The Mobile Lifestyle Project: Can you carry everything you need to live well?

Written on September 5, 2009. Written by .

Six months ago I was living in San Diego. I had been working at a tech company doing a programming internship in the research and development department for a project based on augmented reality. Things were going well and I was considering staying for a full-time job. Then I found out the company I was working for had placed a freeze on hiring due to economic circumstances. I wasn’t going to be able to stay. That’s when I realized that my life was too volatile to carry around a bunch of stuff that I rarely use. The luxuries provided by most of my personal possessions just weren’t that necessary. It was nice to have them, but not if they put constraints on my lifestyle. At that time, I needed flexibility more than minor comforts and conveniences. So I decided to put my stuff into storage and move back to LA with just what I could carry.

After locking my storage compartment, I returned to my apartment where I had left two duffel bags, a backpack, a laptop case, and a bicycle. I had planned my move meticulously and now I was ready to see if it would all work. I called for a van cab to take me to the train station and waited outside. It showed up 15 minutes later and the driver helped me squeeze my bike in on top of the duffel bags in the back.

During the ride to the train station, the cab driver made some friendly conversation. He seemed more playful than your typical cab driver, like everything was a big joke. But there was also a bit of cynicism in his voice. He seemed rather polite, so I was a bit surprised when somebody cut him off and his calm demeanor instantly erupted into a roaring “This cocksucker’s gonna piss me off!! Ahem, pardon me.” Our conversation continued and he started telling me about his past. At one point he had been a successful lawyer in Phoenix with a wife and a passion for triathalons. One day he was riding his bike, with his helmet on, and he hit a rock on the bike path. He went flying through the air, landed on his head, and cracked his helmet in half. He woke up in the hospital with permanent brain damage. When he tried to resume his law practice, he realized that it gave him severe migraines. So now he’s a taxi driver, and divorced. He’s tried several times to commit suicide. Once he dropped a curling iron in the bathtub, but the shock launched him right out.

Even after I paid him, he offered to wait and watch my bike for me while I dragged my bags into the train station. But I had that figured out already–I just locked it to a street sign, so we said farewell. At the Amtrak station, one of my bags was overweight, so the attendant gave me a free cardboard box to put some stuff in. When it was time to board, the attendants sent me to the front of the line so I could put my bike in the racks. I was the first person on the train just because I brought my bike, at no additional cost, still just $29.

The train ride was relaxing and I was surprised at how busy it was. For most of the ride the train was packed and lots of people were standing in the aisles. Out the windows, there were some nice ocean views, but most of the ride was through industrial wasteland.

After arriving at the train station in LA, I rigged up my makeshift trailer. I had attached cable ties to the bottom of the duffel bags, which I locked together with small padlocks. The bags were also tied together with a bungee cord on top and then suspended from the rack on the back of my bike. I had to ask two station workers on break for some help holding my bike steady. They seemed annoyed with my silly contraption. I was thinking to myself, “Come on, how can you not think this is hilarious?”

Then I took off to the bus stop as fast as I could go with over 100 pounds dragging behind me, which was about the speed of a casual walk. Some hippie guy ran up to me all excited, “Woah, this is awesome, I love making stuff like this! Is it designed for that?? Here, let me adjust this for you!” He picked up a strap that was dragging but I didn’t stop because I was afraid I would fall over.

I pulled out into the streets of downtown LA, blocking the right hand lane of traffic going 2 mph. After riding for about 10 minutes I realized I must have taken a wrong turn. I yelled from the street to ask some people near a bus stop for directions because I couldn’t get onto the sidewalk. They all just stared at me. In all likelihood none of them spoke English. Someone crossing the street told me I was going the wrong direction entirely, so I tried to turn around. Unfortunately, I turned a little too fast and my whole trailer fell apart in the middle of the street. I didn’t want to think about what was going on in the minds of the dozens of people who were watching me then. I dragged the wreck onto the sidewalk and did some quick repairs. Then I headed back toward the bus stop.

When I got to the proper intersection, I couldn’t see the stop. I asked an old lady and she told me it was straight ahead, up a steep slope. I knew I couldn’t pedal up that, so I dismantled the trailer. The old lady saw I was struggling, so she helped me across the street, dragging my 50lb rolling duffel bag. I thought to myself, “Aren’t men supposed to help old ladies across the street and not the other way around?”

When the bus came, I raced to load all my luggage into the aisle and my bike onto the rack. When I finished, I realized I had forgotten to leave any one dollar bills in my wallet. Nobody had change for a five, but a woman handed me a single. She probably felt sorry for me. I thanked her sincerely and took my seat. A few minutes later, I remembered I had some extra cash in my backpack, so I dug out a single and returned it to the woman. She tried to refuse, but I left it on her purse.

