What’s in Your Intentional Lifestyle Bag?

What’s in Your Intentional Lifestyle Bag?

Over the past couple of years, I have taken countless steps to live a more intentional life – that is, a life where the choices I make must align with my values and goals – and the results have all been positive. By choosing to want less, I have the opportunity to save more and travel more. By working less, I am able to live more (which I’ll talk about next week). By choosing to get rid of things like Facebook, I remove many distractions and negative thoughts from my daily life. And by limiting my interactions with toxic people, I free up more time and energy for those who matter most.

Whenever I make an intentional decision to live the life I want, I can feel a physical weight lifted off of me. It’s almost like carrying a backpack around every day, the contents of which are all the things you choose to have in your life. The more things you choose to keep, the heavier your bag is, and the tougher it will be to reach your destination. You get bogged down by more stuff, more work, more commitments, more responsibility, more stress, more people and so on. Your bag gets so full that it is literally bursting, and is so heavy that you can feel it dig into your shoulders and hips with every step.

Your clutter sucks up more and more of your time. Your work stops being productive and starts consuming your every thought. Your commitments hold you back from doing something fun. Your stress makes you tired and sad, and causes you to do things like eat more bad food or drink more alcohol. And holding onto other people’s actions and problems can sometimes add the most weight of all. Anger, criticism, judgment, negativity, obsession and possession – these are heavy burdens to carry. And if you’re not mindful of it, these are all things that can stop you from living the life you really want.

Not even a year ago, I still carried the weight of many of these things on my back. The clutter was gone, but I was still working way too many hours each week, taking on more responsibility than I wanted, committing to things just so I wouldn’t disappoint people and staying in toxic relationships out of fear, all while dealing with my parents’ divorce. The weight of it all was exhausting – so much so that there were weeks where I literally barely got out of bed. I couldn’t think about what my goals and values were. All I wanted was to stop crying every day.

Looking back at that now, it’s no wonder I quit my job and moved back to the island at the same time. I needed to remove HUGE amounts of weight from my bag, and the results have been life-changing. I work less, hike more, and spend so much more quality time with family and friends. I take pleasure in the simple things, like good books and bubble baths and alone time. And I never cry. Last week, Sarah and I happened to be in Squamish at the same time, so we met for lunch (at The Crabapple Cafe, which is my favourite go-to spot there). After, she sent me a four-word text that I will never forget:

“You seem super happy.”

“I am!” I replied. “I’m glad it’s noticeable.” And then this whole idea came together: of course my happiness is noticeable – my bag is practically empty, right now. There’s only a little bit of stuff inside, it’s all weight I am choosing to carry around with me and none of it feels like a burden. Occasionally, I still slip up. I put too much energy into a friendship that’s not serving either one of us, have a hard time letting go of something I once cared about, or find myself rationalizing why I should do something even when my gut tells me not to. I am human, after all!

But I am quicker to remove weight from my bag, these days, and that’s because I’ve finally identified some rules for what I do/do not want to carry with me:

  • Do be open to all new work opportunities.
  • Don’t take on so many commitments that work takes over my life.
  • Do challenge myself to learn, grow and change.
  • Don’t do anything that strips joy from my life.
  • Do make time to do things I love (be outdoors, read, travel, etc.).
  • Don’t forget to stay present in those moments. Soak it all up.
  • Do try to add value to people’s lives.
  • Don’t hold onto friendships that don’t serve both parties.
  • Do buy things I actually need.
  • Don’t buy anything that will only impress others.

I could add more to that list, but I can also sum it all in two words: Be purposeful. If I need more money, I can work more. If I need to save more, I’ll travel less. And if I truly believe a friend will come around, I’ll just give our relationship space. These are examples of short-term trade-offs that have a purpose. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about living an intentional life is that everything should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to stop carrying the weight of it with you. When your bag finally feels light enough, you won’t be the only person to notice. :)

Is there anything in your bag that should be removed?

Extra Reading
  • “Is there anything in your bag that should be removed?”

    Yes Cait, for me it’s recent health issues – had a kidney stone surgically removed recently, with possibly of another one still to get checked out. This July I’m getting cataracts attended to in both eyes after which hopefully I’ll no longer need glasses for driving / reading, etc. Ah, the joys of being retired. eh? :-)

    All in all though, no complaints and not sweating the small stuff. Keep smiling, right?

    • Rob, I have always related to your responses to Cait’s posts, as a recently retired newly transplanted Canadian to the far south. Facing health issues and impending surgery, but I agree, keep on smiling and enjoy the journey ahead of us, whatever that may bring!

