Not every traveler wants or needs to offload the stuff of his or her life. Lots of folks are rooted in one place, or in many places, and travel here and there, only to come back to their rootedness and refresh. Some hire caretakers of properties, while others simply lock up and go. Many of my friends live between or among one of several places, perhaps because it’s too hot or too cold in one or the other place for full time living, or to be near family, or simply to experience more than one locale. But many of the nomads and travelers that I know or follow tend toward lightening the loads of their lives by beginning a process of purging in order to live a life untethered.
As a nomad or constant traveler, having less stuff means a lot when one wants to be out in the world. It can mean that emotional, mental and financial energies can be focused on where one is or where one wants to be next, not on what is left behind in storage or in a unoccupied home. It can create new meanings of what home is or what home can look like. It also can shape one’s values as certain things in one’s life take on new, less, or more significant importance, which ultimately can change the footprint of one’s life in the world.
This is all true in the case of my family’s journey. In an attempt to be lighter, generally speaking, and for the sake of future travel, we have been purging our stuff — all of it. (Apologies to my dear readers of my previous blog as this may seem a bit redundant. I’m pretty sure this is the end. I think.) Most of what resembled our old life, a life in the desert with a lot more lifestyle management, is gone. And the chapter of life we have led lately, that of devoted family members and caregivers living communally, incubating, is coming to a close as well. As a result, our emotional and mental stuffs are being or have been purged, too. Our offloading of all things weighty has come in fits and starts, at first by default, and later on by choice. As I write this, we are nearing the end of pre-destined purging that, in my estimation, probably began in 2008, which, unbeknownst to us, would ultimately lead to living a life untethered. Here is how it goes.
Once upon a time, we had a lot of shit.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, there was my stuff, like many books, CDs and vinyl records, writings, furniture, art and all of the important stuff that I thought I had to do or be in my life. And then there was my husband’s stuff, like mountain bikes, clothes, soccer balls, glassware, electronics, boxes of Gatorade and Ramen noodles, and all of the important stuff he thought that he had to do or be in his life. We joined forces, bought a house in Phoenix, Arizona, and filled that house with stuff. Then, my husband and his business partner bought a cabin in the mountains for the families to share. We filled that cabin full of more stuff, much of which duplicated the contents of our Valley dwellings. Around that time, they also bought a building in Scottsdale to house their businesses. That, too, was filled with even more stuff. Three structures, three places to keep our collections of business and lifestyle stuffs. In essence, we were the subject of George Carlin’s joke: Our house was just a place to keep our stuff while we went out and got more stuff.
My husband, a data-loving, string-concatenating developer and his big-dreaming, deal junkie partner sold raw land online. They both were doing what they were passionate about, respectively, and happened to be doing it selling land. It was a fun and lucrative time while it lasted. Aware that this venture might not last, they created other projects as potential sources of revenue. But the proverbial series of explosive, nationwide financial blunders (including, in retrospect, some personal ones) that would trigger the avalanche that was the Great Recession of 2008 already had been ignited. Within the few months that their attention was turned to other business ventures, the avalanche was headed down the mountain, ending the cash cow that was their partnership in land and otherwise, almost overnight it seemed, setting the tone of our journey to a different way life.
Our money was locked up in assets and businesses. Like many folks greatly impacted by the Recession, we lost most of our investments and found ourselves with very little cash or protected monies. The building in Scottsdale would go back to the bank, as a personal guarantee signed on it would ensure its re-gifting. With little financial investment in the cabin, it would be released like a helium-filled balloon, landing however or with whomever had a little cash to scoop it up. And our home, like so many others, was now a huge financial burden as it was completely upside down. Having lost any money we put into it and valued at less than half of its most recent appraisal, it would have cost us for years, whether we kept it, rented it, or tried a short-sale. Adding to the emotional and financial juggling of the situation was the joy of my pregnancy and the looming death sentence that was my stepfather’s lung cancer diagnosis. So much change in so little time. We needed to start planning.
So we did. Unlike many folks affected by the Recession, we did have some valuable assets, which we could sell for cash and which literally bought us time to decide how to proceed with our house, our finances, our future. We began by selling the big stuff, the extras, which allowed for daily living. We saved cash here and there, and we put off paying our mortgage, finally negotiating a lower monthly payment for a while, which bought us even more time. We sold more stuff. We traveled back and forth to the Midwest a couple of times trying to decide where we wanted to live. We had a great experience in the desert, but we couldn’t see ourselves staying there, not with so much change, a baby coming, not much immediate family around us. We made lists and plans, continued to sell some more stuff. Nothing was panning out in the Midwest, and the emotional attachment to home was turning into the business of building ownership. It was becoming clear that we would have to let it go.
