Going ultra-lite, because less is more

My new backpack, a Jam 70 from GoLite
My new backpack, a Jam 70 from GoLite. It holds just 30 pounds.

I’ve been a backpacker for years, but my gear had been languishing on a shelf. I’ve recently closed a part time business and am using the open space in my calendar to do some shake-down hikes. I’m figuring out how to carry less weight on my back. My last lengthy hike was almost a decade ago when I was younger, stronger and …ahem….had a smaller waistline. Reducing your backpack to a very low weight–25 pounds for a week’s hike–is called Ultra-Lite backpacking. That’s what I’m striving for. To carry on my back only what I need to be safe, fed, warm and healthy. Anything else just weighs you down and subtracts from your enjoyment of the experience. Less is more.

But my real goal is to Ultra-lite my LIFE.

Since the economy took it’s downturn in 2008, my whole life has changed. I live in the same house and work at the same job (though that was a bit sketchy for awhile there). But my attitude toward “things” and what I value is very different. Outwardly, I have fewer possessions. I own perhaps a fifth of what I did just 5 years ago. Having less stuff allows me to focus on experiences and on the things that I really care about. Like backpacking. Or world travel. Don’t get me wrong: I have everything I need. I just have a lot less of what I don’t need.

How’d I do it? One space at a time!

Getting rid of possessions may sound daunting, but I didn’t do it all at once. Most of us would feel too deprived if we got rid of everything at once. My journey started with frustration. I had so much stuff but couldn’t find anything. I was tired of cleaning around things, ruffling through over stuffed closets and moving unmarked boxes with unknown contents. It started by going through all my storage areas, which were mostly overhead or in the basement and tough to access. Most of what was there were things I didn’t use, couldn’t find and mostly didn’t even remember buying. I had 4 large boxes that I’d moved through 3 states and 6 homes without once opening! There was not one thing inside those boxes that I kept. Except for Christmas decorations, most of the items in storage were scrapped or given away. If you pay for a storage unit, this can be a real cost savings. (If you’re using your parent’s basement and garage to store things, this can make the holidays much more pleasant.)

That’s when it got fun

Next I set a goal to make room in my overcrowded closets. If I’d used the item in the last 6 months it went back in the closet. If I hadn’t used it in a year, but I thought I would, it went in a special section of the closet WITH A DATE ON IT. If I didn’t use it in another 6 months, it had to go. Everything else went into one of three boxes.

  • Things to donate or share
  • Things to throw out
  • Things to repair (and it’s surprising how large this category is!)

After I’d cleared the boxes, I went through every drawer and did the same thing. I moved on to every flat surface in the house. I added a new category of items to keep:

  • Things I find inspiring, useful or beautiful

This isn’t about doing without or being in want. If you love an item, if it makes you smile just to glance at it, keep it. But make sure it is out somewhere that you can enjoy it and not cluttered behind items of less value.

I have no children, so I gave family heirlooms to my nieces. Goodwill got clothing, knickknacks and decorative items. Who needs reference books in the age of Google? I donated books I’d never read again to the library, to friends or swapped them online for used books I would read. I threw away bag after bag of useless paper and broken items. I scanned my photos and letters and reduced shelves of scrapbooks to a handful of thumb drives and back up CDs. I mailed the photos to friends and family and donated almost everything from my High School years to my school’s scrapbook project.

Suddenly I had more room than I needed

I hardly ever missed an item I’d gotten rid of. But here’s the real surprise: the place looked better than before without all the clutter and useless decorative things. It was easier and faster to clean. I could find the things I needed. I was calmer. I even saved money. I’d completely emptied a spare bedroom and bath. I’d greatly reduced the items in my dining area and basement. I closed those rooms off and didn’t heat/cool them anymore. And I stopped buying things I didn’t need or already had.

And most importantly: I had more time, energy and money to spend on what I wanted

And isn’t that really the point? You don’t have unlimited resources. You have to FOCUS on what’s important. By getting rid of distracting things, I’ve come a long way toward doing that. I literally and figuratively opened up space in my life for something more….something better. I have what I need to be safe, fed, warm and healthy. I am comfortable. Anything else just weighs you down and subtracts from your enjoyment of the experience.

Less. Is. More.


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I’m a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I’m exploring the world and you can come too!

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