simplify, freedom, liberation, stuff, be yourself,

My Wayward Bag Smackdown: A Tale of Freedom

A Story of How I Found Freedom From My Upended Plans

“If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.” -ubiquitous quote (with humbling accuracy)

Travel Anxiety

I morph into someone unrecognizable–a muddled mess of worry and anxiety–when packing for travel. My hard won calm and cool utterly abandons me, my body taken over by a strange frantic girl, who shoves me out of the way to oversee the careful packing of her precious stuff… the right shoes for each outfit, the essential hair products, the perfect earrings. Every possible contingency considered.

Smackdown By My Wayward Bag

My Wayward Bag–packed so carefully, with precision, to the brim… the very limits of its capacity. All to sustain and support me and my every need on a short journey abroad… a week in Prague and Paris with my sister, mom, and niece. A girls’ trip to celebrate my sister’s sixtieth birthday.

Filled with the “essentials” of my life–provisions for the perfect trip: dress and shoe combinations for each possible dinner out, the jazz club, the museums, and the shopping; workout clothes and jackets for all weather possibilities; supplements and food products I might need in a pinch (a healthy girl can’t eat just anything); and the vital items I needed to keep my hair and skin just so.

But my Wayward Bag never arrived.

It was blocked from the get-go when the outbound airline refused to check it all the way through to my destination. My savvy travel advisor at American Express had booked my flights on two separate itineraries as a strategy to save big money and get a two-for-one deal on business class tickets for my mom and I–a deal I couldn’t pass up. But she didn’t foresee that the airlines no longer check bags through from one itinerary to another. Ugh.

After totally stressing and working my Ass Off for the better part of two days, all to create the perfect big trip-worthy bag, I was now faced with how to get it to my destination.

My fearless, endlessly supportive husband, dropped his conference call and ran out to the airport, picked up my bag, and delivered it to DHL global shipping. It was Monday and they couldn’t get it to Europe until Thursday morning. Fine, it would meet me in Paris… perfect–that’s where I’d need my precious stuff the most anyway.

With my initial outrage dissipated, I was feeling vague discomfort of another kind–embarrassment, silliness. It was my bag, after all, at the center of all this drama. (I didn’t dare ask what the shipping costs were.)

To My Surprise

My bag, and my precious stuff, never arrived to my hotel in Paris. It took a circuitous route to my destination, was stalled at the Paris airport, then arrived back home a week after I did.

my true whole self, liberation, way cool, freedom
Paris Girls… rocking my Converse.

To my great fortune, my careful planning resulted in a perfectly adequate supply of contingency provisions in my carry-on–the most essential toiletries (toothbrush and toothpaste, contact lens stuff, glasses, face cream with sunscreen), my jewelry, electronics, and two day’s change of clothes, including my most comfy (but not the most stylish) shoes and outfits.

And TO MY COMPLETE SURPRISE, I had all I needed.

Throughout the trip I wore the same few things over and over, washing them out and drying over night. Skort for morning exercise. Skort with nice top for daily outings. Birckenstock sandals for walking miles and miles. Turquoise converse sneakers to wear with new dress bought in Paris for dining at wonderful restaurants several nights in a row (which I totally rocked–and felt more comfortable and like my true self in my favorite shoes, rather than the heels that would have been more stylish).

And you know what? I was SOOO happy. With just a few choices, my feet remained in my favorite comfy shoes, my essential needs were met, and I FELT FREE… Freedom. Ease. And strangely, Relief.

Relieved of too many choices. Relieved of the burden of excess stuff. Stuff, it turns out, I didn’t need at all.

As the days in Paris passed without my bag, I found myself quietly hoping it would NOT arrive. I was oddly, unexpectedly, and BEAUTIFULLY FREE.

Finally Home

When my Wayward Bag finally arrived home a week after I did, it was such a curiosity. Having reclaimed myself from the anxious bag-packing maniac, I couldn’t remember all that was put in there. I missed my favorite jean jacket and my black lululemon hoodie. Those were keepers. But strangely I couldn’t recall much of the rest. As I unpacked, surprise after surprise emerged, and the conviction and certainty, that it was beyond time to let go of the non-essentials that cluttered my life.

I headed straight to my closet. I WOULD NOT put back what I didn’t need. I took no prisoners as I vigorously assessed my closet, pulling every item off the shelf or hanger. I touched each article of clothing and every pair of shoes, and asked, “do I love you or really, really need you?” Half my closet ended up in bags now earmarked for donation. Stuff I had thought was essential, but now felt myself liberated from.

All thanks to my Wayward Bag.

Lessons From My Wayward Bag Smackdown:

  1. I will never–EVER–check a bag on a plane again… NO. NOT EVER.
  2. Three outfits. MAX.
  3. I don’t need or want STUFF beyond what I truly need and love.
  4. I don’t need hair products (now that’s a revelation!).
  5. I LOVE my Converse, so I should wear them with everything (have since worn them to work several times!).
  6. My stuff does not define who I am… in fact, I’m more my true self without that extra stuff.
  7. It’s not my stuff that makes me successful at travel, or anything.
  8. Life is easier–and I am FREER–without stuff.
  9. My stuff doesn’t make me more in control… that’s all me.
  10. Nothing needs to be perfect–it’s better when it’s not.
  11. I don’t need to obsess about being prepared for life… I’ll always find what I need when I get there.
  12. I don’t have to dress “cool” like everyone else… I define my own COOL.
  13. I get two days of my life back every time I travel:)


Karyn Shanks, MD. Clear Clutter for a More Peaceful and Focused Mind. 2017.

Karyn Shanks, MD. The Upside of Our Uncertain Lives. 2017.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.


    A couple of years ago, my wife forced me to purge my massive storage. She basically put each item in front of me and gave me a split second to decide on it. This was especially tough because it included art work of my late parents. What I ended up with was two boxes. The initial feeling? Robbery. It didn’t take long to reach my present state. Liberation.


    That is an awesome story, Paul! And what a tough yet insightful wife!:)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *