Gypsy Living: A Few Thoughts on Minimalism and Place

“It is good to collect things, but it is better to go on walks.” Anatole France

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About ten years ago, I had a bunch of friends come over to my house and told them, “take whatever you want, I’m done with all this stuff.” I had just gotten back from a trip hitchhiking and greyhounding around the Northeastern US and Canada and had come to the conclusion that a) what I own does not define me and b) the less I have with me the easier it is to travel. I adhered to this philosophy pretty strictly through college, wearing the same pair of blue jeans every day and rotating through a couple plain white t-shirts and would pride myself in being able to stuff essentially everything that I owned into a 40L backpack.

Last month, just before Hardrock, I was reminded of those years of simple living while struggling to fit a week’s worth of camping gear and food into the very same pack. I used to be able to pull the draw string and loosely click the bag shut with my whole life tucked away in the nylon sack. Now, with one knee pressed hard into its side, tugging forcefully on the lid, I can’t even get enough in there to survive for one week. Where had I gone wrong? The pad’s gotten a little cushier, the sleeping bag a little warmer, the camera fancier and dry couscous doesn’t sound so good anymore, I need a bit of sauce. I’ll just blame it on dog though...it’s really her food and blanket that take up all the space.

I had bought the pack for it’s functional design and durability. It had come with me trekking around Nepal, sat on while sipping chai in India, tossed on the roof of buses in Africa, lugged around the world without ever giving me the slightest issue, yet now it seemed inadequate, too heavy and old fashioned, not really minimal enough. Minimalism has come to be defined in ounces and types of material rather than a state of mind and being. Sitting on the floor looking at the bulging pack, all I can think of is how it’s probably time to retire this old piece of junk and upgrade to the latest and the greatest, spiffy, 3oz hyperlight fastpacking wonder sack. Ultimately though, I already own a pack and a good one at that and having two certainly wouldn’t make me tread on this earth any more lightly although my review, full of praise, of the newly acquired item would make myself and others believe so.  

Following this reasoning, I fall into this skewered pattern of thinking that I am continuously downsizing and refining what I own to be more and more in line with a minimalist philosophy when in fact I’m simply accumulating more things - something that has become painfully apparent each time Deanne and I move, shifting in less than a half a decade from carry-on luggage to the U-Haul.

I mean this pen must have a cap somewhere, this shoe is for the road, that one for hardpack, that one for mud, these plates for sushi, those for pasta, these glasses for wine and others for water, winter sheets, summer sheets, car camping gear, light camping gear, never wear this shirt but it has sentimental value, etc.

- these are all things I need and are so easy to justify.

Where are we always going anyway? Similar to the eternal dissatisfaction with the things I own, is the constant lack of contentment with the place in which I live. So, when I get bored with the local coffee shop or brewery, with my job or with running that trail one too many times, I pull out the map and head elsewhere. Moving this time feels a little different though. While everything Deanne and I need doesn’t squeeze into my backpack, it does fit into our car and while my gaze still rests on the horizon longing for far away voyages, I’m also eager to find place.

Jared Campbell

reminded me of this last night on our run as he moved elegantly, intimately up the ridge to the Pfeifferhorn, in the Wasatch - a range in which he has spent his entire life. He knows every nook and cranny, the patterns of the seasons, the way the light hits the mountain at different times of day - knowledge, wisdom, that only comes from spending hours, days, years roaming the same hills. I scratched the surface of this sentiment with daily ascents of Bear outside of Boulder but am ready to understand it more deeply.The photos of our outing color this post with the feelings I encountered marking my journey onwards. I shall carry little with me and soon enough Deanne and I will find a place to call our own.

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Photo: Jared Campbell

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Photo: Jared Campbell

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Photo: Jared Campbell

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