3: Going Places with Less

3: Going Places with Less

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Going Places with Less

Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.

~Jon Krakauer

Walking along the trail with my husband, I took a deep breath and admired the view. Snowcapped mountains. Wildflowers blooming yellow, blue and red throughout the hillside meadows, their sweet scent carried in the breeze. A glimpse of a sapphire blue lake sparkling in the distance. We were in Glacier National Park, Montana.

One of the best, albeit scariest, decisions we made regarding our retirement was to sell our home of thirty years and travel across the country in an RV. Sounds great at first blush, but the reality of living in 350 square feet meant a drastic downsize. It would be quite a change for us. Oh, but our new back yard! We were downsizing with a purpose and we were excited to begin a new life chapter.

More than a year before our target departure date, we stopped buying anything except food. No more clothes. No more shoes. No more gadgets for the kitchen. It was actually quite freeing and easy to do.

As sad and difficult as it was, cleaning out my mother-in-law’s home after her passing helped me. She was a borderline hoarder, purely as a result of her experience in East Germany during World War II, when she wasn’t able to get simple things like sugar or coffee. While cleaning out her worldly possessions, I learned a very big lesson. Use it or give it to someone who can. All the excess things she had stored away — clothes, food, nylons, toys — were molded or moth-eaten and couldn’t be used by anyone. It was so sad to realize the amount of her time, money and space that were wasted. She would have been sick had she known that everything would end up being thrown away. With that experience fresh in my mind, it was so much easier to make my own decisions on what to keep, give away or trash.

Slowly, we began downsizing. My husband and I each were responsible for our own “stuff,” as were our grown kids. The downsizing was quite a challenge at first. It was easy to get rid of old Halloween decorations and the dated Christmas ornaments I had kept just in case we ever needed more for the Christmas tree. It got a bit harder when I was going through the boxes in the basement labeled “memories.” There were my high school and college yearbooks, ribbons and a few trophies I had won as a child while on the town’s swim team. When was the last time I even looked at those ribbons? And then there were the items I’d saved from our kids. The task at hand was to decide what to keep (in a storage unit), what to bring, what to give away, and what to trash.

Furniture was another story. We decided to just give it away. After family and friends took what they could use, we gave the rest to the young couple that bought our house. They were thrilled and we were happy to help this young family starting out.

As the downsizing momentum built, I tackled my photo collection — twenty-three shoeboxes to be exact. I could not bear to part with them so I scanned the photos into my computer and discarded the hard copies. What a feeling when that task was completed!

An avid and passionate knitter, I had accumulated lots of beautiful fiber for my creative pleasure. No. I could not give up even one skein. Or could I? This was one of the most difficult downsizing chores for me, and though I did well donating to various groups and fiber friends, I have a sizable stash to this day.

Fast forward to our current living conditions. We’ve been living in the RV for a year and a half and we want for nothing. We did a great job deciding what was necessary for our life on the road. There is not one item in our small kitchen that is not used. We have just enough clothes. Both of us have brought along our hobby supplies — yarn, computers and electronics paraphernalia. A few special pictures on the wall and a few select decorations make the motorhome into our “home sweet home.” We even have a “garden” — several small pots of herbs we keep in our front window.

Because we are living so simply, there is much less to clean and no reason to shop. If it doesn’t have a purpose or enjoyment factor, it doesn’t come in the RV. It really is that simple. Instead of collecting things, we are collecting such unbelievable experiences. It’s a magical life we are living right now. Granted, much has to do with being retired, but I strongly believe that some of the freedom we feel is a result of downsizing.

My husband and I enjoy nature and being outdoors. We have the opportunity to explore national parks, hiking and marveling at the world around us. Early in our journey, we had very poor TV reception, so we rarely watched TV. Now, even when we do have access, it is more of a decision to watch… not just a habit. When we do watch TV or a movie, we really enjoy it. Not being tied to the TV habit, we spend more time on our hobbies. My husband has even branched out into quadcopters and other radio controlled vehicles. His eight-inch telescope came along with us for those fabulous night skies. My yarn collection is diminishing.

This journey of ours does not mean Nirvana. We did not win the lottery. We are living on a budget. We have endured illness (including cancer) and accidents (requiring stitches) while on the road thousands of miles away from family and friends. Things have broken down. The windshields have cracked on the car and the RV. We’ve had a few disagreements on the road.

Though it wasn’t easy to downsize, the result has been such a feeling of freedom — not being tied down by material things allowed us to experience life differently. It is nice to know we can winter in the Arizona desert and not have to worry about a big snowstorm in New Jersey and our home there. Can you hear the sigh of relief? That is what simplifying and downsizing feels like to us. Living uncluttered and unencumbered by material things. A nice feeling. We have a very rich and fulfilling life, just with less stuff. Simple as that.

~Susan Leitzsch

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