One suitcase. That's what I allowed myself to keep out of the things that matter to me.
Sure, there are plenty of things that I'm giving to friends that they'll use and hang on to, and maybe I'll even get some of them back when I return. But at the end of the day, everything that I really, truly wanted to keep - the things that mattered to me and me alone - I gave myself just one single suitcase.
And I was having trouble trying to fill it up.
When I was in college, I was moving two or three times a year, and it made it extremely easy to keep things limited. That in combination with having to cram everything I owned into the storage available in a freshman dorm (all the way up to junior year) limited the things I could buy. Sure, I can get a new chair - but the old one has to go. I can get a bunch of DVD's, but I have to have some place to store them.
I moved to an apartment in Peoria with my old college roommate - moving with a roommate allows you to keep a few things, as there's no need to try to figure out what dishes belonged to whom. We could just pack it all up and take it all with us - especially since the job we were both starting paid moving expenses. We basically took the entire college apartment and moved it all to the new apartment with us. Still short a few major pieces of furniture, an IKEA trip filled up the rest of the apartment, and we settled in.
And the accumulation began.
Sharing an apartment helped, because it meant that outside the bedrooms we each only had half an apartment worth of stuff. Nonetheless, when the time came for me to move out of the apartment, I filled a decent sized storage unit with stuff.
Throughout the trip around the US and the ensuing job search, that storage unit was a bit of a burden. I don't remember the exact cost, but apart from the money it was just the knowledge that I had to deal with all that stuff at some point. I don't remember where I read it, but a while back I heard someone say that everything has a cost - even if it's not a monetary cost, you still have to take the time to think about it, know where it is, keep track of it, etc. And I felt it.
But then I got the job in San Diego, and an apartment by myself, and the storage unit stuff migrated into an apartment once again. Since I'd shared an apartment before though, it meant it was only about half an apartment's worth, so an IKEA trip once again filled up the rest of the apartment.
And the accumulation continued.
It was nice unpacking a full set of dishes and having it ready to go, and I enjoyed hanging the instruments and frisbees on the wall, and putting the beer glasses up on the shelf. Finally being able to get everything out of the boxes and use them again. But over the course of 3 years I've found that there's a lot of stuff there that I just didn't need. Some of the stuff went into the garage where it has sat, unmoving, for 3 years. A number of boxes have never been opened to the San Diego air.
And so, on deciding my departure from San Diego, I vowed to not have a storage unit, however that could be managed. I'd sell, I'd give, I'd toss, I'd stash - whatever I needed to do. I decided I would only give things to friends to hold for me if they thought they'd get some use out of it. A TV to one friend, a guitar to another, a couch to another. But I wasn't going to just store things at a friend's place either, that would be cheating.
But I knew there would be a few things that were only for me. Things for which I was probably one of the only people on the planet who cared about it this way. A picture from high school, a particular copy of a book that was given to me when I was younger. So I allowed myself one suitcase of things to be stored at my mom's house, and no more.
And at the end of the day, when I was packing it all up and deciding what things I really truly cared about enough to keep, but couldn't replace... I couldn't even fill up the suitcase.
Now to be fair, one of the things in the suitcase is a backup of my entire computer hard-drive. Almost every picture I've taken in the past 10 years, along with documents, videos, even old AOL instant messenger conversations. So a large portion of my history that I care about is stashed there. (Though to be honest... I should probably go through my digital goods like I'm going through my physical ones and get rid of all the extra crap I don't need.)
10 years of accumulation, one night of condensing it all down to a single suitcase.
The realization. The moment when I really was able to comprehend just how little I needed to keep... it was freeing.