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On the road in "Sharemerica": What's with all this stuff?!

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two bags
Bryan McCormick

Can two pieces of luggage carry an entire life? The author is about to find out.

Editor’s note: Local photographer Bryan McCormick recently left Las Vegas on an open-ended journey into the nation’s “sharing culture,” which he plans to document in words, pictures and a variety of other media. These are the ongoing chronicles of his adventures. In this installment, he's figuring out how to get rid of everything that would hold him back.

 

Although I had decided by the end of January 2015 that I was going to leave Las Vegas, I hadn’t figured out exactly how or where or when. But with all I had going on, I knew I’d need a long runway before I took off. Close to a year, maybe. 

The local Camera Club I was helping to run was going to need time for transition, presuming we could save it at all. I also thought I should give myself time to change my mind. Maybe a bronzed goddess would appear and make it impossible to leave. But she never showed up. Maybe something monstrously cool would happen to the town itself. But it was quite the opposite. I was bored and impatient. I didn’t like it.

Back in January, I thought I’d be among the first of people I knew to move on. But no. More friends announced they were leaving in pretty short order. It turned out in the end I was going to be one of the very last of to go. It was time. Maybe even long overdue.

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THE RESEARCH

A funny thing about having a place you come home to every day is that you don’t need to think about it much. But traveling requires thought. Your home becomes what you can carry and thus requires some real noodling. I had decided too that I didn’t want to own anything, so no car. I didn’t want to fly, because I wanted to see everything. Thinking that I had invented it myself, I discovered the “slow travel” movement has been going on around us for quite some time. These days, it's just better organized. In addition to what you carry, you have quite a bit in the way of logistics to deal with. Where and when you will be and for how long become drivers for everything that follows. I had to put in some real thought about that, researching spots I’d want to see. How was I going to get it all done?

A funny thing about our times is how pretty much anything you can imagine might be a community already exists out there on the Internet. As it happened there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who lead a life of perpetual voluntary wandering. The Nomad List was one great resource, as well as the blogs of people who traveled for a living. They had great advice of a highly practical nature. And better, you could ask questions and people seemed only too happy to help. “The Homeless CEO,” a man who was on the road so much that he sold all his houses and just went rogue, became my new hero. He takes lovely photos of airports and hotels, and is quite heavily followed. I watched a lot of videos about how to pack efficiently made by serene hippies. I researched cases, duffels and even camera stuff. I ditched big gear in favor of humble and small. I learned how to wash laundry in a plastic bag. How to survive dog attacks.

I learned bus routes, train routes, ticket prices, etc. I ran a financial model to make sure I could make it out there on a skimpy budget. I mapped all the Starbucks locations with WiFi and made sure I’d be near one and that they’d be open in time for the start of my day job.

This could really work.

I learned how little you really need if you just put some thought into it. What I will have with me will fit in a 90-liter duffel bag and an equipment case. 

And that, friends, is all I will own. No storage. The stuff that I had to absolutely keep is all that I will keep — two large grey plastic totes. One perhaps if I can do it. That’s all that would remain behind.

But what about all the rest of it?

SELLING ALL MY STUFF

“It’s like a clown car!” is how one friend in my Facebook group referred to my sale postings. She was right — see George Carlin’s bit on “Stuff” for context. Our relationship to our stuff is a complex one. And I was about to be reminded of mine with a vengeance.

Despite having moved many times, I had a lot of things that I had accumulated over a lifetime. Some were pretty cool. Others, eh. I just hadn’t had the heart or energy to ditch it. While not a hoarder, I had way too many things. Some had been packed away in boxes since 2007. And I needed this stuff to all be gone before I could leave!

It’s a lot harder to dispose of a whole household of things than one might think. As I write this, it is November and it is still not yet done. And the process of selling began back in July. That “clown car” comment was exactly right. I kept finding things in the garage long after I thought I was done. Unreal amounts of stuff!

I should mention too that the Camera Club did not survive. It too had to be disposed of at the same time. 

It’s funny with stuff. It seems like it’s never going to get gone. Then you reach some weird tipping point, maybe where you can cognitively grasp all of the stuff in one spot, and then it doesn’t seem scary any more. As I write this, that is where I am with the household. Today I just got some donations taken care of, with a few more to go. Then? It’s people picking things up and then the dumpster. And that’s that.

As much as I put down Las Vegas as a town, my friends have been the best and very supportive of my urge to purge. Some of my friends probably now have more of my old stuff than their own. They were generous and I am sure bought things they didn’t need that badly just to help me out.

My brilliant idea to ditch all my goods on go all Kerouac is fully in motion. The great purple couch on which I had spent Christmas mulling this new chapter in my life was one of the first things to be go. And it was not a sad moment.