The last couple of weeks have been intense as we officially made it over the hump of purging, organizing and sorting. It has been a long, arduous process. It is one thing to move from house to house, bringing most of one’s possessions along with you. It is another kind of consideration moving into a tiny house, ridding oneself of most of one’s possessions, as well as saving only the most important, valuable and/or memorabilia-type things for storage. Aside from two small areas in the house remaining to be sorted, our personal belongings will fill no more than 300 square feet: 80 square feet in storage space and the rest in our living space, the travel trailer. Everything else belonging to us will be going or has gone elsewhere as donation, gifts or sold. This will be as light as we can make ourselves for the time and mental energy remaining, but we know that we will not nor do not need or want most of what we have owned.
Many times this family has moved, independently, collectively, harmoniously, but the efforts of maintaining and organizing the personal possessions of many and many spaces over time has seemed more exhausting in my memory than any other time or move, as well as one of the most exhilarating, imagining new ideas, vistas and tiny spaces. There are differences this time around, however. I have learned a lot about myself, what I want for the world, and what I hope for my family.
Too much stuff is an energy suck
As aforementioned, this final push up the mountain of off-loading has seemed the most taxing of all of my moving experiences, probably because it has been on-going and it has included so many families, life events and things, and we are not moving house-to-house, but rather completely downsizing into a grand total of no more than 300 square feet. We experienced collectively and simultaneously many life stressors over a small amount of time. Fewer stressors might have made these life passages less hazy, but much of the haziness came from having so many things — that is physical and emotional clutter, too many things from which to choose. We were not hoarders, by any means. In fact, we are quite an organized lot, and we were like most Americans: we just had stuff. According to a March 23, 2015, Time magazine article called “The Joy of Less” by Josh Sanburn, “… the average U.S. household has about 248 garments and 29 pairs of shoes. It purchases, on average, 64 pieces of clothing and seven pairs of shoes annually, at a total cost of $1,141 a year, or $16 per item.” Swap “garments” and “shoes” for anything else that any of us collects — books, glasses, music, dishes, plates, pots, Christmas gifts — and it describes the habits of us all having stuff.
Furthermore, Sanburn reports, “Most household moves outside the U.S. weigh from 2,500 lb. to 7,500 lb. (1,100 kg to 3,400 kg). The average weight of a move in the U.S. is 8,000 lb. (3,600 kg), the weight of a fully grown hippo.” In our case, we personally have moved many times and in the last five years merged households a few times, so we weighed in at about three or four large hippos each time. When one mixes personal possessions and emotions of and with many people — other fully grown hippos — one risks the potential for persistent and consistent sorting, because if space is available, we fill it, because we can, cheaply and efficiently, thank you, Amazon One-Click. It can become a difficult, mucky, trudging process, because every family has its own version of what makes up “home.” One can control his or her feelings and emotions, but cannot control how other people will handle them or their own, or what they choose to consume.
People have strong emotional attachments to things, be they sentimental or otherwise, such as for the sake of the unknown, the what-ifs. The abundance of stuff can create stress and ambivalence. It happened here. I found myself occasionally, lately, angry, often mentally exhausted, and oddly sad from having too much stuff for so long, finding more of it in drawers or cupboards or closets, having to sort it all and having participated in the perpetuation of the American habit of having “more possessions than any society in history,” as the article cites. The closer we come to ending this habit of acquiring more things, sending away what we no longer need or want, while attempting to store what we shall keep and pack what will be required for our adventures, it all seems to multiply, like little procreating tchotchke bunnies. How is it possible that we had at least seven muffin tins? Six Pyrex pie plates? Three graters? Why does every room need a chair? What is up with abundance of paper clips and nail clippers? Does every special cocktail need a special glass? Since when did Americans decide that we need dinnerware and china, regular eating utensils and silverware? Really? How did we end up with over 15 Thermos-type containers still after all these years? It’s because almost everyone of us makes home, in every house, in every space, historically and in the future, in duplicate and triplicate, because of divorce, because of marriage, because families swell and subside, because of upgrading and downsizing, because of new spaces, because of different spaces, because of life shifts, because of creative shifts, because that’s what we do.
It reminds me of the rock jar analogy. We ought to fill our lives — our jars — with the most important things, our priorities and the things we value, our large rocks. It would be considered full, but uncluttered. Instead, we fill our jars and the spaces around the large, valuable rocks with all shapes and sizes of things — rocks, pebbles, stones, sand, water — because we can, and so we do. Now the jar is not just full and cluttered, but heavy and less meaningful, full of things that slip through our fingers.