    • The quest for more intentional living has begun. And something that needs to be chucked out of the bag- facebook! Damn time sucker that it is. The amount of time spent mindlessly clicking about it is absurd. Look forward to your next post Cait

  • Great analogy! I have a hard time choosing how much of the “good stuff” to fit, if that makes sense. Like I have many friendships that are mutually enjoyed, and many opportunities to help other people, but I can only spend time with so many people. That makes deciding when to say no difficult, but it’s still very important. I’m trying to focus on the specific way I’m hoping to help people at this point in my life, to help with these choices.

  • “I put too much energy into a friendship that’s not serving either one of us.”

    I so needed to hear this today Cait – way to drop a major truth bomb. I am focused on getting way more intentional about the relationships that I spend my energy on and I needed this reminder! Thank you!

  • This is absolutely right. I especially like “Be purposeful.” That should drive everything we say and do. One question… how did you make the decision to leave Facebook, and how has that been? I agree it’s mostly just clutter and noise in my life that I don’t need, yet at the same time, it lets me see photos and updates from family members who live too far away, and that has been nice. I am torn. Wonder if others feel the same way and how they have managed it.

    • Karyn, I have a facebook account to keep up with friends and family that live at a distance. The way I manage is that I don’t usually look at my news feed, or home, as they call it. I usually just go to my friend’s pages and look at what they post. Keeps the crap down, I think. Also, I only go there once a week. Maybe if you schedule a certain day or days, and set your timer for a specific time. Some folks also only look at their notifications and read only from there. That may help as well. I hope this helps.

    • I have face book so i can follow cait and becoming minimalist. I tell people i dont have facebook so they wont try and friend me! I do have a few friends on there but they overwhelmed my news feed so i stopped ‘following’ them. They are still friends but i dont see any of their nonsense!! And you can turn off all notifications except the ones that help move your life in a positive direction. Then just limit your time. Its an adjustment but you can do it!

  • This article resonates so much with me. Right now my fiance and I have so many extra things in our apartment since his family moved across country. (They left it with us to sell which is great to have some extra cash, but it has been a bit overwhelming with the mess). We’re also moving in a few months and plan on just taking what we can fit in the car, which I am SO excited about. The less stuff I have to organize, clean, the more time and energy I have to focus on doing things I love…like hiking, biking, cooking, and spending time writing & with my family. It’s so important to discover what you truly value and to learn to invest your time and energy into that. Love this post.


  • Cait, I love this post! For me, decluttering stuff last year was practice for decluttering my whole life. It’s so nice to look around and realize that 95% of my life is happy, productive, and peaceful. And now there’s a plan for ditching that last 5% by starting my own business– so exciting!

  • This post came at a great time for me Cait :) I have been listening to the Minimalists podcasts about getting rid of stuff and living a more intentional life. I have a long ways to go, but blogs like yours, The Minimalists, and No Sidebar, are really helping me get to where I need to be. Keep up the good work Cait!

  • Thank you for the motivation to take a step back and really examine life. Lately, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day and I feel distracted by what I need “to do”, even when I have down time. A great reminder to slow. it. down!

  • I love this, thanks! I deactivated my facebook April 1st & its so freeing! If you want to see family pictures, ask family to send them to you directly and you’ll never miss out. It takes little effort to email or direct message some pics. And when you receive correspondence from people directly, its so much more satisfying than looking at a general status update for all their 500 facebook friends.

  • Reading this has really motivated me to de-clutter some things in my life. Its great that even your closest friends have noticed you change for the better. I am dealing with a few personal issues in my life as well and if I am not careful I will end up taking more in my bad than I need to. Really needed to read this. Thanks for your post.

  • How wonderful you’re so happy now, what a great development and proof of concept!

    My bag’s pretty good right now, though it’s currently easier to edit my personal life than some of the physical stuff, sometimes. My obsession with tote bags is real, and as of last night’s closet cleaning, I am officially banned from getting any more tote bags. 8 is enough for all the library trips, faux-diaper bags, dog supplies and anything else I can imagine.

    On the plus side, we have moved away from many “obligatory” relationships that serve only as negative drains and toward nurturing only the good and fulfilling relationships. It’s such a relief.

  • This topic has been weighing on my mind lately, and I really like how you describe everything we juggle in life as our intentional living bag. While I don’t have a ton of my plate, nothing is really getting the attention in needs for me to be successful. It’s definitely time for me to make some decisions about what needs my focus. Thanks for the motivation, Cait!

