So recently a team of anthropologists from UCLA published a book called "Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century" it looks like a coffee-table book with big, glossy photos of the living rooms, garages and bedrooms of 32 middle-class Los Angeles families. However, the book has a deeper story line, one that totally sums up why Tim and I are buying a boat and moving aboard and hope to one day raise our children aboard -- American families are being buried by and stressed out over our "stuff".
The researchers called their findings "disheartening" and "troubling". The book shows garages so full of bulk boxes of fruit snacks and 500 oz. bottles of laundry detergent and skis and float toys and old baskets and storage boxes that the cars have to stay in the driveway. There's photos of shower stalls full of laundry because there is so much clutter everywhere there's nowhere else to put it. They talk of these fantastic backyard 'oases' with the best furniture the outside living section at Target had to offer and yet 50 of the 64 parents studied never stepped foot outside and less than a quarter of the kids did. The family dining table was covered with mail and books and toys and the families never sat together for dinner - Mom in one room on the phone, Dad in another on the computer, the kids watching TV or playing video games. And then there's the toy obsession for kids - America has 3.1% of the world's kids and 40% of the world's toys. The children were DROWNING in their toys and yet all they wanted to do during this study was watch TV to see more commercials of more toys they want. The consumerist culture we seem to embrace has resulted in a clutter-filled and very stressful life for our society and our next generation isn't showing signs of slowing their constant need for material possessions either.
OK, off my soapbox and back to our Reason Why. We are just as guilty as anyone else of having "too much stuff". Our little 2 bedroom duplex is full - every closet full to the top, every dresser full, 2-3 junk drawers, stuff under the back porch and in the basement.This lifestyle choice we are making to move aboard a boat with approximately 250 sq.ft. of living space is causing us to embark upon the very cathartic, emotional, at times overwhelming experience of purging. A famous Farrell family saying is, "Everything must go." There's a long story behind that but it couldn't ring more true for us these days. Our friend who's living on his boat told us we will have to "ween" and all the books and blogs we consult also say there is this "weening" process that one goes through with their stuff where you move aboard more than you'll ever need and slowly you'll realize all you need is some warm clothes, good beer and a good mug. Isn't amazing that we liken the process of a baby maturing off of breast milk to the process of giving up our material possessions?
We did the first round of purging this weekend - the upstairs storage closet. There was one particular bin that I've moved with me the last 3 times we've moved and never actually opened it because I knew the process of purging the contents would be emotional. There were old notes that were passed between my best friend Tierney and I in math class in high school. There was a middle school "slow dance diary" of every song I'd slow danced to with a boy. There were countless concert ticket stubs, festival maps, a "Welcome to Aussie Land" banner made by my amazing Australian friends when my parents arrived in Brisbane. There was poems written about road trips I'd taken from NOLA to Chicago and a "100 things to love about college" list that was added to for 4 years. There were palanka notes from college retreats and even the beer festival program from the day Tim and I met (I didn't purge that!). These things recalled fantastic memories of amazing people that may or may not still be in my life and though that thought is bittersweet the memory of these people and those times is still as poignant as ever. I don't need to hang on to some crumbly, half faded note to remember the care package my mom mailed me my first week in college, I can still taste the brownies. Or the lab report from my 7th grade Science Fair. I can still feel the pride from the moment I heard my name called. They are just material representations of life stories and the reality is I will never sit with my granddaughter and go through that bin of old things. I'll tell stories, show photos and sure, the details will fade or embellish with time but that's the beauty of life -- it's living the moment, making the memory, telling the story, not holding onto the things.
This life path we are embarking upon will provide such amazing stories and moments of inexplicable challenge and beauty that no material thing could ever represent. The constraints of life aboard will challenge us to fulfill our lives with moments and experiences rather than gadgets and toys. When we buy something new, something old must go. Our future children will learn to love a strange piece of driftwood on shore as much as some plastic playmobil toy. Our living space won't be surrounded by our stuff but instead will be surrounded by the ocean, the wind, the damp dew in the mornings, the cold frost at night, the cozy teak interior. Our time won't be spent using our newest gadgets or things but instead we'll spend our time learning to fix a faulty cooling line or charting a course to a new anchorage. We will have no choice but to eat together at the table every night. And we'll spend every single day experiencing the outdoors in some meaningful way whether it be shoveling off the deck, walking up the dock with Toby or sipping coffee in the cockpit.
So for us the "clutter culture" of American society is stopping now. We are taking a path less traveled and trusting that life experiences will provide far more happiness for us than things.
"I believe we would be happier to have a personal revolution in our individual lives and go back to simpler living and more direct thinking. It is the simple things of life that make living worthwhile, the sweet fundamental things such as love and duty, work and rest and living close to nature." -- Laura Ingalls Wilder