So, in case it seemed unclear, I had become pissed off by the burden of having too much stuff, and I’m frustrated by how much I have personally taxed the resources it takes to provide all of the things that I thought I have needed over the years B.E.: Before Enlightenment. As we approach a year or so of full time travel, the stuff-having and having-to-unload it has taken time away from my daughter, my husband, my writing, my walks and runs, meditation and yoga and general engaging of peace-making, and more. It has used up gas in the shopping, shipping and re-shipping of all of the things that I have needed or decided that I didn’t. It has utilized, taken advantage of and taken for granted the cheap man/woman power all over the world who make or pick our stuff, because, you know, pine nuts don’t grow in my backyard, or my front yard. I bet I have no real idea how much my participation in all of the having is really taxing the Earth. Some, most or all of us have coffee, quinoa, goji berries, avocados, almonds and rice in our pantries, and I’m pretty sure those items aren’t growing in American backyards either (well, maybe the avocados). I know that it is taboo to declare “never say never,” but I would like to try very hard to never again put myself or others in a position of having so much, so fast, so often, only to have to sort it and clear it and take time away from the most important stuff of life. It is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting feeding and maintaining fully grown hippos. But I am grateful for the process, because I have learned that purging becomes tremendously easier as emotional attachment is lifted. In a way, it has given me new life, a life that is full of more peace and clarity, and less clutter. It is my new American Dream.
There is a price for freedom
It is one thing to want to live a life untethered, but it is another thing to make it come to fruition. This is where karmic debt comes into play — that is you reap what you sow. Energy transfer. This certainly applies to me, to us. We have wanted to live lightly and freely, because they are attributes of our value system. Some of it has come easily, such as living life as natural learners and focusing on family, traveling; as ideals they are easy to embrace, often easy to practice, at least they are for us. Collecting things to fill a house and make a home are material things, however, and we cannot just wish them away, for the “objects that we bring in the house are not inert … They have consequences,” says UCLA anthropologist Elinor Ochs in “The Joy of Less.” As we have made goals of traveling, living without and untethered, we are accountable for all that we have acquired, our “hyperacquisition,” as he calls it. Clearing the way for our life of free-living is tiring, necessary, creative work.
In our old life in Arizona, when we had lots more money to spend and lots more spaces to fill, we did or had others do it for us to “give” us more “time,” and we did it with just our little family of three. Then, when we moved back to the Midwest to join emotional forces, so to speak, and rebuild after the Recession, we merged households that were doing or had done the same, which is or was fill spaces with lots of things, and who also were rebuilding, mostly emotionally. All of it, all of the emotional and physical stuff, good or bad, thick or thin, comes with a price. It is part of the investment. Whatever you take on you must wade through until you get to the other side. Sometimes it is not pretty, often it is utterly challenging, busy, joyful, mind-numbing, but, in order to be free from obligation, responsibility, to go on to the next phase, to pass, one must fulfill one’s dharma and do something with the debt of karmic incurrence, however and whatever it was that was brought into the mix of your life.
As collectors of things and helpers in emotional processes, Scot and I and the rest of the family involved heavily in these trying times of change have had to reap what we have sown in order to move on. It is simply part of the deal, and, in our case, part of the creative process, and it has been exhausting. For me and Scot, we have been aware of it and working toward being and experiencing as close to “free” as we know how to do or can do at this time. Through it all, we have crafted our dreaming over and over again. We didn’t always know what we wanted, what we were to do exactly, but we had pretty good ideas about what we needed and what we did not want or need. Recurring themes were the want to be better, more invested global citizens and to not be tethered to all that encompasses home ownership, or a busy American family, school or work life. No more lawns or gardens to manage, no more leaves to rake or snow to blow. No more screens to clean, furnaces to fix, windows to install, faucets to change out, cleaning of floors, clogged drains or dishwashers. No homework, tests or extra extracurricular activities. No more stuff-having or acquiring. And no more excessive emotional extras. We have served our terms as caregivers and became emotionally sapped in the process. We have needed to recharge, and we have needed to return to spending as much time together as possible, focusing on just the three of us — me, Scot and Luna. These have become priorities. Quality over quantity.
So, despite all of the challenges and emotional toiling presented and created and incurred by our collective karmic debts — the results of our actions — I embrace it, fatigue, heavy lifting and all. It has been necessary, divinely inspired, right and good. I have learned that it helps to do the work and work together to undo what has been done. It takes a village to raise and continue to raise and uplift families and communities, to move toward freedom, enlightenment. One may never know how or when or why the lessons will present themselves, for how long they will endure, or what will arise from it all, but in order to create peace, maintain happiness, sustain freedom, one must unpack what must be seen and what one must endure. True creative work, the work of and from your soul, isn’t always pretty, and it is often exhausting, but if we knew that beforehand, we may not stop to pick up the pieces, examine them and put them into place.