  • Great post and food for thought! My bag is pretty good right now, except the one thing I need to get better at is social media/internet distractions. I need to spend less time scrolling through news feeds, reading “articles”, and consuming other mindless information, and more time living my life and making better decisions about how I spend my time.

    I’m very interested to hear your post on how you went about working less!

  • This post is so motivating! I relate to feeling overwhelmed and to the point where you can’t even think about goals, values, or what’s important. I have a lot I need to unload from my lifestyle “bag.” I’ve been aware of that for awhile now, but it is hard to let go of friendships or activities that have existed for so long. Thank you for this inspiration to start removing some things from my “bag!”

  • Wow, I don’t think I realised just how much was on your plate and how much you were going through. <3

    I feel a million times lighter now than I have for a long time and it's all due to putting myself first and letting things go that were holding me down. I only wish I'd done it sooner. My low-load bag is feeling pretty good right now.

  • I really need to remove some work from my bag (can never seem to say no!), but the reduced money that comes with the reduced workload kinda freaks me out.

  • I love how you explain intentional living like carrying a backpack! It’s so true (and it shows you’ve been spending a lot of time on the trails lately 😉) I also really like your do and don’t list – I have a similar list for my wardrobe but now you’ve inspired me to expand it to the rest of my life! Cheers Jen

    PS: thanks so much for linking to my post – I REALLY appreciate it x

  • This article is everything. This comes at exactly the right time for me. I feel like my bag is so so full, with work and family. And I have no idea how I can empty it. I feel really overwhelmed all the time, and constantly dream about quitting and moving. Thank you for this post.

  • I’d love to hear more about not holding on to friendships that don’t serve both parties. I found it really interesting that you approached this from a two-sided perspective. It’s one thing to be able to assess according to your own needs, but you wrote about it from the stance of both parties.

    How do you know if something is good for you but not for them? Or maybe you are able to recognize the balance is tipped (eg you’re getting more out of the friendship than they are), but maybe it’s situational and temporary (eg you’re going through a crisis and needing to rely on them more heavily) – but I don’t think this is the type of scenario you’re thinking of.

    I bring it up because a version of this topic has been on my mind recently. Though we might try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we can only really know our own experiences intimately – and/but I’ve been wondering about how to identify when you’re taking more out of a friendship than you’re putting into it. And to your thought – when is the solution not to work to be a better friend, but to let go of the friendship?

    These are, of course, rhetorical questions, and probably better served for face-to-face discussions. Nonetheless, thanks for stirring all this up. :)

  • Wonderful post. This is something I am actively working on. I’m not there yet but am a work n progress and happy about that!

  • Thank you for sharing your inspiring words. I deactivated Facebook several years ago and recently I took Instagram off my phone. Facebook was toxic for me and Instagram was too distracting to me. I also made an effort this year to not spend so much time watching TV and only consume things I want to instead of hanging onto a show because I spent the last several years watching. That was huge as it gave me more time to think and now had the inspiration to start a business that I love. I have also felt comfortable to remove people from my life who didn’t either respect the friendship or believed that it was a one way friendship street. As for removing from my bag I try to make an effort every day to do what makes me happy. I have eliminated my overtime and realized that the money was not worth the extra stress and time away from friends. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story; I love hearing about your minimalist lifestyle and look forward to hearing about your summer travels.

  • Literally carrying a light bag is super important too. I hiked 100 miles once with a 25 pound pack. The other guys had 40 pound packs and their feet were in terrible shape near the end of the hike. When I was in Europe, I carried a 10 pound backpack. When other people let their giant 50 pound backpacks guide their day and were at the mercy of the front desk baggage key, I got to carry mine around wherever I wanted to go. Traveling light, figuratively and literally, is the way to go!

  • This is a really wise post, and something I definitely forget too often. I have a bad habit of taking on too many commitments, and doing too many things just to not disappoint people. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  • Another thought provoking post Cait! I tend to stay away from drama and try to surround myself with a good support system of family and friends/internet friends. Don’t dwell on the past and don’t worry about the future. Just enjoy the present.

