Living in the Ending of Things

Where is that thing, I wondered as I dug deep in the back of the closet.

I know I have it. I’ve had it for years.

As I searched for the missing item, I realized how much stuff had accumulated on just three shelves in only one closet. 

Stuff, stuff, everywhere. And I am getting rid of it all.

Every single thing.

Item by item, I scan each room as I try to assess the value of everything I have lovingly, and sometimes unknowingly, collected over a lifetime.

I am no longer attached to the vast majority of these things, these representations of my life. In fact, everything I own is being reduced to just ten boxes, things I’m actually making myself keep, because I will eventually settle into one place again. I am keeping items that are, for the most part, sentimental: a painting, a family heirloom, a favorite sweater, my new pans.

I’m thrilled that my family was just visiting, because I gave a box to each of them, two adults, two teenagers, and a pre-teen, and had them fill their boxes with whatever they could find of mine that they wanted. I was thrilled when my beautiful great-niece chose my beloved collection of perfume bottles and antique trinkets from the top of some long-forgotten woman’s mirrored vanity. The tall, handsome 14-year-old snagged a stunning decorative knife, the youngest, still a sweet kid but looking more and more like a young man, got my first-gen iPad. Their mom and dad got camping stuff and keepsakes. They each got a box-full of my memories.

How does one begin to liquidate a lifetime of possessions? Getting rid of all my personal belongings is a monumental task, and yet here it is, looming in front of me. 

Memories flood in as I look more closely at things I’ve had for years, things I don’t really see any more. One by one, memories come from my many years of a marriage long since over, of my crafting days, of lifelong friendships and friendships come and gone. Even my plants hold the history of the business I once owned. Who is going to inherit these memories? Who will hold precious the items I have carefully chosen, over many years, to fill my space?

One by one, items I post to my Facebook friends are finding homes with people I know, at least. Nothing has yet gone to a random stranger, although that will certainly happen in my first liquidation sale. 

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Bottom photo by Suzanne McQueen

But how can I possibly put a price tag on the little print of Vermeer’s L’astronome I got when my husband and I visited the Louvre on our first and only trip together to Europe? What is the value of the lovingly hand-beaded astronomy orb I spent hours and hours making during a creative period? How do I price the tiny trinkets friends have gifted me over the years, dusty now, sitting in a glass bowl?

I have given myself many months to prepare for this part, this parting with the symbols of my life. I am spending time with my thoughts, my memories filled with sweet hope, quiet satisfaction, deep contentment, tragedy, and lost love.

Occasionally, I must remind myself why I am doing this. Why am I, at fifty-eight years old, selling everything I own to travel the world? Then the spark flares, the adrenal flows, and the excitement rises as I remember: to experience life to its fullest, to meet people of all colors, shapes, and sizes around the globe; to see the spectacular sites of ancient history; to hear the sounds of monkeys screeching, shop owners calling out in strange tongues, and temple bells ringing through the jungle; to smell the fragrance of flowers I’ve never seen, aromas of foods I’ve never heard of; and to taste, in all respects, the flavors of lands far away and completely foreign to me.

This is what drives me: the knowledge that this is the only life I have. The time is now, while I am young enough and healthy enough to vagabond my way through the world. And I am thrilled and excited all over again.

Ah, there’s that thing. I gently pull out a small, faded photo of my former husband and me before we got married. I am sitting on his Harley, and he is standing beside me. We are falling in love, smiling the smiles of joy and young life. There are casts on each of our broken right arms. The Golden Gate Bridge is rising high in the background. This picture is going with me on my journey around the world. It holds all the love, all the dreams, all the adventure I once felt as a young woman. It will remind me that the future of that young woman is now. Now I stand on the threshold of the rest of my life. 

If you like this blog post, please like, comment, and share. Doing so will help support me as I prepare for this amazing lifetime journey.

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The Minimalist’s Ultimate Guide to Travel: What NOT to Pack

You have to take that shirt.

You wear it almost every day. It’s your favorite one. It goes with everything.

And your favorite pair of jeans. How could you NOT take those? You live in them.

