Coming home: overwhelmed by consumerism

What struck me the most on returning home from my round-the-world trip was how much stuff I’d left behind. I’d lived happily for over a year out of a carry-on sized suitcase and I’d grown really attached to the idea of all my worldly possessions fitting into something so small and portable. With new perspective, I didn’t understand why I would possibly need so many clothes.

Before departing for a year and a half on the road, I’d gone through my closet to eliminate all the clothes I didn’t wear and packed what remained up in large suitcases stored at my parents house.  It had felt good to cut down on the amount of stuff I was storing – why keep things I wouldn’t want on my return? But looking at this pile of suitcases now I was dismayed. Does this duffle bag really contain only dresses? And is this carry-on sized bag full of only socks, tights and layering tanks? How had I accumulated so much stuff? And did I still need it?

My well used, carry-on, backpack

Traveling with only carry-on luggage had been amazing. I had enough clothes to last at least a week without doing laundry and layers for different climates. I had medecines for emergency, a headlamp for hiking, a full kit of toiletries and makeup and three different kinds of shoes. I had spent considerable time planning the most versatile clothing and accessories to bring for any purpose. Over the length of the trip, I felt as though I’d still packed more than I needed. The contents of my luggage shifted as I got rid of expired medecines that I’d never needed, discarded clothes that had become too worn and gathered a few new clothing items from working an office job in New Zealand.

Now coming home to see this pile of suitcases filled with clothes was exciting but also overwhelming. I had an outfit for any occasion! Clothes I hadn’t seen in years that felt like new! But also, too much choice and with fresh eyes and an altered viewpoint I could see how many of these things I didn’t need. Like dresses that I kept cause they would look nice in that one specific situation with just the right accessories. By the time I was ready to unpack in a new apartment, I was also ready to donate a third of those clothes that had seemed so precious to save when I left. 

A sampling of what I donated in the past year

Since my initial unpack, I’ve gone even more extreme and have eliminated probably 60% of what I had on my return. The appeal of minimalism is now so strong to me. Why do I need so many different clothing options every morning? Smart purchasing, neutral colours and accessorising can bring about a small wardrobe that meets the needs of any occasion. Life is simpler when you have less options, less stuff to store and less stuff to dig through to find your favourite sweater- cause isn’t that the one you always want to wear anyway? 

I still have a lot of clothes!

My family and friends are now having to deal with my enthusiasm for getting rid of stuff. Donate it! Pass it on! Throw it away! The freedom of having less stuff is amazing. In our current society we are inundated with messages of consumerism and material ideals and I feel we’ve forgotten that the best things in life aren’t material things. We’re constantly looking for the high of a new purchase but all that stuff can water down life. When we free ourselves of the superfluous stuff that we own- and I mean really cut down, then I think we will all remember to put more value on the really important things. Fast fashion is what we’ve been taught to want but it’s not what we need. Buying cheap clothing also has a higher cost – check out this documentary to learn more about where our clothing comes from and where it goes when we throw it away. It’s easy to forget about when everything is so cheap and accessible. 

What I’m left with is the challenge of finding the perfect basics to maintain a minimalist wardrobe. I love this challenge when shopping online but have to admit that entering a shopping mall with intent to purchase one item is daunting. My current goal is to find the perfect white t-shirt that I can dress up when needed. Wish me luck! And feel free to post suggestions of where to find quality basics in Canada.