Travel the world

Unpacking Our Packed Up Life

our plastic crates in storageWhen Carrie and I left Colorado in October of 2009 to travel the world for 2 years, we packed our lives into plastic storage tubs, which we call crates.

We came back in November, 2011.

In many ways, those crates have been a metaphorical representation of our return to America.

I detailed some of that experience in a few of the posts I wrote back in November and December, 2011.

When we got back, very little had changed (which was nice in many ways), but everything was different.

Re-entry into America was amazing in that we live in a country of such abundance.

Returning to the US was amazing for us personally because we get to enjoy Colorado, see our families, and meet new members of our families (two new nieces) who had been added during the 2 years we were living and working all around the world.

Adalyse and Evie, our new nieces

Re-entry into America was also chaotic.

  • Food is different here. It tastes good generally, and is (generally) safe, but also seems (generally speaking) less nutritious than many of the places we’ve been. Like I eat but still feel hungry because my body is missing what it needs…
  • People talk (frequently) about how bad things are. At the very least, they speak in opposites. I’m not sure if they mean it, or are just making conversation, but it’s strange because America is still an amazing place of incredible opportunity. And it’s difficult to communicate the abundance and wealth in this country because the general consensus is (or at least seems to be) that things are bad. It’s not true, but people spend so much time talking (and complaining) about things they have no intention of actually working to change. And everyone assumes that the abundance and wealth they get to have in America are normal. But life is very different in many parts of the world. (Electricity, sanitation, transportation, air quality, healthcare, education, etc. etc.) People say things like “I don’t want to be sick so I’m not going to do that” instead of saying “I want to stay healthy, so I’m going to do this.” People do that everywhere (It’s the “Don’t Think Yellow” post I wrote while in India) – I just find I’m much more aware of it in America, probably because I speak English.
  • Others have more expectations of us here than we did while we were traveling. More than that, we have more expectations of ourselves, that we changed away from (and enjoyed the changes) while traveling.

Those are all different topics for a different post.

Back to the crates…

Here it is, mid-July, and we are living in an apartment that we’ve been living in for more than 6 months.

And… we’re still surrounded by these large plastic crates.

Part of the reason these crates have remained packed is that it seems we’ve been on the move, in our lives, almost since getting off the plane in November 2011. We’ve really been going from one thing to the next, with very little chance to stop and completely unpack.

However, it seems that the majority of the reason we haven’t unpacked is that there is a part of me (Carrie too) that is still living in that packed up state.

There’s a part of me (Carrie too) that wants to live in that packed up state.


While living from a suitcase for two years, you realize how truly few things you need.

There’s a significant level of comfort, security, and freedom which comes when you realize and embrace that you need very few things in life. That freedom is accompanied by a huge mental clarity which comes because your mind is free of the clutter which comes with stuff.

“Stuff” comes with all kinds of questions for your brain to work on.

The number of questions which come with each item in your life are limitless.

  • Did I get the right one?
  • Did I get the best price?
  • Where should it go?
  • How else can I use it?
  • Which drawer did I put it in?
  • etc. etc. etc.

“Do you know where I left my keys?” isn’t a question (at least is a rare question) while traveling, because there are only a few places to look, and only a few keys (which change every time you are in a new place).

As an example of less stuff, we each had about 5 changes of clothes for 2 years. But now that I’ve unpacked (even after getting rid of 2 FULL crates of clothes), I have a largish closet full of clothes.

And I remember getting annoyed with myself in February of this year.

I was staring at the closet attempting to decide which sweatshirt to wear.

Which sweatshirt?


Am I honestly thinking about this?

This never would have been a thought while traveling.

I’m thinking about this on a day I’m going to only be at the apartment and maybe go to the grocery store?

Does it really matter? Is it even worth spending time on?

Some people will say yes, and you can rationalize and justify forever all the reasons one sweatshirt is better than another on any given day. However, from a big picture perspective, does it matter to choose one sweatshirt over another?

The answer pretty much always “No, not really.”

Jeff Neet (a friend) says it this way: “May all your problems be first world problems.”

Conversely, it’s really nice to have just the right thing at just the right time.

And it’s more convenient to have that thing if you have a drawer or a cabinet to store it in.

Cherry PitterThe example I’m thinking of now is a cherry pitter.

A cherry pitter is the most perfect tool for removing the pits from cherries. It does nothing else, and I would never travel with a cherry pitter.

But when you live in one place for a while, and enjoy cooking with cherries, a cherry pitter is just perfect.

