How to Really Spark Joy When Packing

The secret of dual functionality.

By Rose Ernst

Rose Ernst

Have you ever watched a child wandering with their blankie?

They use it for security, self-soothing, warmth, hiding, or even as a superhero cape.

Children understand dual functionality.

But as they grow up, they’re bombarded with single-function items, like a dress only worn on special occasions, or lined paper that’s only for writing and not drawing.

Soon, they learn that buying more things involves an ever-expanding list of needs and tasks. A special pen. A special hat. A special jacket.

Or that you need two towels: one for bathing, and another for the beach.

Different stages of life suddenly require more and different new things. By the time they’re forty, they’re swimming in physical and mental clutter.

No wonder it’s hard for us to imagine fitting our lives into one backpack.

Even if that’s not your jam, we can all benefit from dual functionality. All you need are the eyes of the child you once were.

What is dual functionality?

Living out of one backpack doesn’t have to be limiting or constraining.

As I wrote in a previous article, limiting your physical possessions can allow a maximalist approach to thinking and living.

Dual functionality simply means that an item can serve two purposes.

Let’s start with the easiest one: clothing.

1. Types of wear: A tunic that can be a top, a dress, a nightgown, and even exercise gear.

2. Across seasons: A light, zippered sweatshirt for spring, fall, winter, and possibly summer.

For other items, dual function means:

1. A tiny spray bottle that triples as a dewrinkler, cleaner (filled with vinegar), or spritzer on a hot day.

2. One cord that charges my phone while I’m using my computer.

3. A necklace doubling as a bracelet.

4. An aloe-based hand sanitizer doubling as a salve for bug bites or skin irritation.

You get the idea. If a new dual-function item can replace a single-function item, then I’ll buy it because it solves a problem, and it also takes up less space in my bag.

But even here, I still struggle with accumulating things.

If we stay in a place for more than a month, we suddenly have more possessions. Yes, it takes as little as a month!

Little things, like extra rubber bands, a new t-shirt, or a new tea.

The only difference between this and staying put is that we always have to pack up again, so we have a built-in motivator that helps us review our possessions.

But What If I Lose It?

Rose Ernst

All of this still doesn’t answer one larger question about the fear of loss.

Have you ever become emotionally attached to an item?

Sometimes, it’s because it has real meaning. Other times, it’s just because it was a bargain purchase. Or maybe you’re attached because it does serve a dual function.

You might think that living out of a backpack means I’ve narrowed everything down to just the items that “spark joy,” according to Marie Kondo. Which could imply emotional attachment.

While “sparking joy” logic could make sense if you live in one spot, it doesn’t if you live on the road.

Do I feel sentimental about my shirt? Not really.

First, I know it’ll wear out quickly because I wear it so often.

Second, following this logic, if I wear it all the time, I can’t be worried about staining it.

Third (gulp), my backpack — with this shirt — could be damaged, stolen, diverted somewhere, or just lost. Knock on wood!

But this is a reality. I can’t lock up my possessions in a vault because I have to carry them with me.

So I have to be less precious about everything in my bag.

Does the item spark joy? Maybe. But the bigger issue is that I have to be okay with letting it go if it’s damaged, lost, or worn out. Sometimes, taking a photo of something is all I need to let go. 

One Exception

My partner and I both have one thing that we care about losing.

Mine is a laptop, and his is a necklace he made from his grandmother’s wedding ring.

Admittedly, my laptop wouldn’t be so hard to lose on an emotional level, but not on a practical level. I do have all my work backed up, but the expense and trouble of replacing it are very high.

On the flip side, Seva’s necklace is irreplaceable — so there’s nothing practical he can do if it disappears — but the sentimental cost is very high. He’s willing to deal with that trade-off, just like I am with my computer.

A Child’s Eyes

Yes, if I stayed put for any length of time, I’m quite sure the clutter would accumulate. 

What might stay, however, is the feeling of deep security knowing how little I need. Two-year-old Rose would hopefully remind me that one blanket really can offer security, warmth, or a place to hide. And can even be a superhero cape.

Happy packing!

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