Sunday, March 16, 2014

The purge

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past couple months on CraigsList and eBay. Okay, maybe that doesn’t seem like a shocker given that we’ve bought pretty much everything we own off one or the other site, but here’s the surprising part - this time, I’ve been selling things. Ironically, the longer my list gets for the renovation of our 25’ Airstream and the more excited I get about spending some longer periods of time in it, the less excited I am about the piles of stuff we have gathering dust in the garage and under the beds at our house. And it’s not just crap either; It’s clothes, nice furnishings, camping gear, music equipment and even – gasp! – motorcycles. But it’s starting to feel like a weight that’s just keeping us home when we’d really like to be on the road.


When considering how to configure the limited space in the trailer, we’re faced with hard decisions about what we’re really going to use and what would just take up space. At home, we have the space to have options: 15 button down shirts, 10 pairs of shoes, 5 guitars, 4 different sets of drinking glasses, 10 wooden spoons and outfits and gear for just about any activity we’ve ever tried. But in reality, we only grab the same 6 shirts each week, wear one of the same 3 pairs of shoes, play the same guitar, always drink from the same single glass, use our favorite wooden spoon (plus that other one with the burn mark on it if the first one is dirty) and we’ve settled into the few activities we actually do on a regular basis and know the couple pieces of gear we need to do them. So what if we just got rid of the extra stuff? The other 9 shirts, the other 7 pairs of shoes, 3 guitars etc. Would we even notice them gone?


We’ve paired our lives down before, first when preparing to be gone for an undetermined amount of time on the Pan American Highway in an SUV with a roof top tent and a kitchen built into the tailgate. We’d reveled in the simplicity of life on the road and commented at how “light” we felt having thinned our possessions and commitments down to only those that we needed on a daily basis. But in reality, we still had a house in San Francisco with a downstairs room filled with stuff. Stuff we felt we might need when we came home.

And when we came home, not only did we collect all that stuff, we came home with an image of a different kind of life from the one we’d lived in the city. We’d be self-sufficient. Live off the land. Connect to our environment and food. But that takes stuff to do: Mowers and weed whackers and electric fencing and energizers and tools. And reaping the bounty takes even more: canning pots and shelves full of jars and tops and dehydrators and chest freezers. All the things I wrote about recently in “The Simple Life: On the Farm or On the Road? Plus an Overlander Gathering” after returning from 5 weeks touring the Southwest in the Airstream. And we accumulated it all as we dove into the country life for a few years. You can read all about it in the Farmlet blog posts.

And then there’s the house. It’s got all these rooms. And shelves. Those shelves need things on them don’t they? And there’s always a project…

But as we look towards the arrival of our second child in July, and try to conceive of how another being – and possibly a fussy one at that – is going to fit into what already seems like the tightly packed schedule of our lives, it forces us – just like packing in the limited space of the trailer – to consider which things are really important to us. There’s only so much time and we want to be able to spend it well with our kids. It makes perfect sense that all those projects around the house and farm take time, but here’s the weird jump; Somehow, just having stuff seems to take time. It takes time to shop for and organize and maintain and upgrade and, I don’t know how, but it just takes time. And the supreme irony is that getting rid of stuff to lighten your load takes the most time of all.

A few months ago, we started the process of going through the house room by room and getting rid of anything that was a duplicate, out of date/style, or just had no meaning to us. We loaded the car with boxes and boxes of clothes, knick-knacks from shelves, candles deep in drawers and extra kitchen gadgets to go to Goodwill. What’d we get rid of? I really couldn’t tell you. Have not given it a second thought. Now we’re going through the rooms again and, guess what? Yep, more boxes and boxes for drop-off No, not new stuff we’d acquired, just the next level. Do we miss any of it? Not a thing and the slowly decreasing clutter feels great.

Last weekend, we stumbled on a great technique for thinning out your closets. It turns out, the septic system on the Farmlet wasn’t leaching well so, on a few moments notice, we decided to grab our laundry and head to my mom’s house about 45 minutes away. We did a couple loads of laundry and by the end of the day, we still hadn’t heard from the septic service guy, so we spent the night. That was a Friday and there was no chance of getting him out Saturday or Sunday, so we stayed two more nights. Ya know what? It just so happened that our week’s laundry contained all our favorite things to wear. Of course it does, it’s the stuff we actually get dirty. The best plan would be to empty contents of the closet into boxes for the Goodwill while the washer is running.

