I'm a one-bag traveler. This only really matters when I travel, which is four or five times most years. On a daily basis, though, having only one bag is the absolute essence of minimalism. A single daily bag becomes a reliable tool for consolidating the gear and information that are most important in daily life. A single bag is vital to the holy grail that is Being Organized.
This doesn't necessarily mean that I OWN only one bag. It means all my DAILY STUFF is in one bag.
I currently have one work bag, two daytime purses, three evening purses, and a beach tote. This is because I haven't gotten around to getting rid of the two purses that are getting shabby after ten or so years. To me, having extra bags leads to guaranteed confusion, lost objects, and late departures. No bag ever made is pretty enough, or even useful enough, to make up for unnecessary hassle and irritation.
For local trips, I often just put my wallet and keys in my pocket, like a man, if I actually have pockets, because women's fashion is a conspiracy.
Ideally, my purse and work bag would be one and the same. In practice, I need a larger bag two days a week, and I don't like lugging it around more than I must. It's like when the rocket boosters separate from the space shuttle.
Purse: Wallet, phone, keys. Pen. Sunglasses. Lip balm. Tissues. Hair tie. Coin purse.
Work bag: Backup battery, adapters, and headphones. I carry sunblock and deodorant because of the climate where I live, and a small vial of Aleve because I'm superstitious. Mini emergency toothbrush, a wet wipe, and a stain treatment pen. Protein bar, and emergency sandwich if I'm flying. Folding grocery bag. Sweater. This is the maximum amount of paranoia gear I carry in my work bag, in addition to my tablet and phone. The most important object in this cavernously large bag is the EXTRA SPACE it provides for me to run errands.
I timed myself transferring items between bags. It took 57.71 seconds.
My husband commutes via bus, and he carries a backpack. It has his laptop and charger, glasses case, sunglasses, wallet, keys, phone, backup batteries and adaptor, headphones, and pen. Today, it also had a notebook, textbooks, and calculator because he's studying for a new professional certification. The most important feature of his backpack is the EXTRA SPACE it has for his lunch or a stop at the grocery store on the way home. I just asked him, "You don't have any receipts or anything in there?" He shook his head no, casually, like if I asked him if he ever debated what color of socks to wear with his outfit.
Parents whose kids are still at home will probably be thinking, "Easy for you, but we have kids." I know this because parents use this reply in every possible situation. The truth is that people who travel in packs have even more reason to organize and streamline their daily stuff. If you don't like dealing with tears in the morning, assuredly, your kids don't either. Checking kids' school bags and resupplying diaper bags in the evening prevents a lot of frustration before it has a chance to derail your family life.
Now that we've done the exposition, the key to Single Bag Theory is the strategic loading and unloading of the bag. The bag is Command Central. Since I don't need my wallet, keys, or sunglasses inside my home, they just stay in the bag. I never have to look for them. I know where the bag is because I always put it in the same spot when I get home. If I need to take something somewhere, like outgoing mail, I put it directly into the bag. This way I don't need a container or flat surface or special furniture; our apartment is so tiny that we don't have a foyer or hallway or mudroom or any of that. If we didn't have a system for our daily bags, then we would have a nonfunctional kitchen with counters covered in junk. That's just an objective fact.
Unloading the bag means making decisions. What am I carrying at the end of the day that is not strictly necessary to my next trip out the front door? Generally it is groceries or sundries I bought, receipts, mail, extra paper napkins, and the occasional piece of trash or recycling. Most of us carry receipts more out of habit or concern about identity theft than because we actually DO anything with the receipts. I try to avoid having receipts printed out at the check stand whenever possible. I do categorize my expenses in my finance app, but I only save the receipts with split expenses. This means that if I went to a restaurant, clothing store, bookstore, or other place with only one category of expense, I don't need the receipt for my purposes. If it's something expensive like electronics, I'll save it until I'm sure the item works properly. Most of our mail is junk mail, and almost everything that's left is outer and inner envelopes, brochures, and other useless inserts. We pay our bills electronically. Process and shred or recycle. Most of my trash sorting happens while I'm waiting at bus stops. When I check the contents of my bag at the end of every day, it only takes a quick glance and a few seconds to pull out anything weird or silly. I'm weird and silly enough without giving myself chiropractic problems lugging extra junk on my neck.
My smartphone takes the place of many of the items I used to carry. I no longer need a bulky paper day planner or address book or notebook or calculator. I no longer have tons of scraps of notes, phone numbers with no name on them, shopping lists, directions, or map printouts. I've developed the habit of setting alarms and time- and location-based reminders, because otherwise I know the fallibility of my ADHD mind. I need to be wondering about stuff like whether crows can be trained to pick up litter or whether there will ever be a wall-climbing scrubbing robot, not whether I've forgotten to order parrot kibble or where I put my keys. That's the point of all this, the point of Being Organized. We have more important things to do and more interesting things to think about than our daily stuff.
Having only a single bag has a magical way of making us more organized. Suddenly we know where our keys, phone, and glasses are. Suddenly we know where to look for our little scraps of notes. We start to be less late, and finally on time for things, because we can just sling the bag over one shoulder and go straight out the door. All the little rays of wandering attention we have aimed all over the place start to merge into a thick beam of focus. Having one bag can help us both look better and feel smarter, and what a magical bag that is!
Airline incidents are the trend du jour. Now that almost everyone has a cell phone camera, all of this stuff is going to be documented and posted online almost instantaneously. Just as soon as it's started, the backlash will begin. Disputes will be disputed. These incidents are part of our larger cultural conversation (debate? battle?) over the boundaries around customer service and appropriate public behavior. This latest debacle over a birthday cake in the overhead bin is simply one example.
The story as it stood at time of writing was that a family brought a birthday cake on board their flight. Then they had an altercation with the flight crew, details under argument. The entire planeload of passengers was forced to disembark and reboard, and the family with the cake was rebooked on a different flight.
