The Bare Necessities

I remember six years ago after traveling through Europe with a friend, we came home and happened to be looking at our school backpacks. “I bet I could backpack through Europe with this,” she said, holding up a bag of rather ordinary size. I looked at her bag and thought it sounded lovely, but couldn’t understand how she thought she’d manage. Our previous trip bags were easily three times the size. What was she thinking?

Flash forward two years to me moving into a studio apartment. It was the first time I lived by myself, and I became acutely aware of which required items I had been borrowing from roommates for my entire life. Bowls, for example, proved to be a challenging item to live without. My new place had a mini-fridge but no freezer, and the idea of going a winter without smoothies was as abhorrent as the idea of paying for fresh fruit out of season. I ordered a stand alone freezer. I didn’t have a microwave either, but figured I could wait a week or two before I started shopping.

I lived there for two years and never bought a microwave.

It turned out that between the fast heat of a gas stove and the toaster oven my sister gave to me that same year, I didn’t actually need a microwave. The only reason I have one now is because my new place had it included.

Sometimes I’m amazed with what I can live without. Several years ago I made a conscious effort to limit my fast food intake. This was primarily to save money (fast food is not cheap, despite its reputation), but I thought it might encourage me to eat better as well. I gave myself a fast food budget of $20 a month, or about four meals. It was hard at first. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wendy’s chicken nuggets. But I made it through. Before long I lowered my budget to $10, then $5. Eventually I gave it up altogether, and went for about two or three years without buying fast food of any kind. These days I’ll get it occasionally when I’m truly in a bind for fast calories, or if I’m with friends and they suggest it. But I don’t crave it anymore (Peanut Buster Parfaits aside).

But it’s more than microwaves and french fries. I once turned off the DVD part of my Netflix subscription for two months to save a few bucks during the busy holidays. I never turned it back on. As a college sophomore I regularly used both my Tivo and a cable TV connection. I haven’t had either in years.

I spent years bringing things into my life, and I’m slowly managing to release myself from their grip. I’ve accumulated clothes and kitchen gadgets and subscriptions of every kind. It’s strange how easy it is to pick something up off a store shelf and bring it home, but how hard it is to throw it in the giveaway box once it’s outlived its usefulness.

JournalsThese days I fantasize about living in a Tiny Home. I’m not quite there yet. I still have a lot of stuff to get rid of. Sometimes my minimalist side fights with my frugal side, and I find myself unable to get rid of something that still has monetary value. I may never use the dozen blank journals I have on my bookshelf, but I can’t stomach the thought that I would get rid of them only to need them later.

Still, change has happened. Improvement is there. Last year I traveled around the country for four months, and by the end I’d managed to get nearly all of my belongings into the trunk of my tiny Volkswagen Jetta. People were astounded. I wasn’t. I could have done it with less.

I recently came across a post from a man who backpacked around Europe for three months. He mentioned that people were jealous of how small his pack was – a bag about the size of my friend’s backpack from years before. I looked at his bag, and thought of hers.

Yeah, I could do it with less.