Thursday, August 27, 2009

Free Luggage Storage at the Airport

When you're traveling by air, luggage storage (or "Left Luggage" in Europe) can be difficult to find and very expensive when you do. Thanks in part to obsessive security concerns, coin-operated luggage lockers are a vanishing species, and manned offices often have to X-Ray your luggage before they'll accept it for storage. When you do find such storage, you can expect to pay a hefty price to store your bag for even a couple of hours.

I have already mentioned one form of free storage: caching. That's when you find some isolated bushes somewhere nearby and hide you luggage there. If you choose a good location, the chance is low of anyone discovering your hidden cache.

But there's another method of free luggage storage when you are flying into a major airport: Simply don't claim your luggage when it arrives at the carousel! You can leave it there for a few hours, even for a day, and come back for it only when you are ready.

Leaving your bags at the airport might give you an opportunity to explore a new city and get situated there without having to lug your heavy bags with you. Alternatively, it could give you a chance to sleep in the airport, inside security if the secure zone at this airport is open all night. For example, if you arrive at an airport at midnight, you can remain in the main concourse and sleep there until morning, then exit security in the morning and claim your bags. (You can ask the gate agent meeting the flight if in fact the concourse is open all night.)

It happens all the time: Luggage arrives without its passenger. It's the opposite condition of a passenger arriving without his luggage. Both conditions happen a lot when flights are overbooked or there are a lot of stand-by passengers. After your bags circulate for a while on the carousel, they are removed by an airline employee and placed in or near the airline's Baggage Service Office (BSO) somewhere along the periphery of Baggage Claim. When you decide you want your bags again, you simply show up at the office and claim your bag.

In theory, the airline could charge you a storage fee, but in practice, no questions are usually asked. As long as you have your baggage claim check, the airline is happy to see the luggage go away. If anyone asks, you simply say you "forgot your bags," but it's unlikely anyone will.

There are a lot of caveats attached to this free storage service, and I wouldn't attempt it everywhere. Some considerations....
  1. Don't have anything in your checked luggage that you can't afford to lose. While the risk of theft is low, it probably increases when you abandon your bags like that. There's also a slim chance the staff might think the bag belongs somewhere else and forward it to another city.

  2. You can NOT use this storage method when coming off an international flight, since your bags have to clear customs at the same time you do.

  3. This storage method works best at airports where your airline has many flights. There, the BSO will be open longer hours, and your bag will be relatively insignificant. At smaller airports where your airline has only one or two flights a day, they are going to fret more about a lonely unclaimed bag.

  4. The BSO has to be open at the time you want to claim the bag. If there are no incoming flights at the time you want to claim your bag, the BSO may be closed, and you could have difficulty finding someone to released the bag to you.

  5. Don't leave your luggage unclaimed for more than a day. Your bag won't go away, but there's no telling where it might get locked up. After a day, most airlines start making serious attempts to reunite bags with owners, and you don't want to cause them too much hassle.

  6. Make sure your luggage is well marked with your name and phone number.

  7. If someone from the airline calls you about the bag (which is going to happen sooner or later) just tell them when you plan to come for it.
Typically, unclaimed bags go into a "pit", or a condoned-off area in front of the BSO. The bags will probably remain there until the BSO closes for the night, at which point the bags will be locked up somewhere.

Security isn't a concern for bags that come OFF of airline flights, since they have already been screened going on. In spite of all the sinister airport announcements about "unattended baggage," no one at the airline will think the bag contains a bomb. They just want to get rid of the bag.

Keep in mind that when you fail to claim your bag, it is somebody's job to reunite you with it. These are some of the most abused customer service agents in the industry. ("Where the hell is my bag!") Don't make their job any more difficult than you need to. Come back for your bag as soon as you reasonably can, and try to give clear instructions if a BSO agent calls you (like "I'll be there by 2pm."). The BSO agents don't usually need an explanation; they just want to clear out the pit!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Inventory Control

If you are constantly on the move, a major concern is keeping track of your "stuff"—i.e., your most important equipment, supplies and documentation. When you travel, there’s always a chance your stuff will be stolen, but the far greater risk is simply leaving things behind through your own dimwitted lapses. It’s not the fault of a thief that you keep losing your car keys or you forget to pack a power adapter. Maintaining control of your stuff is mostly a matter of organization and discipline, not security.