Right here is where I step in. I started flying alone when I was seven years old, and I've lost count of how many times I've flown in the 35 years since. Many of those flights have involved a box or zip-lock bag full of Voodoo Donuts. Have you ever tried to bring a frosted or glazed pastry onto a plane? Do you know what happens? The frosting melts all over the darn place. I don't know whether it's the heat, the humidity, the pressure, the oxygen mix, the altitude, or what. Now, when we're talking donuts, I don't particularly care how cosmetic they are when I land. They're going into my freezer, where I will eat them in little half-teaspoon smears if I have to. I haven't had much luck with sandwiches or other foods I've packed for myself, either. Airplane cabins are not great places for the culinary arts.
A birthday cake, though? I mean... they're so... fragile. Special occasion and all. I'm having trouble even imagining how an intact cake made it to the airport in the first place, much less down the gangplank, much less into an overhead bin. File under: ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN. I don't recall a cake-smashing scene in the movie Airplane, but if they do a remake, there should be. It writes itself. Plane hits turbulence, luggage starts smashing into the locks of the overhead bins, suitcases fly out, cake lands on someone. Someone stands up to get their medication out of their carry-on, accidentally shoves their entire hand into the cake instead. Flight attendant tired of someone's attitude grabs cake and smears it all over them.
Now I totally want to see this movie: Cakes on a Plane. Starring Samuel L. Jackson as an FBI agent and Melissa McCarthy as the cake.
Let's dive a little deeper. What happened? I watched the video provided by the family of the disputed cake. Telegenic as they are, I have questions. Anyone who has worked in customer service would have questions.
Supposedly there wasn't an issue with bringing a cake on the flight; the passengers put it in a bin reserved for safety equipment. The problems began when anything other than "Yes, sir or madam, I will certainly remove this cake and put it under my seat immediately, my mistake, so sorry for the inconvenience" came out of anyone's mouth. It's completely, totally implausible that rapid compliance would lead to the expensive and extreme choice by the flight crew to summon police and reboard the entire flight. How does this make any sense? What employee would arbitrarily bring that amount of paperwork on themselves? Why would other crew members back them up, rather than trying to mediate? Something just doesn't add up.
Flying is cheap and easy now, despite the trauma of TSA screening. Nobody has died on an American-certified flight since 2009, with the exception of a pilot who died during landing back in March. Did you catch that? Flying is so routine now that a plane landed safely even when one of the pilots became deathly ill during the landing. Flying has started to feel a lot like riding a bus - a bus with waiters. As a result, we tend to forget that flight attendants are highly trained safety professionals. A flight attendant bringing you a drink is roughly equivalent to Steven Seagal as the chef in Under Siege.
We have to listen to them.
We have to listen to flight attendants, not just because it's the law, but because it's their job to maintain the safety of every person on the flight, including themselves. They have training that we don't. Their training includes what is safe to stow where, and what kind of racket distracts the pilots, and other technical reasons why certain behaviors and activities are a bad idea in flight. We're supposed to put our tray tables up so we don't get impaled, and also so access isn't blocked if the plane has to be evacuated. We're supposed to stow all our extra junk so it doesn't go airborne during an emergency. Imagine 150 books, laptops, and briefcases flying through the air and then smacking everyone in the face at high speed. This stuff is serious. Flying is so safe today because the aviation industry has recorded, analyzed, and learned from previous disasters and fatalities.
They have their reasons.
The other reason we have to listen to flight attendants is that they have the power. When any kind of significant altercation or fight happens, the flight is likely to be delayed or canceled. That means that any disruptive passenger, right or wrong, now holds the power to ruin the travel arrangements of every single other passenger. YOU want to stow your cake in a choice spot, which may seem perfectly reasonable, until the result is that ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE PEOPLE on the plane with you now have to rearrange their whole life. It better be worth it, is all I'm saying.
What kind of situation merits the disruption of 185 fellow passengers? I'm going to go with: true emergencies. Nothing less. I'm never going to blame someone for having a major health crisis on a flight, unless of course they knew full well that they suffered a health condition likely to go into crisis mode while airborne. As an example, I was on a flight once that was delayed because a passenger had a condition that resulted in uncontrollable bursts of screaming. So, so not kidding. She was in the middle of the plane, while I was sitting near the front, and I was able to overhear the conversation of the flight crew (as well as the occasional shrieks from the passenger). There is no way this would not have been distracting to the pilots. One of the flight attendants said she was unwilling to enter a situation in which the flight would have to be diverted and grounded at an alternate airport, like a previous flight she had crewed. They agreed together that the screaming woman would have to disembark before takeoff. The woman apologetically cooperated, and the rest of us went on our merry way, half an hour behind schedule. I wish her well.
If someone with an 'uncontrollable screaming' problem can be that cooperative, why can't the rest of us?
Not everyone should travel via airplane. This excludes the category of medevac, obviously. Flying is stressful in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally, pastry-ly. Not everyone is up to it. Not every situation is appropriate for a flight. A German flight attendant once made me put away the nice red cabbage I was eating because it was "stinky." (Blush) Just because an airline employee embarrasses us, annoys us, hurts our feelings, or disappoints our expectations does not mean we are in the right. We should probably try to think of air travel as more like space travel than like ordering drinks at Starbucks.
I'm still totally not over United Flight #3411 yet. I wasn't even there and I can't get over it! I've been flying alone since I was 7 years old, and I've been a frequent air traveler ever since. So many changes have happened in the industry since that time that it's barely recognizable. I remember when there wasn't even a gate around the metal detector, just a person with a chair who sat next to it and waved you through. There was never even a line. I remember in-flight meals, magazine racks, free decks of playing cards, and many occasions when I had nearly an entire plane to myself. You could basically bring infinite checked bags and carry-ons of any size. I wear business casual when I fly, but back in those days everyone wore their Sunday-go-to-meetin' best. Now there's no dress code, everything but everything has an added fee, and it appears we're not even guaranteed a seat if we've paid for our tickets and boarded the plane. Times have changed. When times change, strategize. Make a policy decision for what you'll do when and if you get bumped.
