I recently watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. It isn’t about doing something as radical as I am, but it does explore the idea that we are slaves to our stuff, that we work harder and harder to acquire more and more. In fact, we work harder at maintaining stuff than we do on our relationships. In fact, in the US we are overflowing with stuff to the point where we utilize storage rental facilities to the tune of 2.3 billion (yes billion) square feet. Since this post comes on the heels of me sharing the adventures of my six-pound Shakespeare book and on the heels of watching the documentary, I find myself repeating: To store or not to store? That is the question.
I moved to Alaska on Labor Day weekend 1993. If things go as hoped, I’ll be leaving the Last Frontier 24 years later. Exactly. I came to Alaska for the sole purpose of attending graduate school and with the idea I’d be here for the three years it took to complete the task.
That meant there was no reason to haul everything I owned nearly 4,000 miles just to haul it back again 36 months later. Not to mention how expensive the move would’ve been had I rented a U-Haul. The smart decision, or so I calculated, was to put my worldly possessions in storage.
You know how the story goes.
I graduated. Then never left Alaska. It was eight years (or maybe nine) before I got back to San Diego and opened the door of the storage unit for the first time since I closed it in 1993. In the between time monthly rental on the unit increased annually.
And in the end, it would have been less expensive to haul everything up to Alaska. So much less expensive I never had the nerve to crunch the numbers. I just couldn’t face knowing how much money I wasted.
Two bar stools epitomize the possessions I stored. I was young and still starting out so not making a lot of money. The year before, I’d moved into a cute studio apartment that I loved. The kitchen included a bar. I saved to buy two bar stools. One of the reasons I felt so attached to them, I’m sure, was because of how long it took me to afford to buy them. Plus I’d only had them six months before deciding to move to Alaska. I couldn’t bring myself to let go of them.
It was a definite lesson for me when I opened my storage unit years later. I saw the bar stools first (since they were the only things not packed in boxes) and thought, “Really? This is what I paid thousands of dollars to store.” You can do the math. I could have filled an actual bar with bar stools for the money I spent on storing those two.
The stools were still lovely but time had severed the emotional attachment. I tried to conjure up the reason why I had felt it was so critically important to keep them. Nothing. From the storage unit, I drove those bar stools and nearly everything else in that storage unit, to a charity drop-off.
I relay this story to underscore the fact that I know renting a storage unit is, basically, nothing more than a money pit.
Nevertheless, I find myself asking the same questions I did in 1993.
If Not Storage, Then What?
By the time I hit the road, I will have downsized my possessions by 90%. Maybe more. You’ve read about those efforts. Even so, too much stuff will remain to fit into my downsized living space. This I already know. Too, I know, there are things that have no useful value to me on the road. And, they are things I’m not yet ready to part with.
I know. I know. It sounds like I’m destine to repeat the bar stools mistake. Bear with me.
These items are not just things. They are my heart. I’m not at a place where I can part with the letters my dad wrote his parents 1953 – 1955 while serving in the army, stationed in Germany. How can I get rid of photos and the volumes of journals I’ve kept since my college days? And if one of my goals on the road is to visit place of genealogical significance, how can I get rid of a silver spoon from an 1850 spoon that my great great great great grandmother won as a premium for something she baked in the County Fair? Tell me, how can I possible put my grandmother’s 1928 Newcastle (Wyoming) High School yearbook into the recycling bin? Not to mention, my own yearbooks?
You get the idea.
That 1850 spoon might have little monetary value and it certainly has no practical use in my trailer. It would only take up precious space. It’s made of a soft metal so not very functional as a spoon to eat with. But when I look at it, I see generations of women passing it to their daughters, along with the stories of who they were. The spoon, the way I see it, is part of the story I tell about myself. It’s part of how I know who I am.
I’m sure others with stronger constitutions than mine could say goodbye. But I cannot.
Knowing that, leads back full circle and to the main question. What the heck am I going to do with my little 1850 spoon and all of its friends?
The truth is, like more things than I care to admit with only four month before I embark, I do not know. I simply do not know. Scary to confess, but still the absolute truth.
Going down the path of renting a storage unit remains on the list of possible solutions. But it isn’t a good one. I really did learn my lesson.
At this point, I estimate these treasures will fill three or four boxes. My hope is that someone will be kind enough to offer space in their garage, attic, basement, etc. My hope is I can impose on a friend or family member somewhere in the middle of the country who will let me come by every so often to visit them and my treasures.
And, who knows? Over time as I immerse myself in the minimalistic lifestyle, it’s possible my 1850 spoon will become more like those bar stools. Maybe that spoon will become just another possession weighing my life down as I struggle to maintain it. Maybe.
But I don’t think so.