“So after you spend all your money traveling the world, then what are you going to do?” he asked.

“I’m not going to spend all my money, first of all,”  I said.  I started to explain how I had a chunk of cash specifically for my year of travels, but then quickly decided this guy wasn’t going to understand my plans, so I got out of the conversation.  Working on organic farms in Italy and walking a pilgrimage trail in Spain was beyond this gentleman’s understanding.  In his book, a 34-year-old single woman should be on a career path and husband-hunting.

He was a business-owning baby boomer.  He’d spent his whole life tied to a store, a family, a location.  I knew full well how much of my story he could take, and he’d reached his limit.  To his credit, I’m the one who opened the can of worms.  When people ask what I do these days, I often answer, “I’m selling off or giving away most of what I own and living on the road for at least a year as of 7/7/11.”  I know in that very next moment – by the look on their face – how open their mind is to unconventional folk like me.

Thankfully, there are plenty of his generation that love what I’m doing.  Some of my friends in the over 65 crowd are my biggest supporters, in fact.

But you know who I really love talking to?  The ones that put on the I-think-that’s-a-bit-crazy-but-I’m-also-intrigued face.  You know why they have that look?  Because they have a child like me.  And don’t know what to do with them.

“My daughter has a PhD in biochemistry,” she told me over tea.  Her husband, sitting on the other side of her, glanced over with a look that said, “Uh-oh – who’s she telling about our crazy daughter?”  The woman went on.  “She spent a year in Washington working on women’s rights in Iraq, and now she’s thinking of going to law school.”  The husband rolled his eyes.  “Oh, how wonderful!” I said.  I get just plain giddy when I hear about people like me.  “She’s 38,” the woman said.  “She has a place in Boston, but she’s thinking of selling that because she wants a simpler life.”

I had just finished telling this woman about my own travel plans and my process of getting rid of most of what I own.  “I’m 34,” I said.  “I have two Masters degrees and finished a quarter of a doctorate program.”  The woman’s eyes opened wide – I was more like her daughter than she had initially thought.

I asked how her daughter went from biochemistry to women’s rights.  It was a fascinating tale.  As the afternoon wound down, she told me how much she enjoyed talking to me.  “It’s nice to know there’s someone else out there like her.”

I’ve met my fair share of these folks and, without fail, at the end of our conversation they actually thank me.  So to the list of services I offer, today I’ll add “reassurance – to parents of children like me.”

Adding to the list…

Talking about your dreams can be both a great way to get support and a great way to get your every hope dashed – depending on who you talk to.  You start with those people you know will support your seemingly crazy ideas.  Then, when you’re bolstered with enough confidence, you mention it to those you know will shoot you down.  You maybe don’t get into too many details.  Or you just slip it into a conversation half hoping it will go unnoticed and therefore un-criticized.  But eventually, you get to the point where you can tell anyone because you are such a believer in yourself that it really doesn’t matter what they say.  This belief in yourself can fluctuate for a while, so you sometimes close up again and return to the close friends – the ones who support you no matter what.  And you build up yourself again until you can face naysayers without so much as a flinch.

I’ve been through this process with a great number of ideas and continue to be surprised at how things come together when you finally bite the bullet and start putting your ideas out to the universe.  Or even just out to your close friends.

When I was still in the early stages of planning my travels, my friend Diana said, “My mother lives in Wales.  She’d be happy to host you for a few days at least.”  Wales?  It had never crossed my mind to go to Wales.  But you can’t get much better than going to a country and actually living with the locals.  (Which is why I’m such a fan of couchsurfing.)  So I’ve added Wales to my list of destinations on my whiteboard – with Diana’s name next to it.  A few weeks later she said, “You know, I have lots of relatives over in Wales – all sorts of cousins.  I’m sure they’d all host you, too.  You could stay for a few weeks just staying with my family!”  Yep.  I just might do that.

Over Thanksgiving I was at my sister’s house in Charlotte, NC.  I had this idea that no one there was anything at all like me – or could even relate to my wild ideas.  She lives in a completely planned community – the same six houses repeated hundreds of times, every lawn pristine, every road evenly paved, a brand new Target every 2 miles.  You get the idea.  But behind the facades of identical houses with identical cars parked in driveways beside identical mailboxes are actually some interesting people.  So shame on me for forgetting one of my own credos: life isn’t about the stuff, it’s about the people!  One such woman has lived in quite a few fascinating places and when I told her of my travel plans, she got just as excited as I did.  She said, “I know people in Finland that would host you.”  Finland?  Again, the idea of visiting there never crossed my mind until that point.  I had just met this woman maybe an hour ago.  Was she really serious?  I’m thinking so.  So she’s on my whiteboard.