Even if you travel light, there are always objects you can’t live without. Your passport is at the top of the list. If you lose it overseas or just before an overseas trip, you’re screwed. Only slightly lower on the scale is ones laptop computer. Even if you have everything backed up (a topic for later discussion), your laptop is not something you should idly leave behind.

In all, I find there are about a dozen essential “trip killers”—items whose loss would cripple me. Some of the surprising ones are relatively cheap in monetary terms: for example, my computer’s AC power adapter. There’s no use in carrying a laptop around if you can’t get any power into it. It’s cheap enough to buy such a part on eBay, but just try doing that from a youth hostel in Europe! If you can find the adapter at a retail store, you’ll end up paying almost as much for it as the laptop is worth!

To keep track of all your stuff, you need an “inventory control strategy.” That’s a set of procedures you always follow regardless of the circumstances. If your procedures are sound and you faithfully follow them, the chance of losing important stuff are greatly reduced.

Here are some elements of my own inventory control system....
  • Conceptually, I divide my stuff into essentials and non-essentials, which I treat differently and pack separately.

  • Essentials include “trip killers” like my passport, BlackBerry, credit cards, laptop, power adapter, camera, camera battery charger, etc. I try to carry all of these items on my person at all times. They are concentrated in my backpack, which I get properly anxious about whenever I am not directly touching. I would never put any essentials in my checked luggage. It is true that my backpack could be stolen, but strangers don't know there is anything valuable in it. If it came down to a choice, I am prepared to give up my wallet to save my backpack. (However, I am not prepared to give up my life to save it, and if I did lose it I would find a way to recover.)

  • Non-essentials include clothing, bedding, toiletries, food and various cheap tools. If I lose any of these, I can usually reproduce them quickly. The chief reason I hold onto them is economic: If I already have these things, it’s cheaper to carry them with me than to have to buy them new at my destination. These are the things I can put in checked luggage or cache in the bushes when I need to. If someone steals my socks and underwear, no sweat, I’ll buy more.

  • Whenever I leave my “supply base”—like my storage unit or my home when I had one—I have a checklist I go through to make sure I have packed everything I need. It’s just like a pilot’s pre-flight checklist. The checklist is stored in a text file on my laptop or BlackBerry, and I look at each item on the list and check it off mentally just before lift-off. Earplugs: check. USB cable: check. I have honed this list over the years, and I know that everything I need is on it, so when the checklist is done I know I’m ready to go. As an additional safety procedure, I may devote about 10 minutes to meditation, thinking about where I am going and what I may need. The checklist makes my departure a breeze. I don’t need hours to pack like most people do. Usually I can do it in a half-hour, and with more self-confidence. I never have to ask myself, “Did I leave the iron on?” because that would have been included on my checklist.

  • When I am checking out of someone else's property, like a hotel room, hostel, campsite or rental car, I don’t have to worry about the checklist. Why not? Because all the stuff I took out of my bags is right there in front of me. I do a “security scan” of the area before I leave to make sure nothing of mine is still in the room or the car, but I don’t have to inspect my bags to make sure I have everything. If it is not in the room, then it must be in my bag, my reasoning goes. I may double-check my “trip killers” to make sure they’re still viable, but checking out of a place that’s not mine is generally a breeze.

  • A major worry is leaving things behind on airplanes, which I have done on several occasions. Have you ever put anything in the overhead bin and then forgotten it? Yup, it’s all the rage these days. The first line of defense is to put only non-essentials in the overhead bin. Essentials should always go at your feet where you can’t forget them. (Always avoid a bulkhead seat with no under-seat storage.) And you should NEVER put any book or personal belonging in the seat pocket in front of you, since that’s a synonym for leaving it behind. After the plane lands, you shouldn't try to rush off the plane but take plenty of time to check under your seat and any crevices where your belongings might be lodged.

  • A major venue for losing possessions is when you mingle your own belongings with those of others, like on group trips. When you leave these events, you have to allow plenty of time to disentangle your stuff from your companions’. You almost need to go through a mental checklist at this point, assuring that you at least have your trip killers.

  • I may use a hidden breast pouch on rare occasions when I am traveling in dodgy areas. I might keep my passport, a credit card and some of my cash in travelers’ pouch around my neck, under my clothes. The risk, however, is that this security system in itself becomes the problem. Maybe the strap breaks or you lose track of the pouch when you change clothes. Since my nervous system is already connected to my backpack, I prefer to use that for most things.