In the end, after about a year or more of financial and stuff-of-life planning, navigating, and offloading, we declared bankruptcy. God bless capitalism for the Reset Button: if you forfeit your house and any assets that you acquire with your small or large fortune, and can handle some temporary bumps in your credit, you can walk away and start anew. And we did just that. Bankruptcy, in our opinion, was — is — a gift, in more ways than one. (We joke that my husband earned his MBA through bankruptcy. I like to think of it as My Broke Ass. Moreover, it was amazing what we didn’t know about our finances specifically. Take heed, dear readers. One never knows what the future holds.)
But even though bankruptcy wipes away debt, it does not come in and haul away all of the shit that you have accumulated. (Well, sometimes it does, like when folks from a bank, so we think, came in and removed the entire contents of the cabin, which were there when we bought it. We don’t know what happened to them. Perhaps they were sold, or stolen. Bummer for the next person. Seemed kind of sneaky, but there was nothing we could do about it as it was no longer ours. A karmic debt will be incurred for sure.) Indeed, the contents of the building in Old Town Scottsdale, much of which we loaded into it personally, had to be removed, sold or donated. And up the mountain we went to retrieve the personal items that we had put there, which we mostly donated. And then there was the house. Despite what we sold, donated and gave to friends, family or other Valley dwellers, we still had a twenty-six-feet-long moving truck and a pull-behind trailer filled with the contents of our lives, which we hauled back to the Midwest, over the mountains and through the woods, where we were destined to live. It was astonishing to see how much stuff we still had even after about a year of ridding ourselves of much of it.
To further ramp up the leftover accumulation of personal possessions brought with us from the desert, we merged homes with my mother, now alone in her big home, which was full of her stuff, and we inevitably acquired the contents of my grandmother’s three-bedroom home, for it was time for her to move into an assisted living residence. Three more and different (yet similar!) structures, three more sets of stuff. At one point among us, we owned seven queen beds and frames, four sofas, side tables and chairs galore, three dining room tables, multiple sets of dinnerware and glassware, five pedestal fans, two humidifiers, cookware overload, three wheelbarrows, about ten hoses, and tools (oh! the tools!), and so on and so on. It took us a year to clear the clutter and organize the first batch of stuff, and four more years of donating, selling, giving, organizing and reorganizing household Tetrus to finally bring us to a point of balance.
Needless to say: we don’t want anymore shit.
In fact, having so much stuff has become, well, quite simply and personally…gross.
This isn’t to say that having things is or was all bad. Having lots of things, like several bedroom sets, allowed us to help other friends and family who didn’t have any, or who have growing families, or who really cherish heirloom items, or who want to add to their rootedness. Things can help create and enhance our familial and social experiences, from childhood to adulthood. And some of the things we as a multiple-family household kept along the way have been reused, especially by my daughter — generations of Matchbox cars, Legos, marbles, Lite Brites, kitchenware for a child-size kitchen, precious memorabilia and so on. And throughout this process of purging, we have met many wonderful and interesting people along the way. We have been fortunate to have, to give and to receive.
But now, after so much stuff and the responsibility of it, we want very, very little. The world has changed a lot, just in the last six or seven years, since we were more regular travelers, and especially since we owned properties. Sites like Airbnb, Kid & Coe, Couchsurfing and even TripAdvisor offer completely different ways of travel and existing in the world other than staying at hotels or crazy-expensive vacation rentals. One can live like a local, minimize one’s eco-footprint and share personal, home-like experiences by renting/living/traveling. Living lightly has evolved, too, such as through the Tiny House Movement, and camping: One can live tiny, minimally and out in the world by borrowing, renting or buying a travel trailer or RV, or buying, making or renting a tiny house, likely living with just what one needs. These are all desirable options for my family, because having so much inevitably tied us down, became a burden, caused a lot of unnecessary emotional upheaval, and was clearly and unnecessarily redundant.
Officially, we declared bankruptcy in May 2010. We began purging before that time. To date, we are managing with, and will continue to manage, the only vehicle we kept since bankruptcy, a 2001 Toyota 4Runner with 128,000-plus miles on it, as well as a few dents, that we will use for general transportation and US travel around the country. We otherwise sold a Mercedes and a Jeep in 2009. Thank you, fun cars, for helping us pay our bills.
We have kept our king bed, in which we co-sleep, and collapsible platform frame, as well as our bedside tables and lamps. We have large pieces of art, most of which I painted, some of which will be sold, some of which dictates storage. And we will keep general items, such as blankets and pillows, towels and sheets, and we have scaled down our dinnerware to just four place settings, silverware and some glassware. We have three side tables that we often use.
