Starting Over in a Suitcase

I moved to another state with a suitcase, a backpack, five hundred dollars and a student loan. It’s a funny thing, going through all of your belongings, deciding what you want and need and what just isn’t going to fit. I was faced with the question you’ve only asked yourself if you’ve tried to start completely anew:

What do I need to bring when I’m leaving everything behind?

There are a lot of uncertainties that accompany a move. Even if you’re just moving a few miles away and into a similar sized place, or you’re leaving temporarily, there are lots of unknowns about your new home. There is stress too, from going through all your belongings. It’s an eye opener to have everything you own packed away in boxes, and the space where it used to live so empty. I believe it’s a taste of a past life, one where we as human beings used to move from place to place, chasing the seasons and leaving to look for more than what we had where we sat.

It’s hard to know whats going to happen when you leave. Will everyone forget about you? Will you meet new friends and family and grow fresh roots? Will you make it out there? There are lots of things to consider and decide in a move, one of the biggest being packing. Especially if you’re moving from a cold climate to a hot climate or a hot climate to a cold climate. I was moving from the top of the Pacific North West to Southern California, and had never even visited the place I was moving. I saw it for the first time when I arrived. Needless to say, I was pretty high-strung in the days before my flight, and I probably made a dozen lists of what to pack. In the end, the best way to prioritize and organize my limited luggage was with three categories.

1. Replaceable

Things that are replaceable are of little or no sentimental value, they are extras or multiples, and they are also inexpensive, and not terribly difficult to find. For example, shampoo, flip flops, lotion, band aids, mugs, dinner ware and pretty much all of your cooking items, sheets etc. These things can be tricky to identify, because they are typically basic essentials, but they take up too much room and the cost of shipping it all would be the same as just buying it new when you arrive.

The biggest worry when getting rid of things is that you might end up needing it. The way to resolve that worry? Imagine you do get rid of that extra pair of shades and you end up missing them or really needing them. Couldn’t your just get another pair? Or make do with the first pair? Would it really be so difficult without them? Try to solve the hypothetical problem. If the solution is easy, or the dilemma not exactly an emergency, then you should be fine without it.

2. Essential

Photo by Héctor Martínez

Items that I deemed essential are the opposite of replaceable. They are things that are on the spendy side, they’re one of a-kind, and things that you wouldn’t get very far without. For example your medication, electronics, identifying documents like your drivers license, social security cards and birth certificate, as well as things like a good jacket, shoes and your glasses.

These are things you need to live. Not things you might need sometime, but items you use or wear pretty much every day. It different for everyone. I really needed to bring my computer and chargers, as well as my hair clippers that save me money I would have to spend paying for hair cuts every few weeks. Sometimes it’s not obvious either, but when you take a few minutes to think about it, you realize your sketch book and marker set you doodle with all the time are totally essential.

3. Sentimental

Photo by Laura Fuhrman

This category can be difficult, because it can be hard to leave behind knick-knacks that you collected on vacations, or gifts from family and friends, but it’s important to only pack the things that will give you joy and strength instead of the things that will hurt your back carrying or give you a headache trying to organize. Things you should let a family member hold on to or give away are heavy or fragile things like dishes, snow globes, jewelry and artwork. Other things to leave behind include large or otherwise cumbersome things like furniture.

I did end up bringing a few sentimental things that broke the rules, like large stuffed animal turtles a dear friend got me, a mug from my sister and photos, but they make me happy, and as long as you limit yourself to just a few small or lightweight things you’ll be in the clear.

How to live is the question we are all trying to answer. Settling, moving, more or less and with who are the important things, the rest are just details we figure out along the way. The truth is, you are responsible for your own happiness. Wherever you go, whatever you have, you are the navigator of your own life. I think day to day, we get so caught up with the “problems” we’re facing, and we forget that we are not bound by fear or worry, or by things. We are capable of so much more than that, we as humans are powerful, you are powerful. We’re not like trees, that stay still and are bound to the place they were planted. (Most of us) were born with feet and legs and brains that dream, we build cars and trains and planes and boats and space ships to go places because we’re explorers. *que the Intersteller soundtrack* We evolved to travel beyond what we know, to see and experience.

This life is too beautiful to not explore it, and too short to not seek out happiness wherever it might be.