  • The risk of deliberate theft is relatively low compared to the risk of your own stupidity, but one should always prepare for theft anyway. Thieves generally prefer cash and will go for your wallet when they can. Thus, you should avoid carrying a lot of cash there—just enough for your daily needs and to satiate the thief. If you have multiple credit cards, don’t keep them all in your wallet in case it is stolen. (BTW: My only recent experience with attempted theft was a pickpocket on the Paris Metro.)

  • In general, you avoid losing things by being very deliberate about how you put them down. I don’t set my wallet or BlackBerry down on a counter without making a deliberate note: “Why am I doing this, and how will I remember to pick it up?” People lose their keys and glasses because they don’t have a deliberate “detachment” policy. Whenever you detach yourself from your belongings, you should do it in a certain way according to tested procedures. You don’t simply put your keys down on the table but put them in the same special place every time. “There’s a place for everything, and everything has its place.” If the proper conditions aren’t met, then you don’t detach yourself.

  • Finally, the best way to avoid losing stuff is to have less stuff! The less stuff you haul around with you, the less taxed your nervous system will be in keeping track of it. Rely on disposables when you can, and don’t take something with you unless there’s a high probability you will actually use it. All those creams and lotions, the extra clothes—just leave ‘em behind. The best way to travel is only with the luggage you can comfortably carry. If you need a team of porters, you’ve packed too much.
Retaining control of your stuff is all in the rules: inventing good ones and then obeying them. It doesn't matter where you are: London, Paris or 20,000 leagues under the sea. If you do things the same way every time, you are less likely to trip yourself up.

©2009, Glenn Campbell,
Released from Missoula, Montana.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back at Camp Site Beta

I just spent the past week at Camp Site Beta, my semi-secret campsite in the hills of San Diego County in California. It had been about three months since I had slept there last, and I was pleased to find that everything was pretty much as I left it.

As described previously, my campsite is on an overgrown hilltop and can be reached only by a strenuous 20-minute hike up a steep slope from the nearest road. The trail is challenging enough during the day but very difficult to follow at night unless you know it. I deliberately chose this hard-to-reach location because it gave me a healthy buffer between myself and the rest of humanity. I use the site for only a single function: sleeping. When one is asleep, one is by definition vulnerable, so if I couldn't protect myself with walls, I would do it with space and terrain instead.

I usually hike to the campsite at night, but when I first returned to San Diego a week ago, I chose to hike in the early evening while it was still light so I could check the site for any changes.

The green grass had turned brown (in preparation for California's fire season), but otherwise the area was as I left it. When I left 3 months before, I had cached a sleeping bag and some blankets in a semi-hidden location against a rock. The location wasn't visible unless you happened to walk within about 20 feet of it. When I came back, the sleeping bag was gone but the blankets were still there. I wasn't alarmed by the loss of the sleeping bag. It only meant that during the past three months someone had been prowling in the area during the day, seen the sleeping bag (in an easy-to-carry pouch) and snagged it. I probably would have done the same.

The idea of caching is that you leave behind only stuff you can afford to lose but that would helpful to have. The sleeping bag had cost me only $10 at the Evil Mega-Mart™, and I had already used it for a few weeks, so I could afford to lose it. The greater difficulty, though, was that I would have to go down the hill and back to the EMM to replace it—at least an hour-and-a-half journey. On that first night, I chose to work with what I had—the blankets. The visitor hadn't bothered to take those, since they were bulky and somewhat ratty queen-size blankets that would have been difficult to haul down the hill. With them, I made a bed with four blanket layers below me and two above. It wasn't the peak of comfort, but it got me through the night. I was close to the dirt, but it was nothing a shower at the health club couldn't take care of in the morning.

The temperature, of course, was close to ideal. The great benefit of the San Diego area is its mild weather: not too cold in the winter, not too hot in the summer. Right now, it's in the 60s at night and rarely higher than the 80s during the day. The brown grass indicated a lack of significant rain, which is great for camping.

With no source of standing water, there are no mosquitoes. On this stay, however, I encountered a new creature: ants. They were little tiny ones that crawled all over my bed at night. Ants might freak out most people, but I hardly noticed them. Unlike some you encounter near Las Vegas, these were not biting ants. They were just doing their antly thing of looking for sugar. On the first night, they found this in my bag in the form of trail mix, which they had swarmed by morning, but they didn't mess with me personally, since I am sugar-free. The only annoying aspect of their presence is that one of their party would occasionally crawl into my ear canal and do a dance on my eardrum. It's pretty hard to sleep through that! All I had to do, though, was wait for a couple of minutes, and the ant would find his way out.

