Welcome Home

Home

My many “homes” in the last 18 months- San Francisco apartments, tiny tents, two person+1 dog hammocks, and Pucon properties owned by others (just to name a few)

The customs agent looked down at my passport, turning the pages until he reached the last one. After a year of constant travel and daily border crossings from Hong Kong to China, I had effectively filled my entire passport with stamps and needed to add pages while I was in the States for the next three weeks. I looked up at him, somewhat disheveled from the 13 hour flight and the jet lag that was my constant travel companion. He smiled at me, stamped my passport and handed it back to me.

“Welcome home.”

Home. There have been a few chapters in my life where the concept of home seemed to be an elusive idea, playing hide and seek with me as I bounced around the world living out of a backpack or a suitcase. Chapters spent literally flying around the world every three weeks, living in hotels, airports and temporary bases- finding homes wherever I happened to be. Chapters spent climbing mountains and crossing rivers for five months, living out of a backpack, carrying my home on my back. Chapters spent in that in-between travel mode that was a mix of couch surfing, country-hopping, friend and family visits and constant movement for weeks on end. And chapters like this last year, spent living on the road, on the trails, and care-taking the homes of others here in Chile. It has been a chapter where home was not a destination, but instead a creative venture- one of pure flexibility and freedom, and one that constantly challenged the traditional idea of the word.

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Finding myself at home in the air, on the road, or on the trail!

Personally, I don’t consider myself a nomad, even though I probably travel more than the average person. I have never thought of myself as one of those people who can constantly be on the road and on the go. I like home-making sometimes. I LOVE to cook, and I love to host and celebrate friends and family in our home. I love to have the things that give me comfort available. And I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys cleaning and organizing, so I adore those cold rainy days that motivate me to sweep up the house, light some candles and pick some fresh rain-soaked flowers for the kitchen- ideally from my own garden. I love sharing in the abundance that having a home allows.

Home Cooking

Cooking in my house kitchen and cooking in my road/trail kitchen- I’m happy as long as I’m cooking 🙂

On the other side of the coin, there is an invigorating freedom that comes with releasing yourself from the responsibility of home and taking to the “road” (or sky, or trail) and living light for a while. I equate this way of life to something that one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, discusses when he talks about how essential it is to “go hungry” at least once a day, to say no to everything that is not a yes, so that when you finally dig in, when you finally say yes, it is such an incredible experience you are overwhelmed with gratitude for it. Regardless of its simplicity or complexity, the experience is, in and of itself, a reminder of what it is to live.

Backyard

Backyards with sweeping city views are sweet, but so is having remote tiny towns or endless wilderness out the back door (or tent door).

There are two key things I always look forward to when giving up my home to explore and adventure into the unknown.

First- the discomfort that comes when you let go of the comforts of your home. It is in this space of discomfort that I experience so much growth, it is here that I face my fears so fiercely, as if my life depends on it, becomes it often does. Letting go of the trappings of your home makes you seriously appreciate the bare necessity. To this day, I cannot tell you how deeply I appreciate every single time I stand in a shower and feel hot water come out of the faucet. Before I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, where I had to endure cold splash baths in icy ponds and otherwise go without showering for a whole week at a time, I never gave that hot water a second thought. Now, even seven years after my hike, the appreciation for this simple thing is still so intense.

When I start to crave this discomfort, that is usually when I realize it is time for a shift, it is time to let go of something in order to make space for something else. And often I need to let go of something big, in order to allow for something bigger to arrive.

Home Ritual

The comforts of home can take many shapes and forms

Second- the physical act of letting go of what I do not need in order to be comfortably mobile for any extended period of time. I like to refer to it as “living lean”. You cut away the excess, you purge your closets and your cabinets, minimize your belongings to the bare essentials and the things you love so deeply you would run into a burning building to save them. The rest you let go of. And afterward, you actually feel physically lighter. It’s like this invisible weight that you were never aware of is taken away- and it feels amazing.

As thru-hikers, we called this “pairing down”- and it was an essential lesson during our hike. When we first started, Ale and my packs were so incredibly heavy. We quickly learned the lighter your pack, the less physical pain and suffering. It’s funny how this lesson can be applied to the way we choose to fill our homes with “stuff” we may not need or have the money to pay for- the less of that we have, the less credit card debt we have, and therefore the less stress (i.e. pain and suffering) we have to manage. There is a higher level of consciousness of the physical things we consume, and with that comes a confrontation of why we consume them, and if we really need to in the first place.

Pairing Down

Ale and I cut the weight of our packs in half while thru-hiking. The photo top left is Ale’s pack at the start of the trail, the one on the right top is midway through after serious pairing down. We also paired down heavily when we moved to Chile. The Uhaul on the left was filled with all of our belongings when we moved to San Francisco 6 years ago. The photo on the right, is us driving our 1998 Subaru Forester here in Chile, with all of our belongings packed in the back (we moved to Chile with 6 bags total).

