Tips for Keeping it Simple in 2013

Carri UrangaMy husband Chris and I spent six months hiking the Appalachian Trail, then in 2006 we sold most of our possessions (including our house and car) to spend a year traveling in Central and South America. Since then, we think twice (or maybe five times) before acquiring something new. To this day I think, “Do I really need it?” It’s a question that continues to linger even after assimilating back into society after all these years.

I overheard a blurb of a conversation on the street the other day. A woman said, “The desire or wanting of something is often greater than the actual acquisition of that same item.” To a point I agree. We obviously need certain things: food, clothing, and shelter, but our culture is a rich one and overindulgence is a tendency for many of us including myself. My intention here is not a political one at all, but rather a catalyst for awareness. Here are some tricks I use to keep myself in check:

Need vs. Want

I first ask myself, “Do I really need this?” If the answer is no – move on, quit thinking about it. We all know material possessions are not the key to our happiness, but what if you really, really love it… you know that thing that just radiates YOU, like it was made for you and you can’t get it out of your head? Well of course that happens, but check out the next step.

Out with the Old, in with the New

I do like getting new clothes, especially being an outdoor adventure enthusiast, which means I have a lot of specialized gear and clothes for all these exciting activities. However, when I get something new, I try to find something old to replace. For example, I just got a new winter hat for Christmas. Instead of adding it to the mix, I’ll get rid of an old itchy one that I kept holding on to thinking it will “do.” I no longer want it to “do,” I need it to keep me warm and to do so without driving me crazy itching my forehead! Get something new? Get rid of something old. It’s a simple formula to keeping the closet clutter free or full of things you don’t really like, want or need. (Of course if you shop at Athleta that’s not really a problem to begin with!)

Travel Light

When it comes to packing, Athleta has some great versatile, multifunctional pieces for traveling, but if you’re anything like me, it never fails… you try to be so careful when packing and you still end up with too much stuff! Sometimes I make it with only a carry on (hello Spring Tote). For other trips, I do have to check a backpack (the same old dirty backpack that’s been with me since the Appalachian Trail). The reality is you almost always wear the same things over and over again on a trip. C’mon… you know it’s true! Here’s a trick I use, after stacking the piles, just when you think you’re done, as you’re about to put it all in the bag… take one of everything out! That’s right, the same pile minus one tank, one skirt, one pair of pants, etc. Believe me, it will make a huge difference, lighten the load, plus make room for anything you may purchase (go back to step #1). Give it a try, chances are you won’t even miss it!

Another thing I do (which may be odd), is to take some clothing items you no longer want along with you (from step #2). If you’re traveling in a developing country, donate them. You may not want them any more, but they are probably still in good condition and would be appreciated by the locals. Not worth passing on? Take a few old pieces that you were going to throw away anyway, use them on your trip then throw them away at the end, freeing up a space for new treasures.

Carri Uranga Backpacks

By the way, I mentioned backpack… yes, I use a backpack instead of duffel bags or wheelie bags. You never know when you’re going to have to walk a long distance (or even run). Ever arrived late somewhere or couldn’t get a cab? Personally, I just think it’s easier to throw it on your back, use human power and get some exercise! Plus you look cool – like a traveler instead of a tourist.

Stop, Think and Walk

While we’re on the subject of walking… it took us a couple of years to finally get rid of our other car (remember I said we gave one away in 2006). Finally a couple of years ago we sold the other car (that I adored, but that’s OK, I do not define myself by a car… I am not my car… I am not my car…).
Upon returning to the States we have lived in great cities like Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia and now Montreal. It has been easy for us to not drive. In fact it’s more challenging to own a car in the city – looking for parking, paying to park, moving the car. Once I got rid of my beloved Saab, I felt so free… no more insurance, inspection, registration or parking. It was a weight that had been lifted. I felt lighter, like I could breathe! I know it sounds a little dramatic, but if you’ve ever gotten rid of something that was bogging you down, whether it’s bags of clothes, a car, or even a relationship, you probably know the feeling.

