As a student I was lucky enough to spend a term in Italy. My course took me and ten others to Rome, Florence and Siena with the opportunity to visit other places independently afterwards. As the departure date approached I started to pile up the stuff I would need to take with me and, alongside it, an enormous suitcase.
We were due to leave in September and return in early December so we assumed it would be a warm start and a cold finish (in fact it snowed the day we left!). There would be few opportunities to wash clothes apart from in hotel sinks and so I began to pack enough clothes for two seasons. The suitcase I took was, literally, big enough for me to climb in and when filled with all my belongings I couldn’t lift it off the floor. “No matter” my mother said, “it has wheels”. I protested and with a bit of editing I could just about move it around.
On arriving at the airport I realised that my fellow travellers were much more travel savvy than me. I was greeted with an array of lightweight backpacks and even one carry on bag! I was incredulous. Three months belongings in such a small bag. How? I felt ridiculous.
Needless to say the trip was amazing. My suitcase didn’t ruin my enjoyment but it did mar the experience. Every time we moved hotel I had to pack and pull this enormous weight. It was so hard on some occasions that by the time we reached the train or coach my hands were in agony. In one town we had to walk up a steep hill to our hotel and I almost didn’t make it.
These days I pack light. Seriously light. I can fit a family of four’s belongings for a week into one backpack. My trip to Italy taught me to be ruthless. Back then I used barely a quarter of what I took with me and these days I hardly ever take something that isn’t used or worn.
Unsurprisingly the suitcase fell apart by the time I got home. It was not replaced. Instead it was downsized and a lightweight, compact backpack took its place.
We’re preparing to downsize our home so we can spend time on the road and the reality of what we actually need reminds me of that suitcase. The process of preparing for a more compact living space is helping us to focus on what matters. That suitcase was hauled across a country, but even at home an excess of possessions can feel like the burden of dragging around unnecessary baggage. Editing down our possessions to the few items that we really care about is like lightening the load.