I am not suggesting that everyone out there must abandon their home, sell their belongings and hit the road in order to really appreciate life. That isn’t the point. The point, is that there is humility, beauty and strength awaiting us all when we actively participate in some form of letting go of what makes us comfortable in order to embrace what makes us uncomfortable. Whether that is choosing to do one thing each day that scares you, making more space in your home by giving away or selling the things you no longer need or love, or simply giving yourself time away from the clutter of your daily existence.

Today, I write this post from my kitchen table. After 18 months on the road, having roughly 27 different places that could be described as “temporary homes” in six different countries, we once again have a home in the traditional sense. On this day one year ago, Ale and I got on a plane and flew to Chile with hearts and minds wide open, and the idea of home a distant intention. The focus at that moment was embracing the discomfort and pairing down to travel with ease.

Mission accomplished. Our focus and intentions shift as we once again retreat to the comforts and responsibilities of this home. Although I don’t have any intention to start filling this place with more stuff, it sure feels good to take all of my belongings out of their weary and worn packs and finally have a place of belonging. It feels good to have a consistent space for creative ritual, to have a place to do yoga each morning that overlooks the mountains and trees filled with hummingbirds. I am filled with gratitude to retreat to a mattress each night after a tough day of climbing mountains, instead of my thin Thermarest. Oh, and how I adore having a kitchen again, where I can cook up lovely things to share with my husband and visitors. Best of all, we have space to host friends and family comfortably, something I longed for while living in our tiny one bedroom in SF, and couldn’t even imagine as we lived on the road these past 18 months.

The culmination of all our experiences here, all our travels, and now having a place of our own once again, all of it has been instrumental in building this feeling of home here in Chile. And it feels good to be home.

Road Home

So, on that note, who’s coming to visit?

The More You Know, The Less You Need

stuff

Stuff…so much stuff

“The more you know, the less you need.” These eight words stared back at me as I chewed tirelessly on them, sitting on my couch in my 400 square foot apartment in Hong Kong after a long day visiting factories in China. In my lap sat Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant BusinessmanI leaned back in the uncomfortable couch, taking my eyes from the page to stare out the window, almost in a daze.

The more you know, the less you need. Oh how true those words suddenly rang in my ears, how heavily the tugged at my heart. The more you know. Let’s start there. The experiences of the past year had been beyond any limits my mind may have constructed in terms of what I thought I would know by now; as well as all I thought I knew. The “education” I received that first year out of college working in Asia had challenged every ounce of my fortitude, my agility, my comforts. It had rocked my pre-conceived perceptions of how the world worked that had been constructed mostly by society and the consumer-driven mentality of my country. It exposed me to the way things were, rather than the way marketing agencies and departments had portrayed them.

Stuff. It is actually a heavy word, “stuff”, taking on the feeling of something unloved, not wanted enough to be cared for or properly named. Images of little things tossed in drawers and junk closets, ending up in the garbage or boxes at the thrift store. I intimately became aware of the weight of “stuff” at this time, spending countless hours in factories churning out millions of components and products that would eventually end up in the grouping of “stuff” when referred to by their owners. Promotional products, toys, mugs, pens, too many items to list, but items all the same that were made with no real purpose.

The point was, the more I knew, the more I realized no one really needed this shit. We were here, negotiating to the half a penny, pushing suppliers for unrealistic timelines and cost points that would encourage outsourcing, overtime, poor wages and bribery, in order to make more “stuff”. And we were just “doing business as usual” in comparison to the many other random companies purchasing products from China.

At the end of the day, the products coming off those production lines would be wrapped in plastic, shipped thousands of miles and eventually find their way onto a store shelf or product promotion bag. Once purchased, the owner might find delight for a brief moment, or perhaps the item would just be something given along with some marketing brochure in a product promotion; either way, the life of this thing would be fairly short without much love. The toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process, breathed by the workers and dumped in the nearby river…those chemicals would actually sustain a much longer life.

The more I knew. I continued with this work for another year, justifying that the work experience was too unique, too priceless to let go of. What other 22 year old did I know who was based out of Hong Kong working by herself to establish a sourcing devision for a US based company?  What other 22 year old did I know who had access to realities only otherwise hidden behind closed doors, who could learn first hand the ropes of doing business in China?

None. I knew that I had a team in the USA that was trying to sell products to our clients and needed factories to do so. I knew I had a team in China who was trying to place production in factories so that we had product available to sell. But I also knew the beginning of the life of these products, I knew the challenges of tracing where the raw materials had come from, I knew the working conditions in which they were made, I knew the lax enforcement by the local government of environmental and labor laws. I knew we could do better. But I also knew that we were making things that I didn’t want or need. The more you know, the less you need.