Stowing Papers

Ironically, organization becomes a bigger deal when you live in a small space, even though you have less things to organize.

It was a great paper pileup, a wad of receipts, and essential documents mixing it up at the bottom of my backpack. They had to go somewhere, but they couldn’t stay or else I would have nowhere to sit. Living on a boat means knowing where to put things, and knowing what to go on living without. Like a game, to keep or not to keep.

Automatically, when going through a paper pileup I ask myself “do I need this?” Because there are definitely papers I need, like my birth certificate, or car paperwork, even receipts for things I need to return. The important documents go in a sealed waterproof folder, and the less essential ones go in my backpack. Those ones are easy.

A little more challenging is things like cards, not very important certificates, business cards and other non essential paper trail documents. For those, I usually end up throwing it in a pile for a few days (weeks) and forgetting about it until I’m trying to find something. Those ones kill, because I’ll just move the pile around, procrastinating sorting through it because I don’t even want to think about what might be lurking in those papers. Like a letter from the DMV reminding me to pay another fee for tags or taxes or for existing. Or worse… the library sending a late notice for that book I can’t find!

That’s the worst, losing things. It’s not like I have many places to misplace things, or even many things for that matter. It drives me crazy, knowing what I’m looking for is probably just feet away, hiding right under my nose. At that point i just have to start displacing everything I own, looking in every backpack, every drawer and making my place look like a tornado just rolled through. After several hours (minutes) of looking I’ll just give up, because obviously the house elves are just playing a trick on me, and I’m not going to find my toothpaste until it wants to be found.

The hardest things for me to get rid of and to not buy or be gifted are books. I was such a bookworm growing up, and had quite a collection by the time I moved away. Even when I finish a book and don’t plan on re-reading it, I want to keep it around, like some kind . I like the look of books all lined up on a shelf, by size or color or preference. They have such ambiance, just taking up space. The problem is that I have no shelves. Well- actually I have shelves just not book shelves. My shelves are for clothes and non perishables, dinner ware and a few spices, tools and ties and life vests. Books are lovely, but to be certain, they take up too much room. The number of physical copies I can have at a time is probably three or four, two of which are manuals

This makes the case for ebooks pretty strong. Instead of shuffling books around, making trips to the library, or spending money on copies I can’t keep, I can have what I’m reading right on my tablet or in my pocket. Actually, I can have hundreds of books saved that I can read again and again. I know the argument, you’re going to say “but I like holding a real book. I hate reading off of a screen!” But if you’re reading from your phone screen you’re doing it wrong! I hate reading off my phone. It’s too small, the glare is terrible and my arm gets tired holding it up so I don’t have to be looking down.

Want to know the secret to ebooks? It’s tablets. I love my iPad because it’s lasted a number of years now without any problems, the display is great and the battery lasts forever. I do wish that I got it used like my phone, instead of paying hundreds more for something new. Besides, as far as pricing goes, if you want a new device you’re better off going with a far cheaper Kindle or Samsung Tab. But all in all, it’s actually been a great investment, mainly because it cut out paying for books all together! Seriously, if you haven’t been to your library recently you probably didn’t know that nowadays most public libraries have an entire free ebook collection. All you need to do is go to their website then follow the links to their e library and login with your library card.

If you have a Kindle, it’s really easy. Just download the book you want and it shows up in your reader. Even if you don’t have a kindle, you can get free books from your library if you just download the (also free) Overdrive app or the Amazon Kindle app on the tablet you already have. I like these reader apps and have used them forever over the ibooks app because you can change the display, the text size, the fonts and you can even use them to download and listen to free audio books.

Going digital is a big part of preserving space for me. Any paperwork I’m not sure about, I just take photos of with the CamScanner app on my phone. It turns photos of documents and automatically adjusts the brightness and contrast so you can actually read it, plus it flattens papers so that your photo now looks like an actual scanned photocopy. It makes it easy to just name it and file in away in the cloud so it doesn’t take up space anymore. Tablets are great to for streaming movies and shows, so I don’t need a big DVD collection, bulky cable boxes or expensive channel packages. They’re pretty under-rated and the perfect solution for saving both space and money.

If you’re interested in trying out a tablet, here are some good deals on few different devices I’ve picked for you to check out!