And then there’s the garage. The garage is where old hobbies go to die. Or at least to gather dust. It’s the stuff you allow yourself to forget that you own or held onto all these years.


For me, fly fishing is a lot like surfing. I’ve been to some of the best places to do it with great equipment and patient teachers, but I just can’t decide that I like it. Actually, the only difference is that while I’d like to catch a wave sometime, I don’t really have a desire to catch a fish. Fly fishing equipment listed on eBay.


And camping stuff. Now we love camping. All kinds of camping, and therein lies the problem. Backpacking gear, car camping gear, stuff from when we used to have a Westfalia camper, stuff from the Pan American Highway trip, stuff from motorcycling trips, and tarps and chairs and ropes and stakes and lanterns and disco balls from the days when we’d host thirty friends for four days at a music festival. Well, ya know what? We’re glamping now. For the foreseeable future, we’ve got an Airstream (two actually, any leads on selling the 19’?) and plan to use it as much as possible. Okay, fine, I’ll keep a paired down set of backpacking gear and some car camping stuff incase we want to show our kids how “the others” camp, but the rest goes. Water bladders and 12V coolers and other misc listed on Craigslist. Okay, fine, we’ll keep one of the smaller disco balls.


But I honestly don’t see a scenario within the next, lessay, 10-15 years in which Ann and I load three weeks of camping gear onto our adventure bike and hit the old mining roads in Colorado. Buy a jeep and strap two kids in the back? Possibly. Barely squeeze a rumbling crew cab F250 we’ve just unhitched from our Airstream around the tight gravel hairpins? I’d say that’s almost a definite. But on a bike? I don’t see it. It took me a long time to actually accept this conclusion, but when I think ahead to the plans we have for different modes of more family friendly travel, I get pretty excited. 2009 F800GS motorcycle and hard cases listed on classifieds (and no sooner did the 1974 XL250 in the first picture of this post happily emerge from the garage for some TLC to be made ready for Sunday morning coffee shop runs).


There’s also a closet full of music gear. Music has played a big part in my life, and I’ve been in and out of bands since middle school. If you lived in Marin County and turned 16 between 1984 and 1990, I probably played your party or was watching while some guy tried to cop a feel during “Every Breath You Take” at the school dance. And of course, no one can forget the “original Wesleyan funk monster” Thumpasaurus. So what if we won the Battle of the Bands with our cover of Madonna’s “Vogue” and got to open up for P-Funk at the Spring Fling? Big deal. That was ancient history. Stop living in the past. And while lately I’d been playing in Bluegrass bands that you would think would have less equipment, I somehow ended up with the PA system and all the gear we used to record our “award-eligible” debut self-titled album of which we decided to order 3,000 copies, figuring that we could always have more printed if we ran out. Unrelated question: Does anyone have any good ideas for what to do with 2,903 shrink-wrapped CD’s? Everything that hadn’t been touched in two years listed on CraigsList.


And instruments. At least with a high quality or vintage instrument you can claim that it’s an “investment,” not that I think Ann’s really ever believed that one. But over the years of being “really into it” I’d acquired a few instruments that were of much better quality than I was at playing them. There’s a tendency when you get into a rut musically to reason that a new instrument is the answer, a trap I’d fallen into more than I’d like to admit. But having taken a bit of a break from music lately I’ve noticed something; Looking around at all these nice instruments just collecting dust on their cases doesn’t actually make me want to play, to get better. It just makes me feel guilty. At the same time, when we’ve set the trailer up in a remote site and the sun is setting or just coming up and Wynne is asking me to play so she can do her little dance where she prances around in a circle, I don’t really care which instrument I have in my hands.


Plus there’s no one around to make fun of my socks n’ crocs fashion statement.

Of course, I have my favorites and those have been spared from the purge but, oh baby, some nice instruments have gone up on eBay and the forum classifieds in the last couple weeks.

Okay, so these may not exactly seem like “deep cuts” to some. And while we might not quite yet qualify for the 100 Thing Challenge (is there a “100 Thing plus motorcycles and guitars and tools and bikes and baby stuff Challenge?” – maybe we could do that…), it’s movement in the right direction, and maybe next month we’ll take another pass through the house room by room. But for now, we’re one step (and a few dollars in the PayPal account) closer to the goal of being able to spend our time with our toddler and the new baby on the way instead of on our stuff. And one step closer to feeling light enough to load the family into the new trailer and hit the road.