The Surprising Pleasure of Living Out of a Suitcase

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CC BY 2.0. Anne Worner

It feels more freeing than limiting.

The past six weeks have been an interesting experiment in minimalism for me. While our old house undergoes a major renovation, my husband, kids, and I have moved into a small furnished rental nearby. We took a single suitcase each because there was no point in hauling anything more. If we really needed something, we could go back to the house and dig it out of storage.

I didn't think much about what to pack, as we were given short notice and had to clear out the entire main flour of our house at the same time. I stuffed two pairs of jeans, some sweatpants and pyjamas, a pile of shirts, a couple dressier outfits, two sweaters, and a bunch of gym clothes into my suitcase, as well as underwear, a few bras, and socks. I grabbed one pair each of running shoes, dressy sandals, and versatile ankle boots. I did the same thing for each of the kids, except they took only a single pair of shoes. Then we were done.

I was sure I'd be making extra trips back to the house, but to my surprise that has happened only once – to dig out a raincoat for my youngest child. The rest of the time we've been making do with our greatly reduced wardrobes that, quite literally, fit into a suitcase.

What I've found is that I'm very content to wear the same things over and over again. Gone is the guilt I used to feel upon opening my drawers and seeing items that I thought I should wear, just because I own them. I'm also more comfortable than ever because I picked out all my favorites in my mad packing rush. It has made me realize how many of my other clothes I dislike – not necessarily a good thing, but a valuable lesson.

K's closet

© K Martinko – The contents of our suitcases, unpacked in the closet of our rental house, his and hers

With fewer clothes, I save time on a daily basis. Tidying up is nearly instantaneous, nor do I lose things as frequently because there's less to sort through. Packing for a weekend away with the kids was a breeze – a simple task that involved stuffing most of the contents of their dressers into backpacks.

Choosing outfits is faster too. Last weekend, while getting ready to go to a party, I pulled a single black dress off a hanger, put it on, and walked out. Normally I would've tried five different outfits and strewn them all around my room in a frantic effort to find the right one, but this problem was eliminated by lack of other options.

Trent Hamm sums this up well in his article on one-bag living, based on a 30-day experiment he once did (emphasis his):

"The big advantage is, obviously, you spend far less time managing and organizing and moving stuff when you have far less of it. This is the issue with having more stuff: you have to spend more time organizing, you have to spend more time moving, you have to spend more time cleaning, and that adds up to less time actually enjoying the stuff. Living out of a bag basically deletes that problem – you spend very little time cleaning or moving or organizing."

He adds that this is all much easier when you have a place to call home, whether it's owned, rented, or borrowed for a short period of time. What he meant by this is that having a home base eliminates the need to acquire other goods and tools (shower, kitchen implements, etc.), but I think it's also helpful in terms of being able to unpack said suitcase (as I did in the photo above) and actually live out of a space.

We're only halfway through the renovation, and it's going to get even more extreme yet. In another month, we'll have no place to live and will probably end up camping in our yard for a few weeks, which will force us to pare things down even further. But I suspect this experience will have a lasting effect on my wardrobe, and there's a good chance those boxes of packed-away clothes might never see the light of day again. They'll probably go straight to the donation bin sometime in August.