So…now what?

I’ve been on the road for a little over a month now. That’s not entirely true. I left NY at the end of September, spent a week with my family in MA, then drove south and west for the next two days until I got to Durant, OK (always pronounced DOO-rant in my head) where I’ve been posted up at my best friend’s house for the past month.

My first two weeks in Oklahoma were spent housesitting and managing my friend’s husband’s law firm while they were away on their honeymoon. And yes, I do realize that quitting one soul-sucking office job at a law firm only to immediately start working in another is rather ironic, but the fact that it was temporary and helpful to people I love makes it okay.

Speaking of things that I love…

I LOVE not having stuff anymore. I love that I don’t have to worry about getting my broken toaster fixed, or replacing the hallway light bulb that blew out eight months ago, or the fact that the number two express cook button is the only one that ever worked on my microwave – because I no longer own any of those things!

I really do think about all of my possessions in terms of weight now. I’m constantly asking myself if the value of a particular item is worth the weight of carrying it around. The answer is typically no. Hence, I’ve lost a ton of weight lately and it feels fantastic.

Unencumbered as I am with the burdens of everyday things like a home, possessions and a steady job, you’d think I’d be starting my journey from a place of ease and complete freedom. But that’s not the case. I’ve discovered, much to my chagrin, that my new lifestyle is fraught with its own complications, like…

– Crafting a pithy response to seemingly mundane questions such as, ‘Where do you live?’ or ‘What do you do for a living?’

– Figuring out what day of the week it is.

– Creating a budget and sticking to it, so you can postpone your inevitable return to the real world.

– Learning the best methods to avoid getting stabbed to death by a drifter.

Or, wait. Since I am a drifter, am I supposed to be the one stabbing people? Ugh. I have so many questions. Who knew being a shiftless layabout was going to be so much trouble? I mean… I don’t even know how to tie a proper bindle yet! How am I supposed to survive?

Seriously though. Removing all of life’s difficulties doesn’t automatically solve your problems. Seems obvious and yet, I was oddly floored by this realization. Simply eliminating the things that make you unhappy doesn’t guarantee that you’ll necessarily be happy with what’s left.

You still have to ‘do the work.’ I apologize for the therapist-speak, but it’s true. Take away the distractions of everyday life and you’re left with a vacuum. You need to fill your time and space with something, and it’s really tempting to choose the wrong things. It’s all too easy to let the days slide past in a haze of television, Facebook, or booze if that’s your thing.

So here I am, in Oklahoma of all places, trying my best to value this time like the gift that it is. Here’s a brief recap of what I’ve been up to:

I’ve driven nearly 4,000 miles. In this car…

IMG_8356

With this much mileage on it at the start…

IMG_8368 These are some of the places I’ve been so far…

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 4.54.54 PM

This is some of the stuff I’ve seen and people I’ve met…

IMG_9374

IMG_9373

[Austin, TX – with my favorite podcasting duo, Seth and Jonathan, from Uhh Yeah Dude.]

IMG_9617

IMG_9632[Fenton, MO – with author and all around great guy, Patrick Rothfuss.]

 

IMG_8503[Oklahoma City, OK – keeping track of the score of the OU/TX game with some of my Sooner friends.]

IMG_0020[Chillin’ on the front porch at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s crib.]

IMG_9523[Hiking in Eisenhower State Park.]

I also ate what could quite possibly be the greatest meal of my life at a cattle ranch in Soper, OK. Fried okra picked from the garden that morning, fresh baked cornbread, brisket you could cut with a spoon, and the most perfect homemade fried chicken I’ve ever encountered. I’m telling you, this chicken was a revelation. My friend’s mom said she’ll teach me how to make it the next time I come back this way. That alone would make it worth the trip.

When I’m not actively adventuring, I am writing, singing, reading, cooking, eating, laughing, spending lots of time outdoors, getting exercise, helping my friends around the house or at the office, and trying not to waste too much time staring at a glowing screen of any kind.

Most importantly, I’ve gotten to spend a ton of time with my best friend. That’s been the best part. Luckily, she and her husband don’t seem to mind having me around, which has been great for me.

Though I’m loath to leave, it’s getting to be about that time. Time to keep moving. See what else is out there to see. I’m going to take one more week to enjoy the comforts of home while I figure out what comes next.

Drop me a line if you want a well-behaved house guest!

Happy trails…

S

 

 

Chase the Wind

In my last post I alluded to the fact that I’ll be embarking on a journey into elective homelessness in the not too distant future. This is mostly true. At the end of August I gave up the lease on my NYC apartment, where I’d been living (happily?) for the past six years.

At the same time, I took my experiment with minimalism to the next level by selling or donating roughly seventy-five percent of my belongings. I no longer own anything that doesn’t fit in my car. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I feel like I’ve lost a hundred pounds in the past few weeks. There are still several things that I didn’t get around to selling before I had to be out of my apartment, but my parents have graciously allowed me to store those things in their basement for the time being. (I promise it won’t be too long!)

