It all started with a battered 35l backpack. Lugged through muddy fields at festivals, dumped in damp tents and stuffed to the brim with secret stashes of alcohol, my cheap £30 pack had been pushed to its limits for years. Before my first long-term adventure, I had deliberated about whether to ditch it and upgrade. However the sentimental memories associated with it and the resilience it showed through its perfectly intact seams, proved it would do just fine.
A year and 12 countries later, I returned home with the same backpack filled with just as few possessions as I left with. I had not thought about it at the time, but when I got back, I realised living with only my essentials for such a long duration had drastically altered my mindset in ways I could not have foreseen.
I Crave Minimalism
Walking into my childhood room after my trip, I realised the cupboards were stacked with useless crap and drawers filled with pointless knick knacks I hadn’t used since I was about 10 years old. I simply did not need the majority of things I owned. Had I thought about that dress I hadn’t worn in 5 years or the huge bag of pretty stones that never made it to the polisher or the broken CD player I had for some reason kept even though I only own about 2 CDs (and had no intention of fixing)? Absolutely not – some items I had totally, completely forgotten about until I found them in the bottom of a drawer. Clearly none of them had been in any way essential to my life, so why had I held on to them for so long?
Since then, after every backpacking trip, I now have the urge to spring clean and get rid of things that aren’t useful or sentimental to me. Clothes go to my younger sister and other rejects to a charity shop for someone else to appreciate more than me.
Since living out of a backpack, clutter now makes me anxious, suffocated. It’s a far cry from the messy person who would happily treat her floor as a second wardrobe that was like a minefield to walk through.
I now need clean, clutter free surfaces and (fairly) organised cupboards, simple decor, light and space. I go into friend’s dark houses that you can barely walk through for all the books and guitars and piles of clothes that probably haven’t been hung up in years, and feel intense relief as soon as I walk out the door.
I Have Freedom
Living out of a backpack has taught me life does not have to be stationary. All it takes is my passport, some money and only a few essentials to be able to leave whenever I want. Even then, essentials can be bought anywhere all over the world should I forget something. Home is wherever I want it to be and it takes just a bag and my mindset to make it so.
Simple living is liberating. I’ve proved I can do it long-term and thrived so I know that I do not need to be scared should I feel like packing up and doing it again.
I Consider Second Hand
In a hostel in Malaysia, I remember a girl offering me a few tops that she wanted to get rid of to free up some space for jumpers she needed for her next destination. In exchange, I gave her a jumper I did not need for my next destination, which was Australia in the peak of summer. I loved the mentality behind it and since, I do regularly swap clothes with friends and scour second hand charity shops.
Things I buy don’t consist of cheap, fast fashion as much as they once did. They are often nicer staple pieces that I can keep for when they come in and out of fashion (as they so often do). Even when it comes to bigger things like furniture, I’ll often have a quick browse of Gumtree or on Facebook Marketplace first.
I Buy Less
I’ve always been a saver and generally good with money but clothes have always been my weak spot. At university, I was that girl who had to have a new outfit for every night out which, of course as a student, was at least twice a week. Choosing which clothes to take abroad was always a battle between the pretty impractical things I loved and functional items I needed for hiking or things that weren’t going to get ruined.
I used to love getting dressed up, shopping and wearing a full face of make-up. Now, the last thing I bought was a vintage denim jacket which has been my first non-work clothing purchase in about 6 months. For the first time in my life, at 27 years old, I now go to work with no makeup on because I have got so used to not having the space to carry my rather large (and heavy) full make up bag.
I do not necessarily need material things to make me happy though of course, there are a few sentimental and personally important exceptions like my camera, laptop, speaker, photographs etc. When I go shopping, I assess whether I actually need it, which my old impulsive self wouldn’t have done for a second.
It Has Taught Me the Importance of Organisation
Anyone who has lived out of a backpack for any period of time will know how stressful it can be, especially when you need that item right at the bottom when you have only just meticulously packed it all up. It was super frustrating at first, though as time went by, I learnt a way to pack and started to think ahead that meant this situation happened less and less.
Rolling t-shirts and stacking vertically meant I could look down and see which one I wanted. Putting underwear in zip lock packs that I could vacuum closed saved space and maintained that freshly washed smell. Shampoo bars and soap replaced bulky and heavy toiletry bottles. I’d get out clothes I needed the day before so I could quickly shower and go in the morning without disturbing the whole dorm room. It slowly went from a bit stressful to therapeutic, some of these things I have even incorporated into my every day life.
Living out of a backpack is not something that I ever thought would shape my life, but it has been beneficial in so many ways and I will never be looking back.
What have you learnt from living out of a backpack?