I am a “stuff” person. My west-end apartment was my sanctum; it contained my collection of loved things and it was my place to retreat to and enjoy when the outside world was just a little too much. As a friend said to me recently, my apartment was “curated.” Everything had its place and seemed somehow precious for one reason or another. Nothing had much monetary value but it definitely had some style points and I appreciated all of it.

When I got the job at Trek Travel 12 years ago, I thought I would guide for a year [maybe two?] then return to my life in Toronto to continue on to the next phase. I sublet my apartment for the first couple of years, only to return to less than desirable side effects. A memory of the forgotten potatoes comes to mind. I came back after seven months away having discovered that there had been a constant water drip from the freezer directly to the crisper drawer, creating a swamp in my fridge – and a great study in the perseverance of the rooting system of the tuber. While it was the product of one particular person’s lack of grasp on day-to-day tasks, it was at that point that I decided it was time to let my beloved apartment go. And so my place then turned into my storage unit, because I was still somehow convinced that I would be back and would need to recreate my living space all over again. Exactly as it had been.

It has been about 10 years of paying rent to store all those things that somehow I had decided were a part of WHO I AM. Things that included garbage-picked furniture, an 80-dollar couch [albeit a sexy 70s lime green vinyl number], garbage cans, rolled rugs, pots, pans, a lovely collection of vintage glassware, a smattering of clothing and an old mountain bike.
Trek Travel Cycling Guide talks about what it takes to pack up your apartment and move abroad
Almost every year I would return after my guiding season in Europe, usually in the winter, and open my storage unit. I kept my winter coat and boots near the door, along with some other useful Canada-only items like my hockey stick and skates. I would grab them, look at the mountain of “things” behind them, and shut the door. I have had fleeting intentions of doing something about them but it was either too cold or I didn’t have enough time to pare things down.

On this latest spring-weather visit back to visit family and friends, inspired by a couple I guided last fall in Andalucia who have taken the idea of the “empty nest” to its most literal level, I decided to put myself to task. It was time to get rid of my s**t. I had set my intention and I have to say that once I had made up my mind, I had very little emotional attachment to all those things that had seemed so important to me–important enough to pay many, many times over their value in rent. I sorted. I tossed. I donated all my furniture and kitchenware to a place that helps people get a fresh start in life. I cleared myself of most of my belongings, allowing myself to keep those things that still resonated with me and pulled on my heartstrings (there wasn’t much of that in the end).
How to pack up your house and live out of a storage unit
Which brings me to my old mountain bike. I donated it to a place called Charlie’s Bike Joint over on the east side of the city that has a program that empowers urban youth by exposing them to cycling. They are taught bike mechanic skills by working on bikes that need overhauling. They get to keep the bike at the end of the program. To me a very cool idea so, after getting rid of all of my furnishings, lots of vintage knick-knacks, and my entire vinyl collection [!], the only thing that choked me up and got my eyes watering was when I handed off that bike. I didn’t see it coming but in retrospect, it made sense. That bike had seen me through a lot. A trip around the world, an albeit brief career as a bike courier and a concussion or two on some technical single track in the city’s river valley to name a few. A constant companion that I more or less had neglected. I said as much to the guys at Charlie’s–that I felt that I was abandoning an old friend–but they were quick to remind me that it was now on its way to creating some new adventure stories for the lucky kid who got to fix it up. I do feel good about that, at least.

I have recently been reminded of Marie Kondo, whose popular books on her method of organizing known as KonMari encourage you to keep only those things that “spark joy.” This certainly rings true for me now. I do still have a storage unit. It is now half the size, is less than half full, and is the new parking spot for my two Toronto-based Trek friends that wait patiently for my return.
Trek Travel Cycling Guides live all over the world

– Leanne Welbourn