Unacceptable sleeping conditions, you say? I simply see the ants a cost of business. I am at peace with the flora and fauna here, and I figure that five minutes of noisy rummaging in my ear was a small price to pay for the free lodging. In fact, it happened almost every night this past week: an ant would wander into my ear, rummage around in my head and walk out again. A crying baby would be worse, since I would have to do something about that, but with the ants all I had to do was wait. Yes, they wanted my sweets, so I stopped bringing any food to the campsite that wasn't in sealed packages. (And it was not my intention to use the site for eating anyway.)

On the second night at the campsite, I brought up a new sleeping bag, and on the third I brought an air mattress. At that point, I was living in the lap of luxury, getting a perfect night's sleep every night. Once I blew up the mattress (with a battery operated pump I carried with me), I left it in place during the day (as shown above, wrapped in blankets to protect it from the sun). The risk in doing so was low. The worst that would happen is that someone would come by and pop or steal the $12 mattress, leaving me with only the blankets again. It remained in place for 3 days without incident. When I left San Diego yesterday, I deflated the mattress and cached it along with the sleeping bags and blankets, in a more hidden location this time.

My homeless neighbors living closer to the road (but out of view from it) were still present....
Although I feel no need to introduce myself, I think it is good to have them there, since if the authorities were to clamp down on camping in the area, they would target them first. As long as there are daytime campers near the road, I know my own night-only position deeper in the bush is safe from any government action.

For me, the great advantage of Camp Site Beta is that I can get a lot of computer work done. I do this at the library of a public university in San Diego. It is an 1-1/2-hour commute from my campsite to the university in each direction, but my time is almost entirely productive. On public transit, I use my BlackBerry™ for Twittering™, Facebooking™, reading email and reading news sources. At the university (which is open to the public), I can work without interruption for 9-10 hours until it's time to head back to the campsite again. As an internet-based lifeform, this is Heaven for me, and I only wish I could be here more often.

And I am completely free! Unlike staying with friends or family members, no one is expecting anything of me here. I can use my time as I wish without interruption, and my costs are extremely low. Apart from fixed monthly costs like my BlackBerry, I can survive comfortably here on $15 day. (That's $5 for a daily transit pass and $10 for food and sundries.) What else do you need? (Um, well maybe a medical plan and a bit more of a financial cushion.)

I do engage in various forms of economic activity to make money, but whenever I have a choice between time and money, I will usually choose time. Right now, I feel that there is no better use for my time than to be able to work on my online projects for 9-10 hours a day.

To win this free time, I am willing to skirt the law, accept a little dirt and even let ants dance on my eardrums. It's still a comfortable life!

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from Massachusetts.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

SleepingInAirports dot Com

Wow! Someone has created a whole website on sleeping in airports....

(Compare to my own blog entry: How to Sleep at an Airport)

It's almost TOO MUCH information! It also seems to be a labor of love, since it's hard to see a site like this making any money. (Travelers who sleep in airports don't have much discretionary income so probably won't attract much advertising.)

I'm just a little concerned about airport sleeping getting out of hand. Any form of Free Sleeping only works if you keep a low profile. If the phenomenon starts going mainstream, then the airports may begin developing countermeasures. However, this website has been around for over ten years and hasn't seemed to have changed the landscape any.

I'm mainly surprised that such a website exists. Bravo!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Free Lodging in Las Vegas!

Areas in red are good places to camp.

The Convention and Visitors Authority make not want you to know this, but you can sleep for free in Las Vegas! Well, not actually in Las Vegas, but about a half hour outside it. If you have a car, an air mattress and a sleeping bag, you can sleep in the open desert! It's free; mostly legal and it could be the best sleep you've ever had, especially in the summer.

In summer? Who'd a thunk it! Although the desert in summer is beastly during the day, the temperatures are comfortable at night (that is, if you get away from the concrete and pavement of the city, which hold the heat). It's like going to sleep in perfect bath water. You need the sleeping bag because it can get a little cool by morning.

