Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is trying to put into practice the lessons she learned while walking The Camino. Follow along as she continues her spiritual journey — whatever that might mean.

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April 10th, 2013

Lessons in Simplifying Your Stuff

Longing for a simpler, less cluttered life? The Camino taught me a few tricks for making "simple living" a reality.


simpleliving-2Our new pope decided he preferred a two-room suite to the 12-room apartment his predecessors have occupied since the early 1900s. He cited reasons of simplicity and community. Simplicity is making news, but it’s not a new concept. Jesus inspired his followers to leave everything behind and, “Come, follow me.” But I don’t think Peter walked away from a 4,000-square-foot home with full closets. Are you inspired by Pope Francis’ choice? Or just looking for a way to bring a little more simplicity to your life?

Americans are living in a time of great abundance. “Oh! But look at the economy!” some say. I don’t mean financially. I mean when it comes to buying material goods. Anything we think we may want is available to us, 24/7, every day of the year, and delivered to our door thanks to the Internet. No money? No problem. The Internet takes credit cards.

Last year, I spent 37 days walking the Camino de Santiago through Northern Spain. When I told people along the pilgrimage that I taught classes on decluttering, pilgrims from other countries couldn’t believe that people actually needed such classes. Some societies are not nearly so consuming as ours. One of the big differences? Space. The average home here in the United States? 2,300 square feet. In Spain? Half that: 1,044 square feet.

So, how much space does a person really need? I guess that all depends on the journey you are taking. I started the Camino with a 42-liter pack that weighed 10.2 kilos according to the scale at the airport. That was the first time I weighed my pack. I thought I recalled there were 2.2 pounds in a kilo, but I wasn’t sure and honestly didn’t want to know at that point. I would later learn my conversion factor was correct: I was carrying 22 pounds on my back.

Simplifying your stuff was a hot topic among new pilgrims. The hostel in Roncesvalles, where I spent my second night, had a table of discarded items piled high. There were hiking shoes, fleeces, and even a couple backpacks. I looked at the table and realized a pilgrim could show up in Roncesvalles without a thing and outfit themselves just from this table.

The experienced pilgrims among us offered advice as to what was not needed, but it wasn’t until a full seven days into my trek, when I could no longer shut out my shoulders’ pleas for help, that I left behind a few things: a book, a pair of flip-flops, a pair of shorts. Eventually I let go of my second pair of hiking pants, a scarf, and even the pages of my guidebook that I no longer needed.

The next time my pack hit a scale was at the airport in Vigo, four days after finishing The Way. I hadn’t lost any weight walking the Camino, but my pack surely had — five pounds worth.

I came home and looked into my closet, wondering what all was in there. I genuinely couldn’t imagine a life where I would need a closet full of things. If I could live for nearly 40 days out of a backpack, what did I need all this other stuff for?

The Camino, for me, was the culmination of a one-year self-imposed (and self-funded) sabbatical. Before I started my year of living without a permanent home, I attempted to get rid of or sell most of what I owned.

At this point in my story, people usually say, “Wait — what? You got rid of most of what you owned? How?”

And here’s where the lessons of simplicity come in. You don’t have to go as extreme as I did, but the steps I took are the same steps anyone can take to start simplifying their stuff.

  1. First, pick a room. Where do you want to start? No need for deep analysis here — just pick a place. I chose my living room.
  2. Second, take a minute to think about the purpose that room serves. Dining rooms tend not to be just for eating. Some dining room tables are used as a way station for incoming mail, or as a place for kids to do homework. Take a minute to list all of the activities that happen in the room you chose. My living room was the place I relaxed, the place I did craft projects, the place I entertained company.
  3. Next, create a goal — then think smaller. My initial goal was to pare down to only those things I needed or loved. But that goal was too big — too overwhelming. So I went smaller. I eyed a closet I hadn’t opened in months. What was in there? I could have made my goal to clean out that closet, but that still felt overwhelming. So, I went even smaller. I knew there was a box of yarn in there. So I made my goal to go through that yarn box and package half of it to be given away to the knitting group at the library. That I felt I could do.
  4. Now that you have a goal you feel is attainable, get started. If you come across something you don’t know what to do with, think back to the purposes of that space. If it doesn’t fit one of those, it doesn’t belong in this room.

And so it was that I started, small goal by small goal, to scale down my belongings. Upon my return from the Camino, I reflected on how much our stuff can weigh us down — literally and figuratively — and I made “letting go” a part of my daily life.

Along the lines of simplifying, Fr. Dave and Fr. Steve are taking part in the Busted Halo® Office Clean-Up Challenge. Next week, I’ll be back with some tips for Fr. Dave, Fr. Steve and all of you for decluttering and spring cleaning.

The Author : Rebecca Gallo
Since 2012, Rebecca Gallo has walked the Camino de Santiago three times -- twice on a strict budget, and a third time traveling a little more luxuriously (private rooms with sheets instead of hostels with a sleeping bag). She enjoyed sharing her first journey and subsequent reflections with Busted Halo readers. Other tales of her adventures can be found at RenaissanceRebecca.com.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Swiftright-Right/100002904084914 Swiftright Right

    After losing my old job in 2009 we downsized our families belonging to fit 6 people in a small two bedroom apartment. We also downsized our budget to fit into an unemployment package that fortently included career retraining.

    Its 2013 I have converted to Catholism, repaid most of my debts, repaired my credit and Im a nurse working for a branch of Catholic Care. We are looking to buy a new house and I’ll be danged if just about every house we have looked at his 2/3 to half the size that we thought we “needed” back in 2008. In a very real way I have learned the meaning of the saying God might not provide you with what you want but, he does provide you with what you need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mikehayesjr Mike Hayes

    Every time I stay in a hotel for a short visit, I realize how little I really need. I often don’t even turn on the hotel TV and I go exploring in my chosen city to visit. But a few outfits for my time there suffice, a hotel laundry room, meals, a warm bed.
    How many people have so much less than even this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pamela.jablonski Pamela Brown Jablonski

    very nice! I just returned from over 5 months in west africa as a missionary nurse with my husband and 13 year old daughter. i went from a huge cluttered house (i have 6 kids, older ones all young adults recently!) to 3 rooms, our room which was also used as a family room at night, a kitchen and our daughter’s room, which was our pharmacy and 2 twin beds (shared with our other nurse). Now the task is to declutter my own home!

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