Two years a vagabond

In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote about how a ‘brush with death’ accident changed my perspective on life. That changed perspective led to one of the more major changes I’ve made: two years ago this month, I closed my apartment in Providence, put my belongings in storage, and became a vagabond.

Why? For one, as much as I loved my apartment and Providence, I had been thinking for several years about leaving New England. One way to figure out where I wanted to live next was to un-tether myself so I would not be seduced by my comfortable living situation into staying.

For another, I had thought much about my desired lifestyle, which included traveling, making long-terms stays in other countries, and spending time with my family and friends. One way to achieve that lifestyle, I thought, was to start living it. Since I couldn’t afford to spend extended amounts of time in other states and countries and keep an apartment as a home base, I chose to give up the apartment.

What’s it been like? Well, the challenges have been many and there’s been many a time when all I could think was ‘what a long strange trip it’s been.’ Here’s what I can tell you about the experience.

In the first eighteen months, there was not one month when I didn’t miss the loft apartment I left. I still miss it sometimes, but I’ve moved on enough that I can’t see trying to recreate that living situation.

It can be hard to establish a routine when you’re staying with someone or in a space only on a short-term basis. That’s been hard for me because I find it easier to get the important things done if the mundane details of life, like what to eat for breakfast and doing laundry, are accomplished via routine.

Even knowing that my priority in a couple of the short-term rentals was to do other things, I have not been able to resist reorganizing the kitchen. My rationale is that I make my own meals and to do that every day for two months without being able to find utensils and spices would drive me crazy!

There have been times when I was coming up on the end of one living situation and wasn’t yet sure what the next would be. That has been very stressful, but it’s worked out each time.

I have missed my ‘stuff,’ but not as much as I thought I would. Most of what I’ve missed is my clothes, which is odd since they are not a priority for me. However, one does get tired of wearing only the things that fit into a suitcase and it’s annoying when you’re in a place long enough for a season change and you don’t have the right clothes for the temperatures.

On the other hand, there have been times when, as I closed my storage space door, I said ‘miss you, stuff, but still having adventures.’ I’ll go further and say that with the perspective of two years of not living with my stuff, I got rid of a lot of it this summer.

If one has stuff in storage, it’s good to be organized. I labeled boxes of clothes, shoes and papers as needing to remain at the front of the space, which paid off when I was back in Providence this winter. It was snowing constantly and I needed my snow boots. There they were, at the front of the space, and in a clearly labeled box! (The dressy shoes I needed for my nephew’s wedding were another story.)

Spending extended amounts of time with my sisters and friends has given me more exposure to lifestyles different than my own and made me realize there are things I want to incorporate into my lifestyle. It’s also confirmed for me that no matter how appealing those lifestyles, they are not mine, even if I sometimes would like them to be.

I could not have done this without the support of friends and family who gave me a place to stay when I was passing through town on my way to someplace else or when a living situation came to an abrupt end, as when my mother died. The friend who manages my mail has earned an especially shiny star in her crown.

This lifestyle has strained every bit of my flexibility muscle but on the other hand, I’ve realized that I’m fairly resilient. For example, there have been a couple of times I’ve had to be talked off the ledge when a rental wasn’t what I expected from its description, but I’ve managed to settle in and keep moving on my projects.

At its worst, it’s been six different bedrooms / kitchens / bathrooms in four months. At its best, it’s been extended stays in Italy, months with my sisters and their families, working in person on creative projects with my sister Nancy, and the opportunity to visit my mother on a regular basis in the months before her death – and all of that has made it worth it.

I’ll end this with this snippet of conversation from a dinner with friends last winter:

Me: Omigosh, it’s almost time for my bus back to town.

Friend: Don’t worry about it, I’ll give you a ride home. [long pause] Where exactly is that now?

Stuff about stuff

Earlier this year, I took advantage of a sojourn in Providence to go through the clothing I had in my storage space. I tried on everything and discarded two bags of clothing that didn’t fit or wasn’t in good condition.

It wasn’t until this summer that I realized I had overlooked some clothing that was in a hanging box. Trying on these items was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had. These were gently-worn, good-quality skirts and dresses and a beautiful red coat, but when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person I saw there. That’s because this was clothing I wore in a different life—a life that revolved around going into a corporate office every day. It made me realize that when I tried on all the other clothing, I considered only whether it fit and was in good condition; I didn’t think about whether I would wear it again or whether it fit the life I am living now.

That got me to thinking, as I seem to do often these days, about ‘stuff’ and our relationship with it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been living without most of my belongings for two years, maybe it’s because so many people I know are trying to streamline their living environments, maybe it’s because I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, maybe it’s a combination of factors, but I realized that there are some traps I’ve fallen into, and that I see others falling into, when it comes to stuff and what we keep and what we discard.

The ‘what if‘ trap: what if I need this some day, what if I can never replace it, what if I can never afford to replace it? Any one of those things could become a factor at some point, but I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m not using it now, I don’t need it taking up space in my physical and mental rooms. I have to believe that I will be able to replace the functionality of the item if I need to, even if I can’t find one exactly like it.

The ‘maybe someday‘ trap: maybe someday I’ll finish this project, maybe someday I’ll go back to this craft, maybe someday I’ll have space for this. Yes, and in the meantime, this is stuff that has to be stored and cared for and is possibly in the way of more important items and activities.

The ‘eBay‘ trap: I’m keeping this around because I might be able to sell it and make some money. Think so? When we went through my mom’s possessions a couple of years ago, there were some items that we thought might have monetary value, so I did some research. I reviewed the completed listings on eBay, where one can see what has sold and for how much, and I can tell you that a lot of things aren’t worth the time, effort, and fees it takes to list them on eBay or any other storefront site. If you want to sell something, I say get on a site, list the item, and if it doesn’t sell, donate it. If you think it’s unique and valuable, call an expert for an appraisal NOW.

On that note, when a friend of mine closed her apartment last year, she said she realized that her possessions didn’t owe her anything, so she made the decision to donate rather than try to sell them. She said she had gotten good use out of them and that was enough.

The ‘it’s still good’ trap. This is a big one for me, especially when it comes to clothing. But see above—it doesn’t matter if the item is still in good condition; if you aren’t using it or wearing it, let it go and let someone else have the use or wear of it.

The ‘it has an association with a deceased loved one’ trap. This is hard for many of us—letting go of something that a deceased loved one gave us or that we inherited when that person died. When my father died, my siblings and I took items that had especial meaning for us as individuals and put the rest in boxes to store and revisit at a later time. When my sister and I opened those boxes a couple of years later, we realized that a lot of the stuff we had packed didn’t have meaning for us—if it had had meaning, we probably would have made the choice to take it at the time we took the other items. It’s hard, but I put it to you that at some point, you can’t keep everything and if the items are a burden, it’s time to let them ago. It’s highly unlikely that your loved one will return to haunt you.

Do I have a hard time making decisions about ‘stuff?’  Yes.  Can I tell anyone what to keep and what to discard?  No. However, to quote another friend, at some point you realize that more stuff won’t make you more comfortable and that, in fact, it is making you less comfortable because it’s taking up room in your head, your heart, and your life. Let the stuff go that no longer serves a purpose in your life.

Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014. Kindle file.