After months of slowly working on my camper, I pull an all-nighter on the last day of April, frantically paring my possessions down to what can fit inside my new miniscule home. Innumerable donated garbage bags later, my bedroom is stripped to its bones and inside my camper sits a very pleasing little pile of the items I’ve kept. I take a photo of the small pile, sending it to some friends with the words: “Everything I own.”
I spend the next two weeks parked outside a friend’s house, casually bragging to everyone I know that I’m currently living out of a vehicle. Then I leave for the Yukon.
For the next year and a half I cycle through possessions – they quickly accumulate during a house sit, shrink back when I leave, then grow to fill the shelves of a winter cabin, requiring a dramatic purge to fit back into the camper.
I become a revolving door for clothes and kitchenware – from the freestore, to my cupboards, back to the freestore. It gets easier and easier to let go of things I come to love, but I also find a few key items always make it through the purge: a too-big leather vest I claimed when my grandfather died, a thick wool sweater Sam gave me before he went to Iceland that I’ve worn twice, the alpaca poncho Cas brought back for me from Argentina.
With fewer possessions, my attachment to the objects in my life seems to intensify rather than diminish. But it also clarifies which objects are important to me. Always the ones with stories.
I might tell all this to someone sitting beside me in a bar and they might call me a minimalist – and I would like that suggestion. It feels good to be associated with simplicity. I have certainly been known to proudly point at my motorhome and say it contains everything I own in the world.
Then, back in Ontario this winter, I move into an apartment in Toronto, a very small 7×10 bedroom in a house with a few other women. Motorhome safely waiting in the Yukon for my return, I have little more than the possessions I could fly back with. I borrow a foam cot for my bed, am offered a tiny desk, find an old chair in the street. It takes me less than two hours to clean, unpack, and set everything up.
I take a photo of my new home and send it to some friends: “By far the smallest bedroom I’ve ever lived in, and my things can barely fill it.”
When I walk over to visit my sister, who still lives in that same apartment I hurriedly moved out of and into my camper, I am met with a different reality.
She’s already sent a lot of things to our parents’ house – six boxes of my books, stacks of framed prints from my photography show, my record player. But it’s a fraction of what is still there.
My knitting supplies. My sewing supplies. My sewing machine. Several winter coats. Several winter boots. Other boots. Shoes. Sandals. All my old cameras. Blankets, pillows, carpets, my skates, my dishes, my coffee maker, my lamps, my mattress, my bed frame, my radio, my speakers.
Some of it she is using. Most of it is taking up space in her closets and shelves.
It seems that (almost) everything I own in the world I actually left at my old apartment for my sister to deal with.