When we were preparing to move overseas with three small children, a seasoned pro gave me some good advice.
“Help the kids pack their own backpacks for traveling. Then make them put them on and walk around for a bit to make sure they can handle the weight. If it’s too heavy for them, you’ll end up carrying everyone’s backpacks.”
Makes sense doesn’t it? Make sure you can handle the weight before heading off on an adventure. Lighten the load and you’ll go further faster. Evaluate carefully what you really need on your back and jettison the rest.
I’m here to tell you, that no matter how much baggage you leave behind, you will still end up with too much to carry.
Yes, if you are ruthless in your metaphorical and literal packing for life’s adventures you will end up wishing for something you didn’t bring. But this will be outweighed by the new experiences and treasures you are able to gather because of the open space in your arms and backpack.
Can you really carry all that?
My five-year-old took her packing job seriously. As book after book and toy after toy disappeared into her bulging backpack, I urged caution.
“Remember, you have to be able to carry it yourself. I’m not going to carry it for you.”
“I know, but I need all these things. I can carry it.”
She zipped her overloaded backpack closed and tried to put it on her back. It was too heavy for her to lift into place.
“Mom, I just need you to put it on for me, and then I can carry it.”
I refused. Undaunted she studied the problem. Rather than remove any items she rather cleverly set the backpack on the floor and sat down in front of it slipping her arms through the straps. With great effort, she managed to get her tiny little body and ginormous backpack up off the ground and into a standing position.
“See! I can do it!” she crowed triumphantly.
“Yes, but can you walk around?”
She staggered around the room for a couple of steps before falling over.
With a great deal of negotiating, we managed to winnow the contents down to a slightly more manageable level. It was still too much but we didn’t realize that until later.
Are you trying to stuff too many things into your bag to carry you through this journey of life? Are you struggling to stand under the weight of all your baggage?
My daughter was convinced she needed all her favorite books and toys with her at all times. Putting some items in a box and sending them on ahead was scary. How would she cope without them for several weeks, maybe months? What if they got lost?
What are the fears that keep you clinging to the burdens in your life? Are you holding on to a relationship because you are scared you won’t be able to find a better one? Paying a mortgage or rent you can’t afford because you can’t imagine downsizing? Racking up credit card debt because you think you need or deserve a certain standard of living?
Maybe it is literal stuff weighing you down. You have to stay in the job you hate because of the payments on the new car you bought. You can’t have friends over because you are embarrassed by your living room full of piles of things you will get around to sorting out someday.
Don’t forget emotional baggage. Do you have toxic friends or family members you can’t imagine letting go of who are holding you back from living your best life? What about the ex you spend every evening cyberstalking?
Are you like my five-year-old, spending your creative energy figuring out new ways to hold on to everything then staggering under the weight insisting, “This is fine. I’ve got this. It’s all under control.” Are you headed for a fall?
Lighten the load
What can you remove from your backpack? Can you downsize your life in some way to reduce pressure and set yourself free for new adventures?
The first step is looking closely at what you are carrying around. Are there items you can set aside, temporarily or permanently? Challenge your assumptions. Do you really need to be shouldering it all every day?
The more items you release from your daily load the more you open yourself up for new adventures, opportunities, and even material goods that enrich your life.
What if you need something?
We’ve all had the experience of giving or throwing something away only to wish later we still had it. The frustration of this memory holds us back from letting things go now. But how many times have you gotten rid of something and never missed it? We discard things every single day and never notice they are gone.
The equation is simple. The number of discarded items you never miss or regret is far far greater than the items you wish you still had. You just never notice the things you don’t miss. Imagine if you had kept everything you’ve ever owned. How would you cope?
Do the math. Is the cost of carrying something around greater than the cost of being without it? Make sure you factor in the cost of new items or opportunities you can’t pursue because you are holding on to your burdens.
“They have stores with books and toys in England too,” I reassured my daughter as she struggled to choose items to remove from her backpack.
Did you lighten the load enough?
Remove just a little bit of weight from a heavy load and the relief you feel can be so overwhelming you fail to notice how much excess burden still remains.
We set off on our journey with every family member carrying their own weight. After a red-eye flight into Heathrow, we faced an unexpected transition from one terminal to another to catch our domestic flight. This involved a 15-minute bus ride and what felt like miles and miles of walking.
“We’ll just get a luggage cart to help us with our carryons if the kids get tired,” we had told ourselves from the comfort of our kitchen table as we planned the trip. Turns out you can’t take a cart on a bus and there were no carts available for the long long walk in the new terminal.
It’s easy to plan for the best-case scenario. If everything works out the way I’ve planned for I’ll be able to manage this load. Here’s plan B, just in case plan A falls through. I don’t know about you, but I often end up dipping down into plans C, D, E, and beyond making up new plans on the fly.
Always expect the unexpected and you won’t be surprised.
Finding the balance
How are you supposed to be prepared for the unexpected and also avoid carrying too much around? Balance is an elusive goal. The more you can learn to make do with less, be content with changing circumstances, and travel light literally and figuratively, the better you will be able to handle whatever life throws your way.
You will make wrong choices all the time about what to carry and what to let go of. This is okay. Learn from your experiences and move on.
Embrace help when it’s available and be the help you need
Did my five-year-old shoulder her own backpack for the long trudge from one terminal to the next? She didn’t even manage to carry herself. The journey was made with my spouse and I carrying our own bags, that of all three children and at any given time one or more sleeping children as well.
It took us over two hours to make our way from the arrival gate at one terminal to our departure gate at the other terminal.
When you are an adult, you don’t have the option of throwing yourself on the ground and refusing to take another step forward. You can try but chances are that unlike loving parents, the world will leave you there and just step over or on you.
Surround yourself as much as possible with people who will lighten your load and maybe even help you carry it when it is too much for you. The best way to find that sort of friend is to be that sort of friend.
When your load is light enough, you have space to carry some weight for a friend in need and they will have space to carry you in turn when you need help.
Everyone’s load tolerance is different
One final thought. Don’t weigh your load against anyone else's. So much of our loads are hidden. You really don’t know what someone else is bearing or what supports they have that you lack.
We also have different abilities and preferences. Some of us need to travel light and feel unburdened to be able to reach our potential. Other people need the security of more possessions and stability. My burden maybe your freedom and vice versa.
The only baggage you need to evaluate is your own. Are you weighed down or do you have space to expand, grow and gather in the new experiences waiting for you?
Arriving at the perfect load
Put all this advice together to end up with the perfect load for you. Remember to ask yourself the following questions about all the baggage weighing you down.
- Can you really carry all that? How staggering is the load?
- What if you need something later? Is the cost of potentially replacing something really greater than the cost of continuing to carry it?
- Did you lighten the load enough? Is there more you can discard to free yourself up for new opportunities?
- What is the balance between having too much and too little?
- How can I embrace help when it’s available and be the help for others?
- What is my unique load tolerance? Everyone has a different tolerance and that’s okay.
Don’t stumble through life like a five-year-old so desperate to cling to all her favorite toys and books she has no room for new delights. Clear the space you need to stride confidently forth, adding and removing items from the backpack of life as you embark on new adventures.