Everything is laid out in perfect stacks on the bed, travel bag nearby, its gaping maw wide open, laughing at you.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You do this two, three, four more times. Every time you look at your stuff, there’s more. Every time you look at your bag, it’s smaller. You wonder, how can I possibly pack everything into a carry-on bag? packing graphic

How many times have you traveled with an over-full bag—or, worse yet, multiple bags—because you just didn’t know how you’d feel each day/what the weather would be/which soirees you might be invited to, so you had to take several options?

Remember when you had to step aside at the airport check-in counter and try to get your checked bag under the weight limit? You were frustrated, not to mention embarrassed, at having to pull out your clothes and shampoo and shoes and try to figure out what you could take out and shove into your carry-on bag.

All that careful packing gone to waste, and when you arrived, everything was balled up and wrinkled and nothing was where you put it in all that careful packing you did to make sure everything fit.

You swore you would never over-pack again. Well, didn’t you?

So, how DO you decide what to take and, more importantly, what to leave behind?

Long-term-travel packing is an art. If you have ever packed a carry-on bag for a month in Europe, you know that you can’t be packing the night before you leave. When you’re traveling for an extended period of time, every single thing that makes it into your travel bag must be crucial to your travel needs.IMG_0659-0

The one and only time in the last thirty years I checked a bag was when I bought a giant suitcase to carry home all the beads I got at Mardi Gras. (Don’t ask me how I got all those beads.) I have pounds and pounds of truly awesome Mardi Gras beads that I’ve been giving away by the handfuls for years. Tip: leave your beads at Mardi Gras.

What to Leave Out

Here are some of the obvious things to leave out when you are packing to travel for a month or more:

  • Full-size toiletries
  • Books and magazines
  • Food
  • Valuable jewelry
  • Unnecessary gadgets
  • Three white shirts
  • Jeans

What?! JEANS?!! But I live in my jeans, you say.

Okay, there can be exceptions to bringing your favorite denim, but beware: jeans are heavy, not very comfortable in many situations such as long bus rides and monsoons, take forever to dry, and command a LOT of room in your bag. Only if you truly cannot live without your favorite jeans should you bring them, but I strongly recommend you consider something much more packable, versatile, and just as comfy.

Let’s look at the other things on the list.

Unless you use a prescription shampoo or moisturizer, you can buy toiletries pretty much anywhere you go. This includes shampoos and conditioners, face wash, body lotions, razors, make-up, and just about any other bathroom item you can name. Now, I am a loyal Aveda junkie, and I understand favorite products, but I cannot justify giving up precious packing space to full-size products, nor should you. Start with travel sizes and refill or replace as needed.

Books and magazines are heavy, take up space, and then you’re done with them. While a single travel guide, the best of the best for your needs, is okay, all other reading materials should be borrowed as you go or read on a tablet. I gave up carrying books when I got the first gen Kindle. Look at all that new space now!

What about bringing snack foods for flights or other long-distance travel? I agree with the concept, but I have known people to bring two weeks’ worth of snacks and other foods so they didn’t have to buy them along the way. This is a mistake for so many reasons: 1) space 2) we don’t need to go any further. Just don’t buy snacks at the most convenient (and therefore pricey) places as you travel. Go to a market or a food cart, just like the locals would do.

Valuable jewelry needs no explanation, yet I know people who refuse to leave their favorite pieces behind. While I won’t say this practice courts disaster, I will say it’s just not worth it. ‘Nuff said.

Unnecessary gadgets are items that duplicate what you are already packing, such as a Kindle and a tablet or an iPod and a smart phone. Consolidate your entertainment and other digital needs, and keep it simple. Don’t bring a cord for each device if they can share. And unless you are a professional photographer, you don’t need more than one camera. Even then, consider leaving the zoom lens home.

Packing three white shirts, or duplicates of ANY clothing items, is probably the most common no-no I see, even in the seasoned traveler. If you truly want minimalist travel, pare down to one sleeveless tank top, two short-sleeve shirts, and one long-sleeve shirt. If they all layer together well, you can at least create a few different looks. I recently backed an amazing new travel shirt on Kickstarter called Morf. It’s a shirt that morphs to “up to 24 different looks.”

I already addressed the jeans, and I get how hard not bringing them can be. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to reap the greater rewards of a lighter bag and more space. In my opinion, this one is worth it for the reasons I outlined above. But again, the exception is if you just live in your jeans and can’t imagine life without them. I realize this is the case for many world travelers, but I’m not one of them.

