I have a confession: I’m addicted to simplification. The allure of getting rid of what you don’t need, using everything you have, and (of course, the big one, the condition that separates the practice of simplification from the reality of impoverishment) having everything you need.
It’s like that old Nissan XTerra commercial: “Everything you need. Nothing you don’t.”
How fabulous. How enticing. The illusion of simplification. The oversimplification of simplify.
But simple ideas can come in complicated packages. Not unlike a Nissan XTerra, or its advertising budget. Or Real Simple, a monthly publication devoted to a “life made easier” (their tagline), while being printed on nearly 200 pages, and having a masthead that lists over 100 people. Sort of not that simple, really.
Still, the girth of Real Simple notwithstanding, each issue usually contains an article, or list, or suggestion or quote, about simplifying, that is worth pondering for a bit. This month’s cover teases we wannabe simplifiers with a piece advertised as “the clutter cure: expert advice for pairing down.” So I immediately turned to page 124 and began reading away, eager to breathe easier, be more relaxed, and live more simply.
I was not disappointed. “Streamline Your Supplies” provides an easy, concise guide (that is, suggestions from “experts”) for “all you need in your”: desk drawer, medicine cabinet, kitchen utensil drawer, cleaning cabinet, and tool kit, respectively. (I wonder what kind of reception I’ll get at the local hardware store if and when I bring in the tool kit page from the article, as a sort of shopping list, and start perusing through their collection of wrenches?) On each page are nicely laid out photos of “all you need” for each category, complete with labels for each item. Like a nice, neat packing list.
As with most attempts at simplification, it’s nice to have the overabundance of choices and ideas and interpretations and activities and EVERYTHING seemingly unnecessarily complicated in our contemporary twenty-first century society paired down to (what is presented as) its essentials.
Happily reading through the lists of all I need, my mind immediately strayed to thoughts of backpacking. For what is backpacking, and for that matter traveling, if not the extreme practice of attempted simplification?
A scene from Joe Versus the Volcano:
Luggage Salesman: “Have you though much about luggage, Mr. Banks?”
Joe Banks: “No. I never really have.”
Luggage Salesman: “It’s the central preoccupation of my life. You travel the world, you’re away from home, perhaps away from your family, all you have to depend on is yourself, and your luggage.”
Absolutely. “All you can count on is yourself. And your luggage.” This is the backpacking manifesto. The underlying motto of any outdoor gearhead. (John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the screenplay for Joe Versus the Volcano, must harbor a secret admiration for, if not practice of, backpacking.) Carrying everything you need with you. Knowing how to use everything you have. And therefore, living simpler.
Or something like that.
“Everything you need. Nothing you don’t.” Uh huh.