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In this season of gratitude and giving, we’re thankful for this barebones existence. In good-to-middlin’ health, no walls to paint, no deadlines to meet or personal responsibilities beyond caring for each other and a psychopathic chihuahua, and our truck and trailer incurring no serious damage over the last 5,252 miles, we feel most grateful.
If “old age ain’t for sissies” I speculate, the vagabond life may be good training for future convalescents. Quick adaptors keep a loose grip, go with the flow, don’t fret the details. Every two weeks we’re in a new place with different weather, terrain, dialect, marketplace and laundry. Our only constants are Beauty, The Beast, our medications, Jim’s shirt and our rituals. Every time Jim unhitches the rig and steps into Beauty he says, “You know, this place looks a lot like the one in … (fill in prior location).” I respond, “And that shirt looks a lot like the one you wore in … (fill in prior location).”
“Living the Dream.” Loaded phrase. Visions of Tahiti dance in my head. For someone else, the perfect earth-life might include a yacht, or living near the grandchildren, or healing people in underserved areas. But, who doesn’t fantasize about doing exactly what you want, when and where you want to do it?
These days, average people can live fluid lives in ways and in circumstances only the wealthy and powerful could manage a few decades ago. Without porters, servants and guides, Jim and I can dine and sleep and take hot showers in spectacular locations where the nearest services are hundreds of miles away. Our old magic show touring skills keep us frosty. We can pack, hitch and move in under an hour – that’s handy for sudden weather changes, or to move short distances for a better swimming hole or view. The key is to travel light.
We loved our conventional life in a house in a community where we claimed identity with a place. Someday, we may go back to that lifestyle, but – as recent converts to the simple life – we’ve sworn off heavy baggage. We’re out of the woods and into The Clearing.
Going light was almost a deal-breaker for our living in Beauty plans.
For a year or so, we struggled with three basic philosophies:
- Keep one of our properties and sell the other. Put our stuff in storage.
- Sell both of our properties, buy a condo, rent it out. Put our stuff in storage.
- Just sell everything and go. No storage.
The price of storage initiated the leap to the third choice. Jim would rather walk a mile than pay for parking, so renting space for stuff we may never unpack had low appeal. However, thinking about storage was a perfect excuse to not have to deal with our stuff.
With Star Trek phasers not ready for market, we discussed all possible solutions to make our stuff evaporate before our eyes – and serious planning sessions about what to do gives one the sensation of actually making progress! Ah, those were the days – active procrastination over beer and nachos. We pursued this strategy with gusto … until that fateful weekend when we finally crossed the threshold to the dreaded garage and (ugh!) opened boxes and peeked inside. Surprise! It was actually, kind of fun – like visiting an old aunt. Sweet and time-consuming.
And, how wonderful to discover that our stuff wasn’t worth keeping! It was like arriving to school on test day to see the school had burnt down. Our energy increased. No guilt. No waste. It’s just junk! Haul it off!!! But sometimes, queasiness and tears brought The Clearing to a halt. We put those things aside to deal with later … usually photos, wedding gown, baby toys. Eventually, scanning solved most of the agony – and now we revisit images of these items more often as we prefer to view them on screen.
The Clearing began to teach us how we’d already let precious things go when we had no choice in the matter – parents, friends, family, pets. So, it’s okay. Dying isn’t the only way to part with stuff – and you don’t have to do it alone. Just take photos of the girl scout award sash and let Jim put it someplace where you’ll never see it again. Make a digital copy of the old reel-to-reel of Grandfather playing the harmonica on the porch in Alabama in the 60’s and allow the service to dispose. Scan Jim’s love letters and shred them – no, let Jim shred them. Once we began to see the results – namely, that cataloging our stuff in a digital archive meant we weren’t erasing our lives – we were preserving it. Once that sank in, we happily released our material goods almost completely and never looked back … until today, because that’s what this blog is about, and the question people ask most, “How’d you do it?”
