You know those people who show up for work in the morning with nothing with them except, say, a newspaper or a notebook or maybe a jacket slung over their shoulder? They look like free spirits, right? What with their conspicuously absent shoulder bag or briefcase or other such encumbrance — they seem as if nothing holds them down, as if they’re unshackled men and women at one with nature — or with their commutes, anyway
That’s not me. I feel compelled to load up every morning with a bag or briefcase in which I carry a stack of papers, my checkbook, a wallet, a small attaché for credit cards, my New York Times identity card, a point-and-click digital camera, extra pens, my iPod and my iPhone, the latest issue of The New Yorker and my keys. Whew. As much as I would like to do without this uncomfortably extensive inventory of must-have items, I can’t.
Experiments in Exclusion
I can confirm that now because for about a week, I put myself through an experiment I call “Operation: Bring Nothing to Work.” As you can guess, it entailed not bringing anything to work. Well, nothing except for my keys, my wallet (condensed down into a much smaller wallet), my iPhone, a USB thumb drive, and my Times I.D. card.
For the first day, it felt incredibly liberating. But thereafter, it got increasingly complex. As I needed to bring additional things with me to the office — like an umbrella on a day that threatened afternoon rain — or from the office — like a package that was delivered to the office — it became apparent to me how essentially handy it is to have a bag into which one can just stuff all kinds of junk. That feeling of freedom quickly turned to haphazardness and even frustration as I clumsily attempted to keep track of all my goods without a junk-stuffing aid.
Which was manageable, at least, if not comfortable. But then I started losing things. One evening, my USB thumb drive fell out of my pocket while out on the town with a friend, never to be recovered. Then, on another day, when I brought along my sketchbook with me to the post office, I accidentally left it on the counter. Luckily, the postal clerks saved it for me, and I have it back in hand, but what a devastating loss that would have been.
Less Wants More
Maybe most disappointingly of all, I just couldn’t deal with using my iPhone as my sole music player. As it turns out, I’m just too accustomed to having my 40 gigabyte iPod’s vast contents available to me at any one time. And I became very quickly bored with the 8 gigabyte iPhone’s much more limited capacity — as well as the inconvenience of having only software controls to advance songs when I was using it at the gym. (At its introduction, people remarked often that the iPhone was the best iPod since the iPod’s introduction, but at this point, I no longer believe it.)
There were days, even, when I cheated. I rationalized some need for packing items in a bundle of some sort — if not my briefcase, then how about a small tote bag? I actually caught myself doing this one morning as I prepared to leave the apartment and realizing that there was no particularly urgent need to carry the extra items I was packing — as if stashing a bunch of superfluous items in a small bag was somehow materially different from stashing a bunch of superfluous items in a big bag.
That particular day was so telling, really. My conscious desire to travel to and from work unfettered was being powerfully combatted by my subconscious need for the security of some kind of carrier. Maybe this whole experiment says something very telling about my psychological attachment to carrying items. Perhaps my briefcase is a security blanket, of some sort. Or maybe it says something about how difficult it is to get by without a bag or briefcase in New York City — if I drove a car to work, would it be that big of a deal to leave items behind at home?
Ultimately, I gave up and returned to my old ways. As soon as I did, I felt relieved; there are far fewer items to worry about during my commute now. Just one, in fact. Which I suppose is the true mental benefit of a container — the freedom afforded when a big object handles all the worrying after many smaller objects can be very relaxing. I’m more or less happily commuting with my briefcase again every day, but I can’t help but think I never really got to the heart of my problem — why am I so tied to these many little objects? It irks me a little. Especially when I see some self-satisfied, goody two-shoes, free-spirited commuter heading to work with just a newspaper in hand.