A policy decision means no further decisions without game-changing new information. For instance, as a policy decision, I like walnuts in my cookies even though not everyone does. Most frequent travelers have policies. I am a one-bag traveler, by policy, and it would take very special circumstances for me to check a bag. I have a couple of weather-tested travel "uniforms" that I wear. Other policies might have to do with how early you plan to arrive before each flight, or whether you use your flight time to work, sleep, or catch up on reading. Making a policy about getting bumped is just one more aspect of this overall strategic plan.
I decided some time ago that I would volunteer to give up my seat if a volunteer were needed. This is partly because I am naturally altruistic, partly because I usually travel alone, partly because my schedule is flexible, and mostly because I freaking love money. A cash prize would be the best, of course, but I would actually use flight vouchers. Just don't try to buy me off with drinks coupons, because I don't drink. Last year, I had a layover at McCarran, and the ticket agent announced that they needed a volunteer. Woohoo! Four hundred dollars and possibly a night in Vegas? I'm in! Unfortunately, before I could finish standing up to claim my prize, a bearded guy in a tie-dyed t-shirt had bounded over to the counter. Clearly I am not the only person lying in wait for the golden ticket.
The scenario changes when I am flying with my husband. Unlike me, he has a normal office schedule, or more so, because he works 9/80s. It's a big deal for him to get time off. We would be unlikely to volunteer as a unit unless the conditions were optimal. Maybe we'd be on the last leg of a flight with no connections to make and the payout sounded attractive enough. This is somewhat of a moot point, though. The salient feature of a getting-bumped scenario is that we may not have a choice. What if one of us got bumped and the other didn't? We talked it out and decided that we stay together, so if one of us gets bumped, we both disembark. Other couples might go the other way, figuring that it's better for one person to arrive on schedule. One of you might volunteer as tribute. Some couples might have a multi-faceted policy that factored in multiple inputs. It's much easier to do these calculations in advance than to try to figure it out in a crisis moment, when you're both exhausted.
Consider Flight #3411 again. Here is this poor elderly doctor, traveling with his wife. He says in one video that he's been traveling around 24 hours. These are hardly optimal conditions for making difficult decisions. Then she agrees to depart, changing the nature of the stakes for his own decision and adding to his stress level. Quite frankly, most travelers would not have found vouchers for $800 and a night in a mediocre hotel to be enough enticement to get off a plane, fearing the loss of their bags, and cancel their plans. Cold hard cash, hand-carried valet service for the luggage, and a suite at a high-end luxury hotel, plus limo to the runway and Michelin-starred restaurant vouchers? Then we're starting to talk. Then we're getting to the stampede-to-the-counter level of incentives. All of that still would have been significantly cheaper than an international public relations disaster. Don't hold your breath waiting.
Until we're collectively willing to pay higher ticket prices, seat availability is going to get tighter and conditions are going to deteriorate. We might as well accept that one of these days, we're going to wind up in an unfortunate scenario. I've sat out five-hour weather delays more than once, usually when all food service in the terminal has closed for the day. Stuff happens. While advance planning can't make these problems go away, it does help to have some idea of what we would choose to do if they happen to us.
As uncomfortable and scary as it can be, the Place of Uncertainty is where everything juicy and interesting happens. Certainty is the death of curiosity. Knowing exactly what you're doing all the time is a pitfall of the fixed mindset; it means you're not learning or growing or changing. Ah, but it's so nice and secure and comfortable to be certain! Why would anyone ever give that up, even for a moment?
The most fascinating thing about the Place of Uncertainty is that it can feel terrible at the time. Confusing! Stressful! Frustrating! Lonely! Expensive! Depressing! Not knowing what to do next can break people. We're talking total life derailment. In retrospect, though, these points in the timeline can barely register. We may forget we ever felt that uncertainty entirely. Usually we remember it as a mere speed bump. Just a little blip.
An example of this is when my husband and I went to Spain last year and decided to follow what I call the Wing-It Method. We landed in Barcelona with no plans. We didn't know a single person. Not socially, not professionally, not through a website... we just knew zero people. We had nowhere to stay, no way to get there, and no idea what we would be eating for dinner. There was a really intense ten-minute period in the airport terminal where we were having a bit of an argument. The wifi was slow and we were not getting information instantaneously, the way we might at home. We had to find a campsite, learn the bus system, and find places to buy food and propane canisters. It felt not just daunting, but nearly impossible. Ten minutes later, we had all that information and an action plan, and we were merrily walking out to the bus stop, which was only a few yards away the whole time. In retrospect, it's very hard to express adequately the sense of foreboding and misery that comes from standing in the Place of Uncertainty, even for those scant ten minutes.
The Place of Uncertainty demands full attention. Full System Two thinking. Total mental bandwidth. Standing in the Place of Uncertainty is no time to be distracted or futzing around with one's phone. This is precisely why it's such good discipline. We force ourselves into unnatural and uncomfortable situations, when we have no real idea what to do, because we need to stretch our concept of what we are able to handle. Eventually, what used to be impossible or intimidating becomes doable, maybe even routine.
If you don't believe that, recall your first driving lesson.
My husband and I ran full speed toward the Place of Uncertainty this month. He accepted a tantalizing new job offer in a new city, and we only had twelve days to somehow get ourselves and our menagerie over there. From my current vantage point, sitting on the couch in our new apartment, the timeline seems clear and obvious. Yes, of course: we boarded our animals; reserved an Airbnb, a moving van, and a storage unit; packed everything we own in three days; loaded the van and cleaned the house top to bottom in one day; stored our stuff for eight days and moved it twice; and found the perfect apartment within six hours. Looking backward, it seems to make sense that we are 90% moved in to our new place exactly one month after the initial job interview! While we were living it, though, it felt like that one month was equal to a thousand years.