We still have some vinyl records and a turntable, because music is important to us; those items will be stored. We have kept many of Luna’s animals and toys and books, because they are important to her and to us, and help her growing being. We also will keep some creative things that we all use as a family, including our collapsible desks and art tables, paint, clay, and games.
We will keep major kitchen items, such as a Vitamix and KitchenAid mixer, a pasta maker, mixing bowls and bakeware, because we make food often and often together, but which will have to be stored for the sake of travel.
We are almost exclusively paperless and have been for quite some time. All of our music and many of our movies are in the Cloud, and, thus, on our devices; inevitably the rest of our CDs and DVDs will be donated. We have donated hundreds of other items, including most of our books, many of which also are in the Cloud, as well as plates, glasses, food processors and other kitchen appliances, hardware, software, bed frames, tables, sofas, mattresses, chairs, televisions, a vice, fans, plants, pool stuff, garden stuff, lamps, vacuums, baby stuff, kid stuff, men’s and lady’s stuff.
And we have sold countless things: dressers, tables, ice cream makers, log carriers, a wine chiller and two kegerators, bed frames, a crib, a receiver, a Bose unit and outdoor speakers, outdoor patio furniture, Ikea desks and sofas, more sofas, computer monitors (like 10 of them), mirrors, hutches, bikes, a 42-inch TV and a smaller TV, office chairs, a refrigerator, and much, much more.
It makes me want to take a nap.
But which brings me to now. While my mother was holidaying in Florida, my husband and I became determined to finish the job — that is to offload most of the rest of what was our old and unnecessary life, the stuff that was acquired before baby and bankruptcy, because it fit our lifestyle and we could afford it. It was a playful time of different sorts. We were abundant with things and had carried those things from the Midwest to the Southwest and back again over the course of many years. The remaining list of items to purge is, finally, after all this time, small and…dare I say?…pleasantly manageable. But after such abundance, for which I am grateful and appreciative, we no longer want to be so abundant with things. Rather, we like being abundant in love.
Being abundant in love can be qualified in all kinds of ways. For us — for me, my husband and my daughter — home most definitely is where the heart is. Our hearts are with each other, with being together and focusing our energies on nurturing that, rather than on the Tetrus that is home-ownership and abundance-having. We want to share love on the road, sharing experiences with each other and others while being together. That is love for us. That is the balance that I want to practice.
Love is also remembering that many of us always already have exactly everything that we need. In other words, most of us need less, not more. We are a consumerist culture; we demand more, so more is made for us and we buy it. In the end, all we are doing is accumulating more stuff that will be bequeathed to others for them to deal with, for sorting through the contents of the lives and houses and storage units of family or friends, or to a recycling center or dump or Goodwill with all of our electronics and extra sofas. Most of the folks that most of us all know, including us, have at least two televisions at home, as well as at least one electronic device per person, and many of us end up somewhere — a race, a fundraiser, a workplace, the movies — that offer logo-decorated takeaways and gift bags full of stuff. How many plastic water bottles, bleacher cushions, umbrellas, cold food carriers, soda cups, key chains, t-shirts, fleece jackets, decals, blankets, totes, grocery bags and to-go coffee mugs do we all need? It will help if we think before we acquire. It all goes somewhere.
‘Tis the nature of our human being and its existence, all of the time intelligent, creative, learning, growing, needing to feed those aspects of ourselves, offering what we create and learn and know to us other humans, making and doing more because we have to in order to evolve. How to balance the excess? How to manage the stuff, while satisfying our ever-eager, highly creative, very needy minds? Where do my paintings go when no one wants them anymore? What do we do with the iPad that feeds my child’s brain with so many interesting things created by other highly stimulated people?
I don’t know yet. I considered it before bankruptcy and after, during our purge and in rest, and I consider it as we plan for life on the road. My husband and I are making an effort to figure that out together, to share with our daughter, as a gift to our daughter, to ourselves, our extended family and our planet, by living with less, being lighter, utilizing what we have or must acquire to its fullest extent to minimize our footprint and rechannel our energies. We are trying to plan for considerate travel and more considerate living, which can be tricky, ecologically damaging, financially tugging, occasionally stuff-accumulating kinds of experiences. It is making us lighter in thinking and being than what we have come from and is shaping our continued journey on this planet in this lifetime from now on.
And it has helped immensely to have had the time to purge and plan, by choice or by accident, for, when we go, we can just…go.
Looking forward to our lighter, nomadic adventures. In the meantime, does anyone need a set of used women’s golf clubs?