If you find yourself in Vegas needing a place to stay, you could get a room for $50-100+, or you could drop by the Evil Mega-Mart™ for (1) A $10 sleeping bag, (2) a $10 air mattress, (3) a $3 pillow, (4) an air pump (optional, but the mattress takes a lot of breath to blow up), and (5) maybe a tarp to put under the mattress (optional). You can stay several nights with this set-up, for less than a single night's hotel stay.

You don't need a tent, because there's little chance of rain, no mosquitoes and no prying eyes. What about snakes, spiders and other creepy crawlies. They're a myth mostly, perpetuated by all those sensationalist nature shows on TV. The chances of you running into any of them are extremely thin, and when you do, they're going to try their best to get away from you. (In my 20 years in the desert, I've seen only three rattlesnakes and three tarantulas, all of whom were desperately fleeing me.)

Nature provides the alarm clock! In the summer at least, you won't be sleeping long after dawn, 'cuz you'll get baked if you do!

To find a campsite, head north or south on I-15 and look for the open desert. In the south you can exit at Sloan or Jean and in the north you can exit at Apex/US-93. (See areas in red on the map above.) As long as you arrive before dark, you can easily locate a place where you can camp discreetly without being disturbed. There's a vast ocean of empty land out there. If you want more privacy, just go further from the city.

You can camp comfortably with a single sleeping bag for maybe 6-8 months of the year (roughly April through October). In the winter, you might need two sleeping bags or sleep in the car. There are perhaps 5 days out of 100 when the weather (wind or thunderstorms) makes camping uncomfortable, so that's when you get a hotel room.

I did it for a couple of YEARS, so I should know! (During the protracted divorce phase.) Turns out, sleeping in the desert not a hardship in the slightest. It's a convenience! My commute was not much more than the average suburbanite. The only thing I needed was a shower, which I got at my health club, 24-Hour Fitness™. (You can probably get a day pass at most clubs, or you can check into a motel when you smell really rank.)

It legal to camp in the desert? It depends on how far from Vegas you are. On BLM land (most of the desert of the Southwest) it is generally legal to camp in one spot for up to 14 days. (See earlier entry.) Within the Las Vegas Valley, it isn't legal to camp on BLM land, but honestly, if you are discreet, there's nobody to enforce either rule.
(BUS OPTION. It's probably best to have a car, since it's hard to get to the desert via public transportation. The only way I can think of to reach reasonably safe desert is to take the CAT bus that goes from Downtown Las Vegas to Boulder City (Route 402). Get off at Nevada State College then hike to the desert. WARNING: Not field tested. The land behind the Railroad Pass Casino (north of US-93) may be private and casino security might chase you off if they see you. (But not if they don't see you.) Check out the area on Google Earth/Google Maps. It actually looks promising! My only concern about this area is that it's fairly intensively used by off-roading locals, but the mountains could provide some cover.)
Are you safe? It's a huge desert, and criminals got to find you, right? Someone's got to notice your presence, which is unlikely if you choose your camping spot well. There aren't many roving biker gangs these days, terrorizing campers. (There are only lawyers and accountants pretending to be roving biker gangs.) In general, anyone you encounter in the desert is there because they love the desert, not because they want to hurt anyone. In casino hotels, on the other hand, there are plenty of people who would steal you blind if they could.

Cost savings aside, I find sleeping in the desert far more comfortable than sleeping in a casino. The simplest reason is that you don't have to haul your bags in and out! You're also sleeping under the stars in the outside air, with nothing between you and the environment. It just feels more... real!

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from San Diego.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.


In the previous entry, I talked about how ones possessions tend to expand to fill whatever storage space is available (Campbell’s Law of Storage). In fact, this is part of a broader human phenomenon I call packratting, or the obsessive collection of physical objects of little or no practical value. I believe the irrational collection of “stuff” is programmed by our genes, just like our lust for sugar, fat and salt. It is a behavior that served our species well in our prehistoric past, but it’s mostly dysfunctional in the modern world.

The most extreme human cases are those in which a person's mental processes have deteriorated. People with Alzheimer's are notorious pack rats. When your brain is slipping away, you tend to hold on ever more jealously to your stuff: old newspapers, used containers, old trinkets and remnants of anything that might, by some stretch of the imagination, be useful someday.

Our brethren, the mentally ill “Homeless Homeless”, also display this trait. Their greatest burden to local communities is the vast amount of trash they usually collect around them. When you stumble upon a homeless “nest” (like the one shown above), you find that it usually consists not just of sleeping bags and blankets but also a messy inventory of broken equipment, rotting clothing, odd bits of hardware and other semi-useless things the homeless person has collected in his travels. To us, it is just junk, but to him it is a precious resource and an extension of his psyche. If he happens to be present when you pass through, he will guard this stuff just as zealously as any suburban homeowner would defend his domain.