I say all that to say that this weekend, Carrie and I decided to have Saturday just to ourselves, to unpack from the crates.

It makes sense to unpack our packed up life, at least for the next 6 months, and to really make this place our home.

We’re always home with each other no matter where we are, but we know we’ll be living here for at least the duration of our rental agreement (which runs through the end of 2012).

My fear, and my experiences, have been that I lose a lot of the clarity I had while traveling when there’s “stuff”.

This physical clutter (though nice in many cases) is also accompanied by mental clutter and mental chatter.

The challenge, and my goal, is to keep the physical clutter simple, and picked up.

There’s very little I can do to keep my mind as free as it was while traveling, but if I can subconsciously know where the “stuff” is, my active brain can stay more focused on the more important things I want to work on and create – in our lives and in the world.

How about you? Do you feel that “stuff” also creates mental clutter, or no?

9 thoughts on “Unpacking Our Packed Up Life

  1. Patricia McCormick

    Dear Carrie and Jonathan: I feel the same. I have been living out of a suitcase since the beginning of 2008. Ecuador, Canada, Ecuador, Canada, Ecuador, India, Nepal, India, and again Ecuador. I know for certain that priorities change completely. I am no longer concerned about material things. Food is simple, clothing simple and I appreciate children and flowers more — I am a photographer. I just treasure every day. I so admire you both for having done what you did while young and being aware of your priorities now. You are different people now. It will be so interesting to see what you do next. Blessings to you both, Patricia

    1. strive4impact Post author

      Briefly checked out your site Patricia. You are on an AMAZING adventure called YOUR LIFE! You are inspiring and your pictures of Otavalo market reminded me of the wonderful time we spent there. What do you do to earn a living while you are traveling?

  2. Anne Uekermann

    Hey Jon – I agree with you on so many things you write. This one as well. Since moving between countries and moving back, I’m always trying to reduce the number of items I store in my closets, I try to get rid of old clothes that don’t even fit right anymore, but still, it’s difficult to let go, as I constantly think that I may still want this or need this.

    I know that it is my mind that needs to change, but even with all the experiences that I’ve had (and I’ve lived out of a backback or suitcase for years as well), and the knowledge that it is easier to have less, it still feels safer to have more. I don’t know why and I would love to be able to change my mind…

    We should chat soon, I miss you guys!

  3. BW

    When you have stuff, pretty soon you need containers to keep all those little things in, and then you need other containers to keep those containers in . . . ha-ha.

    The other day I read an article about a billionaire who has given up everything but his clothes, which he carries in a tote bag, and lives in hotels:

    That’s the life – always in motion, not keeping track of that little stuff. (Well, he does continue to carry on a lucrative investment business, he does travel in a private jet, and he does stay in expensive hotels, but – he doesn’t keep possessions, though he did stash his private art collection in storage).

    BTW, if you ever need an emergency cherry pitter, I just happened to have watched this DIY video on YouTube:

    1. strive4impact Post author

      Awesome cherry pitting video and awesome article about the billionaire! That’s one awesome way to travel the world, for sure! Your including the cherry pitting video may make this my favorite comment on our site ever.

    1. strive4impact Post author

      That is AWESOME! I enjoyed the blog a lot as well. Lots of great tips on there for living a bit (or a lot) more simply. Thanks for sharing such great resources. Still marveling at the simplicity and awesomeness of the cherry pitter.

  4. LN Lurie

    Hey guys, Misti and Yvette told me to check out your blog because I’m planning a RTW trip (for 14 months). After reading this– this is my biggest fear: What will it be like when I get back? Will I hate America? Will I hate how we do things? Will I get annoyed at how much crap we have/throw away all the time? I’m in the process of throwing everything I own away (or at least going through it) and I’m now down to 1 “crate”. Mostly of tax papers that I can’t (legally) throw away and some dresses and other random things. But I still wonder– “Will I even need this when/if I come back?”

    Anyway- thanks for writing. I love to follow your adventures.

    1. strive4impact Post author

      Hi LN,

      I’ve been delayed in replying because I want to make some time to write an in-depth well thought out answer to your questions:

      What will it be like when I get back?
      Will I hate America?
      Will I hate how we do things?
      Will I get annoyed at how much crap we have/throw away all the time?

      Coming back to America after 2 years of traveling, and 2 years of being primarily with each other all the time, has been very much a challenge.

      I will be writing more in-depth about this… For now a couple of posts to check out (around my feelings I’ve had coming back to the US) are:

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