As an eager newcomer to ultralite backpacking, I have also found that rethinking what I have been schlepping around on my back has automatically led me to similar thoughts regarding life in general. It's interesting to see how many of us end up examining our material loads at home more or less as a direct result of lightening our packs. The posts here are highly inspirational and thought-provoking (including those that cast a bit of doubtful light on the UL approach). But there is one line of thinking I'd like to toss in for good measure:
Is this really all about lighter packs and having less "stuff" at home, or is there something deeper which is prompting us to think this way? What happens if we let lightening up become an end onto itself? Perhaps even an obsession, or something we take special pride in and - g-d forbid - even define ourselves by (as in: "Look at all of my things now, neatly tied up in a single bundle or stuffable in the trunk of my (non-existent) car. Ain't it grand? I feel soooo empowered by having less...and don't you agree?") Is paring back on possessions really an auto-pilot solution to steering our lives clear of the clutter that fetters us?
More frighteningly: What happens when we've finally reached our "goal" and stripped our worldly goods back to bare bones? Is that it? Are we then automatically more content, more fulfilled, more buoyant thanks to all that freed-up chi? Maybe. Probably. I have yet to find out, and am now inclined to start reading a book or two on the subject. But I suspect this: Decluttering might be more of a first-line (i.e. not exhaustive or conclusive) activity carried out at the surface, when just below that surface a far more challenging issue is lurking, waiting to be dredged up and faced: a profound need to address the "empty places" in our workaday existences, our social fabric, our bodily health, our emotional vitality - holes that we have found it far too easy to cover up by heaping stuff on them, or by merely spending loads of time thinking about the next stuff we "need". Maybe we have learned to replace true needs with false ones, just so we don't have to deal with the tricky stuff. (Mind you, I've never read a book on the topic, so pardon me if I’m just quoting thoughts published a million times over.)
In the end, I wonder if it's more about a deep-felt urge for a richer, more fully experienced life -- one with better relationships, more TOGETHERNESS but also more connecting with nature in SOLITUDE, a meaningful vocation (in the truest sense of the word), and more spirituality than appears possible to the average office mole hunched up under an avalanche of me-first e-mails.. It might be about breaking out of restrictive molds that we, ourselves, have implicitly agreed to accept by studying and getting a "good" job so we can pay off our houses -- and consume till our dying days.
As an American who has lived in Europe for about 25 years, I'd even wager to say that the comparative lack of tradition and historical identity throughout large parts of U.S. culture might well have fueled the "need" for consuming so much. Sadly, even Europe has also long since caught the consumption virus, but some proud traditions - like not being able to shop on Sundays - still live on here, at least in certain areas. Imagine not being able to zip down to the store for that missing screw you "need" for finishing your DIY project on a Sunday? Frustrating, yes. But also freeing! More time for sitting with the family, taking a walk or even lazing around. And 24-hour shopping is only just beginning to take shape over here. Imagine being “stuck” at home without that gallon of milk or favorite cereal you’d otherwise head out to get. I wonder how much time we’d have for People Things if we weren’t so accustomed to getting whatever we want, when we want it.
This (inexcusably long) post had better come to quick close. Parting thought: If the UL journey can help get us to the wisdom we need to rediscover what we are really MISSING and need to add back into our lives (interesting switcheroo, there?), then I suppose it's a road well worth going down. For every ounce I shave off my pack load, I’ll gladly load up on at least 2 ounces of the kind of outdoor revelation that can remind me of what life is really all about, and maybe even point me down a road less taken.