I also quit my job. I gave my one-month notice a couple of weeks ago and my last day is September 26th. While, in many respects, I feel like I won the job lottery when I got this gig, it’s definitely time for me to leave. And though I’ll miss certain aspects of having a day job (namely the regular paycheck and killer health insurance plan), I’m really excited by the prospect of not being a day-dwelling office monkey anymore.

IMG_7835[See?]

What I am going to do with all of my newfound free time, you ask?

Well, I’m going to drive across the country. Not just across, all around. I want to see America. I’ve lived in the northeast my entire life and I’ve wanted to take a road trip like this since before I could legally drive. I figure, with any luck, I’ll never be this single or childless again, so it seems the perfect time to go.

I know some might think me irresponsible for quitting a good job, particularly in this economy. But, as I explained to my family, while my day job provides financial security, it also robs me of my energy and my ability to live as a creative person. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who are able to have both a job and a creative career, but unfortunately, I don’t seem to be one of them. For me, staying at a job that leaves me feeling empty at the end of the day just so I can make enough money to be able to afford an expensive apartment in a city I’m only living in so I can keep working at the job I don’t want… That’s irresponsible.

For the past eight months or so I’ve been building up my savings little by little. In June I implemented super strict austerity measures which, when combined with the added income from selling my stuff and the fact that I’ve been living debt-free since 2006, has allowed me to set aside a nice little chunk of change.

But wait, aren’t you an opera singer? Don’t you have to be in New York to do that?

To that I say there are plenty of singers who don’t live in New York. I’m quite sure my voice will still work wherever I choose to live. I don’t particularly care that I’m leaving at the start of the NYC audition season, either. Audition season will still be there next year. Besides, I might try to arrange a few in-house auditions during my travels, though that is not the goal of my trip.

What is my goal?

Simply put, I don’t have one. No, that’s not true. I just don’t have an easily measurable one. My goal is to edit my life. To turn down the background noise in the hope that I’ll be able to hear what my heart has to say. To stay open to new opportunities as they present themselves and live in the moment, rather than getting mired in the past, or too worried about the future.

There are still so many things that I aspire to do and be, but for once in my life I want to focus on the journey rather than the destination. As I tend to be the sort of person for whom things are black and white as opposed to gray, I’m taking that sentiment literally. I have no final destination in mind and no set time limit in which to find one.

That said I’m not just going to drive around aimlessly until the money runs out. There will be a bit of that, sure. But I’ve got a whole host of amazing friends and family all over the country that have invited me to stay with them, and I fully intend to take advantage of all offers, picking up temporary, part time work whenever I can. I’ve also got a few singing gigs lined up which helps.

Basically, I’m going to chase the wind for a while. If you’ve read Patrick Rothfuss, then you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, then you should. Yes, I’m talking to you, Nate.

Despite the uncertainty of my immediate future, I’ve never been more sure of a decision in my life. I’ve received so many little signs from the universe telling me that I’m doing the right thing. For instance, the day I officially decided to give up my apartment, my job and my stuff I was re-reading one of my all time favorite books and I came across this passage…

“No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.”

–   Patrick Rothfuss (The Wise Man’s Fear)

I sure hope he’s right.

Much love,

Sarah

Terrified of becoming a minimalist? Me too. Here’s where to start.

empty_roomThis post is not for those of you who are prepared to rid yourself of all your worldly possessions and hop a plane to Belize. It’s not even for those of you with the fortitude to have a packing party…and actually commit to getting rid of your excess stuff when the party’s over. This post is for those of you who are intrigued by the idea of minimalist living, but have no earthly idea where to begin.

If that’s you, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you want the benefits of a simpler life, but get stressed out just by thinking about the amount of time/energy it will take to de-clutter your closet – never mind your whole life?

Does the thought of parting with your precious treasures give you heart palpitations?

Do you feel that you somehow ‘owe it’ to your past self to hang on to all the crap you  bought with oh-so much of your hard-earned money?

Me too.

Here’s how I got over it.

1. Don’t actually get rid of anything – digitize it!
I started by scanning, then promptly shredding all of my paper files. (I only saved hard copies of my most recent tax returns [which I probably don’t need] and originals of birth/death certificates.) Then I moved on to CDs. I skipped DVDs because a) I don’t have that many DVDs and b) I also don’t have a DVD burner, but they (along with old photographs) are next on my list.

Then I scoured my shelves for books that I still liked and might want to read again, but could easily/inexpensively be acquired via digital download. This is obviously not a tactic to use on your signed, hardbound first editions, but it works great for those dog-eared, coffee-stained paperbacks you picked up at the airport. (I’m a huge sci-fi/fantasy nerd, so I did this mostly with my paperback copies of epic fantasy series. Digitizing the Game of Thrones series alone cleared almost an entire shelf on my bookcase.)

Digitizing is a great place to start because you don’t have to feel like you’re losing anything. You’re simply enjoying it in a different form. Like ice to water or water to steam, it’s the same stuff, it’s just takes up less space in your garage.

Don’t forget to donate when you’re done!

Bonus: No more paper cuts from thumbing through a towering stack of old tax returns whilst preparing for your next IRS audit!

