I read some interesting statistics the other day about “stuff.” Apparently, people are drowning in it. Did you know the average American home has 300,000 items? Three hundred thousand! And that isn’t including the incredible amount of stuff that’s kept in storage facilities all over the country. George Carlin once said “a house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” This has never been more true!
Except for us. Well, as of today, anyway.
A month ago, we must’ve had pretty close to the average amount of stuff. After three weeks of yard sales, dozens of Craigslist postings and half a dozen trips to Goodwill, everything we own now fits in the back of our SUV. A friend of mine came to one of our sales and said to me “isn’t it so sad to see people taking all your stuff?!” Sad?! Umm, no.
It feels like freedom.
I’ve never been a materialistic person, but I have always been a consumer. Shopping was something I did with my sister for fun or when I was bored or needed a break from the kids or whenever we had extra money in the bank. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into Target not really needing anything and walking out with $300 worth of throw pillows, kid clothes, picture frames and notebooks. Why? Because everything at Target is adorable! Because buying stuff is fun! Decorating is fun! Having a house full of cute stuff is fun! Shopping is SO MUCH FUN, YOU GUYS! But what happens when your new stuff turns into old stuff? When the kids spill chocolate milk on that $30 throw pillow or when you’re neck deep in kid laundry because they have a ridiculous amount of clothes? At what point does too much stuff become a burden? For my husband and I, the breaking point was a year ago. At the time, business was frustratingly slow and I was desperate for a new direction. We were earning less than ever before and counting our pennies for even the smallest things, like gas and groceries. Looking around at a house full of things we had wasted money on, I shook my head and decided it was time to make a change. Why were we struggling to make ends meet, living in a house too big, full of things we didn’t need? Trudging along, wishing things were different instead of taking risks and forging our own path? All my life, I’ve taken the road less traveled, done things my own way, made my own rules. Then – all of a sudden, it seemed – I was an overweight, overstressed, middle-aged woman working a job I didn’t enjoy anymore. Instead of making bold decisions, I spent my nights looking at Pinterest travel boards, wishing I could go there, somewhere, anywhere new and exciting and beautiful. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned to my husband and said “We should just pick up and move. Get out and see the world.” Instead of calling me crazy, he looked at me and said “Hell, yes! Let’s do it! Where should we go?”
(Have I mentioned yet that I have the world’s best husband?)
Months of talking and dreaming and hoping and wondering if there was any way we could really, truly sell everything to travel the world with our kids eventually turned itself into a plan that neither of us could stop thinking about : the thought of having nothing but a few suitcases, free to go anywhere, do anything, see all the places we’ve always wanted to see. The more we thought about it, the more we knew we had to go for it. Fill a house with stuff and that stuff will never disappear, but days, on the other hand? You can’t hold on to days. You can’t fill a room with days and use them whenever you want. Any one of us could be here today and gone tomorrow. Stuff is easy to replace, but our time is limited and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Time with our kids while they’re small is even more limited.
And so it was decided. We’d collect moments, not things, from here on out. We’d sell our stuff, scrimp and save and work along the way, on the adventure of a lifetime. Who knows how long we’ll be able to keep going? Maybe a year from now we’ll be dead broke and exhausted. Or maybe a year from now we’ll be standing under a waterfall, on top of a mountain or be sleeping in a hammock under the stars. Either way, this adventure is something we’ll never forget and this risk is something I’d much rather remember than wish I had taken.
So how did we go from 300,000 things, stuck and frustrated to a few suitcases, excited and ready for adventure? Simple enough, actually. We started with a yard sale!
Three weeks ago. The weekend of our first big yard sale. Our goal was to sell EVERYTHING! We had worked all week, pulling stuff out of closets and from under beds, but we had simply run out of time. There was too much stuff and not nearly enough time to get it all organized and priced. Even so, the back yard was full of tables overflowing with toys and candles, old cameras and enough knickknacks to decorate a hundred IKEA shelves. That first sale was consistently busy and wildly successful, but when we came in and looked around at the end of that last day, it didn’t look like we had sold a thing. We could have changed our minds at that point and kept everything we had left without feeling like anything needed replacing. It was exciting (because of the success) but also really overwhelming (because of how much we still had to sell!) We were determined, though, so we planned a second big sale for two weeks later and did our best to get the rest of our stuff organized and ready to go. After five full days of selling and lots of back and forth with flaky Craigslist buyers, I was done. Finished. I was starting to have nightmares about price stickers and decided whatever we had left was free to whoever wanted to come pick it up. So, I posted one more ad. “FREE! TOYS, CLOTHES, BOOKS, EVERYTHING! DOOR OPENS AT 10AM!”
You guys are familiar with Black Friday, right? The most horrifying day of the year where insane people get into fistfights over PlayStations and Frozen dresses? When I looked outside my door at 10am and saw 50 people waiting to get in, I though “ohhhhhh shit. This was not a good idea.” Thankfully, these people were only a little bit crazy and there was no fighting, just grabbing (stuff) and stuffing (bags) and a few dirty looks to the moms in front who snatched up the rest of the picture frames. Within 15 minutes, just about every single thing in our living room was gone! They were like vultures and suddenly our house was nothing more than a skeleton, picked clean.
As we were selling, donating and giving stuff away, I kept wondering when it was going to hit me. At some point, surely, I’d realize this meant there was no turning back. No getting our stuff back. No changing our minds. Every time I wondered, though, an overwhelming confidence and feeling of absolute surety washed over me.
We’re doing this. We’re making it happen. Screw conformity! Fuck the status quo!
A Facebook friend of mine posted this quote today : “the best thing you could have given her was a lifetime of adventure.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland) Not toys, not a TV set for their room, not an iPod for them to stare at for hours at a time. Adventure! That’s what our kids need. But because we’re so busy and overworked and so stressed out trying to find a way to pay for bigger and bigger homes to hold more and more stuff, we run out of time for adventure and exploration. Instead of road trips, we give them video games. Instead of lazy days at the lake, we give them laptops with screensaver photos of all the amazing places they’ll never see in person. Unless we make a change. Unless we say ENOUGH is ENOUGH. Unless we make a point to stop buying and start living!
So that’s what we’re doing. We’re saying goodbye to stuff and hello to the world.
Let’s get going!