emotional value that they hold. I must have something to pass on down the line, something of my family and my past. I don't have children yet, but I firmly believe that I will, and when that day comes, well then I believe I might just need to have a life that weighs more than 30kg and fills more space than one large backpack and one medium sized suitcase. Until then, I'm flying as free as I'm able.