Living With Less

1 Jul

Travel is an exercise in discovering many other wonderful ways of life.  Everywhere we have been, we have found something that we loved.  It is tempting to grab our favorite ideas from these various places and weld them into a sort of Frankenlife.  Cruising only exacerbates the issue, because cruisers definitely do things their own way.  And that’s all well and good – I’m comfortable with my TV-less, underscheduled, more-spontaneous life.  It’s only when you go home that you really get the reality check of How Weird Have We Become?

While I was home, I spent a day helping a friend sort through her clothes in preparation for moving house. I used to do the same thing every time I moved: cull the clothes you will never wear again, and pack them up to be donated. Everybody wins.

But as we got started, and kept going, and kept going, and… kept going, I started to get chest pains.

“Did you realize that you own forty pairs of pajamas?” I asked, pawing through a heap of nightwear.
“I do not.” She looked. “Huh. Well, I like pajamas, they’re comfy.”
“If you wore a different pair every night, it would take you more than a month to get through them all.”
“Well, how many pajamas do you own?”
“Three pairs.” I thought for a moment.  “No, wait, I’m lying.  Four.  Two for hot weather, two for cold.”
She limited herself to a nod and moved on.  (Whatever she really thought of me, my friend fell back on her Canadian politeness.  Sadly for her, I think mine fell overboard in Colombia somewhere.)

Business clothes, casual clothes, nice clothes, old maternity clothes (“It’s an insurance policy.”) – everything had a good reason to be in her collection. My friend is a sensible person. She isn’t a crazy spender. She doesn’t fall into the revolting, mysteriously-persistent stereotype of Woman as a shoe-obsessed clothing acquisition machine. Nonetheless, she had a crazy volume of clothes hiding in various closets and drawers.

“Did you know that you own twenty-eight bras?”
“Don’t count my bras!”

I’m not trying to pick on my friend, or anyone else for that matter. I realize this is just me experiencing culture shock. But I have to wonder, dear reader: do you know how many shirts you own?  How many pairs of pants? If you went to your closet and counted, I think you’d be astounded.  Like my friend and her pajamas, how long could you hold off doing laundry if you wore a different outfit every day?

Erik’s locker: actual size

And I was the same. I know I was. This is a photo of Erik’s locker, with a small fire extinguisher for scale.  He has three shelves, and freely admits he doesn’t need most of that space.  My locker is more than twice as large but, I also use it to store birthday and Christmas presents, spare school books, and all of our luggage. My clothing is allotted a space the size of a refrigerator crisper. So I couldn’t be a clothes horse if I wanted to – there is no room. A quick inventory shows I own seven t-shirts (on a descending scale of: “nice”, “work”, and “swimming”), three pairs of shorts, three long-sleeved shirts, one pair of pants, five bathing suits, a few dresses and two weeks-worth of undergarments.  I have three fleeces in a storage bag from my New Zealand days, and some wool socks my grandmother knit me for the same purpose.

Let me be clear: I am not sitting on my high horse, wagging my finger at people who own a second pair of pants, or even a ninth.  I know that my tendency to keep it small means I cut things a little fine sometimes. For example, I lost the seat out of my jeans just before we flew home to Canada. Knowing I could more easily replace them there than here, I just sewed in a massive denim patch and wore them home anyway.  Erik informs me this was well over the line of acceptable travel wear. When a man who spends his days in safety oranges tells you your sartorial choices aren’t up to snuff, it is probably time to listen.

Nonetheless, the experience of owning few things has shown me that I need few things.  I sort through our clothes and toys a few times a year, and always find things to give away.  We replace what we need to, but the pile doesn’t grow. Some of our travel-acquired habits may be questionable, but this isn’t one of them.  Boat life makes you ruthless about what you allow to share your space, and I’m glad we have learned not to acquire (or keep) things we don’t need – clothes, furniture, kitchen implements, stuff of all sorts.  My apologies for not helping to keep the economic engine running, but if I don’t need it, I don’t want it.

Hopefully I won’t forget that when I have a grown-up-sized closet again someday.


  1. Jess

    I’ll try to remember your lesson for our upcoming sailing holiday. And yes, there are much more fun things to do than shop.

  2. Amy Schaefer

    Thanks, Mike. I’m the mean one at vacation time. Choices, schmoices. Everyone gets a tiny suitcase. If it doesn’t fit, you can’t take it.

  3. Mike

    I have this same discussion with my wife about what we really need to take every time we pack for a vacation! I get the same answer every time: “A girl likes to have choices.” Sigh.

    P.S. Welcome back.

    P.P.S. Loved the piece in this month’s Sail.

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