Embracing Limits

Danka and Peter
Photo courtesy of Danka & Peter.

When I was packing for my first four-week trip around mountainous regions, I gathered all my stuff, placed them on the bed and crammed them in my 40 liter backpack. Unfortunately, half of them was still on the bed.

I tried pushing them down from the top, inserting some of them on the sides and attaching them on the outside. With the remaining quarter left on the bed, I wondered. Should I get a bigger backpack? Should I bring two backpacks instead? Or should I just stick with this one?

Eventually, I took out all of my stuff, placed them back on the bed and asked myself, “What do you really need?” Five shirts, check. Two pairs of pants, check. A sachet of Tide, check. After carefully weighing each item as to how essential it was for my trip, things finally fit!

I had doubts though. Would I still be able to enjoy my trip with just these? Would I regret not bringing a sleeping bag? Would I miss the convenience of my own computer? Four weeks later, on the bus going home, I smiled realizing: I had everything I needed in my backpack. No more, no less.

Instinctively, we yearn for no limits. We want unlimited calls, unlimited rice, unlimited drinks. When I was packing, I secretly wished my backpack had unlimited space. I wanted to bring every thing with me, but my backpack said no.

Limits are sometimes there for good reason. They compel us to ask basic questions: “What do I really need?” When we start asking, we start weighing: “What’s more important?” And when we start listening, we begin to see the bigger picture.

Limits help us discover what is essential. Time, for example, helps us put things into perspective. It reminds us that we only have 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and, probably, one lifetime to live. Without limits, however, every thing seems important.

When we dare to embrace limits, we learn to recognize what is essential, let go of what isn’t, and better appreciate what remains.

What about you? How do you discover what is essential?




20 thoughts on “Embracing Limits

  1. Great post! Much of life is about figuring out what you can do without. I have learned to travel light over the years, simply by figuring what I really need, which gets to be less over the years. Looking forward to future posts!


  2. After throwing out, donating, and selling tons of stuff I realized that I actually need very little. But this realization came after I lived without stuff and not before getting rid of it. I had to let go first.


  3. This was such an insightful article! I, too, have lived through the “Why Doesn’t My Backpack Have Unlimited Space” scenario.

    Have you read the book Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke? I’m about to start it soon, and your post reminded me of the reason I picked it up – it’s about clearing clutter in your life, but then links it to clearing your mind as well. Hopefully it will be good!



    1. Thanks Kristina! I haven’t read the book yet, but I agree that clutter takes many forms. It can be physical, mental or emotional. I hope you get around to start clearing out soon. Thanks for sharing.


  4. A really interesting read – thanks for sharing. I’m in the process of preparing to massively downsize, and to be honest I’m really nervous. I like the idea of letting go of my possessions, but I think it’s also going to be a tough experience.


    1. Hi Anna! Letting go isn’t easy. It can be painful to think of what we have to lose. It’s this thought of losing that keeps us from ever letting go. But what about gaining? What do we gain in exchange for letting go? Looking forward to what we have to gain helps remind us of why we are trying to lose the others in the first place. Because when the gains outweigh the losses, its easier to move forward and not turn back. Good luck, Anna!


  5. A relatable post and I really liked how it it is direct. I always ask myself whether something is a necessity or a want before deciding to buy it, donate it or to throw it away!


  6. I don’t look at how I can live within the limits but how I can live outside of them (not illegally:) I don’t want to be restricted. If everyone just accepted limits, so much would not have been accomplished in this world. I understand what you’re saying, though. It’s a great post:) — LC


    1. Hi Laura!

      Thanks for sharing!

      When I was writing this, I was actually battling about the main message of my post. I started out with just wanting to share my experience about packing and tried to extract some kind of lesson from it. Unexpectedly, I arrived at embracing limits. It seems paradoxical because, just like you, I also believe in exceeding limits. I’m actually a big fan of innovation and continuous improvement, yet I couldn’t seem to put it side by side with what I learned from my backpack. So your comment got me thinking further: Could there be two kinds of limits? One that we should accept and another that we shouldn’t? If so, how can we tell the difference?

      Hmmm. 🙂


  7. this really got me thinking! I consider myself low maintenance but I look around and have so many unnecessary things. you’ve encouraged me to get rid of the things that are collecting dust or someone may behave better use for. great post!


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