Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Free Yourself From Clutter! Clean House, Clear Mind

I find that the cleanliness of my house is directly related to the sanity of my mind. As a result, since going back to work my sanity quotient has taken a serious hit. Based on this revelation, I have embarked on a major decluttering initiative in our house. I found a great book called The Declutter Workbook: 101 Feng Shui Steps to Transform Your Life that is changing my home, and my perspective on life. Believe it or not, this little gem is only $.01 used on Amazon. You would think that the steps to decluttering your house would be obvious but this book does an amazing job of helping you identify all of the little things that you might otherwise miss. I found that I've looked at some of the clutter in my house for so long that I don't even notice it anymore. Chris & I have been using this book to tackle one room at a time and I am thrilled with the results! I'm also thrilled with the unintended consequence: decluttering the house has led to decluttering my life.

When I really look at all of the knick knacks around the house in a critical way, I'm amazed at all of the mindless spending we have done over the years. Did I really need all of these candles? And why do I have more picture frames than I do pictures or space to display them? April Dykman writes a great guest post on this subject on Get Rich Slowly, one of my favorite blogs. Her post is called Freedom From Mindless Spending. She discusses the reasons that lead us to purchase items for which we really have no need or attachment. She then talks about stripping your life down to the simple things that really bring you happiness. I enjoy being outside, hiking in the woods, camping under the stars, spending time on the water, curling up on the couch with a great book and a cup of coffee, catching up with a long time friend, driving in the mountains, taking my dog for a long walk, and spending a quiet night with my husband talking about our dreams for the future. None of these things involve much money or items that are mass produced and sold at Target. Now don't get me wrong, I love Target as much as the next twenty-six year old girl nesting in her first home. But when you think about it, the old cliché is true: the best things in life really are free. Freeing ourselves from mindless spending pads both our pockets and our mental well-being.

Chris & I are always looking for ways to make our money go farther so as part of our declutter project, we are selling a lot of old and unused things on Amazon and craigslist. We've decided to take the money from these sales and put it in a savings account that will be used next year to fund our cross-country road trip. It feels great to get back to basics, both in our house and in our lives. There is something very liberating about eliminating the noise in your life and getting back to enjoying the simple things. I love how much cleaner our house looks (even a clean house looks messy with random, unrelated figurines and objects everywhere). I love that this project is making us reevaluate our priorities while helping fund a great adventure in the trip. And I love how I can apply the concept of a cleaner house to the bigger picture of life. As April Dykman says in her post, "What made me happy? Seems like a simple question, but to find the real answer, you have to block out a barrage of ad campaigns, expectations from family members and peers, and the desire to keep up with the Joneses." So I vow from this day forward to stop and think twice before heading to the check out with a cart full of fake flowers and decorative wall hangings. And while I'm cruising down a two-lane highway in California next year, I won't remember what those flowers looked like one bit. But I'll never forget the color of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean or the quality campfire conversations and playlist debates with Chris. And you can't put a price tag on those.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Trip

I dream of moving out west. I've always dreamed of moving out west. I fully disclosed this to Chris before we got married. His career that is firmly rooted in Virginia doesn't mesh well with my wish of loading everything we own in a U-haul, becoming a nomad exploring the west coast for a few months, and settling down somewhere around Colorado. Of course, my rational side has always kept me here plugging along in corporate America and being an overly responsible twenty-six year old. But this little voice in the back of my head keeps saying "go soon, or you'll never go". And the voice is starting to yell.

I had a sudden epiphany while I was between jobs that we should drive across the country. It would be a great compromise between living in Virginia and seeing what's west of the Mississippi. And what better way to spend quality time together than getting back to basics and taking an adventure? That night I dragged Chris to Barnes & Noble and started devouring books like Live Your Road Trip Dream: Travel for a Year for the Cost of Staying Home
and Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways. I made a list of places to see and mapped out a general route, although I feel strongly about most of the trip being spontaneous. I pitched the idea to Chris with an arsenal of justifications and counter-arguments for the expected resistance. So he shocked me when he said an enthusiastic "sounds great!" I thought this was a passing generous mood, but a few months later we are still excitedly planning the trip and anticipating our big adventure. I'm picturing us hiking remote trails in national parks and hitting a scenic two-lane highway after an early morning breakfast in a local coffee shop.

Here's the game plan: We'll go for four to six weeks in either spring or fall of 2010. May/June is my preference, but depending on certain circumstances it may be September/October. There are two main obstacles to overcome. 1) The dog. We thought for a brief second about taking her. Then we pictured ourselves staying in a hotel or trying to park near the St. Louis Arch with her panting and running around the car and barking at pedestrians. Scratch that. She has to stay here. We're planning to hit up my parents for an extended doggie vacation, for which they are currently unaware. We'll have to approach that one carefully. 2) Chris's job. He'll be starting a new one around January of next year and I can't imagine any job that would be ok with a four week vacation barely four months into work. Since his career is the one we plan to rely on most financially down the road, we can't give it the proverbial finger. So this could dictate a change of plans, or a delay of starting a new job. Regardless, we are determined to make this trip happen. As I frequently remind Chris, this is not something we will want to do with a two year old child, and the clock is ticking. Our years of only thinking about ourselves are numbered. This is just something that I have to do before I can officially settle down and start a family.

The map: Get one-way flights to San Francisco and load up the tent and supplies. Secure a long-term rental car (hopefully a hybrid SUV!) and begin by driving up the west coast to Seattle and possibly up into Canada and Vancouver. Cruise down through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri, and then the shortest way back to Virginia. And somehow we have to fit in Colorado and Utah. Maybe we'll start in Denver and drive across to San Francisco? We've started a savings account specifically for the trip and are convinced that with enough camping and grocery shopping we can do this on a very economical budget. We'll of course have to make some classic road trip CD's, take the computer so we can email and blog occasionally from the road (although we'll want limited contact with the media and the home front), and invest in our first camcorder for a video documentary of the trip.

I really believe that this will be a life-changing journey. There's something so refreshing about stripping away all of the daily hassles of society, all of the tv's and telephones, and being in contact with everyone 24 hours a day. I think that an experience like this gives you a new perspective on life and changes the way that you look at everything. I'm hoping that this trip will help me define what is really important to me and give me a chance to think about my direction. And most importantly it will be a voyage that Chris and I will take together, which I think will make us stronger in the long run. So we're socking away money, welcoming any advice and recommendations, and trying to refine our rustic camping skills.

In my case, I will likely have to quit my job to take this trip. That idea is a little scary to me, but the idea of waking up at seventy with regrets is even scarier. And I don't think that at seventy I will regret spending less time in the office and more time in nature. There is a great article in The Wall Street Journal this morning in the column called Yoder & Son (by Stephen Yoder and Isaac Yoder) called Road Trip: What Isaac Saw – and Learned. Isaac, a recent high school graduate, just finished his first solo road trip partly across the country. In the column, he quotes a man named Eric that he met on the road. "'For most people, the time to get a job comes around and they lose sight of what's really important,' Eric told me. 'We should have been doing this long ago.'" I couldn't have explained my need for this trip better myself. We have the rest of our lives to be responsible and climb the career ladder. But it's never too late to rewrite your future or change direction. So here's to our trip, great adventures, lessons you can't learn in an office… and a less ordinary life! 2010 can't get here soon enough.