The backpack: What an overstuffed duffel bag taught me about making room for life’s priorities

When attempting a three-week backpacking excursion along Ontario’s Bruce Trail, pack only what you need. Apparently, if you’re me and my brother Nicholas, that includes board games, cast iron frying pans and every article of clothing you own.

We stuffed those items (and so, so much more) into a giant duffel and an old sports bag we found in the shed — the complete absence of proper hiking gear failing to blunt our teenaged passion for adventure. We hoisted the gargantuan packs onto our backs and nearly collapsed under their weight.

Moronically undeterred, we hit the trail.

Basic physics quickly trumped our naïve gumption. Barely a kilometre into our epic adventure, one of the duffel bag straps snapped off under the strain of 20 cans of baked beans and a mountain of other unnecessary crap. The pack crashed to Earth with a thunderous thunk. The shame of giving up so soon outweighed common sense, so we channeled our inner MacGyver to devise an elegant solution.

Eager to try anything, I unpacked a massive roll of duct tape (I told you we packed everything). I then proceeded to tape the duffel bag to my brother’s back. Round and round I went in a blur of silvery adhesive. Before long, the pack from hell was a permanent fixture on Nicholas’s aching back.

In the end, our three-week expedition only lasted three days. For some strange reason, Nicholas refused to sleep with the pack attached to him, so we ran out of duct tape in a hurry. Meanwhile, the explosive diarrhea we got after drinking directly from Georgian Bay forced us to burn through our supply of toilet paper sooner than expected.

Our misadventure on the trail taught me about the dangers of overstuffing your backpack.

The same holds true for the schedules in our lives, as we wrestle with how to pack everything on our to-do lists into our calendars.

The way I see it, there are a few different approaches — none of which involve duct tape.

Option A – Squeeze it in

All too often, we look for ways to creatively cram neglected priorities into the nooks and crannies of our day. Not getting enough exercise? Take the stairs at work. Missing a friend? Meet her at the grocery store and chat while you shop. No time for breakfast? Eat on the road.

Although this approach might work for a while, it doesn’t address the underlying issue of having too much stuff in your backpack in the first place.

Option B – Get a bigger backpack

Option B is all about expanding your capacity.

Not enough hours in the day? Go to bed later. Need more energy? Load up on caffeine. Can’t afford that new TV? Bump up the limit on your credit card. But like Option A, this approach isn’t sustainable. It’s kind of like drinking lake water: it’ll slake your thirst for a few hours. But trust me, the diarrhea is on its way.

Option C – Reduce and replace

Alternatively, consider removing some of the stuff in your pack to find meaningful space for priorities. Cut back on TV to find more time for hobbies. Learn to say no if you can’t remember the last time you put your feet up. Skip the new iPhone upgrade and spend that money on a weekend getaway instead.

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Making room for priorities isn’t about squeezing additional items into an already crammed backpack. It’s about taking a good, hard look at what’s in there and figuring out what can be ditched to free up some much-needed space. Because eventually something’s gotta give. And believe me: when things finally snap, duct tape is not a lasting solution.