If you had to fit your life into one box (or suitcase, trunk, or even the boot of a car) could you do that?
Would you need to get rid of a lot of stuff before you could consider packing up and moving to a new place?
What’s essential for you to keep and what could you easily replace if you had to?
What would you find difficult to let go of? Would you try to cram it into your box, even if it meant giving up something else?
All these questions arose when I was reading 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think by Brianna Wiest and was reading her essay titled ‘101 Things more worth thinking about than whatever’s consuming you’.
Although these questions I’ve posed above weren’t in the list of 101 Things, they popped into my head when I read the following question that Brianna suggested:
What you’d put in one box if you had to move to the other side of the country and could only bring that.Brianna Weist (2017) pp. 70.
Amongst all the existential queries, this question grabbed my attention. It spoke to my wannabe-minimalist self and made me stop to really think about what I would put in that box.
Of course, I changed the question slightly for my own thought project – moving to the other side of the world is more likely to require you to only take a small amount of possessions, so considering a suitcase to take to another country made the question more real for me.
When I began to consider it seriously, I soon realised just how many items I would quickly drop from my list of essentials to take with me.
I first thought about clothing and toiletries but soon realised that I could probably re-buy everything I really needed when I got to the other side of the world. Aside from a couple of days’ worth of travelling clothes and personal care essentials, everything else could be replaced.
So, what actually IS irreplaceable and essential in my life?
My first thought was the people and animals I love but, of course, I’m not squishing physical beings into a box, so I’m taking them out of the equation.
I started to look around my home. What did I actually need? What would I be sad to have to give away forever?
The photo albums always seem to be a big pull for me. I don’t have the best memory but, when I see a photo, I can probably tell you the exact location, the occasion, even the year, month and date. So, photos are a BIG memory prompt for me.
But I don’t need the albums for that. In fact, the yearly scrapbook albums I make would take up all the space in the box and then some. So they couldn’t come with me anyway.
Instead, I’m taking a hard drive with digital copies of every image with me in that box. I’d scan all my childhood photos and wedding albums and transfer all my jpegs from my computer so that I can still see all those photos in the future.
Although, thinking about how important my photographs are to me, I don’t trust that the hard drive would make it to the other side of the world in one piece, so I might even back up the hard drive with a second one that I keep on my person while I’m travelling. That sounds like the safest option.
Oh, or I could upload them to a cloud storage facility – if only I could figure out how to do that. Maybe I don’t need those hard drives after all? That’ll save me some space in my box.
So we’re back to zero items.
Let’s not be so strict. I’m going to think about what I would take if the box was quite large.
My computer would be nice to take and expensive to replace. Likewise my phone and all other smart tech in my home. But they’re not sentimental items and are completely replaceable. Urgh.
I would like to keep my important documents; my undergraduate and master’s degrees, my marriage and birth certificates, my passport and driving license, maybe even my NRA. Not very imaginative but I’d ideally like to have these documents with me.
There are some artworks in my home that I wouldn’t want to have to give up; important pieces handmade by my creative friends and family, or given to me as gifts on significant occasions, or ones that commemorate an important person or era in my life.
Again, most books I can access digitally or replace, but I’d like to keep a few; my childhood copies of The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark and poetry books by Janet & Alan Ahlberg (which got me into reading for pleasure at a young age) and my original The Darling Bud of May by H.E. Bates that I studied with during my A-Levels and which I still re-read every year.
As a writer and avid reader books are an important part of my life and although I’m willing to give most of them away, those are the handful of books that I don’t want to give up. I’ve only once regretted decluttering a book from childhood so I’m going to cling on to these ones and make sure that they fit into my moving box.
I might cut out and keep all the magazine articles I’ve written rather than moving shelves of magazines with me. But, then again, I have PDFs of most of them already, so that’s not really necessary.
We need to look more closely at sentimental items. I would take a handful of jewellery items that I’ve inherited or have been given by my husband. I’d keep a perfume that is no longer in production but that transports me back to my youth. Maybe the first album I bought with birthday money as a kid.
I have a pair of sparkly shoes that are so uncomfortable that I’ve only worn them a handful of times but that was my first shopping trip purchase as a teen. Actually, no. They could go if there wasn’t space in my box.
As you can probably tell, I’ve been working through the question posed by Brianna Wiest in real time, so you’re getting a kind of stream-of-consciousness answer from me. But I wonder how similar your thoughts would be to my own when considering what you would pack into that one box?
What you might have initially thought of as being essential, important or sentimental might just turn out to be replaceable for you too, when you really think about it.
Perhaps this exercise will be helpful in determining what you could declutter as part of your minimalist journey. I know I’ve certainly identified a lot of things I thought I wanted but don’t actually need.
Maybe I could make some more changes now to help me achieve a more clutter-free home…
So, what’s going in your moving box?
Weist, B. (2017) 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think United States: Thought Catalog