Re-entry to the world of stuff

I wrote recently about the decision to re-settle ourselves in SE Alaska, ending a two-year roving lifestyle, working and living in temporary clinic housing when we weren’t out of the state traveling.

In the past month we ordered enough household items from Amazon to start life again…we’d sold almost everything when we sold the Ketchikan house in October, 2014, so we had some restocking to do. I have to admit, until now, I wouldn’t have associated Amazon with furniture. But it turns out you can order quite an array…everything you need, in fact. And though what we bought isn’t heirloom quality, it’s solid and looks good, and that’s sufficient for our needs at the moment. I’m not furnishing my dream home with this move.

So this is how you move to Alaska…SE Alaska, anyway. You talk with the barge lines that serve SE Alaska and sort out their timetable, and the various options for shipping. You can use an entire shipping container, 20 or 40 foot (or as many as you need), or you can ship up on pallets. If you ship on pallets, you’re charged by weight, and per hundred-weight, it works out to twice the cost of shipping an entire container. For a container, you pay a flat rate, and whatever you can put in goes for the same flat rate. So that’s the better way to ship, at least for larger volume.

It turns out we had exactly a 20-foot container’s worth of belongings. I think that’s pretty good, actually, for 35 years of marriage. We’ve thinned a lot along the way, so even after replacing furniture and adding the household items I had in storage, we still kept it to a manageable level.

At least, that’s what I thought, until the container was unloaded into the two-car garage at our new place. It was full, with boxes stacked on boxes, three or four levels deep. Suddenly, after a two-year break from possessions, it was overwhelming to look at everything at once.

I can’t deny I’ve done a happy dance or two at the thought of having my kitchen set up again, and it will be lovely to have all my clothes in one place, to see familiar and homey knickknacks again. It will be nice to actually fully unpack my roller bags, and live out of drawers and closets for a change.

But I also can’t deny…there’s a part of me that’s a little suffocated, a little weighed down just looking at all the stuff.

I’ve happily collected and kept my favorite things, and as I get older, I’m pickier about what meets that standard. What is worth holding on to, moving around, and ultimately keeping throughout my life? I think a bit more these days about how much stuff I’ve accumulated, and what I’ll leave to my kids to deal with (one day, far, far in the future!)

When you’ve had an opportunity to live stuff-free for a significant time, as we’ve done the past two years, you see it all a little differently. Yes, the convenience and the comfort of having my own things is enjoyable, and I’m excited to revel in nesting again.

But I also have a wee bit of a feeling that my wings are clipped, that I’ll be more tied down than I have been. And I didn’t expect to feel that. Didn’t expect to experience any negative side to setting up a home again.

Me, the ultimate nester, feeling overwhelmed by my twigs?!

Maybe I just need to clear a few boxes, and get cozy again. But it makes me think about how consumed Americans are with stuff, and getting more stuff, and maintaining stuff. And all this makes me determined to keep some perspective…to be a little less thing-oriented, and see it all for what it is…pleasant filler that makes my day-to-day convenient  and comfortable.

But stuff is not so important to me as it once was. And maybe that’s the lesson of the last two years: I can actually thrive without a lot of it, and as long as the really important elements of my life are in place…health, and family, and nurturing relationships…the other stuff is just that…stuff that fills my garage, and will soften my life. But it doesn’t make my life. I never thought that it did…but coming full circle through all of this brings that reality home to me.

We’re about to enter the season of giving, and getting. I’m thinking more about giving experiences, and the types of gifts that don’t accumulate to pile in the garage or basement, that don’t need sorting and caring for.

This isn’t meant to guilt anyone…we all need things…but just to say, how much is the right amount? And how can we have a healthy relationship with the stuff, instead of being overwhelmed by it?

It’s one of the ongoing conversations I have with myself…what about you? Got a handle on this? Any wisdom to share?

~ Sheila

Sometimes you need to be still…

For two years I’ve lived out of a suitcase. Two years.

I never saw that coming.

The past two years, since we sold the house in Ketchikan, we’ve worked in small communities in SE Alaska, lived in temporary duty clinic housing, and traveled.

We’ve traveled a lot.

And that’s been good. We’ve traveled for work and traveled for fun, spent time with family and friends, and seen some amazing places. We sorted through a lot of stresses, a lot of questions, as individuals, and as a couple.

