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Dragon, Leave Your Hoard Behind

Travel Light coverFor several weeks now I’ve been downsizing, in a few senses of the word. Just recently I began selling my furniture, the pieces that are too big to tote to a donation dropoff or a dumpster. I slept on the floor for the first time in about ten years; in 2005 I volunteered to clean up rural areas in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and I slept on the floor of a fellowship hall then.

I have a four-year-old couch I bought for $300. It represents about 6 hours of work at my last job. I’m trying to sell it for a sixth of that. It has greatly depreciated.

My small library of DVDs, which I’ve spent many hundreds of dollars on over a decade, is now worth about $20.

I’ve learned the hard way that stuff has little real, lasting value.

It’s become common advice, almost to the point of cliche, that you should prioritize experiences over things. I would add this: prioritize memorable experiences, transformative experiences. Don’t visit Disney World just because (unless, like me, you’re obsessed with the place). Find someplace novel, spend the time with people you care about, do something out of your comfort zone.

I’m part of a book club with several friends. A while ago we reviewed Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison, a Norse-inspired fairy tale with a modern resonance. The protagonist, a young girl named Halla who was raised by bears, is taken in by a wealthy dragon and taught their ways. As I read it, I strongly identified with the dragons, who are obsessed with maintaining their hoards of gold and jewels. The dragons are all but wiped out by the humans, including Halla’s protector. Then Odin Allfather, depicted as a wanderer wearing a cloak of night, tells Halla she should give up her dragon ways and “travel light.”

(Spoilers for the novel.) Halla initially clung to her small hoard, wayward and lost. But she eventually took Odin’s advice, travelling from northern Europe to Byzantium, then to the Ukraine, before righting a generations-old injustice and joining the Valkyries.

The club’s reaction to the book was lukewarm, and although I think I liked it more than the others, I didn’t give it much thought after our discussion. Until this week, when I sold my bed.

In a week and a half, my most precious things will be in a small storage unit, and my furniture will have been sold, donated, or hauled away for a fee. I’ll be living with family for a bit while I figure things out. My mind’s wandered to traveling. At thirty it’s frowned upon to be uprooting myself like this, but what have I got to lose? (Besides my furniture, obviously.) If I can work anywhere, and I can write anywhere, why don’t I?

Regardless, give Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison a try, and wonder what you can live without.