  • Great article, it definetly stroke a cord. In the past few years I got rid of a job that was taking the joy out of me. I now work 25 hours a week and have a job I like and thanks to the flexible timetable of my husband, who’s a freelance translator, I spend more time with him and our 5 cats. I also recently put some yoga time in my bag and I love it. 20 minutes first thing in the morning ang 20-30 minutes last thing before bed, together with the hubby, some more “us” time. I also started to say “no” to social events or thongs I’m not interested in. Facebook went out the bag almost 4 years ago, at the same time I went from vegetarian to vegan and put a healthier lifestile in it, discovering a whole world of amazing new food experiences. The same year I started to declutter with the Minimalism game and never looked back. I’ve still got a few things I want to get rid of from my bag but I’m definetly on the righ path and I’m feeling better with every step!

  • I am just starting to get to grips with trying to identify my values- very much at the start of this whole journey. My biggest problem is my hugely toxic 84 year old mother. As a matter of duty and conscience, I can’t abandon her by walking away from contact with her but truth be told, no matter how much I try to work from a place of compassion in my dealings with her, my greatest wish is to never see her again. She has always been vicious and a huge narcissist – any suggestions for dealing with her/ this situation?

  • Your posts are always so thought-provoking and inspirational all at once! I hope to one day live an intentional/purposeful life. Right now, it’s the physical clutter that I need to deal with. Until then, I have your posts to motivate me!

  • I’m absolutely agree with this post, I am understanding how to balance work/family/social life and more without being stresses, so some changes are in the air…I love this post it gave me more tips for future, thanks:D

  • Making time to do things is so important. It’s so easy to focus on work and life that you forget to take a break or a vacation.

    I realized one day I hadn’t taken a vacation in at least 3 or 4 years…so I took one…then promptly forgot to take one for another year or two. Now I make it a priority to plan trips. I don’t want to reach old age just to feel life passed me by!

  • I’m super excited that your friends can tell how happy you are! That’s wonderful to hear. It’s awesome to see all of your intentional living efforts paying off. I’ve made similar efforts to strip things back to the essentials in the last few years, but reading your post, it’s clear that my reasons are different. I’m in the most demanding stage of a demanding career, and I’ve basically accepted that to make it to the end of next year when we hope to retire, I need to go into survival mode. So that’s what I think of this stripped-down state as: survival mode, not intentional living. But on paper it sure looks the same! I’m so curious to know how it will feel after we leave our careers behind and have a lot more time on our hands — will I crave more commitments at that point? Probably not. I certainly won’t want the toxic relationships back, or the activities that amount to busy work. It will be interesting!

  • As I clicked on this entry, I thought you were going to discuss what you carried in your bag everyday like those WIMB videos on Youtube lol. Thanks for sharing this. I’m just starting my decluttering journey and this is a friendly reminder of the place I’d like to be. With as little stress and burden as possible.

  • I loved your post so much! Probably, because I still have a lot of unnecessary stuff. Honestly, you have just insired me to throw few things away from my bag :)

  • “When your bag finally feels light enough, you won’t be the only person to notice.” Pure gold. I enjoyed your analogy and, more importantly, I’m so pleased you’ve experienced the change.

  • Hi Cait,

    I love your blog, I’ve been following for about a year and a half. I love your approach to an intentional lifestyle, I’m also on a journey to a minimalist/more intentional lifestyle, after a job layoff and a summer traveling and spending time with friends and family three years ago. Part of that summer including traveling around British Columbia and two trips to Vancouver Island…it’s a gorgeous, beautiful, peaceful, inspiring place.

    One thing that I would love to with my life is travel more, and spend time with friends and family spread out across the U.S., and work less. This is a theme in many minimalist blogs I find, that you can “work less, experience more” if you are more minimal. I keep my expenses low, have no debt, working on paring down my belongings, i.e. an ideal candidate for this lifestyle, however, most, if not all, jobs that are in my field are solely the 8-5 40+ hour a week job. I’ve never seen an option to do any less than the traditional 40. Right now I’m working a job I really enjoy, but with limited time off flexibility.

    Do you have any suggestions for people working for an organization, who aren’t running their own business, on how to actually work fewer hours/have a more flexible lifestyle, but still be a contributing member to your company?


  • Amazing Cait.

    I have just found your blog after reading your comment on ‘becoming minimalist’. So glad I came by! I love the way you explain the idea of not carrying so much. A little while ago I decided to focus on my ‘Top 5’. Faith, Family, Health, Coaching, Contribution. It’s made my decision making process on what/what not to commit to a lot easier.

    Great read :)


  • Interesting post.
    I realize that there is a lot of *crap* in my backpack that needs to get unloaded in order to make space for nurturing/positive things. How can I fit better things in if it’s crowded with the wrong stuff! Hmm…. yep, a good reflexion is in order! (My life is not *crapy* btw, but some destructive behaviors have to go).

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