The Things We Leave Behind (or Three Uses for Everything)

Last week, my friend Lois sent me a link to the show Tiny House Nation. Each week, Zach Giffin and John Weisbarth help people build and move into Tiny Houses–classified as under 500 square feet for the purposes of this show. Zach lives in a 112 square foot house himself and serves as contractor and custom-furniture builder. John does the requisite eyebrow-lifting when he steps into the first family’s 1300 square foot house, and then helps them to scale down–to the point that they can comfortably live in just 172 square feet.

During that first episode, in an effort to help a Jeff and Chelsea Kibert determine what to let go of,  John said, “If you don’t need it, you can’t keep it.”

Ha. I would have said, “If it doesn’t have at least three uses, you can’t keep it.” That advice was given to me two years ago while I was walking nearly five hundred miles on the Camino de Santiago. The pack on my back held everything I thought I would need for the next forty days. Weighing in at twenty-two pounds, however, I started to reconsider my choices.

Rick, a fellow pilgrim on the trail, told me my pack should only contain items with three uses. I immediately liked the idea. After all, I’m the woman who is mystified by–and refuses to purchase–single-use items.

So on days when I walked alone for a few hours, I challenged myself to think of three uses for things I had with me. The words of William Morris floated into my head: Do not have anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Well, beauty wasn’t much of a concern along the Camino. But useful? Yes. Three times over.

A few days later, at a hostel in Tosantos, I met a fellow pilgrim named Becky. As we sat in the garden outside the hostel, our clothes swayed in the breeze on the clothesline. I shared the everything-must-have-three-uses philosophy with her.

“Only three?” she asked.

Only? Was she serious? Yes, indeed she was. Becky, I soon learned, was a master of packing light. She glanced over at the laundry line and gave me four uses for her bath towel. I was impressed. So far I had only used mine for drying me post-shower. And it didn’t even do that very well–probably because it was only as big as a legal-size sheet of paper.

By the time I finished the Camino my pack was six pounds lighter. Things I thought I needed for the journey (gym shorts, a second pair of hiking pants, a paperback book) had been left behind–and I didn’t miss any of them.

Last week, I watched Jeff and Chelsea decide what they would need on the next phase of their life journey–and knew that, like me, much of what they left behind would not be missed.




4 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Filley says:

    Bath towel …. pillow roll, blanket (when dry), table cloth, padding on a hard bench seat, knapsack if properly folded and tied, suspended on sticks to make an umbrella shade cover, cape for wearing on cool breezy days, SOS if lost and waved from a height, Yup, need a really true bath towel, not a little hand cloth.

  2. Michael says:

    “If I had to do it again…” I’m sure you heard that phrase many times before. But seriously, if I had to do it again, I would keep everything relegated to 1 bag. I like the idea of purchasing items at my final destination if needed. Keep it small. I’m playing small ball next time out.

    As I was building an exam practice site,, for students looking to take the Open Water Diver final exam, I think of how I kept the questions short and concise. Same thing with luggage. Short and concise. Like you 🙂

    1. Are you saying I’m short? Well, it is indeed true.

      Glad you found this post inspiring. Happy travels:)

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