Needs & Wants

Last weekend, I was having dinner with a friend when she ever-so-casually admitted to owning 97 different pairs of shoes.

Ninety-seven??” I screeched.

“Ninety-seven,” she confirmed.

“Well you need to cut that down,” I added, which, in hindsight, does not seem like an appropriate thing to say to a woman, especially one that did not ask for my opinion.

Still, 97 shoes?! I just can’t fathom having the room or the patience for that much of anything. In fact, I was so taken aback that I didn’t even notice that Sienna Miller had sat down at the table next to us and had proceeded to order both French fries and a fruit tart.

That’s Sienna Miller, my friend whispered.

I glanced at the corner table.

“About how many are sneakers?” I replied.

I don’t know why I got so hung up on her shoe habit, but I did. Listening to my friend break down her wardrobe was more shocking  than knowing that Sienna Miller is comfortable eating an entire plate of carbohydrates alongside yet another plate of carbohydrates. Whatever happened to moderation?

I’m sorry if that sounds judgmental. I actually don’t care what women put on their feet or in their bellies. It’s just that I’ve been living out of a standard suitcase for the past two years and have really come to appreciate the simplicity of it. I have a few outfits, two pairs of shoes, one handbag and a winter coat. I know that sounds like a nightmare to most women, but I love it.

One of the best things I’ve done for myself was to cull my belongings down to the things I really love and then pack only the ones I really need. The rest went into these boxes.

 

If living out of a single bag sounds like a difficult task, let me tell you what’s harder: packing two bags. That’s what I’m in the middle of doing as I prepare to relocate to Munich at the end of the month.

With one bag, I have to be ruthless about what makes the cut. With two, I have to choose which non-essential items I love more: the denim jacket or the hot pink loafers? A designer cocktail dress or the vintage one from my grandmother? I want to take them all, but I only have room for some, and I don’t need any.

Part of me is tempted to scrap the whole idea of second bag and just show up in Munich with my usual haul. But that seems stupid because I know I’ll end up buying new versions of the things I already own. And if there’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s to amass a second “occasional” wardrobe on the other side of the Atlantic. For me, the only thing worse than the prospect of getting bogged down by stuff, is getting bogged down by new stuff.

 

Living minimally is a hard habit to keep up. I learned that seven years ago when I moved back to New York City from Abuja, Nigeria. After spending a few months there, I had convinced myself that I understood the difference between “needs” and “wants.”

I need food, but I want a $12 quinoa bowl.

I need clothes, but I want designer shoes.

I need a place to live, but I want a one-bedroom.

I was pretty good about keeping things simple for the first year. I only bought what I needed and I gave away what I didn’t. I hardly ever ate out, shopped only on clearance and refused to take taxis. One night, a girlfriend and I found $60 lying on the sidewalk and we spent it all on guacamole and mojitos. It felt like a real splurge.

But New York has a way of warping reality. Everyone around me was buying $6 lattes and $20 cocktails and they often insisted on getting me one too. Eventually I got used to racking up a $50 bar tab on a Tuesday night, at which point springing for a $200 dress actually seemed reasonable. Before I knew it, I was spending the equivalent of my monthly rent on a winter coats. Everyone needs a warm jacket, is the lie I told myself.

On my way back to my hotel after dinner with my friend (and Sienna), I passed two well-heeled girls on the sidewalk in SoHo. As we waited for the light to change, one practically screamed to the other: “I’m happy when I have what I want. I don’t see what’s wrong with that!”

I have to agree with her. There’s nothing wrong with that – and I say that knowing full well that she might be in want of a $26/day beverage habit. To each their own.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned that I can be perfectly happy without things. I don’t need them. And I want to get back down to one suitcase.

6 Comments
  1. Love the post(s) and admire the determination to keep it simple. I have the same mindset and am counting the months until I can spend major quality time in Europe as soon as I retire. One area I look forward to is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a short train ride from Munich and my all-time favorite place to hang out. Check it out once you settle down. And, keep on writing!

    • Oh thank you! I’ll definitely check that out.. I can’t wait to do short weekend trips! I’ve been on the long term plan so I think it will be a nice change of pace. Enjoy your time in Europe… Drop me a line if you’re in town!!

  2. Just how big is a “standard suitcase”? Inquiring minds want to know. I’m just this minute packing for a week in Costa Rica.

    • Ha – good question. For me, it’s a bag that’s too big to carry on but small enough to still manage easily on my own. I don’t know if that’s “standard” but I guess it’s what you think of for a checked bag that’s not one of those super jumbo ones. Specifically, My bag is a 60 liter osprey roller :) believe it or not, for the first year I traveled with a carry on sized bag. I always had to check it because of liquids, but the size would have made it into the bins. Have fun in Costa Rica!!!

      • Wow, that’s a beautiful bag. Probably excellent quality and light. Thanks! I started to obsess over getting a light bag and ended up with a light, cheap, 25 inch one – which is the same height as yours. It’s really more than I need for a week, but the carry-on seemed a touch small. I’m very impressed with your packing skills! And, congrats on your exciting news!!!

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