2. Tackle your most un-sentimental items first.
If, like me, there’s a soft, sentimental soul buried beneath your hard, candy-coated exterior (does anyone else suddenly have a craving for M&Ms?), then parting with sentimental items can be especially difficult.

That’s why minimalist noobs shouldn’t even attempt it. You heard me. Back away from your grandmother’s porcelain doll collection, Noobsicle! Move on to something more manageable. You can always go back once you’ve built up some momentum and you’ve experienced the glorious joy and freedom that comes from letting go.

After my paper purge, I moved on to the Tupperware cabinet in my kitchen. With stacks of ill-assorted plastic containers and mismatched lids, half-melted from one too many nukes in the microwave (which I know you’re not supposed to do because it [like everything else] causes cancer, but what can I say? sometimes laziness wins), my plastic storage container cabinet was a source of daily consternation.

I culled that cabinet mercilessly! And you can too. Take no prisoners! Feel the wonderful, heady sensation of taking revenge on the evil gnomes that live under your sink and creep into your cabinets at night to steal all your lids. Those little fuckers won’t know what to do with themselves when there are only a handful of containers left, with lids snapped on so tightly that their tiny little gnomish fingers will be incapable of thwarting your newly organized, mad minimizing skillz.

Bonus: Seriously? Thwarting evil gnomes isn’t bonus enough for you? Weirdo.

3. Take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Got a friend moving across state lines? I consider that the perfect opportunity to offload all that incriminating evidence you’ve been hiding from the police.

Oh! You’re moving? To Montana? That’s great! Of course I’ll help with the move. No, it’s no trouble at at all. Really, it’s my pleasure. What, this? It’s just a box of old junk I found in your basement. No… I don’t know what you’re talking about. Well, they don’t look like shell casings to me. I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ll just pop that right into the truck for you…

But seriously. If your church or PTA or whatever is having a rummage sale, winter coat drive, or similar, seize the opportunity to get rid of some stuff and help out a good cause at the same time. Two birds. One stone. Everyone wins. (Except for the metaphorical birds you just killed, you heartless bastard.)

Bonus: I don’t know about you, but for me, avoiding criminal charges AND getting rid of an entire box of stuff is always a win.*

4. Finding creative ways to get rid of your stuff can be fun!
For instance, you could ‘accidentally’ drop all twelve of those life-sized cat figurines from your great aunt Mildred out a third story window. Bonus points for ‘accidentally’ hitting that one neighbor who seems to derive perverse enjoyment from blasting banjo music at five o’clock in the morning. Every morning.*

Or, if assault with a deadly, cat-sized weapon isn’t your thing, you could get creative with this fun holiday activity:

Take all the expired prescription drugs from your medicine cabinet, mix them up and dump a handful of pills into all of the old gift bags you’ve got lying around the house. I call them Mystery Meds Grab Bags! Then head down to your local warehouse district and start passing them out to all the teenage ravers. Make it more fun by wearing a Santa hat! Or elf shoes! (Which you’ll later donate, obviously, because you’re totes a minimalist now.)*

Bonus: Then you can sit back and bask in the warm holiday glow (or vacant drug-induced haze) that comes from helping others. Because isn’t helping others what this time of year is all about?**

[*Seriously though, attempting any of these things will get you arrested. Don’t do it.]

[**I started writing this post in December. It’s March now. Don’t judge.]

4a. Finding creative ways to get rid of your stuff can be fun! Part 2
I just realized that I forgot to include any real tips in the last section. Sometimes my imagination runs away with me. Here are some things you can do to de-clutter that probably won’t involve law enforcement:

Empty closet– Clean out your closet (check out Project 333 over at Be More with Less for some great tips on how to do it) and invite all your friends over to paw through your unwanted clothes, shoes and accessories. That way, if you change your mind about this whole minimalism thing, you can steal your stuff back with relative ease.

– I also consign a lot of my old clothes. The best part about this is that I usually forget that I ever owned the items to begin with, never mind the fact that I took the time to consign them, so more often than not, I wind up with surprise consignment money in the mail! And really, isn’t surprise money the best kind of money?

– If you have any old, obsolete electronics that are too broken for repair and not old enough to be vintage, why not do like the guys in Office Space and bring them out to the middle of a field and hit them with a baseball bat? Benefits include: stress-relief, exercise, enjoying the great outdoors, and bonding with friends for some good old-fashioned wholesome fun!

I’m beginning to notice that even my ‘real’ tips are kind of ridiculous. But that’s not the point. The point is, getting rid of stuff feels amazing and everyone should be doing much more of it.

Seriously, not to brag, but I’ve gotten rid of so much stuff that I’ve actually been able to sell several pieces of large furniture. My room has a weird echo now. At first it was a little unsettling and my room felt kind of empty, but I’m starting to love it. And you will too.

So get on it! Start that spring cleaning early! Purge all that unnecessary crap from your life! It’ll feel amazing, I promise. In fact, my new motto was going to be: purge early and purge often, but it felt a little bulimic so I scrapped it. Besides, I’m a minimalist now, I don’t need some stupid motto weighing me down. Fuck that.

Happy purging y’all!

– S