Friday, August 24, 2018

Shrinking Our Lives Into A Suitcase

24 August 2018

Well, shrinking our lives into two rolling duffels.

As our time in the US tends to be, things have been rather uneventful.  As ever.  The usual doctor visits, plus some extras this year.  Richard has seen a round of doctors for his back, confirmed that it seems to be purely muscles, and is going to physical therapy here.  And me?  For dramatic effect, I came down with pneumonia.  In August.  (We blame the air quality here - there have been ongoing forest fires in British Columbia as well as the Cascade Mountains to our east.  Even smoke particulates blowing up from California.  Yeah, not clear out there, especially for those of us with sensitive lungs.)

Anyway, so nothing new or exciting going on.  Enjoying television and newspapers where we understand the language.  Also enjoying our favorite eateries around town.  And, well, both of us working on getting better.

But the point of this blog post is how to downsize.  We spent the summer of 2012 downsizing our three-bedroom apartment, getting ready for our life of travel.  So I thought I'd share how we did that, thinking it might help people who are trying to get rid of their stuff and head off travelling full time.

Because when you think about it, if you aren't paying monthly rent or mortgage fees, plus utilities and all, you can use ALL of that money for travelling!  

If you want our strategies for budget travel, here's a link to that blog post:

So, down- sizing.

We started by contacting family members to coordinate someone to be our person - the person to get our mail, have a joint bank account to pay bills, that kind of stuff.  Took a couple of tries, but my brother was willing to do this, and we try to keep the work minimal.

Then, Richard and I both went through our stuff.  What did we own that we wanted to keep, that we just couldn't live without?  This differed for each of us, but we both had sentimental things we wanted to keep.  We both had photographs, writings, candlesticks from our mothers, whatever.  Personal items that we wanted to save.  These were boxed up and mailed to my brother.  (We found that the US postal service was the easiest and least expensive way to ship things from the US Virgin Islands to Washington state - flat rate priority mail, open an account, print the shipping labels on the computer, and get free tracking.  Perfect!  And you can mail up to 70 lbs in the large box!)

I should add that I created a table on the computer so I could keep track of our boxes.  I know, it's a bit compulsive, but I figured we'd eventually forget what was in each box, so I wanted a record.  Each box was labelled - H for house, B for books, K for kitchen, etc.  Then a number added.  I input a short list of what was in the box.  Then, as they were shipped, I added the date the boxes went to the PO.  I tracked them, and when they arrived, I added a check mark.  (And once all the boxes arrived, I removed the date shipped and check mark columns, making a smaller table.)

Next came the household items we wanted to keep.  We didn't want to keep much, since we had no idea when we'd have a house or apartment again.  A few family items were sent off to family members.  A few household items (my Le Creuset cookware) were packed and shipped.  And, done.

Clothing was a biggie.  I'll admit that I like clothes.  And while I've downsized what I pack and how much I carry as we travel, I probably have some 40 boxes of clothing in storage.  (My plan when we get to Yakima is to downsize once again, and give away a batch of clothing.)  My initial way of packing was to ensure each box held a capsule wardrobe - dark slacks, a skirt, a basic dress, some tops, a coordinating sweater, and maybe a jacket.  One pair of Birkenstocks.  So I could have box #XYZ shipped to me in Mongolia and I'd have coordinating clothes to wear.  Now, I'm rethinking this, since we come back each summer.  I might just do a few boxes of tops, a box of sweaters, etc.

At any rate, organize your clothes in a way that makes sense to you, record it on the computer table or spreadsheet, box it up, and mail it to your storage place.  (Yeah, if you live near your storage center, just drive it over.  We were 4000 miles away.)

