No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale Of Love And Wandering

Author: Clara Bensen

Based on the stories my girl pals share, a dating website is not the best place to search for the meaning of life.

But Clara Bensen, just recovered from major depression and a disappointing hunt for meaningful work after university, logged onto OKcupid to do just that.

Well, OK, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but Bensen did want to add some adventure into her life and diving into the dating scene was as good a method as any.

So she thought.

Fortunately for her (and for her readers), she didn’t start her journey with a series of mind-numbingly bad dates.

Instead, she meets Jeff Wilson right away. He’s an unconventional university professor who seems to thrive on defying society’s rules.

But there’s conflict between them almost immediately.

While Bensen wants a gentle, simple journey down relationship lane, Wilson wants her to follow him on his wild adventures.

Literary: He invites her to go travelling with him sans baggage. Like, don’t even take clothes.

Against her screaming instincts, Bensen agreed and off they went to Istanbul, with only the clothes on their backs (though Bensen negotiated to take extra underwear along).

Often, we travel to test our boundaries, to discover something new about ourselves. With Bensen, it was about how far out she would go out into the waters of uncertainty with Wilson as the captain of the boat.

More than once during their travels to various parts of the world, Bensen realises that she hadn’t shed much of the conservatism that she had been brought up with – at least, not enough to accommodate the Bohemian and unpredictable Wilson in her life.

Could two people so wildly different really make it work?

Now, I have to admit that I picked up this memoir because I thought Bensen would speak about minimalism, a popular movement where people try to live as simply as they can, shedding the obsession with possessions as a way to happiness.

To my disappointment, she doesn’t talk much about the movement in the book. I get the impression that she isn’t a devotee, only stumbling into it thanks to Wilson, and that she’s not into minimalism because she believes in its core tenets but is just living through it to see if it can help her discover more about herself.

That’s fine, I suppose, but it would seem that Bensen is trying to discover herself through her relationship with this volatile man. I wasn’t quite prepared to immerse myself in a few hundred pages of relationship blahs.

There were travelogue bits thrown my way once in a while, and I clung to them like a drowning woman.

Perhaps the problem is Wilson, the captain of Bensen’s existential ship.

While one can be inspired by someone who encourages you to live out of your box, to develop yourself, this reader isn’t so sure if Wilson is that person. He seemed weighed down by baggage of his own; he seems to be an adrenaline junkie, addicted to experiences and a man still haunted by a broken marriage.

str2_lizbaggageR_ma_coverWhile reading this book I found myself breaking the rule I have when it comes to reading memoirs: Don’t judge the writer’s journey. After all, the goal of reading a memoir is to learn from an author’s life experiences even when if they don’t line up win one’s own life values.

But I found it difficult not to judge when Bensen complains so often about Wilson’s commitment-phobic ways. His hot and cold behaviour – distant and cold at some points, loving at others – doesn’t make me hopeful for a healthy relationship between the two.

So as much as I admire Bensen’s honesty about her relationship drama, No Baggage was not a comfortable memoir to read.

Is Wilson an inspiration or an enabler of Bensen’s quarter-life crisis? The verdict is still not in.

Towards the end, however, the author does learn precious lessons from her minimalist travels with Wilson: One can be very happy with very little. But just because she has come to this “truth” doesn’t mean that life is all better now. Life merely goes on.

As much as I’d wanted an Eat, Pray, Love ending for Bensen where she not only discovers herself, lines up all her life goals and finds a husband-to-be as a side prize, I have to admit that life doesn’t always end with a handsome prince – sometimes, it ends with a man still in search of himself.