England was its familiar blustery cold and lush green when I arrived, Spring just beginning to offer sunny days but still had its freezing cold mornings and late afternoons. It had been about five years since I was last there, yet was home to me nonetheless. It was surreal to see old friends again. We were all very much the same people, yet older and wiser and changed nonetheless. Catching a bus or riding in a taxi around my old West London stomping grounds, often times I would look out the window and amongst the frantic pace of the high streets, I would see my ghost, walking along those same streets ten years ago, younger and less worldly, chatting to a friend with a hot drink in hand, or hurrying along to get somewhere. What would I tell her now if I could? What have I learned? Would I have changed anything about my journey, my past?
Throughout the weeks, I was fortunate to stay with friends in regional centres scattered outside London. I started flying around Europe to temporary nanny positions, staying in luxury ski lodges and flying on private jets, and heading to job interviews in fancy hotels and restaurants. Despite nearly twenty years in this line of work, I felt every inch an impoverished student up to her eyeballs in debt, trudging around in years-old, over-loved clothes or borrowed pieces from friends. My own nicest clothes didn’t fit the well put together look and style a modern international nanny must have. I had never felt more like the odd one out, never more ready to move forward to the next stage of my life.
In the past England was my shopping haven. I loved it’s relatively cheap prices, it’s high street variety and the call of beautiful things beckoning from shop windows. The glamour of the super-sized drugstores, with their endless arrays of perfumes, make up and beauty products, to which I would hand over hundreds of pounds in one go, intoxicated by the promises of wonder they offered through magazine ads and product recommendations. This time I lacked the easy access to high streets whilst staying with friends. When I did visit London or a shopping mall, I was pleasantly surprised to find that yearning had faded, replaced with the sensible restraint of a broke traveller with limited luggage space. With my first pay checks I wandered around a mall and over several days of thinking time, found 2-3 simple but nice knitted tops and a scarf that could mix and match with my other clothes and jackets; basics to transform my wardrobe just enough.
I was also quite proud to realise just how committed I was to minimalism and environmentalism. The Story of Stuff project had made its impact on my shopping habits, along with a lot of university learning about the exploitation of resources and workers in the harvesting, production and distribution processes. Cheap wasn’t just cheap anymore, it represented a company who had not invested in sustainability and fair practice for its workers. It wasn’t hard to ignore the shops – I had been doing it most of my five years in Melbourne!
One permanent job stood out to me among the rest, a job in the Middle East, a lot of travel, a lot of kids, a management position to oversee their busy lives at home and away. Never had I been more clear about what I wanted from a job and with the right questions asked and answered, when I got the final call, I knew I had just landed my perfect match for this point in my life. Equipped with everything I needed in one large and one small case, I knew living minimally while travelling would be a cinch.
I began my job in New York, as you do. Once again I was surrounded by temptation, bright lights, big city, big shops. And having travelled there before, I was too familiar with everything, temptation to buy at the end of my fingers. Yet I didn’t really get much time to buy things, such is the nature of the job. Whole Foods Market was my biggest test. Up the road from me and open late at night, being Coeliac and living on a gluten free diet I knew I had to stock up before heading to a place with limited options available. One night before we returned to the Middle East, I dared to allow myself to spend big on what I needed. I bought a lot, but it has lasted me well. I used that shop as a test to notice from that point on, what’s been used, what hasn’t, and I’ve not bought those things again.
Still the ghost girl of the past plays on my mind, her transparent shadow visible on the streets of the world’s biggest cities, wandering, her future ahead both bright and clouded. What would I tell her if I could, what would I change?
What have I learned through my travels, through my life, to become who I am today? Consume what you use and nothing you don’t, resist the eyes’ temptations and as a traveller, keep in mind the size of your luggage – and the cost of excess luggage. Always keep paper to a minimum, throw out magazines and receipts and ticket stubs. They aren’t worth the extra $25 per kilo in your bags. Have I always done that? No, but I’m trying.
Would I change any part of my journey? Well, no. I believe that failures and mistakes drive you toward success, and without the recent years of hardship I wouldn’t have the friendships I have or the university degree, or picked Melbourne to be my forever home one day. No regrets has been my lifelong motto. Besides, I’ve also lived in some amazing places and have fantastic memories of those too.
So now here I am, the story of past to present told, how habits and traits got me here with this heavy burden of stuff. With future posts I intend to look at the decluttering, the clearing, the efforts taken, the wins and fails in the journey to get rid of not only my need for a storage unit forever, but the clouding and stress of the mind and daily rituals and leisure time that gets impeded by that burden. I hope you will continue forth with me.