Anna Finkenauer: Life, Simplified

It stands before me; green, waist high and threatening explosion. Pressure from within is causing bulging and stretching on its surface. It weighs 50, maybe 55 pounds, but has the ability to make me crumble underneath it. No, it is not some crazy backcountry creature. It is my backpack, my source of survival for our 8 day journey through the Beartooth Wilderness.

I lift it and groan. I tried so hard to make it smaller and lighter. I don’t like seeing it bulge at the seams, but I could not eliminate one more thing. I had simplified until I could simplify no more. Each and every item within held a purpose for my well-being for the next 8 days and I finally felt ready to go. Like a turtle, I walked off into the wilderness with my home on my back, ready for just about anything nature could throw at me.

Packing for this trip was in and of itself a journey for me. Sitting in my room at home, I was utterly overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have collected in it over the years. It all seemed so important, but I knew I was going to need to leave the majority of it behind. I was worried I was going to miss it all too much, but when I put on my backpack and stepped out my front door, an amazing feeling washed over me. I realized that I was completely self-sufficient for the first time ever. I could literally go anywhere with just the things on my back and be able to survive. I had never felt such a sense of freedom before.

As I walk along the trail today, carrying everything with me, I cannot help but to think of the plains Indians. Before white settlers came to this area, they must have been one of the freest civilizations in history. They were a nomadic people, constantly following the buffalo: their source of food, clothing, shelter and tools. They were always on the move and as a result could not amass loads of material goods because they could not carry it all. However, they were still able to live a culturally rich and satisfying lifestyle with what they had. I think we can all learn from them that having more does not necessarily mean for a better way of life.

There are many people, myself included, who could benefit from having less. America, in particular, is a country full of houses with too much stuff. Just watch an episode of TLC’s hit show “Hoarders” and you can see just how out of control this problem has become for some people. It is not just a personal problem, either. From an environmentalist’s perspective, the creation and distribution of all these items is a nightmare. The metals used to create all the TVs we have sitting around did not just magically appear. Somebody had to dig deep into the earth and extract them all in some way, probably destroying an ecosystem in the process. I hold no grudges against TVs, I think they can be an incredibly useful tool in our culture, but I don’t think we need as many as most of us have in our homes. If we took the time to simplify, we would probably find that having just one per household would not drastically affect our quality of life.

For me, it boils down to a simple equation: too much stuff= too many problems= stress. When my only possessions can fit on my back, my life seems open and limitless. My pack may look like a volcano ready to erupt, but when I think about all the stuff I have in my house, I become aware that what I am carrying is just a small fraction of it all. My packing journey has forced me to reassess my life and all the things that are in it. If what I have on my back is all I need to survive, why do I have a whole house full of stuff as well? After out Beartooth backpacking adventure, I really don’t know why. There is no doubt that those items at home provide me with comfort, but are they holding me back in some way from leading a more independent and free lifestyle? I honestly cannot say for sure at this point in my life, but for now I am going to try to enjoy the last few weeks of my simplified Montana lifestyle and hope that my backpack will forgive me.

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