My husband called me into the living room one day and asked me to take dictation. He wanted to capture his thoughts, but he was eating an orange and his hands were sticky. I took a notebook and pen and poised my hand over the paper.
“I want you to listen without getting weird on me,” he said. “This is just an idea. What if we rented out our house or sold it and travelled? Just lived for a while in whatever places we wanted around the world, moving on when we felt like it?”
I had to process this. He was essentially saying we’d become nomadic.
“What about our jobs?”
“We’d quit them. Live off the income from renting, or from the sale of the house.”
“What about our stuff?”
“We’d sell it or give it away. Pass the heirlooms to the kids now instead of later. Maybe have a small storage unit for a few important things. We’d scale down to a suitcase.”
“What about the kids?” Two were launched, but the youngest was still in high school.
“I’m not saying we’d do it tomorrow. We’d plan it, prepare for it, wait until the youngest is out of school and independent, then go. In the meantime, it would give us time to fix up the house, save up some money.”
I was thinking it would take me three years just to scan all my photos. I shook my head, not quite able to grasp his idea.
He backed up and went through it again, slowly. We’d always talked about wanting to travel. We’d always had a minimalist attitude toward stuff. Why wait for old age before living out our dreams? He wasn’t saying we would be perpetual tourists. We could return to the same favorite place each year if we wanted to, make friends, join communities. There could be purpose behind our travels, not just sightseeing.
“We could do Projects and Pilgrimages,” I said. “There’s the title. But what about the books?”
You have to understand, I have a lot of books. Even as a bibliophile, I know I’ve reached the tipping point into the insane. When we moved from the U.S. to Canada in 1989, we basically had a box of dishes, a guitar, and 5,000 pounds of books. It’s only increased since then. A Kindle was one option, but could I really survive without my beloved library?
“We could box up a few favorites for storage,” my husband conceded.
“I have to let this percolate for a while,” I said. “I don’t know if I can let go of all my stuff.”
I got the calculator and started crunching numbers. Renting out the house wouldn’t bring in enough to support the associated expenses and us. We wouldn’t want the worry of having a house to upkeep from afar. We’d probably want to sell it, then. Could we invest the money in such a way that we could live off the interest and not touch the principle? That would give us security and allow us to purchase a home again one day after we felt we were done travelling. I supposed we could also work occasional temp jobs if we needed to top up the coffers.
After all questions were answered, it still really came down to one thing. My parents came from farming backgrounds. I had read The Good Earth at an impressionable age. To me, land ownership gave security. It gave you legitimacy.
Could I live without ownership? Of anything?
Over the next few days, the debate went on in my brain. I was going to leave everything behind when I died anyway, so why not leave it behind a little earlier? Could I adapt to using a rented kitchen, someone else’s dishes and mattress? How would it be not to have a place for guests, Christmas tree ornaments, books? Then again, no lawn mowing. No commute to work. Living unencumbered, free to adapt and quickly respond to changing circumstances. Technology would allow us to keep in touch with family and access our bank just about anywhere on the planet. We communicated with our kids now primarily by Skype. What would be the difference?
We agreed on a three-year plan, during which we’d stockpile money, reduce our possessions, repair the house, and launch the last child. It was all stuff we wanted to do anyway, whether we decided to do Projects and Pilgrimages or not.
Then my husband lost his job. One of our sons moved back home. Then another son lost his job and moved back in with us, wife and two kids in tow. For over a year, all eight of us were crammed into our little three-bedroom house, which emphasized to me the importance of having a place to land. Of having a place for others to land.
People moved out and moved on eventually. I still have my regular job. The pandemic put aside thoughts of travel for a while. The three-year plan has been stretched a bit. I’m not sure where my husband’s idea will lead, but I the basic principle still fascinates me. I’ve gone so far as to start listing the things I consider essential:
A scan of important documents, recipes
My kitchen knives
Selected Christmas ornaments and mementos from Grandma and Grandpa
Some carefully-chosen books
That would be the extent of my possessions. Kristen in a carry-on. My life on a laptop. It's been an interesting exercise, to discover what I value and just how immersed I am in material things. For me it's the memories associated with things, more than the things themselves, that I cherish. Although, odds are I'm going to lose the memories one day too!
Think how easy it would be to move house if that was all you owned. You could lose everything you own in a fire, and it's still as if you'd lost almost nothing. There's something wildly appealing about that concept.