Then, furniture.  We decided not to save any furniture.  And we had a lot of household items still.  Plus some clothing.  So, we had a house sale.  We had mailed 90% of what we wanted to keep, and our clothes were in the closet.  To make our lives easy, we moved clothes to sell into one closet.  We priced NOTHING.  I know, it would make sense to price things, but it was busy, it was my birthday, we skipped putting prices on things.  We had put an ad for the house sale in the newspapers, and that morning we woke up to the early birds.  Asked them to wait, and promptly at 8 AM opened the door.

We were in luck - people milled around, asked prices, and we sold stuff.  Sold some antique furniture I had, sold our dishes and small appliances, kitchen linens, silverware, cooking utensils.  I even sold hangers out of the closet!  And any woman who looked about my size, I told her about the clothes for sale in the closet in the back.

By the end of the day, we still had some large furniture - so we listed those items on craigslist, and managed to sell them.  The small household items went to our synagogue for their annual arts and antiques sale.  The antique furniture and other good stuff also went there, and my brother received the check in the mail later in the year.

Unsold clothing went to the women's shelter and the homeless shelter.  Items like pillows, towels, sheets, and blankets went to the animal shelter (to be used as animal beds).  Be creative with give-aways - you'd be surprised at how things can be re-used by someone or someplace that really needs them.

Our last day in our apartment, the lady who bought our bed came by to pick it up.  I gave her the sheets on the bed, as a starter set.  

Then we stayed in a hotel (owned by friends) for a week while we finalized the sale of both our cars.  (It takes a little while to do this.)  Made sure the utilities were turned off and our accounts closed.  Hired a cleaning lady to clean the apartment, to be sure we got our full deposit back.

And then, we were gone.  (Some of you might have noticed Cleo, our cat, in the photos.  Sadly, she passed away during the summer.  We knew she was quite ill, at 18 years of age - so it was expected.  But that way, we didn't need to leave her behind.)

Now, if you live near family and friends, you can head off to parts unknown.  We did a farewell tour across the US, visiting family and friends, and then made sure all of those boxes were packed into a storage unit near my brother.

But we also cashed in our frequent flyer miles and booked tickets.  The hardest part was figuring out a starting point, not knowing how long we'd be travelling.  We finally agreed we should start in New Zealand, and slowly make our way west and north, eventually (in however many years) coming back to the USA.  Didn't quite work that way, but we did head off to NZ.

At any rate, we headed out without keys, with only one rolling bag and a day pack each, ready for the world of adventures.

So, it really wasn't as difficult or time-consuming as we thought it might be.  Once the first box was packed, or the first item sold, it just got easier.  Our lives became lighter and free-er.  

We became unencumbered.

We became voluntary nomads.

And life is good, on the road.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

It's a Slow, Slow Summer

4 August 2018

We're back in Bellingham, WA, our home base.  We usually come back for our medical check ups, renewing our prescriptions, getting fresh clothing, and visiting friends and family.  Drive out to the middle of the state to visit my brother who gets our mail - so we pick up the collected mail, sort, save anything important.  And then we head out on new adventures. 

But this year seems to be a bit slower than usual.  Most of our medical people seem to be on summer vacation.  The town has grown and it's getting harder and harder to get the medical appointments.  And we're trying to take care of Richard's back issue, but the spinal specialist in town is changing from one practice to another, so we're waiting for him to get to the new place and begin seeing patients again.  While of course seeing our usual doctors, and trying to find someone who can at least prescribe physical therapy or something.

Yeah, it has been slow.

But Bellingham is a beautiful place to be in during the summer.  The long rainy fall-winter-spring turns into glorious warm dry summer days filled with incredible flowers from all of that rain the rest of the year.  The sky is usually blue blue blue, and the trees are filled leafy green backdrops for all of the flowers and berries.

So we're enjoying our very relaxing time here in town.

Bellingham is decidedly quirky.  Or at least full of quirky people.  My favorite supermarket decorates with life-sized plastic cows and calves.  I'm not sure why.  They've had the plastic cattle for a few years now, and move them around to different displays.  Just their thing, I guess.  I particularly like the calf out in the flower area.

