Having Stuff vs Having Experiences

For the past 9 months I’ve worn the same few outfits over and over again. I own very little. Here’s what I own:

- clothing
- camera equipment
- laptop
- pictures and old journals 

Yes I have a few other knick-knacks. Some jewelry and stuff I’ve collected along the way, make-up, ya know, that kinda thing. I own a bar of soap. But that is it. I don’t have any furniture or pretty art or kitchen dishes. Oh, and I own a lot of suit cases, because everything I own other than these same few outfits I’ve cycled over the past 9 months, my laptop and about a third of my camera equipment, everything else is stuffed in these suitcases and in my friend’s storage unit in San Francisco (which she graciously provided me with). I’ve never loved and hated my suitcase so much. Having it out means I’m going on an adventure, but having it out also means I’m out of my comfort zone (and my outfit is really wrinkly). 

I remember last fall when I was in Tennessee and decided to go visit my friend in North Carolina for a quick overnight trip. I packed my backpack with clothing for the next day, got into a borrowed vehicle and was off. This was my first time driving in a few years and my gawd was it ever amazing. Driving is one of my favourite past times. It is the perfect combination of calmness and adventure. I cranked the music as loud as it would go and poorly belted out the lyrics at the top of my lungs. The roads were windy and the trees were thick with colour. It felt amazing. I felt amazing. I felt so amazing that I pulled over to the side of the road, ventured down an empty forest path, and upon finding a crystal blue lake with not another soul in sight, I proceeded to dance. I flailed my arms everywhere and kicked my legs as high as they could go. I got my only pair of shoes quite dirty but I didn’t care, I was happy. I danced and danced until I saw a shirtless man walking towards me, and at the point I proceeded to run. I ran as fast as I could back up the forest path, got in the car and locked the door. The rush was beyond me. I was in the middle of nowhere, had no cell phone service and was alone. I laid my head back on the seat and began to laugh.

A few hours later I arrived at my friend’s beautiful cabin home. What was significant about seeing this friend was that a year ago today (minus two days) her and I had a conversation in San Francisco that changed the rest of my life. It made me realize how unhappy I was and how I was not living the life I wanted, despite it being a really wonderful and special life. I realized I wanted more than my stuff, my possessions, even my job. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to help people. I wanted to tell stories. I wanted adventure even if it meant being uncomfortable. And here I was now with her in North Carolina, both of us having left our lives behind to pursue our dreams. I had a crazy amount of personal anxiety and social anxiety due to the past few months being the hardest months in many years, but suddenly none of that mattered. I was in these beautiful mountains with a dear friend experiencing the life I had been longing for.  

After a hike into more wilderness, I told this friend that I wanted to go to Charleston and that she should come with me. I’m not one to peer pressure someone, but I admit I was a little adamant with her. She had to work the next day but I told her that it didn’t matter. Think of the ocean, the warm weather, the southern accents. We’ll go and be back within 24 hours. You can call in sick and I’ll have you back the following day. I’ll find us a place to stay, let’s just go. I could see the sparkle in her eye, the spontaneity and the same desire for the ocean, warm weather and southern accents. It was settled, we’d leave early the next morning, spend the late afternoon and evening in Charleston, and then drive home early the next day. 

The next morning I opened my backpack and took out my one outfit. Charleston was going to be warm and I had only packed a long sleeve shirt. Charleston was also going to be an extra day (plus an extra day staying at my friend’s house on the way home) and I had only packed one extra pair of underwear. It was one of those moments where I realized I had so little, but needed more in order to experience the experience I wanted.  I didn’t want to hand-wash my underwear for the next two days (also because with staying up late and waking up early, they probably wouldn’t dry by the next morning). I got dressed, her and I headed out the door and drove straight to the nearest Walmart. I didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t need anything fancy. I purchased a 5 dollar t shirt and two pairs of underwear. 

Here’s me wearing my 5 dollar t shirt in Charleston. 

Charleston was wonderful. We saw the ocean, the weather was beyond perfect and we heard a lot of adorable southern accents. It was the best 24 hours I could have ever dreamed of spending in Charleston, filled with some of the greatest memories. There’s something about experiencing a city in only 24 hours that makes it more exciting. You have to do it all, fast and on a whim, and then you leave on a high. It was one of those experiences where you give a fake name and pretend you live a different life, of course, both of us being too shy to do either, we still had a lot of fun. 

I’ve had to leave a lot of things behind as I’ve traveled. I bought that t-shirt and a few weeks later, had to leave it behind (along with a few other items) so I could replace the space in my suitcase with a sweater for the cold weather I was about to enter. I’ve worn the same few pairs of pants over and over and over again. I at this very moment have two short sleeve shirts and everything else I have are sweaters. I’ve worn the shit out of these two short sleeve shirts and stared at the same patterns for so long that the patterns have started to turn to kaleidoscopes. I’ve left shoes behind and asked people not to mail them to my storage unit, just to give them away or keep them for themselves. I’ve lived with very few things and the truth is I miss my stuff. I’ve missed having an apartment and furniture and my clothes hung up in a closet and having to try on way too many shoes in the morning to see which looks best with my outfit. I miss those really girly pink shoes. I’m tired of dressing like a boy. I’ve missed these things so much that some days I’ve curled up into a ball and sobbed like a pathetic baby. And then the next morning I’ve packed my suitcase and been so thankful that I own so few things, because in exchange for my possessions, I’ve been able to experience life in a new way. 

In a way where there are no strings, no bounds, nothing holding you down. In a way where you can just go and not have to worry about your life and your stuff. In a way where suddenly I don’t care about all the trivial things I used to, like what to wear every morning, how to look cute and find a stylish outfit. It’s silly and small, I know, but it’s taught me to not care about my possessions but really care about my experiences, and really care about the people I’ve met along the way. 

I’m not saying you have to sell all of your stuff, move out of your apartment and go travel the world. But I am kinda saying that, yes. Do something that is ridiculous and out of your comfort zone. Do something even if your friends or family don’t understand you for doing it. Do something that forces you to live differently and uncomfortably, because when you learn to live in a very vulnerable state, you learn how to truly appreciate the small things. You learn what truly matters. You learn your soul. You learn who you are. You learn what and who are important to you. You learn that the experiences and memories you have are far more important than anything you will ever buy. You learn that relationships are more important than money or success. You learn just how good a poorly made three dollar sandwich really can taste. You learn how to breathe, you learn how to find peace, you learn about God or whatever version of spirituality is yours. You learn to live to your fullest potential. You learn that despite life being absolutely crazy and chaotic and unpredictable and heart breaking and humiliating and broken, it is also beautiful and special and priceless and exciting and meaningful and important. You learn that you will be okay. You learn that you will be more than just okay.

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Six days ago I moved into my first apartment in nine months. I currently live in New York. I can't describe how euphoric it felt to hang up my clothes for the first time in what felt like forever. My bedroom came already furnished, which is wonderful, because it means when my lease expires in 4 months, I can get up and go again.