Can You Pack Your Life Essentials Into Two Suitcases?

I share the common romantic notion that one day I’ll just pack my two suitcases and go live anywhere I want to. The practical effect of this pipe dream is that I now have a simple way to narrow down my life essentials. If and when I am ready to pack up and go, will this go into my two suitcases?

What are your life essentials?

I found it easy to pick out my true life essentials. My journal and fountain pen were always the first items to come to mind. I could live on borrowed clothes and beg for food, but without a journal to pen my thoughts I would probably lose my sense of self.

It was also easy to know which items I would not take along. Most of my clothes and shoes, all the furniture, and painfully but necessarily most of my books. This has helped me to stop accumulating these things. They can’t be that important and worth my money if they will be left behind without a second thought.

Then there are the useless but sentimental items in the grey area. Soft toys, fridge magnets and personal letters. These serve no purpose except to remind me of the people and places I love. Surely I can hold them in my heart without the need for external reminders? Yet it’s hard to let go of these irreplaceable mementoes.

Living Simply

I have no intention of packing my bags for good soon. Yet I’ve adopted this little exercise in life essentials to help me live simply. I’ve started buying less stuff because I can’t fit a lot into two suitcases. I’ve also started buying better quality, since whatever I do take with me has to withstand the hard knocks of being on the road all the time.

This is a different variation of the three times as good, one-third as much approach I wrote about before to increase our quality of life. I’m having great fun with my “two suitcases” mentality and thought I’d share it in case someone else finds it a useful practical guide.

Two sidenotes

A nice side effect of this way of living is that I have become more generous. I find it much easier to give away stuff. Since I know it’s not going to fit into those suitcases anyway, if someone else likes it I’ll just say “take it”.

If you’re much more serious about living around the world, check out the Location Independent website.

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35 replies on “Can You Pack Your Life Essentials Into Two Suitcases?”

I just gave away half of my and my son’s closet and it feels so awesome. Having fewer but higher quality things is something that can make our lives happier.

Thank you, Daphne, great post!

Lana,

Springcleaning feels great, doesn’t it? Just the feeling of space and keeping only what’s needed is somehow so refreshing. Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you appreciate having fewer but better – I’m learning to as well.

This is fascinating to me. I think if it were just me and my husband it would be possible…but my teenage daughters would not be able to let go of their prized possessions so easily especially the younger one (very much a pack rat)…gives me a lot to contemplate.

thank you,
gentle steps,
Laura

Hi Daphne, It has been so long that I have not visited your blog.
It looks I missed something. 🙂
Daphne, I don’t know whether I could live with two suitcase or not, but your article has taught me a lot of things.
Thanks.

What a great idea. I am organized to the point of pathology and I LOVE a good purge, but stuff finds its way in anyway. I’m looking around my house now envisioning much of it driving away on a Salvation Army truck. Thanks!

@ Tunde,

Your comment always makes my day, and makes the post worth writing because I know someone is reading and gaining from it. Thank you for being here, and sorry for this late reply.

@ Demanding Joy,

Gosh I love your sense of humor – “organised to the point of pathology” made me smile because I used to be like that and probably still am in certain ways… I can just envision you glancing round your room right now picking out what has to go!

@ Arswino,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written so you haven’t missed much! Thanks for still being here.

@ Laura,

I don’t have a husband and children and even then I find it hard to live out of two suitcases, so I understand how difficult it can be with additional people in your life! Thanks for thinking about it anyway.

Hi Daphne .. yes – thanks for the suggestions re the house and African bits and bobs – acres of pictures!! and a white elephant .. literally a large elephant picture .. in a white elephant cupboard!! It amuses!

This is to say have a Happy Thanksgiving

Hi Daphne, this post is another eyes opener for me that; “if you intend to travel far in this life, you’ll have to travel light.” Thanks Daphne, you’re doing a nice job.

Knallan, I quite agree with your post. It would be possible for a long trip, but as I am not planning it before 2011 or 2012, I only declutter what I dislike or do not use and enjoy all that remains in the flat. Meanwhile I keep formal clothes and loads of work book for my students.
My daughter did that when she spent one year in the States, but she sent a few parcels before coming back home.
By the way, I am French.

Hi!

Fitting everything you need in just two suitcases would be difficult at first, simply because we usually have a lot of things that really aren’t so important. I do still believe that I personally could do it, if I really wanted and needed to.

The thought of travelling around the world has always sounded very interesting to me, and I seriously hope that I some day will be able to make the trip and meet a lot of different people. And to this trip I would need to pack my whole life in two suitcases, so yes I believe it’s possible.

@ Knallan,

Thank you for visiting. Yes I too find that packing two suitcases for a trip can be done, but living out of two suitcases for the rest of my life? That’s totally different. There are so many things, non-essential in themselves, that I just want around me – shoes, books, furniture, clothes… so you are right that if pressed we can do it, yet on a normal basis this would be hard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

@ Nicole,

I agree with Knallan and you – it’s easy to live out of a suitcase or two on a short-term basis, or when there’s a proper home to return to. What I find very difficult is living this way as a norm, on a day-to-day, forever after basis. Thanks for clarifying this point.