I know not everyone can just get rid of their cars, but what I will suggest is maybe periodically walking to run some of your errands. Need something from the store? Need to drop off the dry cleaning (greener cleaners of course)? Do you have to drive there or can you maybe walk? I’m not saying to do every single errand on your feet. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to walk even half a mile carrying too many heavy bags of groceries. I’m merely suggesting take a moment before jumping in the car every time you need to go somewhere. You’ll save on gas, get some fresh air and simply move your body!

What are your tricks to keeping it simple?

Lindy Cockburn

January 08, 2013 at 5:24 pm

You guys want to go hike the Appalachian Trail again?

Gen Matchette

January 09, 2013 at 3:16 am

I too employ your packing technique, with the same success. My hubby is always amazed. And, like you, I try to walk when possible. Kudos for you guys for going minimalist. We strive to be like you. 🙂
Gen =)


January 09, 2013 at 4:01 am

I never thought I could be car-free either after 19 years of being a die-hard driver and road trip lover. But seeing my leased SUV sit there most of the week seemed such a waste. So I gave it up 4.5 years ago. I appreciate that I am child free living very near the Toronto subway, but I am shocked at how simple my life has become. Zipcar, renting, and Car2Go keep me mobile to the further reaches, and I now almost always arrive on time with public transit because I no longer live with the illusion my own car can get me there faster. Plus all that extra money (for travel, not stuff) 🙂


January 09, 2013 at 7:59 am

Thank you so much for an inspiring article. Things like this keep me positive in the cluttered world I live in. My closets are now too full to get everything in them, and I need some motivation here. It is a goal of mine to simplify, and people like you really do help. I saw some new ideas here that I hadn’t thought of before. I’d love to take a yoga class with you if you are ever in the Delaware area.

Chrryll chesnut

January 09, 2013 at 9:34 am

Just as I thought your article
Will bring lots of us back to the basics that really matter many mahalos from Hawaii

Sarah Blasi

January 09, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Your story was so beneficial to me. It was like a lightbulb turned on! I have been striving to simplify and de-clutter and this was the extra push I needed. Thank you for sharing!


January 10, 2013 at 11:55 am

Inspirational story. I am going in that direction and love to read things like this. I cancled my cable subscription last week and felt the same lift off my shoulders. Not something as big as a car, one day it will be my car, but for now that dead weight is gone. I would waste so much time glued to some reality show. I now have more time for reading, exercise and fun activities!! Thanks


January 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I employ the “take one less” on a trip and it usually works. . . until this December trip to San Francisco. WE were prepared for cold, not prepared for the damp/cold. We ended up buying some new clothes, but at a great discounted price.

Carri Uranga

January 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Thanks everyone! I just took 2 old jackets to a cool resale shop here in Montreal. When I got a $36 in-store credit for stuff I wasn’t wearing anymore, I got so excited that I came home and made another pile to take back tomorrow (no Athleta stuff of course)!
Another thing my friends & I have done is have a clothing swap…everyone bring clothes, a bottle of wine & let the fun begin! You can even set a theme: children’s clothes, Work-out, etc. It’s a great way to catch up w/ people you haven’t seen in a while too!

Tamara Jacobi

January 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Great article Carri. Thanks so much for sharing your simplicity inspiration. We like to keep things simple in the jungle too! I particularly like your philosophy of out with the old in with the new. Sometimes I just have to have the latest, greatest gear.


January 12, 2013 at 8:14 am

Kudos Carrie….and way to inspire some many. You have a great spirit. I am 55 and just starting to do yoga. I am so excited!!


January 15, 2013 at 6:11 am

Carrie–You’re awesome! Those packing tips were just what I needed!

Happy Trails and keep on posting!

Tammy g

March 01, 2013 at 7:07 pm

What an inspiring story Carri. With an impending empty nest only 6 months away, I’ve been struggling with the idea of giving up my house with the yard that I love so much, for the opportunity to buy a condo and live mortgage free. After reading your story Carri, I see that living simply, backpacking the world, sailing half the year and perhaps writing a novel about it, by far makes up for the lack of garden space…I can see which way I’m leaning now…

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