Moving into a tiny space is not for the faint of heart
I have decided that stocking a space for an undefined amount of time is a lot like trying on clothes, and I strongly dislike shopping. Like many people, there have been times when I’ve needed — or more likely wanted — to buy something to wear, hoping to will it into perfection. In my fantasyland, I conjure the image of color and fit, swiftly enter the store, find what matched in my head, hold it up to my body in the mirror without trying it on, pay for it, and go home to find that, indeed, all was clothes-buying perfection: fit, color, and it went with everything I already had in my closet. Voilà! A dream opportunity for swimsuit shopping!
Alas, we all know how that works out, mostly, that most of the time this doesn’t work out at all. It is, in fact, bad practice to just guess. If you have chosen poorly, you not only have wasted time, you’ve wasted money. Good practice demonstrates that it will work out much better in the end if we evaluate our closets (and expectations and aspirations!) carefully, assess what we have already, measure, practice if we can, and buy appropriately. It may take more time and a little more patience, but it will work out much better in the end.
The same goes for gearing up for traveling in a travel trailer that is less than 200 square feet of living space. Back and forth from house to camper have we walked carrying various loads of things that I thought would fit or serve us well while traveling, but, in fact, have proved to be ill-fitting or inappropriate. They do not match what was fitting in my fantasyland. There were lovely kitchen appliances that I wanted to bring, such as a VitaMix, my food processor and my little Atlas crank pasta maker. Nope. Too heavy, too large. Space hogs. Little non-stick skillets are easy to clean and weigh little; cast iron skillets are much more versatile, but weigh lots and can be difficult to clean. One can forget how much regular bags of flour and sugar weigh. Shoes take up a lot of space as they are all awkwardly shaped. Blankets are warm and necessary, and bulky. It would be more cost-effective to utilize our old dinnerplates. They are durable and versatile, but four stacked adds weight and are risky in transit. The strainer that rests on the sink seemed like a good idea, but didn’t seem well-rested once in place, so which one to bring? Bag chairs over fold-up ones; reusable, multi-purpose glasses; clothes for layering; the most narrow of muffin tins among the seven or eight we had. All of it has had to be considered carefully until we can practice, and then we will consider even more.
One thing that makes our traveling by camper different than that of most folks is its longevity. Most RVers know that weight must be low for hauling and for fuel efficiency. But our camping in the driveway is short-lived and in practice only. There will be no repacking or reconsideration “when we get” home, because we’ll be in it. There will be no brick-and-mortar structure for returning or recuperating. We need to use what we have, keep it light and very utilitarian, packing-up and picking up only what we need. This is our tiny house on wheels.
We have been looking forward to living lightly and freely, but it truly has been challenging to move into tiny living when one comes from so much, has so many choices, there are a few unknowns, wants to keep a low eco-footprint, wants to be prepared as much as possible, while staying tethered as little as possible. We want to experience and, hopefully, regularly practice living with only what we really need, freeing us to explore without the anchor of material abundance. Tiny living will make for a larger heart.
We already have most of what we always need
Other vital bits that I have discovered or have been reiterated through this process of purging and moving into a small space are helpful reminders for motivation and continuation of our journey. They go like this.
We need very little to be happy, money included.
TV is okay, but still mostly unnecessary.
Hard copy things are also unnecessary nowadays.
Kitchen gadgets are highly overrated.
Spend more on quality. You’ll be rewarded in the end.
Folks, generally, are very, very generous. Grace abounds and is happening all of the time all around us. Pay attention and be grateful.
Finances can be just as creative as anything else.
Gifts from the heart are the most precious of all.
Take stock before you buy. Make stock before you cook. Use the scraps and parts and pieces of what you have at hand in order to set yourself up for some spontaneity. You might have what you need already, creating from scratch, which will make your life much better, much more rich, and the most satisfying in your journey.
Things keep you from experiencing. Experiences over things.
Sometimes you have to invest in a little more or in new in order to make a go of it. In that case, be conscientious.
And there is more, but I have some traveling to do, and I would like to write about that and those experiences, rather than write about clutter. I would like to take these things that I have learned and observed and pack them in my mind for remembering that, even though space remains in our tiny house on wheels for filling, we do not need to fill it. It is potentially heart-clogging. There can be open spaces remaining in even the tiniest of houses for smelling the wilderness; touching the trees; shaking hands with newness; the doing of nothing or just being, and for rest, and enjoying it; for seeing how others do it; that you can’t take it with you when you go and, in fact, it will be redistributed to be sorted by others after you’re dead. I — we — would like to wrap up this business of having and get to doing. So be it.