Those two strenuous and challenging years, letting nearly every worldly possession go from staple gun to two-on-one was certainly not a period we’d want to relive, but today we’re proud of our method and management of the project.
Here’s how we did it.
Scanning, first. Photos, photos, photos and documents, newspaper clippings, writing projects, diaries, school projects, images and paraphernalia going back fifty years.
Then, dealing with clutter: Craft items, paint and art supplies, beads, fabric, floral supplies, wire cutters, glue guns, holiday decor, board games, cards, scissors, scissors, scissors, ribbon, ribbon makers, curling ribbon, fabric ribbon, Christmas ribbon, ribbon-ribbon
Books were next.
Milton, Merton, Faulkner, Capote, Donne, Dickens, Don Quixote,
Koontz, Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Shelly, Chardin, Dostoyevsky,
The Life And Times of Calamity Jane, Blake, Mother Theresa, Hugo, King,
Ursula Le Guin, Wendell Barry, The Love Lizard Of Melancholy Cove, Clancy,
Clancy, Buber, Clancy, Clancy, Irving, Chekov, Shakespeare, Clancy,
The Elements of Style, The Secret Of The Hidden Staircase, Markings, Simone Weil,
Where The Sidewalk Ends, Hildegard, A Walk In The Woods, To Kill A Mockingbird,
Clancy, Irving, Clancy …
OMG. The Thursday yard sales. Cookie cutters, candy molds, cake pans, cookie pans, and pans for pans, double boilers, bread makers, juicers, mixers, mandolins, grinders, graters, corers, processors, pourers.
On to the dining room – stone ware, porcelain ware, silverware, trays, creamers, ladles, candlesticks, gravy dishes, chafing dishes, table linens, top linens, under linens, linens for linens, glasses, glasses, glasses, pitchers, pitchers, pitchers
Living room: Futon, desk, desk accessories, printers, scanners, fax machines, routers, chairs, tables, file cabinets, storage cabinets, paintings, lamps, movie projectors, stereo systems.
Bedroom lamps, quilts, electric blankets, shower caddies, hot water bottles, hair dryer, heating pads, inflatable neck pillows, knee pillows, body pillows, back pillows…
The clothes: five closets worth … the mink coat, the Akido Gi, the tux, the studs, the pumps, the shoes, the insoles, the shoes, the Shoe-Cabinet-Of-All-Shoe-Cabinets, the room for the Shoe-Cabinet-Of-All-Shoe-Cabinets which we call the garage.
The 3rd story deck: patio table and chairs, lamp heater, BBQ.
The back yard: Fire pit, chairs, canopies, dozens of plants, outdoor lights, stained glass.
The garage! The tools, the wood, the cans full of paint, yard equipment, fertilizers, fishing poles, planks, bikes, surf boards, inflatables, camping gear (tent, lanterns, shower, stove, buckets, buckets within buckets, nests of buckets … rakes, shovels, post holer, tamper, hamper, bumper guards …
We sold most, donated, gifted to friends and family at least 98%
We’ve started three businesses, changed jobs several times, and liquidation is the hardest thing we’ve ever done – even though we had practice with Jim’s mother’s household and had observed several friends attack the job – in different ways but similar results – for their deceased or disabled parents. We knew what we were in for.
By far, the toughest part of liquidation was to accept that our stuff was basically worthless. Surprisingly, this was tough emotional work. Our prized possessions were almost impossible to sell because they were so “special.” Selling a cardboard box full of used writing utensils for $20 is a breeze, but finding a buyer for our rare books and signed lithograph was so time-intense, we opted to appraise and donate to local charities.
Okay, it was a dirty, stringy, dusty, gritty, squishy job – kind of like gutting a sperm whale and sorting it out by hand – but it was worth every moment. Take a look at us now: a clean, lean traveling machine!
The image below is a mosaic of more than 1000 possessions we sold, donated, gifted, recycled or threw away. To see the individual photo details, click on the image and zoom in.