After graduating college in the late 90s, I landed a job working on a cruise ship. I got paid to play with kids and adults all day, and I loved it.
When I left for my first contract, I packed my entire life into 2 giant suitcases. I remember how much I agonized over what to bring, and I was certain that I would leave behind something really important. In the end, all the clothes and accessories I packed ended up being way too much stuff.
Leaving stuff behind was painful during the packing process.
Having less became liberating once I was living on the ship.
First, I had no place to put stuff. Crew cabins are much smaller than passenger cabins and often 4 of us shared one. (Just a quick aside, our space would be considered luxury compared to military ships, so I’m not complaining. But the space was still much, much smaller than we were used to at home, and about half the size of a standard passenger cabin.)
Oh, have you cruised before? You didn’t think the cabins could get much smaller on cruise ships? Think again.
What was surprising was how liberating it felt to live with so little stuff. Our work uniforms were laundered for us. I didn’t need much clothing for off-duty times since we worked every day. The books I brought were read and passed on to others (this was way before Kindles). It was the ultimate sharing economy. Crew bought stereos and TVs and bequeathed them to friends when their contracts were up. It felt good to know that others would use your stuff when you were done. And it made our bags much lighter when we flew home.
By my second contract I only packed one suitcase and included half the stuff I brought on my first contract. And I was staying for twice as long.
Many of us have such a distorted view of what we truly need. How many times have you traveled and not worn half the clothes you packed? Not used that latest gadget that you had to have after one week?
It’s true, we didn’t have a lot of spare time during our contracts at sea, but the experience changed me. I already wasn’t a big collector, but living in a tight environment taught me that I could let go of what I didn’t need and trust that what I did need would float into my life. I learned to let go more easily.
Most importantly, I learned to collect experiences rather than things. I had amazing experiences at sea, and I rarely bought souvenirs for myself. I took photos, but more often, I would do my best just to be in the moment.
In fact, after awhile, the idea of stuff started to weigh me down.
Even today I absolutely love passing on items to friends who need what is no longer useful to me.
After living in such a small space with so many people, I have learned that it is easier to get along in this world, and certainly much more enjoyable, if you don’t try to cram your closets with way too much stuff.
I didn’t know it at the time, but there is a term for this mindset. Minimalism.