It seems that if you take away someone's higher thinking processes, they will still have the urge to to horde things. It's a deeply programmed behavior because there's an obvious survival benefit in it. Why not? If you are living on the edge of survival, it is natural to want to collect things that might be valuable later. If you find a free bit of clothing, why not take it back to the nest? Even if the probability of use is low, it makes sense to stockpile it anyway.

Many animals have a motivation to horde food. If you have an excess of it right now, it's a good idea to cache it in case you need it later. Humans go one step further in that they also horde tools. Once mankind started working with tools (knives, spears, grinding stones, etc.) a natural behavior must have developed simultaneously: the desire to stockpile those tools, treat them as possessions and regard them as an extension of oneself. Once you have invested in making a knife, you don't want to lose it. This is "my" knife and you can't have it because at some point my survival might depend on it.

The concept of "possessions", which we now treat as a natural law, probably didn't exist prior to our invention of tools. Many animals have territories and harems, but the presumed ownership of objects is mainly a human trait. In human prehistory, if a person made or purloined a tool, it was to his advantage to treat it as part of his body, protecting it and fending off threats to it like it were a limb. The more tools and supplies you could horde and protect, the more likely you would have the thing you needed when your survival was at risk.

Just like a spider spins a web and guards it, humans create a web of possessions around them. If you touch the web, you alert the spider, and if try to take some of it away, she'll go into attack mode. "Don't mess with my stuff!" she snaps, showing her fangs (gender selection deliberate).

If you think this behavior is limited to the mentally ill, think again! A soon as an average human has a few extra resources at his disposal, what does he do with them? He starts collecting stuff! The more resources (and storage space) he has, the larger his horde grows. Usually, each new acquisition is accompanied by a rationalization: Somehow this object is supposed to be "useful" in the future—but you and I know how hollow this is. When people have excess resources, only a tiny percentage of the objects they acquire are truly useful. The rest are "vanity objects" added to the web only because the acquisition itself feels good.

Whether it's teenagers in a shopping mall, a millionaire collecting boats or a homeless guy rummaging through trash cans, the impulse is the same. Call it the thrill of acquisition. We are programmed to do it: to stockpile resources whenever we have access to them. What evolution doesn't prepare us for is what to do with the stockpile when it grows out of control, because historically this was never a problem. To Early Man, you could never have enough stuff, just like you could never have enough fat and sugar.

In the modern world, people still follow this impulse. Typically they collect stuff until their lives are crippled by it and they can collect no more. It's so difficult to get rid of stuff because each new object gets knitted into ones emotional web. How many objects do you now own that you know darn well are useless for anything? You keep them only because they hold emotional value for you. That won't be gotten rid of unless you are forced to do it.

When does the collecting behavior end? Usually at death! Then someone else has to deal with the accumulated inventory (typically with a few garage sales and several dumpsters hauled away). It's a shame, really, since the people who do the after-death cleanup rarely have much care for the objects and are bound to divest them awkwardly.

Is this any way to live and die—only to serve your stuff? If you can learn the art of de-acquisition, and learn it early, your freedom will be greatly enhanced. It is far easier to move with the times if you have only a suitcase full of stuff rather than a trailer truck full.

Better yet, if you learned the art of non-acquisition—not adding to the web to begin with—you'd never have to go through the emotional pain of de-acquisition. If you have a small storage space, and it is already full, then you have to make a rational decision every time a potential acquisition presents itself.

Usually, "Just Say No!" is the best answer.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from San Diego.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Campbell's Law of Storage

Campbell's Law of Storage states:
Ones possessions will expand to fill whatever storage space is available.
In other words, if you have a 5x10 foot storage unit, you will fill it, but if you have a 20x20 foot unit, you will also fill it. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that your life is better with the larger unit. In fact, it is usually worse, since all that extra stuff has to be managed and cared for.

The reason possessions expand to the space is simple: It's tough to throw things away. If there's a possibility something might be useful in the future, we want to hold onto it, but our attachment to out stuff is usually more emotional than that. We have made an emotional investment in almost everything we own, and it is hard to break that bond. What other people might see as just a blanket you might see as a blanket with memories attached to it, and you would no sooner throw it away than you would throw out the memories.