We didn’t really have a plan when this chapter began. We just sort of fell into this life. Mostly we couldn’t decide what we wanted, where we wanted to make a home again. We still haven’t decided. And the thing about Alaska is, there’s always plenty of work. It’s easy to ride the circuit of clinics, spending a few weeks or a month at a time, take a break, then make the rounds again. It’s easy to stay busy when you can’t make a decision.

But as of this month, we’re creating a hub again.

We didn’t buy a house, or settle on our “happily ever after” place. We haven’t retired, and we’re not working full-time either.

One of the locations where we’ve worked on a regular basis has individual clinic housing available that we can use with a limited commitment, so we’re taking the offer of housing, more stability, and a space to unpack, for the first time in a long time.

My personal commitment to Alaska is on the horizon. I have roughly four years to go to my next decade, and that’s the timeline I’m working with.

While I’m slightly giddy about seeing my Kitchen Aid again, spreading out, and having access to all my wardrobe in one place, this decision also serves other needs.

There’s no doubt we’ll be here more regularly, even though I expect we’ll still be working in other locations on occasion. It will be good to have a part in adding stability to this clinic. We’re not indispensable…no one is…but we have a contribution to make.

The other thing I’ve realized is: I need some stillness in my life.

In the past year I wrote a book, launched a site, I’m creating an online course, and I’m developing webinars and videos. All of it was done between working in three different locations, traveling back and forth cross-country, and trying to make sure I had the right clothes for the right season and occasion in my trusty roller bags.

Some days I’m disheartened because I have so much I want to do, and I feel so slow at accomplishing.

I finally recognized I’m never going to progress unless I slow down and carve out some space, and time. I’ve been telling myself if I’m focused, if I want to take my online work to the next level, I just have to try harder, be more determined.

What I really need is to slow down a bit. I need to be in the same place for more than two weeks at a stretch. I need to spend more time writing, and less time packing.

I need to set up my little home studio and leave it in place, rather than trying to cart it around with me. I need to use the timeline I set for Alaska as the timeline for my personal work goals as well.

Even as I write this, we’ve got more travel lined up for the fall. But I think the difference is in my mindset. There’s a place in this home that’s just right for a little creative nook, and I’m excited to have more time to invest in the work I’ve committed to.

So much about the last decade has been unexpected. To be honest, that pretty much sums up my experience of Alaska. Unexpected. Some good, some not-so-good. But this is a twist I hope will be in the first category.

And maybe my roller bags will get a well-earned break. 🙂

~ Sheila

 

 

Cross-pollination

Hawaii

We’re spending the month far away from Alaska, in Hawaii. Time away from our “norm” opens doors to thought and helps me take stock of our current life model. This is where I spell out the way it works for us, and can work for others.

Some of my life’s work is to be a cautionary tale, and I’ve written about that. Hopefully, another role is to be a light house, to share thoughtfully, and to encourage readers to think outside the box…to see opportunity and find flexibility.

There’s nothing wrong with having a “traditional” life with all the trimmings, and we had that for many years…kids, jobs, house, cars, pets…all good. In fact, all wonderful.

But empty nesting is a new chapter, and brings new opportunity. For some, it may not be about empty-nesting. Maybe your opportunity to live outside the box is pre-children, or roaming the globe as a single. Maybe you’re in retirement years and looking for new adventure.

Whatever your path, your choices, likely there are more options that you’re aware of. I find new ideas all the time…unique ways folks are living, working, traveling, and paying for life on the go.

What about you? Have you found new ways to integrate life and work, vacation and the every-day? I’d love to hear about it! And check out the link above for details on how we’re doing it!

~ Sheila

Homeless by design

We’ve entered a new era, a new adventure. We’re officially homeless, with no new address in sight.

The transition began in the fall of 2014 when we sold our last house and moved our remaining belongings to storage. We’ve lived since then out of a combination of roller bags, back packs, temporary work housing, camping, visiting with family, and the occasional VRBO (vacation rental by owner).

Now we’ve removed the camping element, turning the travel trailer over for consignment sale. We sold my car in December, and Rob’s truck last weekend. They were mostly living in storage.

Between us we have keys for our mailbox, and keys to temporary duty housing in Alaska.

