When one has the luxury to keep it simple, to strip life down to its skivvies, there can be no doubt that some needs and tendencies are amplified, while others are exposed for the frivolities and unnecessary tag-alongs they truly are.
I’ve been in Mexico for a couple of weeks and, although I’m far from roughing it by real-world standards, I’m operating on a relatively modest budget and my possessions are limited to whatever I can comfortably carry on my back for three months. What never ceases to amaze me in these sorts of situations is the tiny collection of stuff I actually use and, even more surprising, the massive amount of stuff I don’t even miss. I could have left most of the clothes I’ve brought at home, and that’s AFTER I laid out what I initially wanted to pack and then divided it in half. I’m actually thinking of mailing some useless weight back to Canada in an effort to stop pissing myself off every time I pack and unpack my bag over the course of this trip. (I brought a toque. And mittens. TO MEXICO.)
Of the things I don’t miss, despite almost packing them half a dozen times, there were definitely a few bullets dodged. A coffee press, for example. I literally stood in MEC for 25 minutes trying to decide how best to equip myself for regular coffee consumption in Central America and, in the end, decided that I would be something of a poster child for free-spirits the world over and just go with the flow. (So bold! So brave!) As it is, however surprisingly, I’ve had coffee maybe 4 times since arriving in Mexico and don’t even miss it one little bit. In fact, I have yet to do a crossword puzzle or eat a bowl of cereal or listen to CBC or do any of the things I normally consider essential to a well-lived and successful holiday morning in Canada. I’m virtually unrecognizable down here, even to myself, until about 3pm when I’m sitting somewhere idyllic with cold beer in hand. (Coffee is one thing, beer quite another, and I’ll thank you not to judge me right here on my own blog.)
It’s a simple illustration, yet again, of the difference between a need and a want.
I’m reminded of a time when, a couple of winters ago, we were having friends over for dinner and I went to Ikea to buy 4 new bowls in which to serve whatever it was we were making. When I got home, my boyfriend was surprised (not in a good way) that I had gone out to a megastore to get 4 shitty white bowls that were likely made in a place that’s really bad for the universe when we already had 4 perfectly good bowls sitting in the cupboard, ready for action. I had, afterall, rented a furnished apartment so I wouldn’t have to buy new things like dishes and cutlery. My response was, unfortunately, the following: “Yeah, but those bowls have pictures of ducks on them and I think they were sold as part of a promotion at gas stations in, like, 1988.” My boyfriend was silent, the way teachers and Claire Huxtable can be silent, and I knew there was no point in trying to defend my lame purchase. We ate out of the damn things for two more years and, while I did always enjoy meals much more in the Ikea bowls than the stupid ugly duckling ones, I was secretly kind of glad to move out of that apartment and leave the reminder of my need vs. want blunder sitting on that kitchen shelf.
It’s a similar scene down here as I glare at the excessive contents of my luggage, strewn around my room. I need a bathing suit (I brought 4). I need a sleeping bag (not, as it turns out, a sleeping bag AND a silk liner). I need a few shirts, maybe one light sweater and a couple of things that will cover my legs to varying degrees (I won’t even elaborate on the threads in my backpack). Throw in the obvious money, passport, toiletries, etc. and I could probably have travelled with a 40 L daypack as opposed to my 80 L backpack plus carry-on. Would there have been times when I’d wish for a change of shorts or a dry sarong to use when my only makeshift towel was still wet from the morning’s dip? Sure. Is it nice to have enough clean underwear that I only have to do laundry every other week? Kind of, yeah. Do I need to have a pair of brown sandals AND a pair of black sandals so I can match them with different outfits? Hell, no! In fact, it’s not even cool to match down here. You look like a silly tourist that spent too long packing and brought too much stuff…
Of course, the real cliffhanger in this story comes in trying to guess for how long the recurring lesson will stick this time around, especially once I return home in a few months. It’s doubtful I’ll let the weekend Globe and Mail sit unread or turn down a fresh cup of coffee before noon, but I might be less inspired (read: panicked) when we’re out of coffee cream to run to the nearest convenience store or, better yet, Tim Horton’s in the pouring rain wearing only my rubber boots and pyjamas. I will, no doubt, take a cold, hard look at the piles of clothes I’ve stashed in various closets and dressers across the country in an attempt to determine which items I do actually, technically need and which ones I truly only wear because they’re there or have acquired some sort of weird sentimental value (I’m looking at you, ugly team jersey from 2004). And I promise, I solemnly swear, not to buy another cardigan sweater until every last one I currently own has been carried off by moths, Roch Carrier style.
Same goes for bowls.