As a rule, people get rid of stuff only when they are forced to by some kind of hard constraint, like money or storage space. When you happen to have the extra space, it's easier to just put the problem off by throwing the item in storage and forgetting about it.

Campbell's Law of Storage applies to just about any kind of storage space:
  • ladies' purses — the bigger they are, the more stuff you find in 'em!
  • children's rooms — the more space they have for toys, the more toys they'll have.
  • closets, dresser drawers, garages, basements, refrigerators
  • houses
Given enough time, any kind of storage is likely to become full.

The analogy also applies to hard disk drives and data storage. Whatever megabytes or gigabytes or terrabytes you have attached to your computer, you'll soon fill them up, but this kind of storage is a special case. Data storage gets cheaper and cheaper every year, so we start doing different things with it, like working with photos and videos. We don't necessarily become less efficient.

The same can't be said of physical storage. The more we have, the more we'll use, and the less efficient our lives become. It's a straight-line graph: The more stuff you have, the more complicated your life becomes. Therefore, merely the presence of storage space invites complication.

If you have very little storage, then you'll use it wisely. When you run into your hard boundaries early, you have to make those hard decisions early. Yes, this blanket has emotional meaning, but if its physical value has ended you've got to get rid of it sooner or later, so you might as well do it sooner. (Either that or your heirs will do it for you.) If you have limited storage, then you are forced to do it now, because you have no choice.

Every possession you retain has to "pay its way". That is, its practical function to you in the present and near-future must justify the object's ongoing room and board. It's a hard calculation to make because each object has those emotional attachments, but it's a lot easier to do when you've run out of space and something has to go.

The situation is much clearer when you have to choose between keeping Object "A" or Object "B". If one object has a practical use while the other is purely emotional, the practical object is usually going to win.

Since it's so hard NOT to fill storage when you have it, perhaps the best form of discipline is to not have the storage to begin with. If you have the opportunity to increase your storage space by whatever means (bigger apartment, bigger suitcase, whatever), you need to think hard about doing it. The long-term costs may be much higher than you think.

You could argue that every person needs at least SOME storage. You have to have some space for a change of clothes, some paper records, a few tools you use all the time and maybe a few precious keepsakes. It's hard to say where that point is: 10 square feet? 100 square feet? There's got to be a point where the costs and benefits of storage are in balance. I contend only that the necessary storage is much less than most people think it is.

Precisely because data storage is now so cheap, perhaps half of our past physical storage is now obsolete. You don't need to keep paper bills and bank statements if you know they'll always be available online. There's no need for photo albums and scrapbooks if the same sentimental stuff is stored on Myface or Spacebook.

Also, many of the objects we used to pick up and take home -- like rocks and shells or ticket stubs from places we have been -- can just as easily be photographed and remembered that way. Turns out, we don't really need the physical object as much as we need the link to the past memory.

For the supplies of living, you can often lower your own space requirements by the judicious use of "storage shifting"—that is, by getting others to store things for you.

An example is buying food from the supermarket. They sell things in both small quantity packages and large quantity packages. Technically, you usually get a much better deal if you buy the bigger package, but then you are forced to store any unused product. Over time, this excess from many different products can require substantial space. Of course, no one wants to throw out, say, a half-bag of unused rice, because it feels like you're throwing out money, but it might take years to use it all up and the various costs of storage can add up. Sometimes, you're LOSING money by holding onto something like that, not to mention the clutter and complication it adds to your life.

Sometimes, the smaller quantity is the smarter move. You're essentially paying the supermarket to warehouse the food for you. When you actually need it, you'll go to the store and make a withdrawal, but until then managing the inventory is their problem.

You probably also have friends and relatives who are collectors of stuff, and if you are crafty, you can simply give them many of your possessions. They'll think their getting a gift, but you know it's just a way to get rid of something without throwing it away. Maybe that emotion-laden blanket can be sent to this "halfway house" where you can still visit if you feel you need to.

You can be sure that no matter how efficient you become, there will still be plenty of people around you collecting useless possessions. You don't need to change them. Just give them your stuff and let them deal with it.

Also See: Packratting (next entry)
Also See: Supply Storage (2/8/09)

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from Los Lunas, New Mexico.
Photo credit: a still from Citizen Kane.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Prison of Home Ownership

What could be worse than homelessness? What could be harder on the soul than living hand-to-mouth, owning nothing and sleeping each night wherever you can make do? Well, I’ll tell you.