Making decisions depletes willpower and mental bandwidth. A job change plus relocation involves thousands of decisions. What to wear to the interview? How to phrase the thank-you note for the interview? Where to live? Should we pack or get rid of each of the ten million trillion billion objects in our house? Where do we put everything in the new place? What do we eat, when our kitchen infrastructure has been shattered into multiple cardboard box towers? The natural coping mechanisms for this mental exhaustion include overeating, quarreling, and standing idly with one's hands hanging limply by one's sides, mouth hanging open, hopefully not making a noise that sounds too much like UHHHHHH.....
The last month has been exhausting for us. Our sleep schedule was all over the place. We are both gimped up from being middle-aged, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed for a week and a half, and moving all our worldly goods twice in eight days. I rolled over in bed the other night, twitched my foot, and was seized by a cramp in my calf so strong that I had to push my foot down with my other foot before it would release. I mean, we are SORE. This was hard. It was physically tiring, mentally draining, and emotionally challenging. We said goodbye to a city we had grown to love, our nice neighbors, our nice yard, and a very significant number of our personal possessions. On the front end of it, having roughly zero idea where we would eventually wind up, it could have been traumatizing. We really didn't know if there would be a happy ending, other than that we would have each other.
There was a happy ending. It didn't come down from Fairytale Land. We created it. We pushed through our feelings of confusion, exhaustion, and uncertainty and kept working until we got what we planned to get. We knew we wanted the job, we knew what city we wanted to live in, and we knew how much we were willing to pay. If we hadn't found what we needed the first week, we would have extended our Airbnb stay or changed to a different one and kept looking. The task itself wasn't complex. Usually nothing in the Place of Uncertainty is really complicated; it only feels like it. It's our willingness to endure these feelings that leads us to victory, to a sense of progress and hopeful optimism in our lives.
As we finish our first week of the nomad life, I think it's fair to say that we've passed novice level. The difference between 'nomad' and 'vacationer' is that you're trying to do your regular workweek without your regular home environment as a support system. That infrastructure tends to fade into the background until it is disrupted. What have we learned?
Power outlets are far more important to our marriage than we had realized. We're staying in a room with only one wall outlet, two phones, three tablets, a laptop, and a Bluetooth. Plus it took my husband until the fifth day to remember where he put his backup battery. Thank goodness for the travel splitter. Electricity is the new coffee.
No matter how carefully you try to prepare and bring all the important stuff with you, there will always be something in storage that you had no idea you would need. This time it was our marriage license. If you can't tell we're married by looking at us, wait twenty minutes. Nobody can fake a long marriage.
Sleeping in a bed two sizes smaller than your customary mattress = challenge. Welcome to the game of blanket tug-of-war!
Cooking in someone else's kitchen is almost as weird as sharing a bathroom with total strangers.
Cooking without access to a fridge takes some imagination. Planning not to have leftovers is a totally different chapter of home economics than our usual methods. We never realized how much we rely on condiments that require refrigeration until now.
The only truly hard part is missing our pets, wondering what they are doing, hoping they are sleeping okay. We could probably never be "real," full-time nomads because there's no way we could bring our critters on the road without living in an RV. Our goal in life is less driving, not more, so that isn't going to happen.
What do we truly need during an average workweek? Not as much as one would suppose.
Work clothes with matching shoes
Phones and chargers
Something fast and easy for breakfast, like protein bars
Warm pajamas, at least when you're used to a million blankets at home
Our own pillows, because SPOILED
As it turns out, the biggest challenge we've had has been access to important documents. They're the only things you can't just replace at the store. Our desktop computer is boxed up in our storage unit, so we've been fortunate that various information we have needed has been available in our cloud storage. We're getting better at this. I had a copy of my previous marriage license, but not the current one. Revision control fail! The desktop is 9 years old now, and we're getting ready to upgrade to a laptop, especially since the hard drive crashed right before the move and we had to pay to get our data backed up. (Then it magically started to work again, go figure). It's weird how much more important our virtual, intangible, non-physical stuff is than our actual stuff-stuff.
What about all our stuff???
Living with almost every single thing we own in a storage unit for a week and a half has been an eye-opener. We're supplied with furniture and appliances and housewares, as we're in someone else's home, and it turns out that it doesn't matter so much which bathtub or vacuum cleaner or microwave you have. As long as they're functional, they're basically interchangeable.
What about entertainment? Sure, we have some books, DVDs, board games, and sports equipment in storage. It turns out, though, that we haven't missed them at all. Almost everything we do for casual weeknight entertainment involves the internet. As long as we have wifi, we can get almost any book, movie, TV show, or lizard video we could ever want.
What the heck is in the rest of the boxes? Take away the furniture, sheets and towels, dishes and pots and pans, cleansers, power strips and extension cords, and all the things that make a house impersonally functional, and it really depends on the person. What makes our home into our home is:
Our taste in art and music
In a lot of households, those core elements are represented by hundreds or thousands of individual items. A lot of them are decorations, a lot of them are books, a lot of them are clothes, a lot of them are souvenirs and photos. It's not so much the types or categories of things as the quantity of them. How much do we feel we need in the pantry to truly feel nourished and supported at home? How much do we feel we need in the clothes closet (and on the floor) to feel that we truly have options in self-expression? How many books, magazines, etc do we feel we need to truly feel content that we will never be bored? How many of our memories do we feel need to be represented in a physical format? How many projects do we feel we need to have in progress to truly feel that we will never die? How much of our stuff insulates us from uncomfortable emotions?
Here are some uncomfortable emotions that come up during the nomad life:
Anxiety about misplaced objects
Awkwardness around strangers
Nervousness about one's habits, noises, and smells bothering others
Annoyance when others' habits, noises, and smells bother us
Jealousy over scarce space, power outlets, countertops, blankets, etc.
Strong desire for more privacy
Desire to cook soup and sleep in one's own bed as new ultimate fantasy
Mysterious realization that there is nothing to do "around the house" but relax and read
When we get the keys and drive the moving van up to our new home, we'll be doing it with a new perspective. We had a yard sale and gave away three carloads of stuff afterward. Already we have a list of more things that won't fit or that we won't need. We're learning with every trip that we really need very little to feel like ourselves, to feel at home in this world. Very little but a larger mattress and more power outlets.
