Man, I gotta say: moving can really suck. The more people I talk to about it, the more people open up and admit, yes, on the human life experience spectrum, it lands somewhere above a breakup and below slamming your hand in the car door. God help the person who has undergone all three in succession.
Part of what makes it suck is that it doesn’t seem like it should be as stressful as it actually is. Moving is challenging for several reasons: it often includes life changes, leaving people we love behind, and it requires a substantial amount of time and energy to complete on both ends. You take apart many of the components of your life and then have to figure out how you want to put them back together, both literally and metaphorically.
However, what always stands out to me the most as being oddly challenging is trying to answer the questions: “How do I have so much stuff and what do I DO with it all and do I even want half of it?”
Like an empty kitchen counter or the tray of an eating toddler, my life accumulates things without much effort. And, it seems to me, living in a consumer-based, advertisement-laden culture, buying things is seductive and is made incredibly easy. I would argue it takes MORE effort to RESIST buying and accumulating things, to live simply and buy less, than it does to hop on the purchase/acquisition hamster wheel.
To be clear: I’m not anti-stuff.
My favorite possessions not only bring me great joy, they have changed my life. When I upgraded from my skinny skis to my first pair of fat skis, and from my hard-tail to a full-suspension bike, (no offense to those hard-tail fans out there!) my life was never the same, and the ecstasy was tangible. I probably ADDED years onto my life, if that is somehow possible!! Our things can be tools to create priceless experiences.
I’m also not anti-upgrades; I just struggle with both how easy it is to steadily increase the quantity of what I own, and how often I feel pressure from society that the quality of what I own is no longer up to snuff, and that I ought to go buy something new.
Also I want to take a quick moment to acknowledge the privilege it is to have the ‘problem’ of excess stuff when many, many people in the world don’t even have access to clean drinking water.
The big winners for my main ‘game’ these days of “What’s In That Box?” are: outdoor gear, of which the majority was free (lucky me! Thanks sponsors!); museum-like dead animal parts (lucky me! Thanks mom and dad for passing on your strange yet cool affinities!); art, books, rocks, and shells.
Though I love most of my possessions, the process of moving always makes me realize how much stuff I have, and it makes me wish that I had less.
The times in my life when I’ve traveled lightly, lived more simply, and spent less time online or on social media, I can almost always correlate to being my happiest. My hypothesis is that this is also the case for many of us. Coming off of Sea Bear where we didn’t have space for too many things and we had a good reason to be more ‘out in the world’ than on our phones, I can speak to the reinvigorated freshness of that conviction: Less [things] is often more, and less screen time is better.
I link screen time and consumerism here because I think they have an interesting relationship: we use our screens and social media to market ourselves or our businesses, to pay for the stuff we see when scrolling, ad infinitum.
I think what the two also have in common is that there is a major pressure in culture or in the world at large to steadily and relentlessly plod along towards ‘more’ of them, despite that ‘more’ might not be the answer. There’s this idea of: “You’ll be happier and more successful with more things, and if you spend more time on social media making more posts, you’ll have more engagement and get more likes and more followers.”
More, more, more.
Social media to me is like a used car salesman. It’s occasionally helpful, it wears shiny clothes, talks a good talk, and maybe even wears nice cologne, but what you see isn’t always what you get, and it’s hard to tell who is getting used here.
There is a definite line in which it can start adversely affecting my mental health and how I feel about myself, especially when I start comparing myself to the incomplete pictures and stories I see. It always seems like everyone’s killing it and is doing a better job of their lives than I am — which is CRAZY that I’d feel that way WHILE sailing around the world with the love of my life — but case in point.
I have a hard time finding my sweet spot of maintaining a presence but not getting sucked in… I can confidently say that for me, the less time I spend on there, the happier and more present I am in my life. I try to think of it as a tool — I can use it, but if I’m not careful, it starts using me, and it’s a slippery little tool indeed.
Owning things is also a time and energy suck — in addition to the obvious money suck. The more I own, the more things I have to move, take care of, or clean, and the less time I have to actually use the things or do something else with my time. I purchase things to make my life easier or more fun, but there’s a limit before they start to become a burden. I lose a sense of lightness and freedom. It can be harder to be dynamic and say ‘Yes’ to spontaneous trips, etc. I start out owning my things, but then at some point, they start to own me.
As I am reentering society and moving into a home here in Boulder, I’ve been trying to sort out this cluster of questions: “How do I resist getting pulled into the strong river of consumerism? How do I resist the trap of: ‘if I buy this my life will be better/easier’?” How do I stay off of the hamster wheel of being plugged back in, of spending too much time on my phone or computer, and keep my life as close to as simple and present as I was on Sea Bear?
While life has chapters, and while the Sea Bear chapter was one of the simpler times I’ll probably ever have, it seems like that answer to the above questions would be: just don’t buy stuff and stay off your phone to the extent that feels good. But the reality is not that black and white.
As I’ve been sitting with it, there are three main guiding principles/practical steps that have been helpful in the past that I’m implementing.
1: Asking myself the question: Do I LOVE this thing? If not, get rid of it or don’t buy it unless I absolutely have to.
2: Log out of Instagram regularly to prevent mindless scrolling and wasting time. Then when my muscle memory goes to open the app, which it does about 49 times a day, there is a barrier to entry.
3: Taking a regular social media detox, as well as dedicated no-screen-time periods that I put in my calendar and let people know about ahead of time.
While #2 is most practical, #3 is most impactful and important. I feel the most connected to myself, the most empowered, the most ME, when I fully go off social for a while. A full week off is my happy place, (two is better!) and I just can’t say enough good things that I get from it — it’s up there among the top tools I have for helping my mental health. I feel like I regain some sense of autonomy from the grind.
I also used to take a full day or two a week where I turned my phone off (it used to be on one or both days during the weekend) and I’d give people a heads up so that we would make plans before. Try it!! It’s surprisingly liberating and refreshing!!!
If that doesn’t feel doable, maybe try doing it at least once a month, and definitely put it on your calendar. Or, take 6 hours during the day once a week to turn off the phone. Pretty soon you’ll be Julia Andrews in ‘The Sound of Music’, frolicking and singing on some ridgeline somewhere.
But … back to moving.
It still sucks. But the cool thing about the times where I shake my life up (maybe in this case shake my stuff as well) is that I get to choose again how I want the pieces to fall back into place, the principles I want to highlight and reemphasize. I get to say ‘yes’ to la resistance (french accent) against mindless consumerism, and go back to the basics — rediscover or recommit to the places and activities I’m happiest: outside, with the people I love, and no phone.
Sometimes, the shortcuts to feeling light and happy, at least temporarily, are that simple.