What I Learned from Five Years in Mini Storage

In 2002 I was a freshly minted graduate from Brooks Institute, and had just received the opportunity of a lifetime – a one year contract to move to India and teach at a newly opened photo college.  To facilitate a quick departure from the USA,  I took all my possessions and in a feat of amazing, Herculean and smart packing crammed everything into a 6’×10′ storage unit in Santa Barbara, California. In my mind, I envisioned living and teaching in India for a year, then returning to southern California with tales of adventure and glory and picking up where my life left off.   

This is not what happened.

After my first year as faculty in India, I was enjoying myself immensely and re-upped for a second. After my second year of teaching, I was presented with the opportunity to sail around the world.  My circumnavigation of the globe eventually returned me to the east coast of the United States where I began working on a photo project that consumed another four months.  One project led to another, and it was not until nearly five years to the day I left for India, that I returned to Santa Barbara to move this load of now distant and mysterious possessions out of the time capsule of my prior life.

5 years later, I was a bit wiser and bit older.  I had found a permanent mailing address other than my parents house and wanted to weave the fragments of my old life into the treads of the new.

It is hard to find words to explain the experience of inserting the key into the rusted mini storage padlock to open the rolling corrugated garage door – the type that you see businesses in bad parts of town roll down over their storefronts at night – to reveal  a dust-covered room of old memories.

After my first year on the road, I began to forget what I owned. By the third year I begin to wonder why I kept any of it – after all I had not needed or even touched any of it in three years – how important could it possibly be?   After the fifth year I dreaded having to spend any money to move these old possessions to my new home.

Never the less I began to exploring this trove of stuff and quickly realized that all the clothes I had labored to save were now piteously out of style.  All of my digital equipment was sadly useless and humorously old-looking and the stack of magazines that for some reason had made sense to save five years ago, were now only good for kindling.

As I loaded my truck to move north, I realized that my impulse to save all this crap was not dissimilar to my impulse to save all my successes and all my failures in the mini storage unit of my mind.  To file away all my triumphs and fears – for fear that letting them go and moving forward would leave me so empty that I had nothing to build on.

Yet what I had learned from being on the road for 5 years stood in stark contrast to the desire to save everything.  It taught me to travel light and it taught me how little I truly needed to live an exceedingly rich life.

As much as my experiences made me who I was, by constantly re-living the old, I prevented myself from seeing the new and intricate beauty before me every day.   And what is today here for – if not to be seized?