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Reflections on going from 10kg to 100kg of stuff
Last September, I packed up my entire condo in Bangkok. I gave stuff away to friends, donated a bunch to the fantastic folks at Second Chance, and packed what I could into two suitcases that I stashed at the office. In the process, I carefully selected what I would carry with me on my travels across Asia. My post on minimalist packing details exactly what I carried on my trip in a small 33L backpack.
After three months of travelling with so little, I knew exactly what I owned. I didn’t lose a single item throughout the trip because I only had one of each thing, like the one pen or one hairband I guarded carefully. Apart from a couple of vintage clothing items, and topping up of essential toiletries, I didn’t add to my bag whatsoever, because there simply wasn’t any space. It was so liberating to move from place to place, with everything I needed comfortably nested in a backpack on my back.
10kg to 30kg
When we got back into Bangkok from our trip, one of the first tasks was to collect our luggage from the office. I had left my employer on good terms and they were gracious enough to allow us to use some spare office space for storage.
Neither my partner nor I remembered what was in the suitcases we left. There was nothing we missed during the three months away. Barring a few important documents and some valuable jewellery (that I’d actually forgotten about), my suitcases could have been stolen and I’d be absolutely fine with it.
I opened my suitcases and just felt overwhelmed with the amount of stuff spilling out. Clothes I felt meh about, gifts and knick-knacks, and a whole lot of skincare products I realised I just didn’t need. I had already gone through a ruthless culling of my possessions before I decided to pack these items in a suitcase – but three months away had given me fresh eyes upon looking at all my stuff again.
30kg to >100kg
Coming back to my childhood home after flying into London Heathrow, I was faced with even more possessions: shelves full of books, random clothes I bought 15 years ago, all my CDs from when I was a teenager. Kilos and kilos of stuff that reminded me of who I was, the phases I’ve gone through, and the interests I once had.
While I was travelling, I’d made a mental note to put all of this stuff on eBay and make some money. But faced with these items, I realise I feel ambivalent: on the one hand, I no longer care for the Spanish novels and plays I was forced to study at university, but on the other, maybe when I am older I’d regret throwing these books away.
In the few weeks I’ve been back, I’ve not made a move on all this stuff yet. I will go through everything and evaluate (it is on my list of goals), but it will take more mental and emotional energy than expected.
In the meantime, I’m still living like a minimalist – out of habit, but also for practical reasons. My winter wardrobe is incredibly meagre: I have a couple of jumpers, dresses, and jeans that I’m just wearing and washing again and again. I will expand my winter wardrobe because it’s too inconvenient washing everything so regularly, but I want to make sure that each new item (dare I say it) “sparks joy.”
Personal takeaways from living with less
Clothing minimalism works if you love every item
I had written in a post last year that I was re-thinking my clothing minimalism. I was buying clothing for its utility instead of according to my taste and personality – and this made for depressing viewing as I opened my wardrobe and realised none of my clothes were really ‘me.’ But I realise now it was because I was doing minimalism wrong – I was buying stuff I thought I should buy (i.e. simple coordinates that go with everything, instead of quirkier items that I like more.)
The clothing I brought on my trip could easily fit in a tote bag – and it was more than enough for my needs. This is because I carefully selected clothes that were comfortable, and that I felt good wearing each and every time. I made sure I packed colour and bright patterns, in addition my usual monochrome.
Life is too short to keep clothes that make you feel unhappy with yourself. This may sound like a call for extravagant consumerism and spending, but it’s not. It just means that we should look at our existing wardrobes, select what makes us feel good, and donate the rest. If you need more clothes to make it through the week, then buy similar items (second-hand if possible!).
The best skincare is lack of stress (and advertising)
I read a tweet the other day that said the best skincare was being rich. While I’m not rich, I can totally agree that not dealing with a commute, workplace stress, and punishing schedules can do wonders for your skin. Not being faced with an endless stream of intrusive advertising also helped.
I had packed some lotions and potions into smaller containers for my travels, but left most of my serums and creams in my suitcase. As time passed on our travels, my usual skincare products started running out and I ended up just buying a travel bottle of Simple moisturiser. My 8-step Korean beauty routine was pared down to cleansing with coconut oil, moisturising with Simple, and putting on some Biore SPF. I stopped wearing makeup (for the first time since I was about 14!)
Why did I have an 8-step beauty routine in the first place? Advertising, unrealistic beauty standards, low self-esteem, and stress. On my commute, I’d see the giant Mistine adverts (a Thai cosmetic company) showing rows of stunning, flawless women – TWICE A DAY, EVERY WEEKDAY. I’d end up in Boots after a horrible workday, and pick up a new face mask as a “treat” or think about buying a new lipstick because the women in the adverts looked great with a “nude lip.” I realised that I’m not as immune to advertising as I thought.
Now that I’m back in London, it seems like a lot of advertising on the tube is about theatre, movies, dating apps, and all sorts of other products that don’t push unattainable beauty. The fact that there was widespread controversy around the Beach Body ad a few years ago shows that there’s more awareness here of the damaging impact of these sorts of adverts.
I feel like this post is quite rambling and unfocused, but I wanted to write down my reflections before I forgot them! In short, I think the three months away my possessions helped me re-evaluate what I think is necessary, and what I truly value. Also – Bangkok needs to rethink its advertising.
Are you looking to declutter and simplify? How do you get affected by advertising? Is everyone enjoying the new Marie Kondo Netflix series? Comment below!