The simple life equals ultimate freedom

My dad is here, on his annual 3-week visit.

Dad is in his 82nd year, and his age is finally starting to slow him down a little. The man who has loved golf more than anything except his children and grandchildren all his life doesn’t play the game much anymore because he’s losing his balance. Now he’s lucky to play 9 holes instead of his usual 18, and he has to ride a cart – which is a real admission of frailty for my dad.

So he has begun to consider moving north from his “happy place” (his term) in Florida – where he has lived for 32 years since his retirement from the Coast Guard – to be closer to family. I hope he does, because I think he is going to need help from us soon – for driving, shopping, cleaning, cooking … normal everyday things.

Both my younger sisters are tied to jobs and houses – and they live 200 miles apart. Having Dad near either of them would burden their busy schedules and full lives. They live in urban areas where the cost of living is high and every errand is dependent on an automobile in good running condition and every additional item on their “to do” list subtracts from the little enjoyable living time they have left at the end of the week.

But I am free to relocate. I sold my house long ago and quit my last “real job” 2 years ago to live the life of a low-rent bohemian writer. Believe me when I say I am poor in terms of money, but oh so rich in many other ways! And please believe me when I say it’s the other ways that matter the most!

I don’t have a house full of big rooms and nice furniture … but I also don’t have 30 years of mortgage payments to the bank. I don’t have a pretty yard with landscaping or a shady deck with a barbeque grill … but I also don’t spend my week-ends weeding and mowing and pruning. I don’t have a spacious walk-in closet full of expensive garments with designer labels … but I can spend the day in my jammy pants and a t-shirt if I choose to. I don’t have an impressive new late-model car … but I can walk everywhere I need to go and I couldn’t care less how high the price of gas goes.

I am as free as the wind – and I consider myself to be the richest of all of us. I will have the adventure of helping Dad find the little cabin in the woods that he wants now. I am the one who will move close enough to help him but far enough away not to be intrusive – to make him pots of soup and take him to Mass every Sunday and make sure he has clean socks and good books. I’ll be the one who gets to walk with him in the first snow of winter to gather kindling for his fireplace.

I will be the lucky daughter who gets to repay Dad for the life he gave me … and I can’t think of a better way to spend the next chapter of my life. Is there anything money could buy that would make me richer?

I honestly don’t think so.

The picture of the cabin in the woods was found at a blog by C. Travis Webb called The Rambler. His writing is mostly way over my head, but the post that accompanied this image had this to say about his aspirations to be a great writer:

“I’m talking about ambition. Great ambition. The precursor to great art, and soberingly, great failure–great failure, of course, being far more common. Indeed, the only thing that makes such ambition tolerable, if it is at all, is its proper relationship to the rest of life. Being a generous father, friend, husband, mother, lover, daughter and son is of far greater consequence than any sentence ever written or idea conceived. At least as much good is accomplished when burping an infant as when filling your mouth with Whitman.

“And yes, in spite of my profession, I actually believe that.”

I’ve been – at various different times in my life – a terrible wife, a lousy friend, and a pretty useless daughter. I’ve tried to be a good sister. I was never given the chance to be a good mother. So this is my chance to redeem myself.

And if I’m able to do it, it will be because a simple lifestyle and a lack of commitments and possessions gave me the freedom to try.

* This post was originally found at on Sept 11 2013 and I am re-posting it here to my new blog. 🙂 *

Do you see the trap?

Have you ever heard anyone sigh and say, “I wish I had more stuff cluttering up my life!”

Sure, you will hear people wish for individual things – new towels, a rice cooker maybe, an iPad -but more clutter?

Not likely.

Most people I know want to simplify.  They want to downsize.  They want to dig out.  They want to be free of the mess, the dust bunnies, the crowding, the spill-over, the time- wasting, the constant moving of things in the way, the perpetual putting away of things out of place.
Continue reading Do you see the trap?

Please don’t feed the dinosaurs

In the film The Legend of 1900, a new-born baby boy is abandoned on a luxury liner at sea at the turn of the 20th century. A piano prodigy, he grows up on the ship and never leaves it. The one time he almost makes it to land, he tries to explain to his good friend and fellow musician, Max, why he just couldn’t do it.

“All that city… You just couldn’t see an end to it. The end! Please, could you show me where it ends? […] It wasn’t what I saw that stopped me, Max. It was what I didn’t see. Can you understand that? What I didn’t see. In all that sprawling city, there was everything except an end. There was everything. But there wasn’t an end. What I couldn’t see was where all that came to an end. […] Christ, did you see the streets? There were thousands of them! How do you choose just one? One woman, one house, one piece of land to call your own, one landscape to look at, one way to die. All that world weighing down on you without you knowing where it ends. Aren’t you scared of just breaking apart just thinking about it, the enormity of living in it?” (emphasis mine)

Continue reading Please don’t feed the dinosaurs

Social Security

In a few years, I’ll be dependent on Social Security (if it still exists) and will have to live on a little over $900 a month. That’s not much money, given the current cost of living (and the fact that I worked and paid into the system for 40 long and mostly miserable years). The average monthly benefit was about $1,230 at the beginning of 2012 – which I could probably get if I were willing to wait a few more years – so lots of us will be in the same boat. There are plenty of people out there who live on less.

But consider this: according to the American Housing Survey, the median monthly rental housing cost in 2011 was $845, including utilities and trash collection. That doesn’t include internet, cable, Medicare Part B, prescription drugs, clothing, or any type of transportation or entertainment.

Oh, or food.

This figure is not broken down by apartment size, so it’s higher than the median rental cost of a studio or one-bedroom apartment. But after spending a lot of time living in the real world, I have to assume that the median monthly rent on even the tiniest of apartments is going to eat through most of my monthly Social Security check.

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What rich people have that you don’t

The wealthy – although we already know that they are not necessarily any happier than the rest of us – do tend to have something that I wish I had more of myself. This photograph (from Metropolitan Home magazine, April 1990) highlights plenty of it. The picture is worth a thousand words, but a good editor could knock them down to a handful: minimalist, clean, simple… breathing. When I look at this picture, I feel as if I have taken off my girdle and loosened my belt.

This is my favorite graphic representation of something rich people have that most of us do not: lots of empty space.

Either consciously or subconsciously, don’t we all long for the relaxed calm and the generous indulgence of empty space? Nothing is demanded of us there. There is nothing to do but be. Most of us try to satisfy that yearning by moving into bigger houses. Then – being domesticated humans – we feel the pressing need to fill every empty cubbyhole with stuff. But then, of course, we want an even bigger house.

Maybe more of us should just consider the alternative – clearing out the spaces we already inhabit. It’s a solution with a lot going for it. It’s simple. It’s free! It’s achievable. It’s immediate. And ultimately, it’s extremely liberating.

So take off the girdle and loosen the belt. Breathe easier.

Continue reading What rich people have that you don’t