This story might sound familiar. A broken-hearted Australian man puts his entire life up for sale on eBay. Do you remember? I saw it in the news when it was going on. What an amazing idea! I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to read A Life Sold: What Ever Happened to That Guy Who Sold His Whole Life... on eBay?. Spoiler alert: Ian Usher went out and did what most of us don't even dare to dream, which was to make a "bucket list" and then go out and try to accomplish all his goals.
One of the most interesting things about this book is that Usher shares the whole picture, not just the cute-selfie parts. He can't stop thinking about his ex. He's sad and lonely sometimes, even as he makes tons of new friends. Some of his goals don't work out. He gets lost, swindled, injured, stuck in bad weather, and disappointed in various ways. Somehow, it all serves to make his achievements more remarkable. Almost everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and yet, he still pulls off some truly amazing goals. At the outset, he's in his mid-forties, and it is instructive to compare his plans with other people we might know in that age group.
It's also very interesting that Usher made the money to fund his travels and outrageous goals by working a dangerous, physically demanding job with specialized training, selling his house, and spending years saving money at an unusually high rate. Three out of three of those actions are actions that average people are not willing to take.
What I can't stop thinking about is the highly personal nature of the 100 goals. I read through the list, and I had done ten of them myself, including riding on a dog sled. Pretty good goals! But most of the others I would not be brave enough to do. It's a very Australian list, full of derring-do and physical challenges. This makes the book rather special. It's impossible not to start wondering what 100 items you would put on your own list, while clearly seeing that someone else's list is too idiosyncratic and personal to just... copy. It also raises questions of why certain goals that might seem obvious to someone else weren't on Usher's list. Why go to six continents when you could also go to Antarctica, for instance? Why isn't that goal on the list? Well, because it just wasn't, that's why. We're all fully entitled to have our own crazy quests and wild dreams.
A lesson from the book is that goals aren't fun when they feel like checking something off a list. They must be personally meaningful, or what's the point? The magic comes with the feeling that "I can't believe I'm finally getting a chance to do this!" The world could certainly use more of this. What would happen if more people realized that the only things holding them back from living their wildest dreams were their personal possessions and uninspiring jobs?
Possibility thinking works for any age or situation in life, and Lynne Martin proves it. She and her husband decided, at age 70, to become senior nomads. Home Sweet Anywhere is the story of how they got rid of all their stuff, sold their house, and used the money to travel the world. Anyone who is thinking of serious travel will get a lot out of this book.
A 2,000-square-foot house full of a lifetime's accumulation of antiques, family heirlooms, books, and photo albums. Just at the point when most people decide they are old and nestle into their recliners, the Martins realized they wanted to travel more and got rid of it all. Their house sold within a day of putting it on the market, and inspiration turned into action at a much faster pace than they had anticipated. BOOM! Nomads!
The rest of the book describes their travels to various countries in replicable detail. How did they decide where to go? How did they get there? Where did they sleep? How did they figure out what to pack? Where did they buy groceries? Was it dangerous? Any avid traveler will take notes on the meticulous details about air conditioning, locks, light switches, and all that stuff they never tell you in the brochures. Come "home" for a month or so every year and batch all your medical appointments, swap things out of storage, and visit family all at once. I learned a lot from Home Sweet Anywhere, and it's changed the way I think about our travel strategies.
One decision follows another, and it can lead to some interesting circumstances. Immediately after the Martins decided to sell their house and travel the world, they found a buyer, and they were off. They hadn't been on the road all that long before an opportunity came to pitch an article about this alternative retirement plan. That turned into a book proposal, which obviously turned into a book. If you commit to living the bigger life, anything can happen.
Martin has a saying to "postpone nothing." This is sage advice, and it's emphasized in shocking manner right at the end. No spoilers! If I were ever to get a tattoo, the one thing I will postpone, this saying is a good candidate.
I am so intrigued with this book that I had to find out more. Where are they now? According to their blog, the Martins traveled for about five years, then came back to California to build a house that they will rent out when they're on the road. Right now they are RVing. I'm a generation younger, and their life is a lot more interesting than mine! I am looking forward to the sequel.
I’m married, married for the second time. The first one didn’t go so well. I’ve spent a quarter of my life with a wedding ring on my hand. Most of my years were single, and in many ways, most of my hours are, too. I like being married, but I also enjoyed living alone, and I’ve hung on to everything that was good about that time. What we trade when we merge lives with someone else is completely negotiable.
There aren’t really any rules about marriage. Oh, sure, there are certain legal strictures and definitions. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a reason to acknowledge the distinction between marriage and any other type of relationship. My husband and I got married precisely because of what it symbolizes. In many ways, we are a unit. We refer to ourselves in the first person plural. “We” have a dog. “We” like Ethiopian food. “We” like Delta blues and flamenco music. “We” are getting the flu shot. “We” have an exclusively monogamous relationship. When other people see our wedding rings, they can guess certain things, such as the fact that we live in the same house and file our taxes jointly. It’s convenient.
The Venn diagram of us still would show two distinct circles with an overlap. We are individuals. While we share many likes and dislikes, what we do have in common is probably less than what we don’t. I love eggplant, he hates it. He eats meat, I don’t. The only items we can both agree belong on a Thanksgiving menu are mashed potatoes and olives. We’re sitting in our living room right now, and he’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt while I’m dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, cardigan, pants, and knee boots. (It’s 61 F outside). I’m a night owl, he’s an early bird. He’s an Upholder, I’m a Questioner. I like poetry, he likes hockey. He wants to build another battle bot, I want to learn to light a fire without matches. (He probably knows how to do that already). In many ways, we’re an improbable match. If we were both on a dating site, we wouldn’t have met. No way.
