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Two Suitcases and a Carry-on

“Its good you don’t want your body shipped back to Canada when you die,” chuckled my friend, Iris.

“Now all Hank (my brother and executor of my will) has to do is call the local authorities in whatever country you happen to be in, tell them to bury you and give the contents of your two suitcases and the carry-on to the street people.”

“Yes, exactly. And I want a Muslim burial as I figure they got it right – wash the body, wrap it in a white sheet and plant it before sundown.”

It was the summer of 2011 and Iris and I were sitting on the deck at the Manitou Beach bar, celebrating the fact that I’d just sold my house, a little A-frame, including all the furniture, kitchen gear and bedding. A week earlier I’d stripped the place of family heirlooms, art and carvings I’d accumulated during my travels and taken the collection to my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. There, I spread out my treasures on a table and invited everyone to pick something they liked.

“Don’t you want to put some of the things in storage?” my mother asked, “there’s room in the garage.”

“Mother, pleassseeee. These things in the cabin have been there for 19 years. If I haven’t needed them for that long, do you really think I’ll ever want them again?” She sighed; I’d always been the difficult child.

I’d bought the house in 1992, just before I set off on a round-the-world trip. The A-frame – my pointy-little-house-on-the-prairie – was on a farm 15 km from Watrous, the Saskatchewan town where my parents lived. Mart and Wayne Potter built it when they were weekend farmers. When they started to farm full time and raise a family, however, they built a “regular” house on the other side of the yard. I owned the house, but not the land.

Shortly after I returned from my 10-month jaunt through 29 countries, I was offered a job as a lecturer at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. After three years at the university I decided to go freelance and subsequently lived in Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney over the next decade.
My point-little-house-on-the-prairie was a refuge, a place I stayed when I was in Canada. My friends could visit me and I didn’t have to invade my parent’s space. The house didn’t have running water, so it didn’t need to be heated. I hauled water from my parents’ place and set up a shower stall for an African bucket bath, a handy routine I’d learned when I lived in a bush village in West Africa. I’d often said that if worse came to worst I could live in the pointy house cheaply. My mother is a prolific gardener and my brothers hunt, so I wouldn’t starve.But the A-frame shifted from being an asset to becoming a liability. My parents sold their second vehicle, so using their car limited their mobility; racoons had moved in under the house and although they’d left they might be back; the insurance premium was due; there wasn’t an Internet connection. And, mentally, I no longer needed a safe refuge.By this stage, I’d lived most of my adult life overseas and often quipped “I never, ever, ever wanted to see snow again, and the only acceptable ice is in my vodka and tonic.”Downsizing – Stage One

When the financial crisis hit in 2008 I quickly figured out that being a consultant living in inner-city Sydney with high overheads and a decadent lifestyle was a precarious position. Further, I was restless and craved new adventures.

So on November 20th I announced that I was reducing a two-bedroom terrace to two suitcases and a carry-on. I’d already booked a one-way ticket to Casablanca – where I figured I could make a living teaching English – for December 30th. Why Morocco? I’d never been there, didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the languages.

Some people thought I’d lost any sense I may have ever had. Others said I was “brave,” to which I’d snort, “There is a very thin line between bravery and sheer stupidity and I regularly waffle back and forth across it.”

The liberating aspect of being able to move anywhere in the world with allowable airline luggage is a short, sharp lesson in the difference between “need” and “want.” I packed the essential things first –documents (passports, citizenship papers, degrees, copy of my will, a good kitchen knife), photo albums of friends and family, and my laptop. My clothes were divided into piles: can’t live without; take if possible; only if there is room.

So, by the time I was having this conversation with Iris, I’d already lived in Casablanca for 18 months and in Santiago for a year out of two suitcases and a carry-on. And now that my house in Canada was disposed of, my entire worldly kingdom literally fit into three bags.

Although it may sounds drastic, I’d already seen the movie five times – Nigeria in 1981, China in 1986, New Zealand in 1994, Morocco in 2009 and Chile in 2010 – so I knew it really isn’t all that difficult to set up on the other side of the move. The difference was that now I didn’t have anything in storage anywhere.

By material standards I’m a failure — no house, no car, no cottage – as I don’t have possessions by which I can be judged. But as I see it, the decision freed me from the responsibility of house maintenance and car ownership. And if I really want to spend a summer at a lake, I can rent a cabin.

Although I thrive on my minimalist lifestyle, it isn’t a choice that appeals to everyone. “Really, I don’t know how you can live out of two suitcases and a carry-on,” my sister-in-law Gloria commented dryly at my parent’s 60th, “I need more than that to go on holidays for three weeks.”

Enjoyed this article? This was a guest post written by Jody Hanson, Ph.D

You can find her work or get in touch with her at the following places.
Email: [email protected]

Jason Bartoli
Jason Bartoli

"Jason is the best person you'll ever meet here. He's just a ray of sunshine. An adventurer, businessman, and has a 4.9 Uber rating. Lovely person inside and out. I say, go message him" - My Mom

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