It started years ago for me. I found myself looking at the stereo equipment in my living room. This monstrosity of a metal box with lights and buttons and dials and jacks, and the wires coming out of the back of it reminded you of some alien mothership with it’s tentacles and connections to other massive equipment and speakers. There was a VCR and DVD player, a game console and a 400 disc CD player. A 400 disc CD player that was half the size of a small refrigerator practically! And the speakers were four feet tall. My TV was a 35″, actually small by today’s standards, but it was a monstrosity of twentieth century engineering weighing enough to throw the backs out of an entire football team were they to attempt to lift it. This thing must have had enough shielding to keep the astronauts safe from a solar storm while they watched reruns of Cheers! It dawned on me that I just wanted to listen to some music, not recreate the concert hall at the Met. I looked around and saw hundreds of CD cases and dozens of DVD cases and piles of remote controls and thought geeezus, isn’t there a better way? Do I really need all this crap to get a small modicum of entertainment into my life? Am I destined to work and work and work and then tiredly wander into a store where they load me up with all of the necessities of a “good life” that one obviously needs? I’ll make my house a beautiful gem in the forest and then fill it to the brim with all of the crap that we think we need? What exactly do we need anyway? I’m not against music. I’m not against entertainment. But I do think that it needs to be kept in check. I don’t want to entertain my life away blindly or even worse as a quick fix to placate my anxieties and anesthetize me so I can handle another day on the job. I enjoy music. I enjoy movies and theater, but I know I’d rather sit in a lawn chair and listen to someone play a guitar than to go to the most popular concert in the world. I’d rather sit and watch the surf play with the shoreline or watch the stars than a movie. These things and the entertainment that they bring into our lives need to be realized for what they are. We all need to come to grips with so many facets of our lives and decide as Thoreau said to “Live Deliberately”. And so at that moment I began the task of ripping out the giant stereo equipment that owned a corner of my living room. It was relegated to the garage and in my mind just one short nudge away from the garbage can. I got rid of every massive electronic thing. It was years before we had a way to listen to the radio in our house. I don’t know if it’s right, but we replaced a lot of that large and expensive equipment with other smaller expensive equipment. We could put all of our electronics in a small box now and we didn’t ever miss the giant junk.
This was just one step. I don’t even know if it was in the right direction. But what we did was start to make the junk in our lives take up less space. We’ve since gotten rid of desktop computers in favor of laptops. Our cell phones carry all of our music. Nothing made us happier than when we sold the giant Hot Tub that I had “grand plans” for and never quite had the time to get to. Watching that Hot Tub roll down our driveway and out of our lives was this weird and wonderful experience that is hard to explain. A weight had been lifted from us. A “thing” had exited our lives and we were happier to be rid of it than to have it.
Changes happen in big and small ways. Sometimes you pick a new coffee brand to try or Go Wild! and drive a different way home. Sometimes we throw out a thousand dollars of stereo equipment in favor of an Ipod. We all do our best to keep things interesting by letting spontaneity into our lives, trying new things, and cleaning the closets of stuff we don’t use or is old or outdated. It’s always nice to get something new and replace the worn and tired, and yet sometimes we still struggle with the weight of the status quo. We struggle with the weight of the stuff and I don’t know if any of us even realize that it’s happening.
We don’t see ourselves as materialistic people, and yet we look around and see our lives are filled to the brim with stuff we’ve collected. Stuff that has served purposes and stuff that seems to be there only because it seems wrong to throw it away.
As we look forward to the beginning of our journey and imagine all of the possibilities of living on the boat, we are drawn to the task of figuring out what to do with the rest of our life. How does this all work when you spend half of your life on the boat? Where and how and when and what do you do with the other half of your life? What do you do with all of the stuff? And so we’ve begun to pare down and get rid of some of the things that we have. We are filling up Craigslist with all of the things that we once thought we couldn’t do without. In the reduction of things, we find that we are becoming more attuned to what exactly makes us happy. We’ve heard it all before, memories make us happy. So it’s memories that we cherish and memories that we realize we will need to build our lives around. It will be the quest to find an ethereal good. A thing that’s not a “thing”. We realize that it’s us, together, living in the world, meeting other people, sharing stories, helping, traveling, and being a part of the world that makes us happy. And being together, in love.
Marge and I are on vacation now for the next couple of weeks. The hard work and chaos of selling the house and moving into Verne is behind us. We still have plenty of organizing and settling-in to do, and we will be right back at it when we return securing and moving into an apartment for the winter. Active lives are just that — active, and we are only getting started. We are off on Wandering Toes now and heading where the winds will take us.
These questions, these issues, these quests are what we have been thinking about lately. After 46 years of living and working, blindly going through the motions and earnestly searching for what’s right, I think I have finally picked a direction that looks bright ahead, and it doesn’t have much to do with “stuff”. I’m just super happy right now because I think I can get there from here.
David and Marge Back
s/v Wandering Toes