In 2012 lived for three months in Cambodia with only what would fit in a 65-liter pack and a small Jansport backpack. Last fall, I lived for nine weeks in Wyoming with a trunkful and then some. So many of the things I had in Wyoming seemed necessary when I was packing and eventually turned out to be impractical. I could have easily gotten by with the same amount as I had with me in Cambodia.
Things seem to fill the space they are given. On the trip to Cambodia, I had to minimize so that my parents could bring more things for our relatives (among them a box full of avocados from my uncle’s tree, a box full of persimmons from their yard). When I went to Wyoming, I knew that I would have a room with a closet to fill.
Perhaps there is something sad about living in a room with nothing in it. We fill the space for fear of feeling empty.
And now, here I am in Oakland, months away from my second anniversary in this living situation. It feels like I don’t have very much in my small space, but there are a couple of boxes tucked away in a storage closet. There are things I haven’t touched in months. Things I haven’t used in years. Books I’ve kept so long from their owners that I may as well call them mine. Dozens of journals I haven’t looked at. Files that are no longer relevant. It’s easy not to deal with them when they’re in a closet. And it’s easy just to move a box from one place to another.
It took a few trips to get all of my things from Gardena to Oakland. All of it fit in a 5’x5′, 10′ tall storage unit. And still, it seems like so much. Years ago, I toyed with the idea of getting all of my possessions down to what would fit into six crates. That doesn’t sound entirely realistic, but it doesn’t sound entirely impractical, either. For now, I’m working on pruning my book collection down to what will fit into a single milk crate.
Everything happens in small degrees. We learn what we can live without. We learn which attachments are most important. They’re different for everyone. I don’t want to keep space filled just because there is space. I’m not afraid of emptiness. I think of what it feels like to walk into a room for the first time, when the room first becomes mine. The emptiness is hope.