Packing Light

"We are all carrying baggage—things we’ve picked up at home, past experiences, expectations for what’s ahead. It might look different than mine, but it weighs you down just the same."

- Packing Light, page 18

Emotional baggage is a cliché for a reason. Everyone has experiences, relationships, disappointments that weigh them down. Less than ideal situations are not exclusive to your position in life or age; however, author Allison Vesterfelt believes that by packing light you can do some spring cleaning with your baggage. She felt that something was holding her back in her life. So she quit her job, sold most of her possessions, and embarked on a road trip to all 50 states and wrote about her experience in Packing Light.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Pack light

"Life, if we’re being honest with ourselves, will be a little bit like brushing your teeth from a water bottle and eating breakfast from a plastic yogurt container out of a cooler in your backseat. There will be dirty laundry, and it will be virtually impossible to keep up with all of your email, and it will be really easy to fall into a routine."
- Packing Light, page 237

When you go on a trip you make decisions about what to bring with you and what to leave behind. The act of packing for a trip helps to clarify priorities. When confronted with the physical constraints of what you can take with you, additional items, or those of dubious value, tend to dwindle. If your destination is a week on a tropical beach it does not make much sense to pack your down jacket no matter its quality.

Even with a clear destination in mind you may have a tendency to over pack. The “just in case”, and the “well, there is room”, quickly fill up a suitcase. Then with the additional things you take the more complicated the trip becomes, and you have to carry, maintain and organize it all.

The idea of packing light does not dictate a certain quota, nor is the goal to get rid of everything. The intent is to reduce the baggage that clutters up your life, so that you can enjoy life more fully.

Packing light is not necessarily limited to decluttering physical items. Maybe you could pack lighter with emotions or relations. Packing light is about reassessing routines and habits and reducing the extraneous that happen by way of rote redundancy. Maybe it is emotional, such as an acquaintance who always prattles on about how terrible his life is, weighing you down with his problems. Or maybe you continue to receive your monthly National Geographic subscription despite not having read the last 15 issues.

Not everyone can, or even wants to pack up for an extended road trip, but there are still applicable lessons for those of us that are homebound or have less transient addresses. You can start packing light by doing something that jars you from your routine. For some taking inventory of your baggage might consist of brushing your teeth on the side of the road with a water bottle.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Adjust expectations

"It’s not about ignoring expectations, or lowering them. It’s about letting the events of our journey shape our expectations, even as they shape us. If the location where you’re standing is less than energizing, check your vision. Don’t abandon your expectations. Try to see them from a different perspective."
- Packing Light, page 109

How often have you been in a situation that didn’t turn out as you had expected? Maybe you are expecting a date night at a nice restaurant with your wife and the timing belt breaks on your car and rather than enjoying a nice dinner you spend a few hours walking to secure a truck to tow the vehicle. Vesterfelt explains that the answer is not to completely remove expectations but to cultivate the ability to adjust them. It is okay to adjust your expectations, to change your mind about situations, experiences or people.

While I didn’t expect to spend a few hours walking along a country road, I had a great conversation with my wife that was quite enjoyable. Our expectations were not wrong, but in order not to be disappointed with a situation beyond our control we both had to adjust our expectations.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Resistance isn't always a bad sign

"...sometimes when things get hard, too many of us assume we’re moving the wrong direction... like if we’re doing life right, it’s supposed to be easy."
- Packing Light, page 238

When you try to do something new it likely will not be easy. There will be resistance. For some, the thought is “Oh, this resistance is a sign that I should do something different.” Some things are difficult and take time to experience even a modicum of visible progress. Vesterfelt explains that occasionally things would fall into place for a few days on her trip, however more frequently the logistics of travel and lodging required considerable effort. Initially, she felt this difficulty was evidence that she should give up the trip and head home. With time she realized the struggle wasn’t a sign that the universe was conspiring against her, rather it was an affirmation that things of value take effort. Are you trying to do something you have never done before? Is it difficult? Don’t take it as an immediate indication that you should be doing something different.

Packing light is difficult, especially when you don’t have something such as an extended road trip to force you to take an inventory of all that you carry with you. I found in my own life that packing up and traveling for six months was not feasible, but I have taken an inventory of my physical clutter. I did a spring cleaning, if you will, to figure out if the physical stuff in my life I actually want. Doing a packing light inventory on my non-physical stuff was not as cut and dry. I found that writing out different frustrations, expectations and thoughts helped to clarify what my baggage was. From there I was able to correct, remove or address my non-physical baggage.

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Jakob Browning

ABOUT Jakob Browning

I am Jakob Browning. This fall I'll start my final year of law school. I enjoy running long distances. I have three younger brothers who will all probably be taller than me soon...
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