Could you live your entire life out of just one bag?
What if you had to go -and I mean right now because the river is flooding your house- and you didn’t know if you’ve ever return.
What would you take?
For minimalists like Ev Bogue, who live out of one bag all the time, that’s never a question.
The one-bag approach to life
My minimalist hero -though he would bristle at the idea of being so identified- remains Ev Bogue. Ev is a technical writer living in Mexico City but a few years back he wrote a popular blog called Far Beyond the Stars. An archive of his blog is still available here.
The one element of Ev’s example that still sticks with me is the simplicity of living out of one-bag-for-life. It feels right to me and it always has. When I’ve traveled around using the one-bag-only approach, I’ve not only felt lighter but more confident knowing that everything that I truly need and that matters most to me is with me.
But Ev takes this one-bag approach to a whole new level. It’s not just one bag for a trip, but one-bag-for-life. His philosophy and practice are simple. Look at all the stuff you own and decide what you would need to take with you if you really had to go NOW…place it all in a sturdy bag and then get rid of everything else.
This minimalist, ascetic-like approach to life has always resonated with me. Even before I knew what minimalism was, I was already in; I was always looking for a way to declutter and organize (these are not minimalism), yet I still had way too much stuff.
It was about ten years ago when I decided to move in with a woman and move to Santa Cruz that I realized how heavy stuff really weighs on my mind. In moving her stuff, I found myself moving boxes of college notes and folders that she clearly hadn’t looked at in 15 years. Why are you keeping this stuff?, I asked. She said she might look at it…someday.
From that moment on I’ve downsized my own belongings in a gradual but continual manner.
My search for the one-bag
For the last seven to eight years, all of Ev’s belonging fit into a single bag. I’ve seen his choice of bags evolve over the years, as have mine. If the photo on this page is accurate he’s using what appears to be a Mission Workshop Vandal 40-60L backpack. It’s a pricey bag at $365 before any extras, but like Ev I feel it’s always better to invest in quality.
In January of this year, I took a series of Amtrak trains across the country and then flew back in stages. I first picked up a traditional backpack to use and found it lacking. I returned it to REI (they have a no questions asked the type of return policy).
I opted to take a Swiss Gear Day Pack (pictured at the top) for the three weeks I was on the road. When I returned I knew I needed something roomier and larger.
I went back to REI and bought a red Osprey Farpoint 40L backpack. I used it for a vacation to the East Coast in May of this year and it performed well. What I like about this bag is that the interior is bright green and that aids in locating objects packed in the bottom. Bags with black interiors are the worst for locating items in a hurry.
The Osprey doubles as a suitcase and a backpack with built-in and hide-a-way shoulder and waist straps. It’s not as high in terms of quality as the Vandal, but it will do for now.
How do you downsize to one bag of stuff?
That’s the $64,000 question that most of us continually ask. Ev’s answer is clear.
“Put what you need to ‘go’ in your one bag and then rent a dumpster and throw away all your crap.”
Most of us have way too much crap. It goes without saying that downsizing from a three bedroom two bath house to a single bag would not be possible, not even psychologically healthy for most. The best way actually isn’t to throw all your stuff away, but to get rid of it over time. You’ll be surprised how fast and addicting downsizing can become and you’ll love the way it makes you feel.
In my case, I’ve been downsizing continually for the last ten years. I’m still not down to one-bag, but I’m close. I have some luxuries that I can afford to keep for now like a 27-inch Apple display and flatscreen tv for streamed content. But when my final responsibilities are concluded with my parents, the one-bag-for-life might be a possibility and not that much of a stretch. I don’t have a storage unit, I own about 40 pieces of clothing, and I live in a 192 square foot room in a single-family home. I don’t have a car any longer and ride my BMW R1150GS for transportation.
Here are some suggestions for getting down to a one-bag-for-life approach to life
- Decide if it’s feasible for you. If it’s not, then forget it. But if you’re like me and the pull of your stuff weighs on your mind, you’re probably a good candidate for the on-bag-for-life approach to living.
- Read The Life-Changing Habit of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The Japanese concept of minimalism is called tidying, hence the misleading title. Marie will give you a system to use in order to begin downsizing your stuff by category. It requires some dedication but it will help you identify what brings you joy and what doesn’t.
- Know that it’s possible. Here’s a photo of what I carried with me on the train journey using the small Swiss Gear bag.
- Set an end date for achieving your goal. If you don’t have a goal, nothing will get done…you already know that. Downsizing to one-bag-for-life is no different. Set a goal of six months less and get busy.
- Donate, Sell, and Dump. You probably have many items that can be donated to a charity or a service like Goodwill that will clean and resell your stuff to others. For your larger, more luxurious items like my Apple display or my TV, selling these on Craigslist or smoother web service is a do-able. Finally, there will be some stuff that’s just plain crap and worthy of a call to 1-800-GOT-JUNK or some similar service.
- Set milestones and celebrate them. When you reach a milestone such as getting your clothing down to 100 things, have a party! Invite your friends over for a potluck and maybe they will also take some your junk off your hands. Celebrate the achievements – it’s a positive life skill anyway!
- Research your options for bags. Scour YouTube for a backpack, messenger bag, and other travel reviews. I can’t stress this enough. I was completely sold on the Vandal bag until I watched a video review, I then I had some doubts. Plus, what I like and need may not be what you like and need. Do the work on this knowing that the perfect bag doesn’t exist. Likely you’ll upgrade along the way and that’s a cool part of the process.
- Take a test run. When you’ve got your belongings down to the one-bag level, try it out. Get out on the road – take a train trip or a flight to somewhere to visit friends. I did this on a motorcycle trip from Silicon Valley to South Carolina and then back to California. It worked for me and everything I needed was on the bike.
It’s not for everyone
Living the one-bag-for-life approach isn’t for everyone. Most of us are still caught up in the age of consumerism that teaches us that we need ten of everything. I still fall victim to this marketing trap and have to continually weed out belongings that are either redundant or no longer serve me. I know that if I don’t, stuff will again creep into my life and crowd out my personal space.
Could you live this way? If you had to, what would you take with you if you indeed ‘had to go now?’ It’s a question worth grappling with and if you have some thoughts on the matter that you’d like to share, please do so.