We have no idea how long this will last, or where our next permanent landing place will be. For now, it’s enough that we know the schedule for the next few months. We’ll connect with family, work a bit, travel, experience, and manage the routines of life. All without a home, or vehicles.

You wouldn’t know, to look at me, that this would be a choice I would make. I remind myself that life is about seasons, and this is just a different season than I’ve experienced before. If much of my life has been about nesting and the pleasures of making a home, this chapter is about living, literally, outside the box, stretching myself in ways I could only imagine before, improvising, serendipity, the pleasures of the moment.

Some of this we’ve chosen, other pieces have just evolved.

In many ways the living is easy.

The benefits?

I don’t have to schedule maintenance on anything or keep up with a yard. I don’t have to do much cleaning these days. We have no house payment, no car payment. (To be honest, we were done with those payments before we sold the cars or the house, but it’s still good to know.) We keep an non-owner auto policy that gives us insurance coverage for rental cars, and we maintain a mailing address so we can receive the few pieces of actual mail that come our way. We have a monthly storage fee on a one-car garage size unit, which we occasionally access to switch out clothes or seasonal items.

When we travel, we’re not locked into a specific destination…no returning to an RV or one location. We plan to use this time to explore and check off places on our must-see lists.

We get to try a variety of vehicles on for size. We did the math. We can rent a car for about three months of the year before we cross the line of spending more than we would spend annually on insurance and vehicle maintenance and storage fees. When we work, transportation is provided, so we don’t need to rent during that time. Depending on where we’re staying when we’re not working, we may or may not need a vehicle. And even if we end up spending more in rental / shuttle / cab fees than we would typically spend to own, there’s still tremendous flexibility.

Making these choices helped us purge, clean out, and really consider which possessions are important, necessary, and worth keeping. In particular, I, lover of my stuff, have done a lot of soul searching as I think about what I need to hold, and what I need to release.

It’s not always easy, but the freedom is amazing.

The drawbacks?

I sometimes miss a sense of home that is familiar and inviting. Clinic housing tends to be functional and comfortable, but it isn’t homey. It isn’t beautiful. And it isn’t mine. Hotel or vacation rentals are generally comfortable and even inviting, but of course they don’t feel like “home.” Family spaces are certainly familiar and homey, but that’s a different experience as well.

None of this is bad, as much as it is different.

Our littles won’t know what it’s like to visit our home, at least for a while. It’s already been too long since we were settled for them to remember visiting us in the last house we had. We see them at their house, or when we connect elsewhere. That’s fun, but different too.

I miss my things, sometimes. I mostly miss my kitchen. I know everything is safely stored away, awaiting the next nest. But I don’t know the date of “next.” There’s no move-in date on my calendar to plan toward, yet.

The cautions?

You must be good at planning ahead to live like this. We can be spontaneous with our time off, but when we’re working, (we work about half the year) we have to commit to that schedule far enough in advance to arrange travel. Usually we’re planning two to three months out. There are a lot of logistics issues to keep up with.

We’re thoughtful about how much and how often we land on family. We don’t want anyone to get tired of seeing us, and we don’t want to be a burden or take advantage of family because we’re choosing to live like this. This is our choice, not our family’s. That means when we visit, we pay for a lot of things…meals, or gas, or help with whatever we can, and we don’t stay too long. A few days is usually about right.

There are some oddities about living this way. It’s hard to give a short answer when someone asks where we live. It’s challenging to schedule some things…dental cleanings and haircuts, health care, tax prep…sometimes we’re in the right place when one of these services is due, and sometimes not. Just another area of life that makes careful planning essential.

So far I’ve been able to keep up with the right clothes for the right season / climate, haven’t found myself in a summer location with winter clothes in my suitcase. But it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure. So far, our luggage has kept up with us, every step of the way, every flight. Nothing lost or damaged. But it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.

Of course we’re not the only people on the planet living an unconventional lifestyle. A lot of people are nomads, my husband’s term of choice. I sometimes think about trying to chronicle all the stories, the lessons I’ve learned from living like this. Maybe I’ll do it. Right now I’m busy juggling work and new site, new book in final pre-print phase, personal travel, work travel, the occasional blog post, staying connected to family and friends.

One of these days we’ll land again, unpack, get into a routine. One of these days..

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost