28: One Bag Rule

28: One Bag Rule

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


One Bag Rule

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.

~John Maeda

I was the girl with the backpack stuffed full of things that I would never need but lugged around anyway. I always had an extra pack of loose-leaf paper, a box of pencils, various pencil sharpeners, and more. All of the other girls had their trendy shoulder bags or purses and carried around just one binder. They always seem relaxed and happy, never lacking anything. Yet, here I was with a bag big enough to fit a human body and still feeling like I didn’t have enough. I got stared at every day as I scuttled through the high school hallways feeling like a freak. I wanted to be one of the cool kids, but I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up that box of tissues.

When I started at university, I figured that the same rules would apply. I had a locker on campus, and I jammed it full of all of the extras I could think of. I had a large leather rucksack that I carried from class to class, filled with books and food. After all, I didn’t want to be caught off guard if I found myself in one class with free time to work on homework from another, right?

Before long my back started to hurt constantly, and I wasn’t enjoying much of anything, because I was too busy and tired from trying to haul that huge bag around. By the time the summer rolled around, I was fed up and ready for a change. There was nothing to be gained by being in physical pain all the time. After all, what was I accomplishing by carrying extra notebooks and pens when everyone else made do with one small bag with the essentials? I was missing out on all sorts of social events because I was in pain and exhausted all the time. Enough was enough. When second year started, I deliberately chose a small blue backpack and told myself that — other than textbooks and food — everything would have to fit in this bag. If not, it didn’t get to come with me.

I absolutely hated it at first. I was outraged that I couldn’t carry half my house in my backpack every day. What if I needed that extra box of staples? What I came to learn, however, was that I could still have everything required, I just had to prioritize: instead of five binders, I had thin folders that were easy to carry and could still fit all of my notes; instead of pencil sharpeners and boxes of pencils, I switched to mechanical ones, and simply kept extra erasers and lead packs in my bag; I had a tiny container full of paper clips and extra staples that fit basically anywhere I needed; I adapted to using a mini stapler that met all of my stapling and de-stapling needs without fail; instead of having an entire box of highlighters, I downsized to carrying one marker of each colour.

That small blue backpack really helped me make the permanent change to carrying less stuff. It had all sorts of compartments and pockets so that I had everything I needed, but still kept the bulk to a minimum. The change from a ten-pound weight to a three-pound one was fantastic, too.

As I got used to my new lifestyle, I realized how much calmer I felt. I was more relaxed in class because I didn’t have to worry about digging through my bag and finding that one pen I was looking for. My books and notes were more organized, and there was no worry that I had forgotten something. When it came to heading home, I just had to grab a textbook or two and be on my way. My back no longer felt like it was dying, and I enjoyed heading out with friends after class.

Transforming from the girl who had six or seven bags, to the “one bag lady” really helped make me into a better person overall. I learned that it didn’t mean having to give up the necessities that made university life possible. I also learned that the whole world wouldn’t fall apart if I didn’t have the extra bottle of Whiteout or the box of tissues.

There were times, of course, when I didn’t have something that I needed for a fleeting moment. Instead of getting worked up about it, I would be momentarily frustrated and then move on to something else. Having everything in one bag made my life more flexible. I could work on my homework anywhere I wanted and not be inconvenienced by carrying multiple bags. When I felt stifled on campus, I would walk or take the bus downtown and work on assignments in a coffee shop. It became a habit of mine that helped me be much more productive academically and socially, not to mention that I became a coffee expert.

Developing the “one bag rule” really improved my academic experience overall. I was more confident, easier to talk to, and genuinely enjoyed being a student. I got good grades and made lasting friendships, which were as good as they were because I took the stress and physical discomfort out of student life by simplifying my life.

The “one bag rule” has been so successful that today I refuse to go anywhere with more than one bag, be it a weeklong trip or a day at the mall. Teaching myself that I didn’t need as much stuff made me stronger, braver, calmer, more adventurous and so much happier. When I compare my miserable high school self with the confident university graduate that I am now, I am incredibly grateful that I finally decided to make the change. That battered blue backpack that I bought in second year is one of my absolute favourite possessions that — even though it’s much too worn to be of use anymore — will always mean a lot to me.

Getting rid of all of the extra supplies allowed me to really focus on what was important, both academically and emotionally. Even though that small blue bag was half the size of the old one, it really held so much more — it held the key to the new me.

~Kelti Goudie


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