At the end of the line, I got off the bus and reassembled the trailer. I was getting good at it now. I rode across the village to my new apartment and arrived with a feeling of accomplishment. It was a tough job, but it showed how things can work out well sometimes. For the last six months I have been living with just the contents of those bags, and I’ve hardly missed anything I left in storage. Here is what I have.

Bag 1, Bottom:

  • 3 Pairs of Jeans
  • 5 Dress Shirts
  • 3 Hooded Sweatshirts
  • Leather Belt

Bag 1, Top:

  • Coleman Twin Air Mattress and Pump
  • Spare batteries for mattress pump
  • Fleece Blanket
  • Bedsheets
  • 2 Tek Towels
  • Cosmetics Kit
  • Windbreaker
  • Winter Jacket
  • Chess Board

Bag 1, Side:

  • 12 Pairs of Socks
  • 1 Pair dress socks
  • 1 Pair soccer socks
  • 1 Pair leather gloves
  • 1 Pair biking gloves

Backpack, Outer compartment

  • Passport
  • Wallet for emergency cash
  • Checkbook
  • Extra checks
  • Cell phone charger
  • Contact lens case
  • Contact cleaning solution
  • Spare contacts
  • Glasses in case
  • Sunglasses in case
  • Swimming Goggles
  • Sunblock
  • Facial Sunblock
  • Sleep mask
  • Earmuffs
  • Pencil case containing pens and pencils
  • 9in flexible ruler
  • Extension Cable
  • Bag of heavy duty cable ties

Backpack, Main Compartment

  • Laptop in carrying case
  • Power supply for laptop
  • Mouse
  • 15ft Ethernet cable
  • Zipper Portfolio with important documents
  • Clipboard
  • 2 Books

Backpack, Outside

  • Bike helmet clipped to handle

Wear

  • Full outfit of clothes
  • Cell phone
  • Wallet
  • Watch
  • Key chain with USB drive
  • Superfeet Insoles

Other

  • Bike with U-Lock, rack with grocery baskets, zipper pouch, LED headlamp
  • Bungee cord to hold up bags
  • Two Pillows on the outsides of the bags
  • Lunchbox with DVDs and video games inside
Bag 2, Bottom:

  • Khaki Shorts
  • Board Shorts
  • Rash guard
  • Swimming Trunks
  • Speedo Swimsuit
  • 7 Graphic Tees
  • 8 Undershirts
  • 7 Athletic Tees
  • 5 Athletic Shorts

Bag 2, Side:

  • 10 Pairs Boxers

Bag 2, Top:

  • Soccer cleats
  • Shin guards
  • Tennis Racket
  • 3-Pack of Tennis Balls
  • Racketball
  • Theraband
  • Beach Sandals
  • Bathroom Sandals
  • Hat
  • 2 Maps
  • 2 CD Cases (12 CDs each)
  • Incense and Holder
  • Knife Rack: 3 Knives, 1 Pair of Kitchen Scissors
  • Cutting Board
  • Large Plate
  • Frying Pan
  • Large Pot
  • Salad Bowl
  • Collander
  • Sauce Pan with Lid
  • Microwavable Sauce Pan with Lid
  • Plastic Bowl
  • Oven Mitt
  • 4 butter knives, 4 big forks, 4 small forks, 4 big spoons, 4 small spoons, and vegetable peeler
  • Mug
  • Ladle
  • Spatula
  • Can Opener
  • Half-cup Measuring Cup
  • Glasslock container full of electronics and gear: Digital camera in carrying case, Camera cable, Camera charger, Spare battery for camera, iPod, iPod cable, Headphones, Extra MP3 player, USB Drive for Backups, Cellphone headset adapter, MicroSD to USB Adapter, MicroSD to SD Adapter, 3.5mm to RCA Audio cable, 3.5mm M-M Audio Cable, Headphone adapter, Headband, Wristband, Wallet Chain
  • Glasslock container full of office supplies and misc: Stapler, Staple remover, Box of staples, Scissors, Scotch tape, Large and small post-it note pads, Rarely used wallet cards, LED Headlamp, Scripto Safety Lighter, Hex wrench, Badge clip, Keys to storage lock, Extra keys for bike lock, 5 Small Locks with keys

Buy each move

  • Bathroom Supplies
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Water Filter

Six months in, everything is going well and I have no plans to move my stuff out of storage.

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