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Practicing a Lesson from the Trail

This isn’t the summer we had envisioned, but we’ll roll with it. Shingles ended our Appalachian Trail thru hike in April. Now, months later, North Star is still under the weather. Regaining her full health remains our number one goal. With our short-term sublet coming to an end, we decided to settle down in Fort Collins, Colorado, sign a longer term lease, and make this our home.

Storage Unit Unveiling

Unveiling the storage unit

We began by moving our possessions out of a 5 x 10 ft storage unit in California and into our Colorado sublet. Fifty square feet of storage for two people’s possessions seemed small when we left to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail, but the trail changed our perspective. We realized one backpack was enough for each of us. Soon after completing the PCT, we wrote a blog post titled “Five Lessons from the Trail”. One lesson, quoted below, is especially relevant to our current situation:

Fewer possessions is freeing.  We found that the less we had, the happier we were. Each possession was not only physical weight to carry, but also mental weight. Carrying just one set of clothes meant no decisions about what to wear in the morning. Instead of carrying chairs, which could break or get left behind, we sat on the ground or on logs. Taking only the food we needed made meal choices simple. We didn’t bring bowls and plates, all of which we’d have to clean. Rather we ate right from our pot. With less items to think and fret about, our minds could relax and be open to all the beauty around us. The simple lifestyle is truly freeing.

Moving was a great opportunity to put that lesson into practice.

First trip walking possessions to the new apartment.

First trip walking possessions to the new apartment. Shutterbug was a champ and gets credit for the majority of the trips.

We chose a small 525 sq ft studio apartment. As with a small hiking backpack, the apartment’s size meant we had to get rid of all non-essential items. In addition to choosing a small living space, we decided to transport everything on foot. The new apartment was five blocks from the sublet so if we wanted to keep something we had to be willing to carry it.

We tackled the piles and boxes bit by bit. Reducing duplicates was a huge opportunity for dwindling our possessions down. We both had so many shoes! Dishes, clothing, and outdoor equipment were in the same state. We possessed more than we could realistically use. Numerous boxes of these redundant items went to the thrift store.

Multi-purpose items are perfect for backpacking and the same holds true in the home. A simple kitchen knife can perform all the tasks of a cheese slicer, garlic press, apple wedge slicer, and more. We kept the knife and gave away the rest. In the same vein, we opted to keep just 6 all-purpose water glasses, donating all our single-purpose beer mugs and wine glasses.

Some items had sentimental value but no practical purpose. Race t-shirts that no longer fit, childhood items, and unused gifts fell into this category. We took a picture of each well-loved item to remember it by, then added it to the thrift store pile.

Chris's old backpack, ready for Craigslist

Shutterbug’s old backpack, ready to be posted for sale on Craigslist

All of the decisions weren’t easy though. When we grew tired of sorting through boxes and making choices we noticed that we slipped into keeping too much. It was important to take breaks and downsize in stages.

It felt good donating most items to the local thrift store. A new owner will get more use out of them. Some of the larger or nicer things we sold on Craigslist. This had the added reward of putting over $500 in our pockets.

We hadn’t used the stuff in our storage unit for over a year so obviously we didn’t need any of it. As we settle into our new home, we’ll work continuously to keep only what’s useful and give away what’s not. Acting on a lesson from the trail, Fewer possessions is freeing, has been hard work, but we’re already experiencing the benefits of additional physical space and mental peace.

Park and bike path outside our front door. The sunsets have been fun to watch.

Park and bike path near our new home. We’re enjoying the sunsets here.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Northstar, Shutterbug! I am sorry to hear of your trail ending, but am sooo excited to hear of your move to Fort Collins. I’ll be in Denver starting late August to September, and for a few months at least. I’ll come park my 30 sq-ft home near your 525 sq-ft home and we can have a hiker reunion. yay! :-)

    I’ll be doing the whole storage unit emptying myself as soon as I get back to AZ. I have so many treasures though …

    Good luck with everything. Can’t wait to see you.

    July 19, 2013
    • Hi Bobcat! You have the ultimate in tiny houses. So cool that you’re making use of its portability. Come visit anytime. We’d love to hear about all your adventures post-PCT! Thanks for the good wishes and all the best to you in your travels.

      July 21, 2013
  2. Georgette Theotig #

    Thank you both so much for your inspiring message of owning less, and keeping life simple. I know that outdoor adventures, and especially backpacking is important to you, so I am sending best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery to North Star. I hope before long, you will both be out on the dusty trail again. Meanwhile, enjoy your voluntary simplicity, and I look forward to hearing of your next adventure in the future.

    July 19, 2013
  3. Tash Thomas #

    Enjoyed your blog

    July 19, 2013
  4. I totally feel you. I feel like the more “stuff” we get rid of the happier we are. It helps that our apartment is tiny – not 5 x 10 storage unit, but still…

    July 19, 2013
  5. Justin b #

    Hi Northstar and shutterbug! I’ve been following your blog and am so grateful for the information you’ve shared. I’m planning a section hike of the PCT and live in Fort Collins. With your recent arrival to our beautiful town I’d really love to share some of my favorite spots and friends with you. I could really use a bit of guidance through my planning process as well. Haha! Please feel free to contact me.

    July 19, 2013
  6. Jan #

    You are an inspiration for simplifying. Thanks for that. And I’m glad you too find it a hard job. That was good to hear for the rest of us who get bogged down in this process! But it is so well worth it!

    We also wish you better health SOON, North Star.

    July 19, 2013
  7. This is a good post. Well said and expressed. It is especially relevant to me as I am in the same point in my life. I have been feeling the burden of extra and unnecessary items. Many things not used, only to be looked at and moved again. I have made a couple of big slices at possessions the past couple of years. I find myself at it again, only wanting it to be more drastic, to strive for fewer things.

    I wish you both well.

    July 19, 2013
    • Thank you Cody.The hard part for us is getting past our initial reluctance to part with the item. Once we give something away, we hardly ever think about it afterwards. Good luck with your de-cluttering.

      July 21, 2013
  8. John Herrin #

    I have so enjoyed reading and watching you both travel on this journey of life. Until we meet one day, hopefully on a beautiful trail, may God keep you in the palm of his mighty hand. Thanks again and I look forward to future posts.

    July 21, 2013
  9. I’m so sorry that your recovery is taking so long North Star, but glad you are working through the process and giving yourself time to heal properly.

    This entry also resonates with me. Many years ago one of my friends had to deal with her parent’s many belongings after they died, there were sibling fights, and she said it’s just stuff and stuff and stuff. Then I was watching one of those decluttering shows and they talked about photographing possessions for memories rather than needing to keep the physical item. Together those thoughts have helped me live a simpler life. As I declutter, I put the box in the garage for a year, if I don’t open it, off to goodwill it goes. I’m getting ready for a remodel and am looking forward to a BIG decluttering event!

    Continue to heal my friends and I look forward to hearing about your future journeys. You’re young and have many years ahead of you!

    July 23, 2013
    • Thanks for sharing your own tips and experiences Beekeeper. Your method of putting extra stuff in a box for a year is actually very similar to our stuff sitting out of sight in the storage unit while we were hiking. It’s a good way to let go of things you don’t need. Best of luck simplifying!

      July 24, 2013

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