Mind you, when these two women mentioned their international connections, I had not yet turned one wall in my apartment into a whiteboard.  But how am I going to remember all the places people have told me about if I don’t write them down?  And as I said earlier, writing all this in a notebook just wasn’t going to cut it.  I think I may need another whiteboard….

On My Way!

I had a purely joyful day cleaning out a closet yesterday.  I know this is not normal.  But neither am I.

As many of you know, I love to declutter.  What do I love more than decluttering my own life?  Helping other people declutter theirs.  But yesterday it was on my home turf.

It all started with a mistake: buying my Christmas tree from Home Depot instead of cutting it down myself.  That poor tree drank hardly any water from the day I brought it home.  So though I usually leave the tree up until the Epiphany, this one was so brittle it just had to come down.  My sister was up the road having breakfast with a friend, and when she offered that I should meet this new guy I said, “Sure – you guys can come over and help me get my tree out of my apartment.”  Men like showing off their manliness.  I like giving them opportunities to do so.  This guy was no exception.  And they’re still in the early dating stages, so of course he would say yes.

The tree was gone, but now I was left with a large pile of needles where the tree once stood and a trail of them out the door and down the stairs.  I lived with the needles for a couple days – cleaning is not my favorite thing.  But yesterday I finally lugged my vacuum out of the closet – only to find it had hardly any suction.  It picked up the needles when I moved it forward, but when I pulled it back it dropped them all down again.  It was one of those temperamental days of mine so this nearly put me over the edge.  Here I was, ready to clean, and my vacuum was useless.  Ugh.  I wished I had a husband or boyfriend who could fix it or run out and buy a new one, but I’m on my own.  I allowed myself a few tears over my inability to attract a mate and then got down to business: I called Grandma.  (Mom and Dad weren’t home – they’re usually my first call for help.)

I got dressed and went to Gram’s to borrow her vacuum.  Then, I came back home and pulled most everything out of the living room so I could vacuum.  And it was then that I decided to deal with the pile of crap I had hidden in the corner behind my recliner chair.  It was crap that had seeped out of the corner closet, so I decided to deal with that too.

This closet is not one I frequent and in helping people declutter I often recommend we start in a place where they don’t have a lot of things they use often as those are easier to recognize as no longer needed and therefore easier to get rid of.

What was in this closet of mine?  Mostly yarn, candles, gift bags, and tissue paper.  I dealt with the yarn first. It was overflowing out of its cardboard box so my first thought was: it needs a bigger box.  Then I thought better of it.  If I’m going to sell or get rid of all my stuff by 7/7/11, I need to get hopping.  How many times had I moved all this yarn from place to place?  Was I really ever going to use it?

So I sorted.  I was easily able to part with most of it – with the exception of a small shopping bag of expensive yarn that I just felt I needed to hang onto for a little longer.   But what to do with it all?  My knitting and crochet group at the library had loved my idea of a yarn swap in January, but now I realized I didn’t want to swap.  I wanted to be rid of this stuff!  So I bundled most of it up and called my schoolteacher friend.  “Oh, the teachers would love it!” she said.  I have found that schools will take a lot of things.  Not just books and arts and crafts supplies, but bookshelves, small furniture, remnant carpets.  Got something you no longer use but not sure where it should go?  Call a local school.

My front hall had become my staging area for items ready to leave my apartment.  Usually it was just a can or bottle to deposit in the recycling bin downstairs.  But today you could hardly get through the space.  When I undecorated, I had also managed to get my Christmas decorations down from five boxes to just two, so I had a couple empty plastic bins to return to Mom and Dad’s.  I won’t get into all the other outgoing stuff.  But let’s just say I wanted that yarn out of there! So I decided to drive the half hour to my schoolteacher friend’s house to give her the yarn.   I also put all my tissue paper and gift bags together and decided I don’t need most of that either. I was going to bring the tissue paper to the new consignment shop – they said they would use it to wrap breakables.  But I told my schoolteacher friend about it and she said the art teachers would love that too.  And the gift bags.

So I’m well on my way to minimizing my belongings.  Appropriately enough, I was listening to Nina Yau’s free e-book Minimalist Freedom while doing some of this work.  Very apropos and inspirational.

Next?  Well, I loved my living room when it had hardly any furniture in it.  So though I’m still six months away from moving out, I think it might be time to get rid of most of it.  Most of it belongs to my mother, so that shouldn’t be so difficult.  Didn’t sell my couch yet – posted it on craigslist, but no real takers.  But am ready to put my favorite recliner chair on there next!