The Unseen Weight of Carrying ‘Stuff’

When you’re experiencing homelessness – everything you own is one more load to carry.

A lot of people complain about having too much stuff. Their closets are bursting; the garage and basement are full.

For people experiencing homelessness, having too much stuff is a problem too, but a different type of problem. Whatever you own must be carried around every day, because when you don’t have a home, you have nowhere to store the things you own.

Guests at the emergency shelter line up for lockers.

It’s for that reason that the lockers at The Mustard Seed’s Foothills Shelter are very popular. The shelter has 400 lockers. Guests are allowed to continue using their assigned locker as long as they check in once a week.

Matt, the Basic Services Manager at the Foothills Shelter, says people experiencing homelessness are “living in protection mode,” so the lockers offer a reprieve from the constant threat of losing their belongings, or having them stolen. He also says that people who are struggling with mental illness and abandonment issues often find comfort in the items they own, which makes their stuff even more precious.

When you have a home, it’s easy to take for granted the fact that you have a place to store valued items like family photos, mementos, even clothing. If you don’t have a home, everything travels with you.

Even when people do find a permanent home, old habits are hard to break.

One of the first residents to move into The Mustard Seed’s 1010 Centre was a woman who had spent 20 years in homelessness. She was accustomed to carrying everything she owned in her backpack, so every time she left her apartment at the 1010 Centre she took her big backpack with her. Her resident support worker asked her why she always left home with a heavy load, and she admitted that she hadn’t unpacked yet – she couldn’t believe that the apartment was now her permanent home.

Her resident support worker helped her feel more comfortable and secure, and eventually she stopped carrying her heavy backpack with her every time she left the building. She finally realized she had a home and place to store her belongings – a blessing that can easily be taken for granted.