Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Small-time Downsizing

It was almost a year ago that the plan was conceived to take the family on a grand vacation. Not Disney or Europe, but my version (on my budget) of a grand vacation. An outdoor vacation retracing the road trip I had taken years earlier up north to my cousin's wedding. We would travel to the northern Wisconsin/Upper Michigan border, follow the Lake Superior coastline, and then turn north into Minnesota and finally to Ely (voted the coolest small town in America), the last outpost of humanity before the expansive Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We'd stop along the way to take in the sights, seek concretions, kayak, hike, and explore. We starting putting together the pieces in early spring. I sent out emails (and a blog) to the family getting them motivated and in the vacation planning mindset. We got a GPS and made hotel reservations, but other than that, we left a lot to chance. I watched and compared the weather and let the family know what to except and to pack accordingly. When the middle of August came, all of our ducks were in a row, and we were ready to head North. It was during these last hectic moments of preparation that I was struck with the 'vacation state of mind' epiphany. Otherwise know as 'why people enjoy vacation.' Vacation, in a broad sense, is enjoying time away from one's everyday life. But I think that's just scratching the surface. Everywhere we look today we're being urged to downsize. Living simpler and eliminating the clutter from our lives is better for us as well as the world as a whole. Tiny houses are replacing mini-mansions as the wave of the future. We're being encouraged to buy less and recycle what we don't need or use. Waste not...., right? What is vacation if not a microcosm of downsizing? Each family member packs their favorite things, their essentials and necessities into the vehicle and leave the rest behind. All the extras, all the clutter, all the stuff that we think we can't live without now sits at home waiting to be needed, but it never is. We just think we need more stuff. Bigger stuff. Better stuff. As I write this, I have a basement containing a stereo, a VCR (maybe even more than one), two TVs, and bags full of unknown contents. I don't need any of it, but for some reason I can't get rid of it. Not long ago I was in a dark nasty corner of the basement helping the cable guy find where the cable came into the house. I found a box that contained some nick-knacks I had got when my grandfather passed away. In my haste, I grabbed them and set them on a table across from the washing machine. "I can't lose these," I thought to myself. Guess where they are now? Yep, still on the table in the basement. Four feet from where I originally found them. It takes a while to accept that getting rid of mementos like that shows no disrespect for the memory of those who first owned the trinkets. If I tossed all the hand-me-down stuff laying around my house, I'd be rid of as much as a third of the clutter. And wouldn't be a slight to anyone. I once read an article of extreme downsizing where the author (who was probably a fresh from college single guy living in a studio apartment in New York) was suggesting reigning in his material life to fifty items. Now that's a little nuts when you think of it. If you own a set if dishes, glasses and silverware for four people, you have right there forty-four items! He hadn't gotten very far. By the end of the article he only a pair of jeans and a pen were on the list of stuff he was keeping. I thought I'd give it a try, and started by narrowing my wardrobe down to fifty t-shirts. Oh well. You have to start somewhere, right? I'm getting away from my point..... if I actually have a point to make. Even though we under-planned this trip, it went amazingly well. Everyone in our diverse clan got to do exactly what they wanted to do. Indigo got to kiss horses and do a little shopping, Lori got to find vast quantities of rare Lake Superior concretions, Kovi got to spend all his free time in the hotel's pools, Sydney got to go on a 'Haunted Walk of Historic Bayfield,' and I got the satisfaction of providing my family with a memorable summer vacation. We capped it off with a three hour sea kayak tour that brought us along gorgeous sandstone cliffs and over a shipwreck that has been at the bottom of Superior longer than the Titanic's been at the bottom of the Atlantic. We also got to go see my cousin and his family in Ely where we  spent a great night in great simplicity: Family, music, & pizza. Ultimately, for me it really was the Clark Griswold factor that made the vacation special for me. Providing for my family on a day-to-day basis is rewarding, but to see the pure pleasure in their eyes while they are immersed in doing something they truly love is a rewarding experience on a completely different level. Writing a check for lunch money isn't quite as rewarding as fresh cardamon donuts and chai on a Saturday morning two hundred miles from our cluttered 'other' lives. in fact, we had such a good time that we did an abbreviated version of it again a few weeks ago when the kid's had a long weekend. Marillion was right: Less=More (it is their acoustic album title). If the computer has taught me anything, it's that memories...that is photographs...take up very little room. We all need to remember that. I can fill by head, my heart, and my soul with memories, and my t-drive with photographs. Almost anything more is simply clutter. Experiences will last forever, while souvenirs and commemorative t-shirts only last until the next spring cleaning. Less=More is as Happiness=Vacation. And less crap is less to worry about. Enough chiches....Sell that extra TV, give away the extra clothes, and unpack that third pair of shoes. Freedom from clutter and a simpler life awaits.

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