Portage

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They say portage comes from the Native American practice of carrying a canoe and all of your belongings over a body of water. Everything that you own travels from one side of the river to the other. While the most freeing moments in life have been those that I was able to carry everything I owned in a backpack or duffle bag, they were also the most challenging. There is something comforting and stable about the notion of home.

In the same manner, turtles carry their home on their backs. With the contraction of some muscles, they can put all their extremities inside their shell. If a turtle looses his shell is he naked or homeless? Turtles have freedom to go where they please, and home is always with them.

When I attempted to move back to Boston a few years ago, I started by taking everything out of my storage unit and putting it into my house. If I was going to complete an interstate move, then I needed to pack everything up and take it with me. In retrospect, I am glad that my plans fell through. Downsizing and minimizing has shown me that I would have been lugging a whole bunch of unnecessary items across state lines. This is a hardship that I do not need to endure. As I have gone through my belongings, I have not only learned what is important, but have come to realize that the timing of that “move” was completely wrong. I was not ready in any sense of the word. Sometimes, answers come in the form of not getting what you want.

In the past three years since my move fell through, I have taken the opportunity to pare down. I opened every box that was in storage. If you have things in storage that you are not using every day, do you really need them? Are you keeping things “just in case?” Has that “just in case” event happened in the last 3, 5, 10 years that you have paid to have that item in storage? As I went through everything I had in storage, I did pull out a few items that are now in use. Those items are the exception. I saw that many of the items in storage were unneeded or redundant. I am glad I have had this time to shed those items and did not lug them through a few states. Moving is expensive enough without hauling things you don’t need.

Going through the process of downsizing and minimizing has been very freeing these past few years. It has helped me to realize what is important and what is not. I have realized that the accumulation of stuff is sometimes a defense mechanism – a sense of false security – after having nothing for so long – to accumulate items in an effort to feel accomplished. These items are not comforting at all. I have been weighed down by baggage both physically and metaphorically.

While I doubt that I will ever return to the days of having everything I own fit into one backpack, it is freeing to have less. I am not one of those minimalists who count my belongings and strive for a certain number. Rather, my goal is to have enough; enough to be able to experience my life in a way that brings me joy and no more.

As I pare down my house, I try to keep in mind that the next time I plan an interstate move, I want it to actually happen, not fall through. I am trying to prepare myself to be able to pick up and go if the chance arises. If that opportunity never knocks, then I want to be able to enjoy my life where I am while living lightly.

Going through and getting rid of the items in storage was relatively easy. Now everything I own in this world is inside of my house. I am free of the monthly payment to store stuff I did not need – the ultimate definition of pissing your money away.

The hard part now comes of being able to establish the limit of what constitutes enough. The hard questions now need to be asked: Is this item useful? Does it bring joy to my life? How do you know how much you need?

I have tried to set limits on certain items to ensure that I am only surrounded by that which I love and get rid of the excess. All books must fit on the shelf. If I want to keep a novel, and the shelf is full, then one book must go to make room for the one I want to keep. I have been trying to engage in the practice of joy without ownership. My library card has been getting quite the workout, as I check out books, DVDs, and even CDs to enjoy media without the responsibility of possession or ownership of the item. My barometer has been if I check an item out of the library two or three times, then that is an item I probably need to look at owning. If I only check it out once and then forget about it after, it was an item that I did not need to have in my house long-term, and I was better off borrowing than owning.

It is a delicate balancing act trying to figure out one’s comfort zone. I still look around and think that I have too much stuff, especially when contemplating a(n imaginary) move. Yet now it is more challenging to be able to figure out what is necessary and what is not.

Some of it is fear. Where I am now is the longest I have lived in one place in my life. I feel stifled by complacency. There is the fear that how I am living now is too good to be true and that it will all fall apart someone how. There is the fear of returning to the world of my 20s in which my living situation was precarious, and a car is simply a house on 4 wheels.

Yet overriding the fear is hope. There is hope that I am not done yet in this journey called life. There is hope that the best is yet to come, and that I must be prepared to answer its calling. If I am asked to cross the torrents of the river, then I am readying my canoe to be portaged across that river. While most of my life has been a struggle to survive, I am now at a point where I am ready to live. I do not want to be weighed down by stuff that may stifle opportunity to experience some of the best moments of my life.

Like the turtle, I have finally come to realize that the notion of home is something that you always carry with you. It is in the journey, not the destination that life’s greatest moments occur.

Are you ready for portage? If someone offered you your dream job tomorrow in a city that was 5 states away, would you be able to pick up and go? Are you tied down by your stuff? Would you run around frantic trying to figure out how to pack and move the house? Many times, opportunity only knocks once. Letting go of what holds you down will enable you to live the life of your dreams. You do not need to have a certain number of possessions. What you need to have is enough to make you happy, without having too much that tips the canoe.

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