The entire entrance to this supermarket is like an Impressionist garden.  The outer area is something like Monet's garden, a profusion of flowers that blur into spots of color amongst the greenery, but minus the waterlilies.  Closer to the door is a collection of van Gogh's sunflowers, welcoming shoppers and looking much more cheerful that van Gogh's vaguely depressed sunflowers.

Instead of the waterlily pond, we have a series of watering cans creating a garden center fountain.  Not a water-shooting-upwards fountain, just watering cans on a stepped wall, so one spout pours water into the lower can, which feeds into the next one, and so on.

Today, I was watching a crow who decided this was the perfect drinking fountain for him.  Nice dry handle for his feet as he leaned over and sipped the lovely fresh water.  He was funny to watch!

And yes, the entire garden area of this supermarket has small café tables and chairs, some tables with umbrellas, so shoppers can buy food and sit outside having a meal or snack.  Inside the store is one of the ubiquitous Starbucks - this is Washington state, after all, home of the original Starbucks down in Seattle.  We drink our coffee dark, needing caffeine to keep our eyes open in the dark rainy days of winter.  But a cup of iced caramel macchiatto (with nonfat milk and sugar-free syrup), maybe a bran muffin from the store bakery, and then a table in the sun out in the garden - it's my urban Bellingham answer to a sidewalk café.  I read, or people watch, or crow watch.  It really is quite pleasant.

There also are "dog parking" eye hooks set up around the seating area, so shoppers can tie their dogs securely, and the dogs can wait in a covered area for their people.  (There's also a central sort of fireplace to heat this area during the colder months.)  As I said, this town tends to the quirky.

I think the profusion of flowers is the local reaction to that long dark wet fall-winter-spring period.  Really, things stay very green here (it is the Evergreen State).  But spring through summer is the time for COLOR!  Bulb flowers like crocuses and tulips, flowering trees (all those apples and cherries), rhododendrons and azaleas.  Right now, sunflowers, dahlias, and gladiolas are everywhere.  And clumps of lavender perfuming the air.

My dentist's place has the most gorgeous periwinkle-blue hydrangeas out in front.  He lives and works in a huge old house, built some time in the late 1800s I believe.  The building is actually on the National Register of Historic places, and is beautiful.  How many people visit the dentist in a building that is over 100 years old, filled with incredible woodwork, tiles,  stained or leaded glass windows, and fireplaces?  Carved banisters leading to the residence upstairs, complete with bay windows?  Views of the marina and the bay from the treatment room windows?  Yeah, I don't mind visiting the dentist at all.

So, in this slow (slow) summer, we do exciting things.  Pick up lunch at the supermarket and find a park, sit in the sun and eat and read.  Walk around the forest and take a nature break.  (The Japanese call this nature bathing.)  Or meet up with friends and have lunch by the marina, watching the boats come and go, the Alaska ferry unload or load up for the next voyage.  Our favorite ferry to Victoria no longer leaves from Bellingham, but we may head up there at some point between all this medical stuff.

Mostly, we're relaxing and enjoying being here.  Catching up with friends and family.  Enjoying this town that describes itself as the "little city of subdued excitement."

And shopping for fresh clothing, because when we travel with a limited wardrobe, clothes truly get worn out.  Worn through.  (Yes, I probably enjoy the shopping part much more than Richard does.)

But my favorite part of summer?  August is my birthday month, so it's full of celebrations as I meet up with all those friends and the family members, and we commemorate one more year around the sun.  Much food and chocolate, many hugs, lots of conversation and laughter.  Because with all of our travelling, and our living a very pared down life in terms of belongings, we've come to realize and truly appreciate that the most important things in life are experiences and relationships.  That truly is what life is all about.

So we're enjoying that, above all.  That is a huge part of why we come back to home base each summer, to see Richard's family and my family, to see as many of our friends as we can.  To maintain those relationships.  To experience the friendship and love.

To celebrate life, and each friendship, and each year around the sun.