Nope, I couldn’t come close to fitting everything into two suitcases. Right off the bat, I’d need my computer, or at least my laptop. I don’t leave town without being able to access the internet. Then, because it’s hard finding clothes that fit, I’d need to make sure I had enough clothes so I could change into something new every day for at least a week.

After that, then maybe I could let go of some things. Medications have to come, but they don’t take up much space. But man, I’d miss all my stuff! 🙂

As far as I am concerned, my credit card and my passport are the most wanted things.

A friend of mine lost everything when her flat got devastated by a fire, she felt very upset not to have any clean undewear before going some shopping.

Hi Daphne,

Two suitecases? Hmmm. Right now I’d say no, but am constantly working in decluttering, getting rid of stuff, and being very particular with what I buy.

Ask me a year from now and my answer might be different. “fingers crossed”. 🙂

Yep! Actually, I tried to pack it once using one suitcase and one backpack! 🙂 After a more careful deliberation though, I’ve realized that even the things that I’ve packed were not really that essential at all. All that is essential is already in my heart, and it is there where I return always to my home.

@ Kim,

Only 13 pairs of shoes??? How on earth do you get by? 😉 I know exactly what you mean. I think I’m being simple and frugal and yet my wardrobe and shoe cupboard regularly run out of space. I’m pretty sure I can’t survive on two suitcases for more than a couple of weeks, and only if I know it’s a temporary situation and that I’ll finally go back to a ‘proper’ home. So I have a lot of work to do before I’m ready to travel or live around the world! Glad to see you here.

@ Hilary,

Great suggestion about storing letters on a cloud site. I’ll have to start storing my stuff digitally… just wondering how to do that with all my clothes and shoes! 😉 Guess I just need to stop being vain and wanting all the right attire for all those different occasions… lots of work for me to simplify my life to that level. Gosh, English cottages are the exact opposite of living out of two suitcases and I love the while feel of those cottages with their cluttered homeliness. I can just imagine how yours looks with all the Africa collection. Maybe you should post pictures sometime? I’d love to see them!

@ Jocelyn,

You’re far more advanced than me in simple living. Although I know in theory that all I need are the clothes on my back, some brains in my head and a heart in the right place as you point out, somehow I still feel happier and more comfortable with my earthly home around me… time to simplify life even more! Thanks for commenting here with your poetic wisdom.

Hi Daphne .. one thing came to mind – personal letters (& photos & video) now can be scanned and stored on a ‘cloud’ site .. so always accessible in content, may be not in feel.

I did just that when I went to South Africa (theoretically!) .. I took two bags and went; time went on & books came back in, African pictures, African bits and bobs – not too many because I don’t like dusting!

I had kept some books, pictures and small items here and when I came back I brought those sort of things with me – I suppose they take me back over my life and I remember those incidents and parts of my life .. happy times.

As you say we don’t need them – but somehow the roof over our heads with our bits and bobs in them define to a point who we are. A friend was round last night and said your house just radiates Africa and those red earth hues .. nothing is new – it’s just loved and I love seeing it: it gives me comfort.

I have often got and gone – so I’m sure I could do it again – but I love the concept of your thought process to simplify life – and that I could do with. I will once this part of my life with my mother is over – re-evaluate and work out where to – I know, but somethings will be able to change. She is most important now, as my uncle has gone.

Very interesting thoughts .. thanks Daphne
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Great post Daphne, and a lovely suprise when I opened my reader 🙂

The 2 suitcases philophy is great and something that I think that we can all do with our lives. Shannon from http://www.alittleadrift.com has documented her packing list for a 12 month RTW trip here: http://alittleadrift.com/rtw_packing/

I try to live on this philosophy and was amazed when I was packing to move to SG that I owned 13 pairs of shoes. Surely not! How did I collect so many? Which one’s didn’t I need (they all served a specific purpose). Stuff accumulates while you’re not looking and it is gut wrenching to toss it away – best to get a friend who is not emotionally invovled with the stuff to do it for you!

I could do it as long as I had a Kindle. I LOVE books and they easily take up the most space out of everything I own.

@ Megan,

Stuff is indeed just… stuff. Yet it’s amazing how much I can collect in such a short time! Lately I’ve been on some shopping sprees and really needed to remind myself of the ‘two suitcases’ limit I set for myself. I laughed at the treadmill comment 🙂 I suppose when you’re skipping around the world you’ll have enough exercise already and won’t need the treadmill anyway! Thanks for the referral to Dawn’s blog. I’ll check it out!

@ Vered,

I thought I was living simply too, until I realised I needed two rooms and not two suitcases for my stuff, and that was already cramped quarters. Good point about the homeless living out of a trolley. I mean, most of us could survive that way but our quality of life would be severely diminished. Thanks for understanding where I’m coming from and adding your thoughts and feelings, which are very close to mine.

@ Hayden,

Love the fact that you love books! I think I need to get a Kindle too… 🙂

I like to think of myself as someone who’s not particularly attached to “stuff,” but two suitcases – that would be a challenge. I sometimes look at homeless people here in San Francisco walking around pushing a shopping cart filled to the brim with all their possessions and as my heart goes out to them I’m thinking that it’s probably very human to be attached to our “stuff.”