Being together doesn’t have to mean anything more than we say it does. We got married basically because cell phone service was too unreliable at my new house. We wanted to talk to each other for at least an hour a day, and living together makes that so much easier! Funny how that works. We do share values about managing finances, planning for the future, working on our flaws, enjoying simple pleasures, having pets, maximizing our contribution to the world, learning new things and pushing our abilities, traveling the world, and being accountability mirrors to each other. We both get a lot out of being married. We’re true believers. An intimate romantic relationship can be the fastest path to emotional and spiritual growth. Mental growth is on that list, too, as we bring our completely different academic packages to the table. Our friendship has been intellectually rigorous from the start. We’re married because it’s a value-add.
I like to say that I’m “extremely married.” That’s true. I feel like a lot of people forget there are other options besides squabbling all the time. That’s probably because they let themselves start to dissolve around the edges. If you don’t protect your need for a certain basic level of privacy and independence, everything gets that much more difficult. What “marriage” seems to mean, from some of the public arguments we’ve heard, is a depressing trap in which freedom is traded for financial security and the ability to let oneself go in every respect. Let’s stay together and try to ignore one another’s flaws so we can both relax. Why would marriage have to mean giving up privacy, independence, or freedom? What if marriage was more like a nice restaurant that you both went to most nights?
When I was single, I listened to whatever music I liked. I still do, I just use headphones more often. I used to go to horror movies alone, and sometimes I got candy. That’s still true, and if I do eat candy, that’s probably where I’m eating it. I used to hang out at the library a few days a week. Still do. I got a parrot, and she’s still here. I still eat eggplant as often as I ever did, just at restaurants, when my hubby is ordering something (anything) else. Everything I did when I was single, I still do, with the exception of eating cereal for dinner.
I asked my husband whether there was anything he did when he was single that he didn’t do now. I mentioned having cereal for dinner, and he said he used to do the same thing! I said it was funny that we both used to eat cereal for dinner, so we could do it now, if we wanted. We both paused, then looked at each other and shook our heads. Cooking “real” dinners is one of those marital choices that turns into a lifestyle upgrade. I mean, breakfast for dinner was nice, but not compared to a pot pie or a curry. Or a curry pot pie. Or a curry pot pie with sweet potato tots on top.
Part of the deal with marriage is that it represents a watershed in the timeline. There was ‘before’ and now there’s ‘after.’ The ‘after’ tends to represent what is popularly known as ‘adulting.’ It can be scary, until it becomes apparent that adulting leads to more options in life. It’s precisely like getting a driver’s license. Learning to drive is really hard and potentially dangerous, but then you have the societally sanctioned ability to go wherever you want. Adulting means that one day you have actual money in the bank, instead of a stack of bills. Adulting means there are delightful aromas coming from your kitchen, instead of nothing. Adulting means you sit on comfortable furniture and go to bed on clean sheets. This process of becoming a competent, grown-ass mature person should not be confused with the process of making an abiding marriage, because they are separate, though related. Being married is easier when you’re a competent adult, but neither requires the other.
Neither requires the other. That’s true about us. We don’t need each other, we just rely on each other sometimes. We share the load. Many things in life are easier with a second set of hands. We help each other to do things we would have to do alone otherwise. Together, we only have to cook one dinner and mop one floor. We can take turns and give each other a break. We’ve removed each other’s splinters, massaged each other’s shoulders, replaced each other’s bandages. We’ve gone to the store to get each other cold medicine and saltine crackers. We’ve lectured each other about doing our physical therapy exercises. We’re inseparable. Our lives wrap around each other in so many ways – by choice.
We’re independent. In some ways, we’re both more independent now that we’re married than we were when we were single. We travel separately more often than we travel together. That’s partly because one of us can stay home and pet-sit while the other takes off. The year before we got married, I went to Cancun with my brothers, and my then-boyfriend stayed behind and did my taxes for me. (See why I married him?) After we got married, he went on several road trips in which I packed him a sack of pasties, snacks, and still-warm cookies. Our home is a sort of resupply station. Taking off and doing our own thing keeps it fresh. We’re gone just often enough to miss each other and remember how cold the bed is when we sleep alone.
We check with each other before we make plans. I’ve been criticized by single girlfriends who think that means my husband owns me or something. Like I can’t think for myself or make my own decisions anymore. I do what I want. I do what I want much more often than I did before, because I have this logistical support system and personal cheering section. I do, however, check in and keep him informed, just as he does for me. It’s polite. If I had a roommate to whom I wasn’t married, I’d tell her (or him) that I was leaving town. Simple as that. We don’t have to do more than check in with one another, because we already worked out the guidelines under which our marriage would operate. We have a system for how to keep house, manage money, and share a calendar. We haven’t had to have repeated arguments about any of that stuff because we talked out something we could both agree on. Fidelity is the same. Asked and answered.
He wants to do a solo multi-week motorcycle expedition when he turns 50. He started planning it before we met, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do it. I went on two backpacking trips this year, and he was only invited to one of them, because the other was women-only. He’s talking about a couple of intensive business courses that would have him in a different time zone for a couple weeks. Sounds cool. I might very well do something similar, in the nature of a language immersion school. We’ve both flirted with the idea of grad school (though he already has one master’s degree). The undercurrent here is that we both see the role of a husband or a wife as a coach and sounding board for the other partner. We don’t “allow” each other to do things, we encourage each other to do things.
You should, babe. That sounds great. When does it start? Is it in the calendar?
Marriage is associated with a lot of FoMO. Fear of Missing Out on opportunities, on freedom, on new love interests, on steamy hot fantasies. Well, we were both over 30 when we got married for the second time. It turns out that the same people you’ll meet at 2 AM were there at 10 PM. It’s not like we don’t know about partying. We just lost interest in it. My hubby went to bed at 9:40 the other night because it sounded decadent. That’s something he’s more likely to do as a married man, because he can count on me to put the dog in his crate, lock up, check the stove, and turn the lights out. Married is cozy.
