Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it." ~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, July 7, 2014

Did I Really Need 3 Refrigerators?

When my husband and I decided to sell everything and move to Guatemala, we had the usual American overload:

A big house filled with our valued possessions.

A minivan and a sedan, along with a car needing repair parked in the garage

A tractor mower and every other tool known to man, collected by my husband for over 40 years. Giving up his tools was absolutely the hardest thing for him to do.

Antiques and family history passed down from generations on both sides

A fully equipped kitchen

3 refrigerators, yes 3 of them, all plugged in and using electricity

Okay, you've got the gist of it. After 4 decades of marriage, we had collected a LOT. And in six months time, we sold or gave away everything. Except for family photos and a few extras in a very small storage unit. These are items we plan on bringing down with us our next couple of trips back.

One of the problems people have in downsizing is letting go of STUFF. You work a lifetime to collect it, and it's hard to say goodbye. That six months of unloading was probably the most stressful six months I've experienced in a very long time.

And please don't get the idea we were pack rats. Not at all. I could dispatch clutter and fill the garbage bins in no time. We did not have a cluttered home. In fact, I was stunned at how long it took to get rid of it all, simply because I hadn't realized how much there was.  

And now that we are moved to our third world paradise, we talk about what we miss. Except for our family, the word is nothing. We love not having a car. We love not owning a home. We love that we can pack up our 4 suitcases and move if we want to.  Letting go of all those things that filled our home and garage and basement was extremely difficult. But was it worth it? YES!!!

I can hardly explain the lightness of feeling that comes with disposing of all those possessions. I never thought I could live without a dishwasher, a vacuum, or a washer and drier, or my husband part with his beloved tools.

We took the first leap into the darkness, then one step after another, and came out on the other side lighter, happier, freer than imagined. We all have to do it eventually when we die, right? I'm glad I didn't wait until then to leave all that stuff behind.

40 comments:

  1. Karen, I understand perfectly. When I left New York City in 1984, I took only what I could fit in my car - my photos, my work portfolio and clothing. It is very freeing, indeed.

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  2. My only big pile of 'stuff' I have are books and I've been slowly cutting that down.

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  3. When we became foster parents, everything in my office had to come out, and I was stunned how much was in that room. But it felt good to get rid of it. (And since I've moved back into that room, the stuff has returned ten fold. How does that happen?)

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    1. Diane, Seriously, in the U.S. one must fight to stave off clutter. Just with sugar and fat that is everywhere, so is stuff.

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  4. Sometimes, I really wonder if it is better NOT to chase the American Dream...

    I'm glad you are so content in your new life!

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    1. Jerralea, After living in a third world country, where many of the people look up too Americans and all their "wealth" I think it's the kind of thing you admire when you don't have it, but once you do you realize it's not all that great. Like when we were newly married and wanted everything our parents had. Now I look back and wish we'd been more conservative in our accumulation.

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  5. Wonderful and inspirational post Karen! I have so much trouble getting rid of my stuff. Am currently doing it with my clothes that are way too big for me now that I've lost 40 pounds. I'm partial to my large clothes though I know it is healthier to pack them away or give them to charity. I learned though through my travels, like you, that you can indeed live well with less. Good for you for permanently unplugging those fridges!

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    1. Stephanie, And good for you for losing 40 lbs!!! I lost 30 before we moved and although I'd held onto the bigger clothes for awhile, just because I enjoyed how lose they were on me, I finally did let them go, too.

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  6. We're in the middle of downsizing too, merging two households into one.

    It's mind boggling what you can accumulate in 40 years.

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  7. we had to do that when we moved back here to Florida. We only what we really need. You soon find out that there's not very much you do need. it is freeing.

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  8. Not sure I could chuck everything like that, but two of those refrigerators would have to go.

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    1. Alex, My husband kept getting me to sell the extra ones, but I loved having additional fridge space in the garage. Kind of like him and his tools LOL.

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  9. There is something to be said about freeing yourself by ridding your world of loads of possessions. Some things are nice to have, but not all possessions are necessary to add to life's happiness.

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  10. The view on your header picture is SO beautiful. I could look at it all day and it is so powerful perhaps it would inspire a poem or three from me.

    Your post is truly inspiring too. To be able to give up 40 years belongings and just have four suitcases plus photos and suchlike is truly amazing . . . but what is more amazing to me is that neither you, or your husband, miss absolutely nothing!!

    What a brave thing to do but well worth it for you. . . could I do it? I really cannot say! regrettably! I take off my hat to you both ~ Eddie

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    1. Eddie, It's amazing to us as well that six months later we really don't miss any of it. I never thought I could survive without all the appliances and such. We are very careful about what we accumulate here in Guatemala because when we do return to the States to live some day, we don't want to have another houseful of stuff to worry about.

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  11. I hear you. When we emigrated seven years ago, we sold two thirds of our belongings. Probably collected more crap now, but moving is such a great way to declutter, and you're right, you do feel lighter.

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  12. I remember packing up sixteen years in one house, and reducing my needs to anything I could carry in one rucksack! It's hugely liberating - the only things that really hang about in the house now are books - I just love the way they sit there in that read-me way. But everything else, if I don't need it, I get rid of it!!

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    1. JO, the books were super hard to let go of, but there's no way we could bring them overseas in luggage. I did keep a few, at least copies of the ones I wrote!-- and they're in storage waiting for me to pick them up. As much as I prefer reading a real print book over an ebook, I'm now stuck with Kindle downloads rather than a library visit when I find a book I want to read. But it's funny, because I still don't feel like I miss them, and don't regret unloading the books either. We have 10 children who are as passionate about books as I am, and they took many of them.

