Live Inspired: trading objects for experiences

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

This past weekend, I cleaned out my remaining closet of stuff.

I dumped a lot of stuff to donating centers. I sold a fair amount of my favorite pieces of clothing on Instagram. 

As I did, I received a bunch of messages. Among them:

“Good for you, lighten the load.”

And, “How refreshing.”

I understand those well-meaning sentiments and where they came from. Meanwhile, however, I was focusing on not puking in the sink.

Just over a year ago now, I announced I was leaving my job of eight years at the Minneapolis Star Tribune (working in a couple different departments) to pursue the life of a nomad, wandering through Central America in search of stories and making my own living through topics I wanted to write about.

To do that, I got rid of almost everything. I left my house in Minneapolis, said goodbye to people I loved, sold furniture and clothes and heirlooms and donated car-fulls.

The rest — the bits I couldn’t yet bear to part with — I stuffed into a closet in the home of my best friend outside of Pittsburgh. 

Since then, I’ve traveled through Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras with only a backpack, trading my physical belongings for experiences. I swam in a crater lake, surrounded by volcanos. I ate bugs. I danced on top of bars. I fell into sewage mud. I found hidden coves. I climbed mountains. I walked through ruins. I fed pelicans. I zip lined. I got four new tattoos. I made a million new friends, and I cooked with them, cried with them, laughed with them, drank much rum with them. I took busses and boats, slept in sometimes tiny quarters, with cockroaches and on box springs, sweating and fighting off the smells coming from the bathroom drain. I did it all with about seven days worth of clothes, wearing the same thing over and over.

I became accustomed to it. It was nice to not have to think about what to wear in the morning. It was convenient to have only a finite number of things to worry about.

Still, when I came back to the States to visit, it was grounding to have that closest of things, a space of my own. Being around stuff I recognized, it slowed my heart rate. It gave this nomad a sense of place, of belonging, of stability, in a life in which so much was new and different all the time.

See, I love my new life. But it hasn’t come without sacrifices. 

While I love the change and excitement of traveling, I also have a domestic side that misses simple things like cooking, making coffee for myself, not leaving the house on a weekend.

Having roots, something to go back to, something that was mine, it’s gotten me through some hard moments on the road.

But life changes. I plan to be a nomad for the foreseeable future. I’m not sure how often I’ll come back moving forward. It’s weird and fundamentally displacing when you realize it’s not just about your things; that you can no longer fit into the spaces you once did.

So I spent the weekend digging through my box of trinkets and parsing through the closet of clothes — piling books to donate, tossing away old photos and press passes, selling off memories for $10 a pop, stuffing the last chunks of my old life into priority boxes, the remaining facets of my former existence sent to the wind.

A couple of times, I changed my mind and defiantly threw things I was trying to sell into the “keep” pile. I took cry breaks. I tried to focus on what was ahead — more experiences, more change; not behind — the origin stories of all these items; reminiscence of time and place, of people, of feelings, wrapped up in tangible objects.

It wasn’t refreshing — it was annihilating. The sensation of owning almost nothing heading into my mid-30s is extremely weird. Getting rid of some of the last of my belongings felt like erasing major pieces of my life.

But life is about choices, and a year ago, I made a big one. It’s been more beautiful, difficult and fulfilling than I ever could have imagined. So to keep going, I’m doing what I must. I’m decreasing my footprint. I’m giving up my home base. 

Though more of my things are now gone, the memories associated with them get to stay.

I’m trading physical objects for experiences, and I know there are a hell of a lot to come.

4 thoughts on “Live Inspired: trading objects for experiences

  1. Beautifully written! Some people would shrug or think I’m silly, but parting with things that remind me of cherished times or places can be so emotional.

  2. Everything you wrote about is true. To own nothing makes a person feel unattached in a way that is not good. It is the man without a country. It feels unsettling in the truest sense of the word. I went through this almost 25 years ago. I have since recovered not by buying more stuff but by developing a whole new set of values, like relationships, and working hard to stay connected to the people and places that really matter. Now, I am back to having more stuff. It’s what you do when you can. But I really don’t care about my stuff, because I know if I lose it all again, I will be just fine. And all the people that I care about, don’t give damn either.

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