I’m a part-time bachelorette. I sleep alone at home when he’s out of town. I sleep alone in my backpacking tent. I’m free to play with my hula hoop, wear rainbow-striped socks, and try to teach my bird to whistle movie themes, just as I always was. It turns out that my independence is a big part of what my husband likes about me. I do what I want, and that keeps me interesting. Same for him. The part of the time that I spend putting away laundry or making soup stock is just part of the job description. The chores are just like any boring task I would do at work in order to collect the paycheck that funds my “real” life. We put the time in cleaning gutters and balancing the checkbook and getting the oil changed because those things need to get done. The only part of that that’s different from single life is that I always put out two towels and put pillowcases on two pillows.
Marriage can make us into better humans. He’s made me more confident and I’ve made him more sensitive. We help each other to work through awkward social situations. We interpret each other’s dreams and remind each other of our visions. We see each other’s inner superhero just as we see the villain that lurks there, too. We remind each other that we have missions to accomplish in this world. Our superhero personas may be single, but our secret identities wear matching rings.
We're in Vegas again, and I've been thinking about my fixation on luxury hotels. We live pretty modestly at home. Just what is it that's so special about hotels? Oddly, I think there are some lessons about minimalism here.
Our room is about the size of my first apartment. I've lived in larger houses, but there's something about the dimensions of this space that feels appropriate and comfortable to me. My husband and I always set up our bedroom in the smallest room of whatever house we're living in. At home, the bed takes up almost the entire room. Given the opportunity, we'd always take a smaller house over a larger house. Less to clean. Cheaper to heat and cool. Mostly, we just like having the coziness of a human-scale room, where everything is in proportion to our form.
The only personal stuff we have is the stuff we brought. We have exactly the right amount of clothing. We planned what to wear, so everything coordinates and we know we look good. There's all kinds of space in the closet for triple what we actually have in there. We have linens, toiletries, pens, paper, a hair dryer, and an ironing board. We have our electronics, and that means access to all the work tools and entertainment we could ever hope to need. What else "should" we have that isn't here? Boxes of memorabilia and sentimental keepsakes? Tubs of fabric, yarn, and craft supplies? Holiday decorations? A few dozen extra pairs of shoes and a hundred articles of clothing we won't wear? What are we missing?
Our pets. We're missing our pets, but we'll see them again soon.
There are things in the room that we aren't using and don't need. A large-screen TV and its small companion in the bathroom. Seriously? Why is there always a TV in a hotel bathroom? Do people really watch TV while they're brushing their teeth or shaving? There's a mini-bar, and we don't drink. There is a tray of snacks, none of which are the kind of thing we eat at home. As it is, we're only eating two meals a day and we're still feeling saturated with excess calories, even though we're walking an average of five miles a day and we always take the stairs. You can't work off a bad diet. There's a respectable gym at the hotel, but what makes this place unsustainable for us is that we have to rely on restaurants for our meals.
The one issue I have with hotels is that I'm not emotionally comfortable having other people clean up after me. If they left a supply closet unlocked, I'd totally squeegee the bathroom, run the vacuum, and make the bed myself. I always have to talk myself down and remember that this is someone's livelihood. A sucky one, but a livelihood all the same. I've cleaned houses for money, so why should I begrudge someone else that opportunity? Still torn about it, and probably always will be. Either way, in the end, it's nice to have gleaming clean surfaces, windows, and mirrors. Whether someone else cleans them or whether I do it, I'm never going to settle for dusty, grimy, or greasy. Even on vacation.
What we have in a hotel room is potential. It's a stylish, attractive, comfortable room. It has plenty of sunlight and it also has blackout curtains. There's a desk, a table with chairs, a couch, a bed, and a bathroom. There are plenty of lamps and electrical outlets. What else do we really need in a room? We don't need piles of papers and mail. We don't need stacks of catalogs, old magazines, and books we've already read. We don't need collections of clothes that don't fit. We don't need souvenirs.There is very little that we truly do need.
What we have at home is security. In spite of downsizing three times, in spite of our interest in minimalism, we still have plenty of stuff. The majority of our belongings are not used on a daily, or even a weekly, basis. We keep various tools because they may come in handy or because we think we might need them. Years might go by, and we might not need them, but the potential is there. I'm sure I could come up with a use for a deflated soccer ball or a candy wrapper if I waited long enough and thought hard enough. More than the random possessions, what we have at home is that sense of territory. This is our place to mess up however we like. Nobody tells us what to do here. Well, actually our landlord lives next door, and he does tell us what to do sometimes. Neighbors are always going to have a certain amount of input. In that sense, the security of home can be somewhat restrictive. In a hotel, almost anything goes. At home, people notice, and they remember. Security isn't everything.
The more time we spend in hotels, the more we realize that what makes our home environment feel personal is our personal presence. It's our conversation, the clothing we're actually wearing at this moment, and our musical preferences. It's our choice of reading material. It's our involvement in our work and our projects. There's nothing in particular about a room or a collection of stuff that speaks about our shared life. What makes a place home for us is being together, usually with our critters in our laps. Why do we carry so much stuff when all we really need is each other?
I never post on weekends or holidays, but World Domination Summit is a special circumstance. One day feels like a week. There's so much going on, so much to think about, so much "homework," and mostly, so many fascinating new people to meet, that I have an intense desire to record it all in some way. Oh, and to share it, of course!
We've been riding the bus downtown from my parents' place, which is just under an hour each way, so we've been having early mornings and late evenings. We left our schedule open this morning, as it was the only opportunity we would have to go to Powell's Books. Everywhere we went downtown, we saw WDS attendees dressed in costumes. One guy was dressed like a shark, which is real commitment on a 95 degree day. That event made all of downtown feel like part of a festival, which is true right now. I arranged a small, informal lunch meet-up, and we all sat in the shady park and ate from the food carts while listening to live music. Since I work at home in a city where we haven't lived long, I don't have any lunch buddies yet. Eating lunch with someone other than my dog is a red letter day.