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  13. How brave and inspirational you both are - I'm inspired to lighten my own life, cast off all the excess :)

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  14. Niamh, Yay! Glad the post inspired you!

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  15. Boy is this timely. Two years ago we sold our home of 7 years - the longest I've ever lived in one place. We had to put all our stuff in a truck container for six months while we lived in other people's homes. Then we moved back into an older house we'd been renting. Then six months later we moved to Labrador with only a few things. Now we're back and the dear guy is renovating one half of this duplex (no tenants - big mess) while I try to sort, throw out, pack for Labrador or give away such a lot of stuff so we can rent this side furnished but not full. GAH! I don't care about any of it. No, a lie. I love all the funny little weird things I've gotten over the years but I don't need it. All the art, the books, cups, photos, ancient bowls and on and on...like you I've gotten rid of stuff as I go along but STILL! What a crazy world.

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  16. I must admit that I wouldn't mind an extra fridge, or at least a bigger one; mine is so small that I can't buy more than one gallon of milk and one bottle of juice at a time since not much more than that will fit. Good for you for de-cluttering your life; I've been working on doing the same. It's hard to let go of certain things, like you said, because there are certain items that make me feel twelve years old again, sixteen, etc. But at the same time it's important to move on.

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  17. Thanks for posting this. I've been in the process of doing the same, but I've had a few years to do it, so I've been selling most of my stuff through auctions. It's good to hear that you don't miss the stuff after it's gone, because I still haven't sold many things I'm really attached to.

    How did you deal with getting rid of family mementos, inheritances, etc? Was that ever difficult for you? I don't use my grandmother's china, but I know I'm going to feel terribly guilty about selling it.

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    1. Holli, Fortunately family members were interested in the family heirloom items. Between kids, sisters, nieces, what was of greatest worth to keep in the family all found homes.

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  18. Astonishing and inspiring. When I read that your husband gave up his *tools* I just gasped.
    What you did, in your lifetime and before starting a new life, was what most of us have our relatives do when we have passed. Your children should kiss you on both cheeks!

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  19. Hi Karen, First of all congrats to you and your hubbie for having the courage to make a new life, you are inspirational.
    I agree re clutter, as Oscar Wilde said 'We know the price of everything and the value of nothing'....so true in these times of affluenza:)

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  20. That's awesome that you have decluttered in such a big way! I think it's funny reading your post since I am currently working to achieve the American dream and as I do so questioning if that's what I really want. Do I want a house? Or do I want to travel? Because once you buy something as big as a house, you become "stuck" in a way. You start collecting all of the things…

    It's awesome reading a blog post from someone who has been there and done that but ultimately decided that was not the life for her. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  21. Your blog post certainly chimed with our experience when we moved to Greece. We got rid of tons of stuff and learned you can easily get by in life with comparatively little. Having said that, it was a wrench to get rid of some books, even if many of them I'd read and not looked at in years. I now realise the pleasure of passing on a book to someone else.

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  22. It's wonderful that you're enjoying your new home. I need to get rid of a lot of things I've accumulated over the years. Then I think, I might need this later. :) I have been cleaning closets and have given a lot of books to the library for their book sales. Photographs and genealogy books I'll have to keep.

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  23. We went through the 2010 Nashville flood and lost a lot of our possessions. I realized during the rebuilding process that all you really need is a kitchen in which to cook, a bed in which to sleep, and a shower and toilet. That's about it. Of course, a washer and dryer is pretty darn essential, too!

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  24. This is such a fascinating perspective, Karen! I always love reading your updates. For me, it's not getting rid of the "stuff" that's tricky so much as it is letting go of the "stories" attached to all of it.

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  25. Oh Karen, how I envy your less is more life. We too are rapidly downsizing as we prepare to move to The Poor Farm. Microwave...gone, extra clothes ...gone, extra furniture... going. Even if this farm does not sell as we wish we are acting "as if" it will. You are such and encouragement to me both as a writer and a PIONEER!

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  26. Karen, today I have shared my reflections on your inspirational blog and have nominated you for a blogging award. Please visit http://stephanierosebirdstudio.blogspot.com to learn more about it and see if you'd like to accept.

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    1. Stephanie, I don't do awards anymore but I appreciate your kind words and that you thought about me and my blog. Thank you!

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  27. As an artist, I cannot imagine leaving my studio behind. I understand how hard it must have been for your husband. Glad you are happy!

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  28. It's funny-when we are little we need little but our parents provide it. When we are teens and in the early 20's we love going out and doing things and only collect what we have to get but then we change and start getting more things-some we need and most we want. We don't have to be hoarders but we do collect. Once we get a little older, we reach a plateau and we are OK and then we start getting rid of stuff. I am in the plateau stage and wonder when I have to move to something smaller, what the hell I will do

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  29. I live in a small rancher type home. The only accumulation I have is from my kids who have all moved out. I now have a spare bedroom that looks like a hoarders paradise and its the kids things. The room was supposed to be my space after they left home. We have been delivering their things and they have the nerve to question this.

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  30. Hi Karen - letting go is quite decisive making ... when my parents separated - I 'chucked' stuff down a well we had ... my parents separately went and rescued things! Including a bicycle .. which I never used ...

    So can totally appreciate what you're going through .. good for you both is all I can say ... I'm having another brief clear out ... but things are improving ...

    Enjoy your third world paradise more and more .. and peacefully enjoy .. cheers Hilary

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  31. It sounds like you are well on your way to assimilating into the local culture. That is awesome. Sometimes, I feel trapped by all the things we gathered. I almost long for the days when I have more possessions that I could fit into my VW bus. It worked for about 5 years.

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  32. I tried to comment on your newer post, and it didn't seem to work. I am trying again; just want to say hi, and nice to meet you here. My blog is eclectic and I write about whatever pops into my head.

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