Friday, June 14, 2013


Spartans make me feel bad about myself. You know the type—people who have exactly seven pairs of pants. They’re the ones with improbably empty garages, knick-knack free desks and tabletops, with drawer space to spare. When you go on a trip with a Spartan they make you feel like a diva because you have three bags, while everything the Spartan needs fits into a little black duffle bag.

Of course, the Spartans aren’t the only ones who have the power to make me feel bad—vegans, people who enjoy volunteer work, the super-green—in our modern world of relentless striving to be improve, it’s not hard to find someone who’s just better at life than you are. But do the Spartans—folks who eschew the unnecessary stuff that bogs the rest of us down—do they have something figured out that the rest of us are missing?

As with lots of other personality flaws, I blame my craving for stuff on my parents. Growing up, our two-car garage was so crammed with stuff that it was practically a geometry problem to get one car pulled in. Being sent to the garage to find something for one of my parents wasn’t an errand, it was an expedition. I was an obedient kid, but with a streak of martyrdom, so I’d always tell them, “Yes, I’ll go get that thing you say you need, but just be aware that I might not make it back. I might get crushed like last time, and this time, the neighbor kid might not hear me yelling. Also I’d like daisies at my funeral, just so you know.”
 My parents were never that impressed with my dramatics, and I always returned alive, though sometimes with a stubbed toe or a shiny new dust allergy. We were just a family who liked stuff. Ask me or my brother about our childhood vacations, and we’ll both have lots of fond memories, but one of the most indelible ones involves being crammed into the backseat, our giant duffles under our feet, a huge cooler between us, and no ability to move more than three inches for the duration of the four-hour car ride. We did not travel light.

As someone who overthinks pretty much everything I have to wonder about that last sentence—about the implications of traveling light versus choosing to tote around a heavy burden. “It’s just a thing,” you’ll hear people say, after a fire or a theft. It’s true—and it’s an easy thing to say, when it’s not your thing that’s been destroyed or lost. Or when you’re one of those folks who just doesn’t get attached to stuff. I’ve always envied the travel-light people: people who don’t seem to need much to be comfortable or happy. Sometimes these people enjoy camping, for example, squatting in the woods with a sleeping bag and a fire and a bag of dried food. Do they commune with nature? Are they somehow a few steps closer to understanding the secrets of the universe because they’re not up the highway in a hotel room trying to figure out how to access the pay-per-view movies? 

I’ve made peace with my non-Spartan nature, though—I realize I’ll never travel light in the same way I’ll never like sports or math or be a good candidate for survival in a zombie apocalypse. The light travelers probably do have some insight that I’m missing—but I’m betting they’ll miss out on some things on the other side too, like the joy and comfort of having plenty of fresh pairs of socks with you on a trip. Nature loves balance, right? At least that’s what I heard on NatGeo channel while I was channel surfing at the Holiday Inn. 

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