My husband and I were scheduled for diverging events all afternoon. We walked part of the way to our respective academies together. I took Stephanie Zito's class, Launchpad to the World: Travel Hack Your Way Around the Globe in 90 Days or Less. We've taken the CreativeLive class she did with Chris Guillebeau, Make Your Dream Trip a Reality. Travel hacking is like drinking from the fire hose. There are so many different ways to do it, and so many details to manage. After this class, I realized that we're only doing maybe 20% of what we could be doing. This is part of where "homework" originates, when we realize we want to sign up for a bunch of different services or websites or programs, and it's going to take the rest of next week to do it all. So much awesome. The big question is where we'll go next.
My husband took the academy on How to Create & Build a Hyper-Engaged Community, which is relevant to his interests. His brain is full, too. Now he's trying to nudge me a little about opening comments on my blog. Just leaving this here. I always figured if anyone took the trouble to email me and ask about it, I might do it, but until then, I prefer not having to manage or moderate commenters.
We each had an afternoon meet-up. I was torn, because I wanted to do both of them, but they were cross-scheduled. Lo and behold, both of our academies ran late, and we were both late to the opening of our meet-ups. Unfortunately, mine must have met in the designated spot and then gone elsewhere, because I wasn't able to find anyone. (It was an event on non-fiction book proposals, and it felt very consequential and important to me, but oh well). Another woman found herself in the same situation, and she suggested we go to the other event, which was two blocks away. Even though we weren't signed up, we were able to sit in, and they had just started.
This meet-up was about how to get clarity when you can't decide between multiple projects. One of the exercises involved touching base with how you would feel if you completed the project, and comparing that to how you would feel if you never completed the project. For some people and some projects, there's undoubtedly a rush of relief at the prospect of quitting and letting it go. The exercise I found most valuable was to work with a partner, share projects, and talk about how to break them into smaller pieces and schedule them. I realized that I could easily think of several ways to get through the block on mine.
My partner shared concerns about negativity from people in her life about changing her career direction. What I told her was that the closer people are to your inner circle, the more they will naysay you, because they will want to protect you from failing and getting hurt. That's if they're loving. If they're dysfunctional, they'll just actively sabotage you, but we didn't really need to go there. The key is: DON'T TELL ANYONE CLOSE TO YOU UNTIL YOU'RE DONE. Strangers on the street will tell you that your idea is awesome and offer to connect you with people in their acquaintance who could assist you. People who love you will look you in the eye and ask you what the heck you are thinking. You're not obligated to tell every single person in advance about your new book idea or business plan. If you write a business plan and show it to a loan officer at a bank, and that career professional deems it worthy of investment, then it is. If someone in your inner circle who has no credentials or relevant experience has an opinion about your project, smile, thank them, and tell them you'll "take that under advisement." The only thing you owe them is love.
In conversations throughout the event so far, I've noticed something interesting. When women share their ideas, they tend to preface them with an explanation of why they're ambivalent, or why it's a silly, dumb, or crazy idea. (More silly, dumb, and crazy ideas like these, please!) Then they'll come out with something that is obviously going to make money immediately. I'll ask, why on earth would you think that wouldn't succeed? You have to do this thing. If only I had an idea that good... Then another lady turned the tables on me. She asked me what project I was ambivalent about, and I told her, hemming and hawing just like all the other women have done so far. She told me the same thing I've been telling everyone else! "Of course that will sell, you have to do it!" It's a confidence gap, pure and simple. We can see it in others, but it's harder to see in ourselves.
We wended our way over to the opening party, which took over most of the South Park Blocks. Live music, magicians, food, and hundreds of like-minded people waiting for a surprise. We got gift boxes full of all sorts of cool swag. We have assignments. Mine was to express gratitude to one of the volunteers, as though anything could ever have stopped me, and I was more than happy to do that again. My volunteer came around the table and hugged me when I was done. My husband's is to write an inspirational message and leave it somewhere downtown for someone to find it. Again, why stop at one? I invited my parents to contribute messages when we got home, and we'll have fun doing that.
Some inspirational messages can be really confusing to people, such as, "There is plenty for everyone in this world," or, "It's okay to have lots of money," or, "Strangers are trustworthy." I'm going to try to curate what we put out there and make sure it's broadly comprehensible.
Yesterday, we left the event bubbling over with ideas on how to revamp our spending. Today, we had to add to that yet more ideas on how to earn points for free travel, or rather, many many many more points than we have already been earning and using. That's how we got to the event this year; we paid $22.40 in tax on our combined trip. We'll have spent more than that on city bus tickets before we leave! What we'll do with our thoughts on the projects to cut or continue, and what we can do with a community-building mindset, remains to be seen. Somehow sharing ideas with all our new friends makes them start to feel like projects that are destined to come forth.
On the bus ride home, a young gentleman chatted with us, and then asked if he could please use my phone to make a couple of calls. Of course. Why not? I lend my phone out all the time. What are they going to do? Drop it? Run off with it? Pfft. People are probably more careful with a stranger's electronics than they would be with a live actual baby. In five years I'll be laughing at the comical obsolescence of this exact model. He made the calls, finishing both with "I love you." (Girlfriend and dad, I presume). Then the dad called back and I handed the phone over again. Twenty minutes later, the lad told another passenger that he had just got out of jail. I laughed inwardly. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to be afraid of. The fact of this person's event timeline has nothing to do with his manners or general harmlessness, which anyone could see. Welcome back to civilization, my fine fellow, and I hope someone gives you a hot dinner and a nice dessert afterward. I felt that the spirit of WDS is by no means limited to the couple thousand people who knew of the event and could afford tickets. There are kind-hearted, friendly, bright, fascinating people everywhere you look, provided that you do look.
(In fact, after the "jailbird" got off the bus, another young man who had been in the conversation taught us how to make a smartphone projector out of a cardboard box and a magnifying glass. He was carrying materials with him and he played us an instructional video. He suggested we follow the Futurism group on Facebook. Talk to people, I'm just saying).
Two days of main-stage events and a few more meet-ups mean that this is going to be one busy weekend!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.