Home ownership!

That’s the opposite of homelessness, right? It can also be an even worse hell if the home you are committed to starts to exceed your resources.

In the current economy, lots of people are discovering that hell. They are losing their jobs, and although they may still have some money coming in, it isn’t enough to support the huge, unwieldy infrastructure they have committed themselves to. Now they must face the trauma of forced downsizing. The simple struggle of living hand-to-mouth can’t compare to the extreme pain of living in a collapsing system.

The American Dream is supposedly home ownership. It’s our cultural standard. As soon as you have the means to do so, you’re supposed be committed to real estate. But people don’t realize when they enter the dream how quickly it can turn to a nightmare.

To begin with, people don’t just buy a home with the resources they have. They buy it based on the speculation of future resources. That sets people up for disaster, because one future possibility, even in the best of times, that you don’t always have the same resources you have now.

If a worker gets a raise—say, to $80,000 a year—he inevitably starts planning his future based on that continued income. He commits himself to a hefty mortgage and the lifestyle of a new community. $80,000 might have seemed like a lot of money once upon a time, but instead of simply pocketing the cash, the average Joe just uses it to raise the bar—that is, to expand his lifestyle and his commitments so all the extra resources are used up. Now, if his income happens to drop, say, to $50,000, he can find himself in dire straits. He may not be “poor” in technical terms, but his income no longer meets his commitments, and his system descends into chaos.

At times like that, living under a bridge can look really good! The key asset in life, you may discover too late, is not money but freedom. How easily can you shift gears to respond to new opportunities and life’s unexpected turns? How much do you really control your own fate? Just because you’re rich in money doesn’t mean you’re rich in time, and it’s the time that will run out first.

Whenever people have more resources than they need to survive, their commitments and expectations tend to expand to absorb them. I call this phenomenon “taste inflation”. (See Kilroy CafĂ© #36.) As your resources increase, so do your perceived tastes and needs, so your extra resources are absorbed and you don’t feel so rich anymore.

This would be relatively benign if your tastes expanded only in the moment, but when you contractually commit yourself to these new tastes (say, by buying a bigger house), then you place yourself in great peril. You have no choice now but to maintain this resource level regardless of the circumstances.

What space do you really need to live in? The optimum of economy is an 8 by 8-foot box, like an officer’s cabin in a Navy ship, with enough space to lie down, sit up and store a few basic essentials. I say 64 square feet is all you really need in life. It gives you room to sleep, to work in private, to communicate in private with others (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!) and to safely store some key belongings. All other business can be conducted in non-private facilities elsewhere. If that’s all the space you have, you’ll use it well, and you won’t be collecting things you don’t need. When you exceed this standard, your life starts to spin out of control as your possessions start possessing you.

Part of the hell of home ownership is not just the burden of paying for it, but also all the CRAP that collects in that extra space. This is stuff you don’t need, that serves no substantial purpose in your life but that you nonetheless find yourself committed to protecting and maintaining. The CRAP includes not just physical possessions but also activities attached to those possessions. If you have space for a garden, you’ll plant a garden, but then the garden has to be maintained on a daily basis. Every extra room you have has to be kept clean. Soon the needs of the home expand to the point where it owns you and most of your limited time on Earth consists of serving its demands.

This is fine if all you expect to accomplish in life is to maintain a home: You buy a nice house, feed and maintain it for the rest of your life, then you die. However, if you happen to have other goals, the home can only be a burden. In the best of times, it slows your personal development, and in the worst of times it can utterly cripple you.

Call me a radical, but I think what matters in life is what you accomplish, not the physical plant you live in or moss you collect around it. If the mere processes of living take you over—e.g., the nice furniture, the pretty sheets, the potpourri on the bed table—then the actually content of your life—what you do and achieve—is bound to suffer.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
You are welcome to comment on this entry below.
Photo: My photo taken in Gary, Indiana

Monday, August 3, 2009

NY Times: A Homeless Community with Rules

This homeless community has rules to live by...

Comments: My own preference, however, is not to be involved in any community. When you need a place to sleep, the best circumstance is to be away from all human contact in a place where no one can detect your presence. No "law" can give you better security than that!

In the US, people cluster together in homeless "camps" only because they have an emotional need for the community. The higher-functioning homeless just need a place to sleep, and this is best done in secrecy.