A small carry-on luggage and a backpack, that’s all I have brought for my semester in the UK and my summer in Shanghai.
Because of my constant relocation in recent years, I have started to cut down my belongings. Globetrotting is fun, but packing and unpacking, moving in and moving out can always be a pain. From my home in Anhui province, China to Singapore, then college in the United States (New York, Boston), Japan, UK, and next – Shanghai, I find the more I bring with me, the more tiring my journey is; the more things I buy during my stay, the more I have to get rid of when I clear out.
With only one small luggage, I thought that I simply would not have room for everything I felt like buying (unless I buy another luggage), because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to bring them back.
However, bringing less turned out not to be the case of owning less. Thanks to the convenience of online shopping and the never-ending deals rolled out by shrewd retailers, I found my cupboard expanding in the first month! From discounted dresses to boxes of chocolate bought on the excuse of gifts for families but ended up in my own stomach, it irritated me that my plan to be a minimalist was failing.
I have never been a shopaholic, and in fact, before the final click of confirmation of orders or as the queue shortens towards the checkout counter, there is always a tug of war between my rational self and the desire bug that bites from time to time. In just split seconds, I caution myself about the danger of neurological pleasure of shopping, but I always wondered “what’s wrong with just another piece of reward using my own money?” After all, things are disposable. I can always throw or donate them at the end of the day.
Yet somehow, it dawned on me then that my shopping spree has some deeper psychological roots. I remembered when I first left home at 15, most Sundays I wandered around Orchard Road in Singapore after doing volunteer service. The street would be crowded with Filipino maids on their hard-earned only-day break. I was probably feeling the same sense of freedom like them. Growing up in a strict family, I never had pocket money. Whenever I wanted something, I simply had to tell my parents and they would buy for me, so it was so empowering but also a bit frightening to have some real autonomy of spending as I please. I could go to shops myself and to select, try, and pay. Fast forward to recent years, as I started to make money for myself through part-time jobs and internships, buying things has acquired a new shade of independence.
But after getting used to that new sense of independence, I no longer feel the rush of emotions. It was less exciting. Instead, What has been gripping me more is a sense of rootlessness. I do not yet have my own permanent home. Whatever I liked when I bought would not last forever. Nothing is an absolute necessity for my survival if I think hard.
And only bringing the essential with me is the way of leaving the past and staying open to more new opportunities in the present. On the last day, when I cleared out with my little luggage, I felt so prepared to start afresh as I left for the next destination.
Sometimes, I do wonder how such willingness of disposing things and keeping the bare essentials affect my life. As the mentality of simplifying and mobility seeps in, I have become more picky about friends and less fond of relationships that I can foresee falling into remission or failing later on. It is a hard truth I have to accept, no matter how much I want to keep them around, I will leave them, just like all those clothes, souvenirs, books that I have to leave behind.
At a tourist shop in Scotland, I fell in love with a magnet at the first sight. With a fluffy sheep made of Scottish wool, the magnet says “all I want over the rainbow is you”. I didn’t hesitate to buy it, but the problem was who should I give this to? My friend back at home or back in junior college in Singapore? Or my roommate in the US? Or the guy I met during traveling from Germany?
So I just bought more of them and sent them out. I am relieved that friends are different from things. Despite the pain and effort required in keeping in contact as I move, I feel overwhelmed by the fondest memories the diversity of friends who are scattered all over the world.
The most important ones always stay in the heart and mind, and takes up no luggage space! And I will keep them, wherever I go.
Quanzhi Quo is a sophomore at Colgate University. You can contact Quanzhi Guo at firstname.lastname@example.org.