Fourteen years ago as an Outward Bound semester student, I laid down my sleeping pad on a porch in the Costa Rican highlands with the stars shining above and the lights of homesteads and towns in the valley below. The crisp air carried a light breeze and I was overwhelmed with the feeling of total freedom. At that moment, I felt the freedom to do anything I wanted to do. My entire life could be placed on my back and transported anywhere I wanted to go. All the essentials could fit in my pack; clothing for both hot and cold weather, the implements to prepare and eat a good meal, a warm, dry place to sleep that could be constructed at a moments notice, and light to guide me in the dark. There was something so sublime in this feeling of freedom of movement and possibility. As I sat looking out across the valleys below, I felt I needed very little else but the sense of freedom welling up inside me and the small amount of materials I had in my possession. Since that moment during those times in my life when I have felt weighed down by the responsibilities that come along with day to day living, I have thought of and longed for the feeling I had on that porch under the spreading expanse of space in the Costa Rican sky.
So how did I get from there to here, a man with all he needed in a backpack, to being a homeowner, to becoming one questioning whether or not he needs to be a homeowner? The best answer I can think of is that life just happens sometimes. After a decade of living with my partner Mary at various Outward Bound base camps and a few other far flung locations briefly, we decided to do what most people in the United States do. We gathered up our meager savings and finally cleaned all of our accumulated possessions out of our friends and parents basements and garages and bought a house. It has been an adventure in and of itself as all homeowners know and it has given us great joy to make the place into our home, redoing the kitchen and bathroom and painting the interior rooms multiple times (unfortunately still not to our liking). It has been wonderful to have a place to create our lives in, but yet something feels missing and I think it must be that sense of freedom first experienced on that night so long ago.
As I sit in my living room surrounded by the things that have come into my life over the last 40 years, I just feel heavy. I know at one point in my life most of this stuff either brought me some sense of satisfaction or served some useful purpose but at this point, most of it just takes up space and requires me to dust it off occasionally. A house often seems like a magnet that attracts an ever greater quantity of things no matter how hard one tries to fight this seeming law of nature. And to what end? The more stuff I have, the more resources are required to deal with it all and the less freedom I feel like I have.
More troubling than the stuff problem is the ever growing to do list. I look at my to do list and it is overflowing with the projects I should be doing to maintain our home and I just don’t want to spend my free time doing them. I would much rather go for a long run in the mountains or hang out with friends and family than spend my day power washing and sealing the deck. And although the bank account looks pretty good right now, I know that the next plumbing repair could be just around the corner and that we better start saving up again because the exterior of the house will have to be painted yet again two or three years from now.
Now sure I could become a do it yourself kind of person and learn how to fix my own plumbing and figure out how to fix that damn light switch in the spare bedroom that doesn’t work, but you know what? I don’t want to. I’ve tried it and I don’t enjoy it and I just feel like life is too short to engage in activities and spend time learning skills that one does not feel passionate about. Once again, I’d rather go away for the weekend and see a new place or just sit down some place and read a good book.
So what’s the answer? Well, as our realtor Michael Shoffner can tell you, we’ve been kicking around the idea of selling our house for close to a year now if not more. He has been a very patient friend and resource for us as we have waffled back and forth between wanting to create change in our living situation and staying with what is familiar and comfortable. Recently we had moved into another period of contentment with our current situation when we read an article about what makes people happy. The article talked about a couple who had moved from a two bedroom apartment to one with only 400 square feet and the corresponding happiness they found from rearranging their jobs and lifestyle and living with less. We are not sure whether or not we would like to simply move in to an apartment and place the profits from our home into some type of interest bearing account, or reinvest the money in a condo or some other smaller, low maintenance type of living arrangement. There are certain financial considerations we are weighing in our head concerning the true costs of renting vs. owning.
Again I think for me it all boils down to freedom. I think we feel that not owning a home, and in particular an older home such as we now inhabit, would once again allow us to have more freedom to pursue our passions and hopefully travel move. We are both intrigued by the idea of living a more minimal lifestyle and moving into a smaller place such as an apartment or condo would be a motivator for us to examine the things we own (or what things own us!) and pare them down to those that truly give value to our lives. We also hope that through this change we could possibly lesson our monthly expenditures so as to be able to work less and play more. In the end we may once again settle into the routine of where we are but I feel certain the urge to cut lose the anchor will strike again at some point.
In the end I suppose home is not a place. Home is inside of us. It is created when we are with the ones we love and when we are doing the things that give joy and meaning to our lives. It is to live in an atmosphere that allows us the freedom to dream and create whatever possibility we can imagine. This is the home I am looking for. It is the home I felt that night in Costa Rica and it is the home I would like to find again
Thanks to Jeff and Anne and John and Suzanne for the inspiration your travel blogs have provided showing us that we can live the retired lifestyle while we’re still young enough to enjoy it.