“How was your year?” people at Holden Village ask.
They ask because they know that a year ago this month, I left my job, sold my house, saw my son off to grad school in a new city, and, after a few weeks at Holden, moved what was left of my stuff to a shed on a farm in Washington State.
While my stuff has stayed put, I’ve visited 13 states and 5 countries and stayed in 60 different places (many of them more than once), sometimes for one night, sometimes for a month. I’ve done all of this travel without owning a car and nearly all of it without borrowing one.
Few possessions and no rent or mortgage have made this peripatetic year possible. I’ve traveled unencumbered, and I haven’t missed my stuff. After decades of offering hospitality to others, I’ve enjoyed accepting it from others.
Eventually I will unpack, start a new garden, get a new dog, and be the hostess instead of the wanderer. But first, a few more adventures! And then, where I unpack will look a lot different than the home I packed up. It may be a very tiny home, or a mobile home, or a room in someone else’s place.
A year ago these options were hidden to middle-aged me. Young adults have permission to explore living in groups, teepees, or dorms. The very old are expected to shrink their lives down to a modest apartment or a single room. But the rest of us (in the American middle class, anyway) are stuck. Judged on the size of our house, the exclusivity of our address, our brand of car, we only try to own less or consume less when we “have to”—because the economy has gone south, or our job is toast.
Out here on the house-less, stuff-less fringes, I’m feeling free and having a great time. Now that the eight place settings of sterling silver that used to whisper “you’re a grownup” are on the farm singing to the alfalfa, I can see lots of perfectly pleasant and responsible ways to be a grownup who owns very little.
How those options are described are critical. If I said, “Come with me to a tiny town in the remote wilderness where you can’t get a cell phone signal, you can’t drive your car, you won’t eat much meat, and you’ll have to share a bathroom,” you might politely refuse. But most people who come to Holden Village are too busy enjoying life in community to miss their car or cell phone.
Likewise, an invitation to downsize dressed up in “have to” language may not be appealing. How I wish we overfed, overweight, overscheduled, overconsuming Americans saw living with less not as deprivation but as freedom. Freedom to consider the question, how else might we live? What might we be able to feel, imagine, or experience if we were not so weighed down by our domiciles and possessions? How might we better love and serve one another?
If there’s a little voice in side you saying “this is too much,” pay attention. Nurture it. Consider it an invitation, and see where it takes you. And send me a postcard when you get there!
Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal