I can’t believe it’s been nearly 5 months since I left Oakland. And while I know there haven’t been a lot of posts in that time, I promise there has been a whole lot of living. I’ve survived living in a tiny house on wheels, visited many new places within a smallish geographical location, dealt with sickness, sadness, and homesickness, made new friends, fell in love with a city, fell in love with someone, had adventures and misadventures, and learned so much about myself in the process. I know I have a lot of stories to write, but the one I find myself writing now is what is happening at this moment.

Tomorrow, the Chinook and I are heading back to the Bay Area. If you read my guest post as part of Torre DeRoche’s Love and Travel Week on Almost Fearless, then you know I’m really missing loved ones.  So you can imagine that after all of this time, I’m so excited I don’t know how I’ll make it the 11+ hour drive without jumping out of my seat. But at the same time…

I’m scared

You see, the timing of this trip isn’t random.  On Tuesday, if everything goes well, and I want it to go well, a couple with a newborn baby will be handed the keys to the first house I ever co-owned. The house that I sank countless hours of sweat and love into (while documenting it all), made first-house memories in, and that I left thinking Francisco would be able to keep. Sure, I left our house willingly in January, but it’s so much harder to imagine neither of us being there anymore. And on Friday, I’ll sign what’s left to sign, and it will become the property of strangers on Tuesday.

I’m also saying another farewell to Francisco, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. With the house being sold, he has decided to leave the Bay Area and travel as well. Unlike in so many instances where there’s an amicable split, we won’t be in the same town to get coffee every now and then or have one of us be in a static spot the other can visit. As much as I know our split was the right decision for both of us, and we’ve both moved on, ten years is still a really long time with someone, and I’ll miss him. In many ways I already do. In this time since I left, we’ve been in contact via email nearly every day, communicating about the house with our broker, and with that process coming to an end, I know that will too.

And then there’s my stuff. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that when I moved out, I left a lot of things behind, and then I further downsized before taking off in June. What is left, are either sentimental things I don’t want to part with, or things I didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with then. But now I think it’s time.

There are my rings- my 1920’s diamond engagement ring- the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen, the vintage ring box Francisco bought for it, and my 1920’s wedding band that are occupying space in a safe deposit box. It’s time to let them go to someone else now, and yet as certain as I am of that, I can’t imagine making it so.

And then there is my wedding dress. The one my former sister-in-law, a famous fashion designer, made especially for me. The one I flew to Buenos Aires alone to have made while I stayed with my in-laws and studied Spanish in the month leading up to our wedding. I can’t imagine ever wearing it again, so why keep it? And yet, I don’t know how I’ll hand it over to anyone.

I’m also clearing out my storage locker and loading the Chinook with the rest of what I own and bringing it back to Portland, where I can scan my photos, further downsize, process, and heal.

So, as excited and happy as I am to see those I love and miss so much, I’m just as scared to make this trip. It’s so strange to think that what I’m afraid to see for the first time in 5 months- Francisco, my house, and my things- I’m even more afraid to never see again. All I can do is muster all my emotional courage and take off with the intention of handling everything in the kindest, most genuine, honest way I know how, and to enjoy every minute with my friends. And who knows, maybe I’m stronger than I think.

I’d wanted to downsize my life for a while. I don’t know what it was about becoming a homeowner. Maybe the knowledge that belongings would more likely accumulate rather than get thinned out every few years during future moves. Or maybe it was all of the eco-friendly renovations and the knowledge that came with them. Whatever the reason, by the time I decided to take my round the world trip, my belongings were starting to nag at me.  And once I’d determined that I was taking that trip solo, I knew that by the time I left, I would have far fewer material possessions.

When I moved out in January, I left most of the furniture without a second thought. The vintage telephone table I’d scoured shops, antique fairs, and Craigslist for months to find. The limited edition art deco coffee table I’d managed to get a screaming deal on. The 100% natural latex mattress with the organic cotton and wool cover that I’d fought to make a priority. I left them all and much of the contents of our 2.5 bedroom house…and I was ready to.

But right then, when I was giving up so much- my house, stuff, partner, and the neighborhood I loved, I wasn’t ready to give up everything. My music collection-the records- many of which I’d had since I was in elementary school, my books- I even had my Judy Blume books- all the material evidence of my life that I’d managed to hold onto in spite of moving at least every three years for my whole life. I couldn’t decide what to keep and what to get rid of while dealing with grief.

So instead, I went through every piece of paperwork in the house, shredded anything I didn’t have to keep, and recycled it. I went to local liquor stores and got a bunch of used beer boxes to pack my things, and moved everything I wanted to deal with later to my friend’s garages. And that was grueling enough.

But it seemed that minimalism took on a life of it’s own. Like if I wasn’t going to deal with my stuff, it was going to deal with me. During one rainstorm, my friend Josh’s garage ceiling collapsed and while none of my stuff was destroyed, it did need cleaning up, and couldn’t be put back. Less than two weeks later, in a separate storm, Leslie’s garage flooded and boxes of my books and some clothes were ruined. I got the message. I couldn’t just park this stuff, take off, and come back to deal with it later like I’d started to think I might. Hmm…

So when Leslie suggested the yard sale date of April 30th, what would have been my 5-year wedding/10-years together anniversary, I was ready…ish. In an attempt to do better than yard sale prices, I listed items on Craigslist with photos the week leading up to the sale. I took my books to a used bookstore called Moe’s in Berkeley. I sold my vintage/used clothes and shoes to resellers Mercy Vintage in Piedmont, Crossroads Trading Co., and Buffalo Exchange. I may have made more money selling on Ebay, but I wanted to avoid items being shipped (not as green, although you can buy carbon off-sets). Fortunately, I’d already made a pretty penny while knowing my stuff would have more local life, before yard sale day even came.

It took three yard sales on a busy street (Leslie’s) in Oakland, individual item Craigslist ads linking to yard sale posts, and amazing friends, neighbors, and strangers, for nearly all my stuff to sell. In the end I donated all of my leftover books to the Longfellow Community Association (a neighborhood group I co-founded with Leslie) for their White Elephant Sale this summer. I sold all my leftover CDs and cassettes to a music store, Rasputin in Berkeley, and donated leftover clothing and miscellaneous items to Goodwill. I used a drop box and donated all my underwear, socks, things that can’t be re-worn by others and usually get thrown out to USAgain- a for-profit business that sells them to textile recyclers for use as filling. All of my empty, already recycled boxes were put in the recycle bin or given to a friend for her move.

With everything out of both my friend’s garages, I spent the last week before my June 8th departure going through every single thing I had left and vetting it for importance. Most of what I now own is important paperwork, things from my Grandmother, and printed photos, and a few things I just didn’t have time to recycle properly as my conference deadline loomed. Knowing I had too much to ship and store at my Mom’s, I hunted for the smallest, most eco-friendly storage unit I could find. I was so excited to find that Point Richmond Self-Storage, in Richmond, CA., not only had the smallest, most affordable units – 4’w x 3’d x 4’h lockers- but that they are also powered by solar electricity. The owners also are partners in other facilities in other parts of the U.S.

Me, in front of my locker, in my Together for Japan t-shirt

I feel pretty happy with the approach I took and the voraciousness with which I downsized. I feel lighter and am happy knowing that others are enjoying the things I was ready to let go of, and very little, if anything, ended up in the landfill. My one regret is that I couldn’t find a more eco-friendly, waterproof (I’ve learned my lesson!) alternative to the two 22-gallon plastic tubs I’m using to store my most treasured items. My goal is to return to the Bay Area between my road trip and international trip and scan all my photos and paperwork to further reduce my footprint, and then move that extremely tiny footprint to my Mom’s place while I travel the world…lightly. :)

me, with everything I own that's not along for the road trip

Have suggestions for living and traveling lighter? More eco-friendly? Waterproof alternatives to plastic tubs? Love your comments as always! :)

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