The less I need. Aside from the full-speed-ahead consumerism that threatened to suffocate me, I also began to know more about the simple lives that those around me were living. The tiny living quarters of the workers, cramped dorm rooms where several workers lived, their small pile of belongings neatly stacked in the corners of each bed. One bathroom with two sinks available for the 100+ workers living in the dormitory, all of whom were expected to arrive to work on the production floor at precisely 8am- and would wait over an hour each morning to reach that bathroom. Simple meals consisting primarily of rice with the occasional vegetable, prepared on the floor of the bedroom or around a small fire on the street.

I began buying less things. As I would stroll through the countless markets in Chinese cities, I would find myself retracting inward, find myself pulling back, leaving empty handed. There were many moments when the volume of stuff that surrounded me would be absolutely overwhelming. The neat, far-extending production lines filled with countless workers, heads down, hands quickly and precisely moving were one thing. But the markets, the malls, the shops and stores, the trade shows, all simply overflowing with stuff. The result of our collective efforts. Meanwhile I strolled down streets choked with pollution, crossing bridges over rivers that smelled so putrid I held my breath as I passed.

I began to look more closely at my own belongings, the items I had collected over the years, some gifted, many bought. At the time I was living quite light as I traveled all the time and only had my small apartment in Hong Kong; but I still considered how much “stuff” I had acquired over the years. I thought about my car, sitting in the USA, awaiting my eventual return. I thought about the boxes of items I had moved back to Pennsylvania after I graduated college and put almost immediately into storage. I went through my wardrobe and my books, through my household items and my memory boxes. I looked at my bank account, at my credit card debt, at my loans and my income. I evaluated what I needed, why I needed it and what purpose every single thing was serving. It wasn’t an easy task, it wasn’t a comfortable process, confronting all of my stuff, confronting my motivations in acquiring that stuff, my methods of acquiring it. Yet I had to acknowledge it, I had to confront it, in order to truly understand what it was that I needed, now that I knew what I knew.

A year and a half after I read Yvonne’s words, I found myself in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, traversing the Presidential range around the fourth of July, a little over a month into our five month long Thru-Hike. On my back I carried my little bear, as I referred to my Gregory backpack, containing literally everything that I needed.

I wore boots that protected my feet from the rocky trail, and dry during the rainy days. I had gators to keep the sticker bushes from scraping my bare ankles and to keep the dirt from tumbling into my socks. I had shorts that were made from quick drying material and could be converted into pants. I had a t-shirt and long sleeved shirt that offered UV protection and a hat to shield my face from the strong sun. In my pack I carried my rain jacket, a fleece, a shirt and pants to sleep in, 3 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of underwear, a warm hat and gloves, a water pump, my camelback bladder filled with water I had taken from the stream, 6 days of food,  sunscreen, toilet paper, biodegradable soap, a spork, a rain cover for my pack, a pocket knife, headlamp and a plastic baggie I used as my “wallet” containing my license, cash, and debit card. A pair of crocs hung outside my pack by a single carabiner. Oh, and of course my journal and a pen. Ale’s pack had similar contents but also held our hammock that we slept in and a lightweight tarp for the rainy nights. That was it. Well, that and countless moments of laughter shared with people I loved, surrounded by the incredible beauty and magic of the wilderness. I knew that I had exactly what I needed, and it was way less than anything I could have ever imagined.

As the years have passed, the simple act of knowing how little I actually need has made it so much easier to pursue opportunities to make memories rather than acquire things. It has motivated me to invest in myself and my life experience rather than investing in stuff. It has inspired me to take big risks and let go of things that I might have loved once, but have moved on from. I may not know entirely what inspired Mr. Chouinard to write those words, but I sure as hell know that I can relate, that they ring true to me and the way I choose to live my life, and that I continue to hold them close as I consider what I really need these days. As my work in the industry continues, and I have gained more knowledge about issues in countries far beyond China, and about the impact of products across many industries, I continue to take comfort in my steadfast understanding of how little I actually need, and how liberating it can be to be free of too much stuff.

It’s easy to be saddled with stuff, even if you are trying to be conscious of your consumption- and especially around the holidays! If you do want to confront those drawers, those closets, those accounts and the motivations behind all that has gathered there, I encourage you to do so. It isn’t always fun, or comfortable, and it takes consistent effort, but it can be incredibly liberating and enlightening.  You might actually feel lighter once you begin letting go.

If each of us starts here, if we each begin to examine what we have, why we have it and take a stance to limit the consumption of stuff we don’t need (or really even want), then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to influence these companies placing production orders to start making things that matter. It takes more than not buying things, it takes action, it takes communication, raising your voice, telling your friends and family what you believe and telling the companies you buy from the same. You might feel insignificant in this effort, but you are not. You are essential. And now you know. So, what do you think, when you look at your life that you’ve lived, and you look at the future you hope to live, what do you really need? Do you see a lot of stuff in that picture?

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Living light in the White Mountains along the Appalachian Trail, wearing or carrying every single thing that I needed 🙂