Now that’s just awesome! I love your approach and might start implementing it in my own life. I live pretty minimally, but could stand to go further. Like you, I also have the thought that if someone likes something of mine, they can have it. Stuff is just… Stuff.

I laughed, though, when I first read the title of your post because I thought, “I know I can’t fit my treadmill into my suitcase…” Oddly, I’m really attached to that thing. (smile)

Have you read Dawn’s blog, called The Everyday Minimalist? Interesting – I recommend it. (www dot everdayminimalist dot com)

@ Tamsin,

Wow it’s cool that you’ve connected with Cath. I’ve read some of her posts though most of the posts I read were by Lea. That site really got me itching to take off for a while, until I realised that my dreams are different and I’ve very happy where I am. You sound like you live in a happy medium between staying put and travelling the world, which is basically shuttling between various home bases around the world. You have a great life!

@ Dani,

Thank you for your cheerful and encouraging comment. I’ve recently started accumulating stuff and needed this post to remind to stop that too!

@ Tess,

Gosh I’m tempted to call you and take off for a year or so… I know you’d be great company and I’d gain so much wisdom just by being in your presence everyday! So sweet to hear that you’ve saved all the notes from your mom. I have all those letters too, about 6 shoeboxes full of letters from her and others in my life. Good idea to save just one or two… I’ll think about doing that too. All the best to her!

Daphne,
This is awesome and I could do the whole thing. In fact I think it would be fun. So if you ever really want to take off for a while call me!

I have saved every handwritten note or card my mom has written me over the last 10 years. (about 5 per year). She began losing her eye sight and I wanted to treasure each last one. Now if she signs a card and has someone send it…well it’s so precious!

So I may have to stick a couple in the lining of the suitcase. She’ 89 and she fell yesterday.

I also went back and read your other aritcle I somehow missed. It’s very good and I’ve done most of it. Yeah for us;)

What a great exercise! I definitely need to work on living more simply and this post was a great reminder for me. Thank you!

Hi Daphne

Love the pic of the two old battered suitcases – they’ve certainly seen some life! I like your idea of thinking in terms of packing all into one or two suitcases even though you have no intention of doing so just yet – acts as a useful reminder to live more simply! I recently cleared out my wardrobe of things I’d kept over the years and filled a number of bags for the charity shop. Some things, I don’t think I’d ever worn! Good feeling afterwards of clearing the decks and making room for new energy to come in – and nice to think that others will now benefit from warm clothes going into winter.

As I read your post, I was thinking about the Location Independent website, which I came across a few months ago through @cathduncan – she is their resident life coach and hails from South Africa where I spend time so it’s been great to connect with her too. You might know her website mineyourresources already, but, if not, Cath also shares some great ideas and thoughts for location independent living!

Thanks as always Daphne for another thought provoking post!

ATB

Tamsin@nudgeme

Daphne

I really like this way of thinking – even if you don’t actually do it, it’s still a great way to focus on what’s essential.

I live in two cities in different countries (well … not at the same time, but two weeks here, two weeks there) and I’ve got very adept at packing my essential things into hand luggage. Of course I keep some things in each place, but the practice of travelling light really got me thinking about the essentials. For me .. my keys, passport, wallet, laptop, phone, iPod and running shoes.

@ Davina,

Good on you that you’re less attached to things. I thought I was too, until I tried this ‘two suitcase’ exercise and realised that for my life to continue as it is I’d need a lot more than two suitcases… more like two whole rooms! I’m not planning on travelling the world, but just like to know that I could be ready to in a jiffy if the need or urge arose 🙂

@ Carla,

Your comment about living in hurricane zones humbled me. I’ve never had to face the prospect of losing my home suddenly and can imagine how hard it would be. Fitting your life in one purse is cool. I can do that for a day but need a proper home to return to at the end of it! Thanks for shedding this very enlightening perspective on the post.

@ JD,

Just the shirt on my back… wow I like to think I could live that way and I suppose I would survive if that happened. But I wouldn’t choose it. At this point my material comforts still matter to me.

@ Ian,

Thanks for understanding that I don’t really plan to do it, just using it as a useful organisational method. Cool that you travel light on a constant basis. I used to shuttle between London and Singapore just with hand luggage too, but then I had an entire comfortable house waiting for me on either end so that doesn’t count I suppose 🙂 I like the fact that you include your running shoes as essentials!

After many road trips, I learned that all you ever need to bring with you is your attitude, experience, and skills.

I’ve always been impressed by David Blaine’s “just the shirt on his back” philosophy.

I think anyone could pack their lives in two suitcases if it came down to it. Lots of people live in fire or hurricane zones have to leave their homes and most possessions behind at one time or another. The question is, would I choose that type of life? I do try to keep certain possessions to a minimum but don’t like what I call “extremes” either. Yes, if I had no other choice, I can fit my life in one purse.

Hi Daphne.
I could very easily pack my life into two suitcases. The older I get, the less attached I feel to “things”. I think this encourages you to place more value on the fewer things you own too. Methinks you are planning this type of adventure in the future.

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