What cancer taught us about traveling lighter

What we didn’t realize during our *wilderness years* — that season of time from Hubby’s job loss through cancer — was this: The paring down and simplifying of our lives was for a larger purpose, for lighter travel over mountain trails and barren places.



Photo credit: Gary Johnson


As it turned out, the circumstances that forced us to pare down benefitted us in more than one way.

Consider the practical — and the far-reaching reasons — for simplifying our lives:

1. Paring down now can be a gift to our children.

Hubby and I gave away more than half of our belongings (furniture, including our upright grand piano; books; appliances; tools; patio/deck stuff) to fit into an 800 square foot duplex after thirty-some years in larger homes. After Hubby died, I pared down even further to fit most of my earthly belongings into a 10-ft cargo trailer. In both instances, I thought about the gift I’m giving to my children, that when I die they won’t have mounds of unwanted stuff to sort through. We think other people will want our treasures, but … maybe not.

2. Decluttering allows us to share our wealth.

When we moved into the duplex, we put our fridge in the garage because the kitchen came furnished. We rarely used it, however, so we unplugged it to save electricity. And then a couple years later we thought to post it to Craigslist. For free. Much to the delight of a just-married young couple. Paring down is not only meant for the reward of feeling organized and lighter on our feet; it’s also meant for sharing our overflow and wealth with those who have less.

3. Being less encumbered makes room for imagination and creativity to flow. 

There are two thoughts here:

A) You’ve probably heard, Less mess, less stress. And apparently there’s science to corroborate that thought. Our productivity is hampered when our office or living spaces are messy, which limits our ability to brainstorm and problem solve. In an online Psychology Today article entitled, “Why mess causes stress,” Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. writes, “Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed.”

But also consider this:

B) A couple of the synonyms for ‘unencumbered’ are imaginative and creative. When we’re unencumbered, there is more room to become resourceful. Hubby and I drafted a hopeful cancer message, and then set about finding a way to share that message despite our limited resources. And it happened. Through the establishing of a nonprofit, through grant-writing, through utilizing the world wide web, our rather large and impossible dream came about.

4. Scaling back is liberating.

As time passed, we realized we didn’t miss any of the stuff we gave away. We found we could actually do life easier because there were lower rent and utility bills, less space to clean, a much smaller yard to maintain. We were more flexible than at any other time in our marriage, which was very liberating.

5. Owning less stuff opens the way for more adventure.

When stuff doesn’t own us, we can be more spontaneous. Which tags onto #4. Our newfound flexibility meant we could create more adventures. More memories. More fun. We could take advantage of any fabulous opportunities that presented themselves. And opportunity did, indeed, present itself during the wilderness years. And more fun was had and more road trips were taken.

* * *

Although our financial reversals and cancer and the subsequent paring down was devastating at the time, Hubby and I eventually saw the value of leaving behind what we once treasured in order to travel lighter — unencumbered and having nothing, except God, to depend on as we ventured into that wild and scary and uncertain place.

And here’s an astonishing truth: Those wilderness years were some of the best years of our marriage.

How about you? What’s keeping you tied down to an adventure-less life? What’s halting the flow of your imagination and creativity? What stuff owns you? 

P.S. If you found this post inspiring or helpful, please share, tweet or pin!


What to do about a redirected path


What have you been waiting a long time for?


  1. Juanita Vianelle

    Great advice and I’ve been doing it slowly for about 5 years. The pace of giving stuff away picked up while packing up in Bend and knowing what wouldn’t fit into the new condo. When we arrived we sent so much stuff with the movers (who have a warehouse to store items for people in need) that we had paid a bundle for them to move:( In the last 18 months more stuff has been given away. Condo is feeling relief and so are we:)

  2. Love your articles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2024 Marlys Johnson