The purge of ‘stuff’ for a new life of ‘slow travel’

We answer a reader's question: Do you need a million dollars to retire early and travel the world?

Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen

Minimalism is a label, and I don’t really like to be confined to a label. But the ‘ism’ expresses a lifestyle some people may connect to me. I don’t have many possessions anymore, and I’m thrilled about that!

I will admit: some stuff gave me pause when I went to sell, donate, chuck or recycle. Like my college degree. When I left San Diego last year, I shredded the document. I hadn’t looked at it in ages, never hung it up, and yet I carted it around from apartment to apartment, city to city, for nearly two decades. It’s not the degree decreed on paper that’s important. It’s what I learned in college, and what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown since then that’s important to me.

Then there were the professional awards from my journalism career. I thought statues and plaques would be nice to have, but then I rethought that and asked myself, what will I do with them as I go on a continuous travel adventure? Keep them in storage to look at later? Yes, the Emmys, an Edward R. Murrow Award and first place nods by the Associated Press boosted my ego in my professional years as a journalist, and I rationalized the awards were selling points to advance my career. But, the selfish fog cleared when I really looked at the statues and plaques. I didn’t do the work to win awards. The core reason was to help people – to shine a light on wrongdoing or corruption. So, in the end, I got rid of the awards, too.

High heels.  Here is a weakness. I still have a spike pair and a wedge pair I haven’t donated or ditched yet. But, I will. I can hardly walk anymore in one pair because my calf and foot muscles are so out of practice. I’ve lived in flip flops for 17 months now. So really, what’s the point in keeping them in storage if I can’t wear them comfortably?

A lifetime of pictures from the modern pre-cloud and flash drive days. The old-fashioned hold-in-your-hands photos. These are the only ‘things’ that I’m interested in keeping. These will be stored at my sister’s in Califoria. After all – she’s in the photos! So that is a big box of stuff I want to keep. A forever box of my former self. Maybe one day I’ll get around to digitizing these photographs, and truly be boxless- no stuff. One day, it will be fun to sit down and go through the old pictures and remember my former life. My former lives.

We all have several lives rolled into one lifetime, if we’re lucky enough to live long enough and full enough. I’m like a cat in that way – with nine lives. I think I’m on number six. The childhood years. The college years. The financially-strapped-young-professional years. The dark years. The successful professional years. And now – finally – the spiritual years. I hope these last the longest, with spirituality pervading any other themed cycles in my life yet to come.

At the same time I’m an independent cat, I’m also like a silly happy puppy when I explore the world with no tethers.

I haven’t written in this blog for one month because I’ve been busy, partly due to helping my husband untether. I’m already fairly untethered. Once I replace my dead laptop, my tally of stuff will be: passport (52 page book!), laptop, iPhone, iPad with keyboard, iPod, Kindle Paperwhite, Bluetooth music speaker, power chargers, extra eyeglasses, sunglasses, few hats, few flip flops, one pair of sneakers, few running shorts, few tank tops, couple of sun dresses, few warmer clothing items for off-the-beach life,  few bathing suits, extra bra, Turkish towel, some inexpensive jewelry with sentimental value. That’s about it on the ‘stuff’ aside from investments and fiat money in savings. I’ll get whatever otheir ‘stuff’ I need during our slow travel.

Our definition of slow travel = endless vacation on a budget. Not cramming everything into a long weekend, a week, or ten days. Staying places a month or two or three at a time. Going slow. Creating experiences to remember for a lifetime, or lifetimes. Collecting experiences to keep as my forever, instead of collecting stuff for as long as the stuff will last.

Yea. Like that.

I remember last year when my mother talked with my husband Tedly about our plan for slow travel. I just listened. My mother wondered if it would last. She was a little nervous.  Tedly smartly answered, don’t worry, your daughter has been on the move all of her life. Indeed. Once I left home, the longest I ever stayed at one address was five years. No other stretch was nearly as long.

Tedly has lived in one location – one address – one house – for nearly 30 years. I can’t imagine that. Now it’s his turn to shake off the stuff. A lifetime of stuff to unload, and he’s been cheery and upbeat most of the time. Sure, there is stress involved in letting go of stuff. For me, once I started, it got easier. Hopefully it will be easy for my spouse, as we get down to the wire and prepare to move on soon. He has already said he longs for a feeling of relief – and he can’t wait for the purge to be over.

As Tedly gets rid of the last of his stuff with final sales and giveaways, I’ve picked up a different, special kind of stuff – tomatoes! We have a garden bounty. I’ve been here in Cleveland long enough for the roots to take hold and give fruit. I always enjoy gardening and this has been a good experience. Now it’s time to give away that stuff and move on.

Our last garage sale is this weekend. I leave in 10 days to visit my sister for about a month, and Tedly will join me a few weeks after I get there. I’d like to spend as much time with my sister Karen as I can – so we can leisurely create those experiences for memories and good feelings that will last my lifetime. I will also get to see my parents again for a few weeks, and some other family members. I’m looking forward to those times and those experiences. I will treasure them. Because when Tedly and I leave again, I don’t know when we are coming back to the States. We’ll head ‘somewheres’ – places with beaches for a month, or two or three. Free to roam the earth untethered, but together.

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