One year ago, my husband and I sold our condo in Los Angeles to go on the road. I’d lived in LA for over 15 years. He’d lived there for 25. But we left it all behind—at least for a while—to see what else the world had to offer. We sold (or gave to charity) nearly everything we owned (furniture, clothes, a lot of books), stored a few boxes (photo albums, my husband’s baseball card collection, and yes, more books), packed up our car, and went on the road.
We had a great excuse. My debut novel — Oil and Marble: a novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo — came out on March 1st and we were going on national book tour to promote it.
When people ask where we live, my husband says, “I don’t want you to worry about us, but technically we’re homeless. Not a scary kind of homeless; we chose this, but we don’t have a home.” My answer: “You can usually find us at your local Marriott.”
Our adventure has been filled with some of the greatest moments of my life, but also challenges. I don’t know — yet — how, when, or where this story will end, but one year in, here are a few things I’ve learned:
1: 90% of stuff is not only unimportant, it’s burdensome. When we started, I wondered: Would I miss that table, chair, couch, dish, old pair of sheets? But now, I don’t even remember what we had. And without all that stuff, I don’t worry about getting robbed: I have nothing left to steal. Besides, whatever they did get, I now know I can live without.
2: 10% of stuff is important. I’ve also learned which things ARE important: Can opener. Water bottle (preferably filled PRIOR to leaving the hotel). Rain coat (and/or umbrella). Socks (preferably a matching pair, neither with a hole, found–together–in my suitcase). Comfortable shoes. Yes, I still go crazy when I can’t find my phone, but in general, the only stuff that matters is what I need to fulfill basic human needs: Food, water, shelter.
3: You can’t jettison responsibility; you trade one kind for another. People ask: “Doesn’t it feel great to have no responsibilities?” What they mean is, doesn’t it feel great to not have a mortgage, a house to keep up, a regular 9-5… but instead of fixing a garbage disposal, we repair broken windshields. Instead of commuting, I spend weeks drumming up consulting work. Instead of paying a mortgage, we pay Marriott. If you’re thinking of selling everything to avoid responsibilities, don’t. They’ll go on the road with you.
4: When you live in one place, your perspective lives there, too. Even though I’m an empathetic person, I’d begun to see the world as a Los Angeleno, as a crazy Californian, urban liberal, product of the entertainment industry… I’ve always traveled in hopes of seeing the world from a new perspective, but when you travel you see your vacation destination through the eyes of your hometown. Only by picking up your roots can you genuinely see the world in a way way.
5: Cultural differences in the US should be cherished. Whether we live in LA, New York, Pittsburgh, or Wichita, we’re all the same. We’re just people. But I now see how many differences there are in America, too, and I’m not just talking about accents and food. We have different paces, likes, dislikes, values, priorities… We are a big, diverse, WEIRD country, and I want to embrace and praise every unexpected inch.
6: Some things in life are more important than I thought. Eating well. Daily exercise. A happy marriage. I knew these things were important, but I’ve also found smaller, seemingly insignificant things that I didn’t realize were so important to me: I like watching TV (no wonder I worked in it for fifteen years). I prefer cold weather to hot (I’ve lived in SoCal forever — who knew?!) And I need a king-sized bed (key ingredient to that happy marriage priority).
7: In our modern world, community travels with you. Thanks to social media, email, FaceTime, texting, I’ve kept in touch with my LA friends. Plus, I’ve picked up new friends along the road and rekindled valuable friendships that had disappeared over time. I’ve built a strong community of my favorite people, regardless of where they live… I thought I needed deep roots in a single community to have a reliable social support. I was wrong.
8: Not everyone is as ambitious as I am. And that’s good. In LA, everyone has big dreams. That makes for a town of passionate people, but it also makes for a lot of disillusioned folks who haven’t achieved what they want. As long as you’re striving for more, by definition, you aren’t content with what you have. I’ve always been an ambitious dreamer; I’ll always want for more. But I’ve met a lot of people who are happy walking their dog or sharing a beer with friends or remodeling their craftsman… It’s given me peace to know that it’s possible to simply enjoy your life.
9: Everyone needs a home base. The only reason this whole “on the road” thing has worked is because we’ve had reliable home bases. 1: Our Ford C-Max that has safely driven us several thousand miles. 2: Marriotts: same bed, same TV, same WiFi no matter which city. 3: The guest house at my parents’ house in Arkansas where we stop to recharge when we get exhausted (it’s also where we keep our few things and is our only permanent address). Having a strong foundation has made this whole journey possible.
10. I’m lucky. I’ve always known I was lucky, but visiting with people — not all of whom are as lucky as me — has reminded me just how lucky I am. I’m healthy (for now). I can pay my bills (for now). Our world is safe (for now). I’m happily married (for now). I have a supportive family (for now). But at any moment I could get sick, go broke, be attacked by terrorists, lose my husband or parents to an unexpected illness. This year, I’ve achieved my childhood dream of being a novelist. That’s lucky. So I’ve decided to embrace my luck. As long as it lasts.
The journey continues…
Next month, we leave for Europe for 2 months.
Who knows what I will learn next.