08 June 2012

Adventures: Minimalism

Photo used under Creative Commons from kevin dooley
I like the idea of minimalism. This summer I tried to pack extra-light, using the suitcase intended as a carry-on size instead of the giant one. I try to minimalize where I can but so far I have just been dabbling here and there and getting used to the idea of less being better. It could take a while to retrain myself, having grown up in a society where more is generally considered best.

So I had a surprise minimalist adventure on the first Friday of my internship. I had spent most of the day out of the workshop, instead looking around the laboratories. I  left my stuff in the workshop because I didn't want to carry it around with me and I was going to go get it at the end of the day. To my surprise and immediate concern, the workshop door was locked when I came back. This was the moment when I learned about an important German cultural phenomenon, the early Feierabend. On Fridays, Germans tend to leave the office a couple of hours early. Somehow in the excitement of being finished for the week my Germans had also forgotten about me and locked the workshop without coming to get me first!

My first reaction was to go to the information desk upstairs to see if they had a key. They thought they had a key, but the one they gave me didn't work. Neither did the next three. At this point they were calling people who they thought might have the key, but they didn't have the phone numbers of my coworkers, and neither did I. I ended up spending about an hour quietly freaking out while hoping they would reach someone who could unlock the office for me. I had to get back to Eutin by a certain time for a class, and after a while I decided I should just leave my stuff behind and take the train back. So I used the information desk's computer to find my host mom's phone number and told her what was going on, then borrowed money for a train ticket and ran to the bus stop. I actually felt kind of powerful running to the bus stop with nothing in my pockets. I made it onto the train I needed to take, and during the nearly hour-long ride back, I had some time to think.

Everyone has a certain set of items they never leave the house without. For me, this had included my wallet, keys, cell phone, iPod, lunch, rain jacket, and a slew of other items. On the train ride back, since all of this was locked into the workshop, all I had were the clothes on my back and my train ticket. Stripped of the items I usually considered essential, I realized that I didn't even need most of those things. They are convenient to have and some provide entertainment or comfort value (like the iPod and the jacket), but I didn't need them. When I arrived back in Eutin, my host mother was in the train station parking lot to pick me up and she had already arranged a house key, bike, bag, wallet, and so on that I could use for the weekend. This really highlighted the fact for me that even those items we think are essential are replaceable and some are totally unnecessary. I also found it interesting that my foremost emotion during that long, podcast-less train ride back was gratitude for the people at the information desk who spent so much time trying to help me and who lent me money out of their own pockets, not ever having even met me before. (Of course I did pay them back.)

Since Monday was a holiday (Pentecost) I went for three days without my most essential items, and I still had a good weekend, visiting L├╝beck and Hamburg and spending a lot of time hanging out with the other interns. By the time Tuesday morning rolled around my original frustration and bitterness towards my coworkers had worn off, so I didn't call them out like I had originally planned. Instead I chose to see the whole thing as a learning experience. And I will never forget to leave the office early on Fridays.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! Go minimalism! I'm only bringing one carry-on suitcase for my trip to Japan as well, thanks to your inspiration with that Zen Habits article :)