“Free is the Man Who Can Carry All of His Worldly Possessions Upon His Back” — Charles Doughty
Two years ago I sold all my earthly possessions, quit my job, and left the city of my birth. I went straight from Los Angeles and flew to the continent of Africa. I had two bags that contained all I had left of my worldly possessions. Two bags that contained everything I needed for life and my new business. That decision has forever changed my life.
Having been through two divorces from long term marriages, raising four boys to men, and changed careers more often than I care to recall, my life was already rather Spartan in comparison to most folks. You learn to trim things down when you go through life changes like divorces, career changes, and the like. My apartment looked more like a dorm room.
My small apartment in Los Angeles consisted of a California King size bed, bookcases, two chairs (one for guests), a refrigerator, a bunch of martial arts weapons, a stereo, records, three guitars, a set of congas. And last and not least — books. Lots and lots of books and a few bookcases to hold them (I do miss them — dearly). All of these humble material possessions I still retained after two divorces, I either sold or dispatched them to others to use.
What Kind of Fool Gets Rid of All of His Stuff?
This was not the first time I ditched everything and hit the road. When I was 18 years old, I left my home on a 4000-mile solo bicycle tour of the Western United States, specifically through the “Indian Reservations” (AKA the leftover land granted to the Indigenous Nations that your/our forefathers stole). I had 35 pounds of gear and a Schwinn 10 speed and peddled off to Arizona, the Rocky Mountains and beyond. So this maladjustment to Western society and its trappings must be some sort of genetic abnormality. Irish folks tend to be roaming rovers.
This time was a bit different. I had a successful career in social service, a reasonably priced rental lease in downtown Los Angeles, and I was (and still am) in a healthy relationship with my wife. I am now certainly older now than a high school graduate (but not any more mature). Yet, in some ways it was the same journey. It was much needed new start and a new beginning.
Many questioned the wisdom of my move, including me at times. But a quote I read got stuck in my head when I was 15 years old. As a British explorer/scholar named Charles Montague Doughty left all his possessions to go on a long global trek to gather linguistic etchings in the Arabian Desert. His quote that struck me went something along these lines (my paraphrase): “Free is the man who can carry all his worldly possessions upon his back.”
What kind of fool gets rid of all of his stuff? I guess the kind of fool to believe an idealistic line like that from an old dead guy. It struck me and has stuck within me all these years, from my “minimalist” decorating style (which all my partners uniformly hated) to my radical decisions at critical life junctures.
The 3 Things I Learned from Selling All My Worldly Possessions:
Possessions More Often Than Not Hinder, Rather Than Help Our Journey.
As helpful and enjoyable as material things can be, they take up an awful lot of our limited minutes of life. We have to work extremely hard and many hours to just get them in the first place. Then we have to care for them, which takes a lot of time. Then we have to turn our homes into little alarm-ridden urban fortresses to keep them from being stolen. Then we have to get someone in our place when we travel to care and protect them. Then we feel there is some obligation we have to them, at least subconsciously —even though they are just inanimate objects. That, my friends, is a lot of time and work.
We Subconsciously Become More “Thing”-Conscious, Rather Than Socially Conscious.
Not to get religious on you all, but there is that uncomfortable phrase spoken by Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount gig — “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” It never ceases to amaze me how many people will prize dead material things, over other living humans (and plants and animals). Our society encourages this to a fault. When the disaster of the World Trade Center explosions occurred on 9-11, our Commander in Chief told everyone to “shop” in order to defy the actions of terrorists. That is some shallow-ass American Materialism right there, in your face. That is the foundation of our materialistic culture. Resist it.
Our Quality of Life Comes from Relationships, Not “Things.”
My wife, Collette Gee is a Relationship Specialist who helps people find romantic love and enhance their daily family and business relationships. She claims that relationships are the core of everything meaningful we do as humans. I got that intellectually, but thought “O.K., so what?” I had to experience a radical “possession-free” lifestyle for 2 years to truly understand that. From the family and friends (I profoundly miss), to the deaths of treasured souls I loved, to the making new friends in different cultures and continents —– Finally, I TRULY understand that the deepest joys in life come from our relationships with other humans. That is what makes this crazy journey a precious treasure.
I am no pie in the sky idealist. I do appreciate the material possessions I had, and am blessed with (especially the books!) But, by giving up all I owned, and traveling as a Self-Care Trainer and author, I have rediscovered why I am here and what my precious passing moments of life must consist of.
Life’s fleeting seconds must consist of spontaneous conversations with strangers who turn into friends. They must consist of time spent with friends and family who really know who we are, and love us in spite of our faults. They must be made up of seeing our children or grandchildren smile, hearing the call of the minaret in a moonlit night in Senegal, and laughing with your lover over nothing that important. These profound treasures of human connection are the real staff of life. Everything else going on around us is just window dressing.