All their possessions inside eight suitcases
A family gives the term 'living out of suitcases' new meaning.
Three years ago my family and I packed our most important belongings into eight suitcases and headed for Hawaii.Skip to next paragraph
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Prior to our departure, we purged. Garage-sale fanatics sifted through our belongings, carting off the items that we'd deemed superficial. Dressers with broken drawers, pants that hadn't fit for a decade, and a collection of mismatched dishes were greeted with equal fervor by these bargain hunters. What we couldn't part with – wedding keepsakes, kids' artwork, and the barest of household essentials – we boxed up and stored.
The sense of freedom that came from eliminating the excess buoyed us across the Pacific Ocean toward our new home.
Hawaii – palm trees, sunshine, and aloha. Except within the oceanfront enclaves of caviar and consumption, people here live a simpler life. As one new friend put it, "In Hawaii, it doesn't matter if your countertops are marble or linoleum." People are accepted for who they are, not what they own.
We embraced our new, lean lifestyle. We consciously watched our purchases, aware that most items purchased on the island were shipped in at a certain environmental cost. We wanted to maintain the sense of lightness that came with our newfound simplicity. Besides, our time on the island was limited, and there was no sense acquiring belongings that we'd need to offload when we headed back to our California home.
Even so, our belongings during our three-year stay in the islands began to overflow the minimalist style in which we'd arrived.
Week-long visits from mainland friends meant that a single plate for each of us would no longer suffice. After two years of sleeping on the floor, we finally bought a bed. Our cardboard box table started to sag and was replaced with a barely sturdier secondhand table.
Yet, even with these upgrades, we were living a simple life compared with the stereotypical version of middle-class Americans. Our level of consumption had dropped significantly, and the laid-back atmosphere of the islands left us with a "no worries" attitude about what we were missing. Nobody – except visitors from home – gave a second glance to our cardboard furniture.
Upon our return to California, garish strip malls offered a harsh welcome as shiny new SUVs propelled us down the highway at what felt like breakneck speed. It felt like we'd landed on another planet.
Unpacking our stored items, we were incredulous. Hadn't we purged before we left? Why had we kept so much stuff? Ironically, my family has always lived fairly simply. Acquiring stuff for the sake of having it – or keeping up with the Joneses – has never been important to us. And yet, the excessive belongings we'd left behind told a different story.
After spending time living with true simplicity, my version of "too much" has changed dramatically.
Then: Seven cookie sheets
Now: What am I, Martha?
Unexpectedly, I find myself a willing participant in a movement that has caught the nation's attention, not because I'm a joiner but because I've seen the freedom that living with less brings.