What Else?

Leave these at home:

  • A second coat
  • A second pair of sandals
  • Most hair accessories (simplify your hairstyle before you travel)
  • Blow dryer, extra hairbrush
  • Travel clothes iron
  • Any article of clothing that doesn’t go with everything else
  • “Just in case” items such as a beach towel
  • Beach toys and sports equipment
  • An “extra” anything: pair of shoes, sweater, toothbrush, towel
  • Cotton anything

I realize that cotton clothes are comfortable to wear, but they are not the friendliest of travelers. Cotton is a terrible insulator; it doesn’t wick moisture away from your skin, and it stays wet for a long time, whether from your sweat or a sudden downpour. And wet cotton is heavy, not to mention uncomfortable. (Um . . . jeans.)

To refine your list of what not to pack, do some research to see what medical items are easily available where you are going. Even though items such as aspirin, ointments, mosquito repellent, and clothes lines are tiny, they take up space in your bag. Besides, they are generally available in most countries. However, getting Neosporin in Denmark, for example, is impossible by all accounts. Be smart and do a little research on the availability of wound care items (gauze, first aid tape, wound ointment) in the countries on your list.

Oh, and that favorite shirt you wear almost every day? Take it, of course.

I’m Packing My Laptop and Hitting the Road

Working as a vagabond traveling the worldearth

Three and a half years ago, in late 2011, I took the first hard steps toward liberating myself from a job that would tie me down. I deliberately chose a new career that would be portable, knowing that some day I would move from the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon, where I have lived for nearly 22 years. Much has changed in those years, myself included. The life I thought I was going to live in Oregon, after living for 17 long years in southern California, didn’t last. I changed careers more than once, reinventing myself each time. I broke hearts, including my own. Once someone broke my heart. (Isn’t that odd, to use the term “broken” for the heart, which must continue to function for us to even exist?)

All of that is in the distant past. I am happy, healthy, and ready to hit the road. I am a freelance editor by trade (my business site is http://www.redletterediting.com/), although, like many entrepreneurs, I also do things like coach public speaking, teach astronomy, and create PowerPoint presentations for clients. The best part of what I do, to my mind, is having the freedom to take my work on the road.

There are many, many ways to make money on the road. Blogging is huge, if you’re ready for a learning curve. And here’s the thing: it is learnable. Some people shell out a bunch of bucks to learn how to monetize a blog. Others put Google to good use and patch together enough free information to figure it out. (That’s my style.) Blogs and other websites can also be monetized by creating relationships with affiliates, whereby your website makes money on any sales that happen as a result of someone clicking on a link from your website. (Expect that to happen on this blog eventually.) It is no longer necessary, or desirable, to have megawatt ads screaming from every corner of every web page. Many working people have jobs that automatically translate to travel, such as that of my friend Bobby, whose company sends him literally all over the world for weeks on end. His girlfriend even gets to go most of the time. That’s different from being a vagabond traveler, of course, but I do think he’s got an amazing setup.

People become travel writers, photographers, day traders, and English teachers. Many freelance careers are already portable, suchas website designers, graphic artists, business consultants, and even administrators. Heck, when I was a young little hippie chick, I made money miming on the streets of Santa Cruz, California. Busking is fun and easy for musicians and other talented folks. I’ve even heard of hairstylists setting up shop in hostels and making enough money in a couple of days to travel for another few weeks. (Something for me to think about, too! I was a hairstylist for 28 years before my first major reinvention to chemist.)

If you are thinking of traveling the world while working, start planning now. Explore opportunities. Consider your current skill set. How could you translate your talents and abilities to a portable career? If it’s just not possible, then what else might you be interested in learning? It took me a IMG_0643year to develop my skills and another year to build a solid editing business. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, knowing what it is going to allow me to do: travel the world for as long as I like, doing what I love to do.

What do you think? Do you have a portable career or job already? Can you make it be so? Your subscription to this blog, your likes, shares, and your comments support my blog’s visibility. Please take a moment to share and to let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment. (Usually the comments link is at the top of this post.) Thanks for reading. Come back soon!