The clothes on your back and not much else

Warning: Today’s post is not a cheery one. It takes minimalism to the terrible extreme.

Recently Jeri wrote an article about being prepared for a tsunami. Never having lived in an earthquake or tsunami zone, I had never thought about it. I have, however, been thinking quite a lot about the refugee situation in Syria and about all the North Africans who take the very dangerous crossing to southern European countries.

Over a decade ago, I sold everything that didn’t fit into two suitcases and a dozen boxes and left Canada for France then Spain. The suitcases came with me and the boxes stayed in my parents’ house in Canada. When my parents passed away, some of those boxes plus twenty more made the trip across the ocean to tie my life here back to my Canadian past.

But what if I’d only had those two suitcases? Or less? What if I had no choice about leaving? That staying meant putting myself and my family in extreme danger? Or that my life where I was so bad that I was willing to face death to find something better?

If I had time, I would scan the family photos that I haven’t yet as well as my father’s artwork that hangs on the walls. I would put it all in a hard drive along with the photos already digitized and protect it as much as I could. I would add legal documents (including the deed to the house in case I could some day come back). I’d pack the extra batteries I have for my phone along with my international charger. The minimum toiletries and the most versatile and durable pieces of clothing I had would fill up the rest of the smallish knapsack (because clearly, anything too big would be hard to carry and easily lost).

Finally, on my way out the door, I would take a stuffed bear, not the one that my grandparents gave me for my first Christmas, nor the stuffed kitty I’ve had since the day after I was born. No, I would take the bear that has accompanied me on almost all my adventures in the past ten years and who has developed a personality of his own, who everyone we know recognizes as another member of the family.

And that’s it.

It’s not a pleasant exercise, nor is it easy, but I think that for those of us who live in relatively safe countries and come from rather privileged situations, it’s an eye-opener and forces us to understand the stress that refugees are under.

What about you? What would your absolute minimum level of extreme minimalism be?

4 Comments for “The clothes on your back and not much else”

  1. posted by Fazal Majid on

    You don’t have to assume civil war or such strife. People face the same trade-offs when their house catches on fire.

    When my late aunt’s house went up in flames in a matter of minutes, one of the few things she saved was her daughter’s wedding dress, even though she (my aunt) was on the second floor and in risk for her life.

    I have all my important documents and photos digitized and backed-up offsite. Most consumer goods can be replaced by insurance, so only family heirlooms, works of art or valuable items no longer manufactured are worth including in that category.

  2. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I had to give up a house and live in a pickup truck topper for two years. Granted, that’s far more space than two suitcases, but it was minimal.
    I gave up the bed pillow, my job hunting clothes were a knit skirt, summer top, winter sweater and heels, kept hanging on bungee cords. Casual wear was a couple of tanks and shorts, sweats and a down coat for winter. I kept a sleeping bag, Coleman stove and small gas can, and small Coleman ice chest.
    A laptop, solar flashlight, and battery operated fan completed the ensemble.

    If I had to haul hiney with two suitcases, one would have a sleeping bag and down coat, the second would have the two light outfits, a solar charger, flashlight, and Eneloops, storage drives, extra meds, a tablet with keyboard, ID papers, and the battery operated fan. If the fan seems like a luxury, you’ve never done hard labor or lived through hundred-degree Southern summers.

  3. posted by Katja on

    You don’t even need some sort of disaster to be forced to stick to very few items – I’ll be studying abroad for half a year sharing a ~130sqft room with another student and traveling the country.
    That means sufficiently many warm pieces of clothing (I’ll be studying in a cold climate during winter), most likely a sleeping bag for traveling as well as laptop and the stuff you need for studying, besides having all important documents digitized.

  4. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    I often theorize about reducing my possessions to what would fit in my car and in fact, during my college days, that’s what my possessions amounted to. I’m not sure if I could do that today, even ignoring the furniture, which I am not attached to in any way. My wife can have all of that anyway. One alternative, however, is to get a bigger vehicle.

    As far as more serious relocations, for Americans, there are no other places to go.

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