The Wayfaring Life

It may have been the author Ernest Hemingway who coined the phrase “a moveable feast” for the title of his memoir but it can also apply to what I am calling “the wayfaring life,” or the journey on which Linda and I have been since selling our house and furnishings almost five years ago. To quote the German architect, Rohde-Liebenau, “Just as we ourselves have become mobile, we must have movable possessions.”

Since that fateful day a neighbor’s tree landed on the roof of our beloved cottage, home has become more a state of being than a fixed address for us. And our journey has been as much a spiritual and philosophical one as a physical and structural one. As writer Tom Robbins is quoted as saying, “Any half-awake materialist well knows that which you hold holds you.”

To bring readers up to date on our continually evolving journey, an opportunity too-good-to-pass-up has befallen us in the form of an invitation from a relative to lease a charming cottage [including furniture and utilities] for the winter on the coast of Maine. While we had entertained notions of settling here in Middle Tennessee for the foreseeable future, the prospect of needing to procure more furnishings as a result weighed on us, and so the journey continues!

During our monastic retreat this summer I came upon some insightful thoughts in a library book titled Wayfaring: A Gospel Journey in Everyday Life by Margaret Silf. As she writes, “Ways are made very simply. We don’t have to accomplish some feat of heavy engineering. All we have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and walk them...It is an invitation to become a wayfarer, who, simply by walking the way alongside the One who is the Way, and in loving relationship with fellow wayfarers, will also become a waymaker for others.”

And lest the author’s intentions be misinterpreted, she reminds readers, “This is a pilgrimage journey, not a tourist outing. It is a journey that changes the traveler, a process that shapes the soul in ways we cannot predict. In my diary I have a slip of paper with the following text: ‘The future is not some place we are going to but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the making of those pathways changes both the maker and the destination.’” For those wondering how we merry wayfarers are faring, all I can say is that we are enjoying the moveable feast.

Escaping House Arrest

It has been said that time flies when you are having fun, and so it has for us lately. At about this time only four years ago our neighbor’s huge oak tree fell unbidden on our beloved home, shaking our sense of safety and ultimately leading us to reevaluate our lifestyle. As the result of our analysis, we cast off the anchor of home ownership tying us to one locale and used the extra time and money that selling our house a year later afforded us to explore other modes of living.

In the meantime, Robert Shiller of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index made the dramatic statement that, with Americans’ growing shift to renting and city living, suburban home prices may never rebound in our lifetime. “Except for some exceptional boom periods, housing has never been a good financial investment,” he said. Shiller, the world’s leading student of bubbles, housing and otherwise, found that from “1890 to 1990, the rate of return on residential real estate was just about zero after inflation.”

According to Richard Florida, author of The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, “Mobility and flexibility are key principles of the modern economy. Home ownership limits both. According to one important study, cities with higher home ownership rates also suffer from higher unemployment rates.” Linda and I can attest that mobility and flexibility were key qualities in our quest for a leaner style of living.

And Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his bestselling book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: “Also consider the number of families who tunnel on their future, locking themselves into hard-to-flip real estate thinking they are going to live there permanently, not realizing that the general track record for sedentary living is dire. Don’t they see those well-dressed real-estate agents driving around in fancy two-door German cars? We are very nomadic, far more than we plan to be, and forcibly so. Consider how many people who have abruptly lost their job deemed it likely to occur, even a few days before.”

All of which suggests that Linda and I made a smart move when we escaped house arrest and adopted a more mobile means of living. Just the other day, a prominent regional magazine announced that our new hometown of Franklin, Tennessee, beat out another place we’ve called home, Savannah, Georgia, as the best southern town. And since we’ve mobilized our lives, we’ve had the pleasure of living in other popular destinations like Celebration, Florida and Nantucket, Massachusetts. While it might not be for everyone, we are loving the leasing lifestyle!

Sedentary Stuff Syndrome

I read the other day about a phenomenon called “sedentary death syndrome,” the chronic condition caused by sitting too much, which contributes to all sorts of ailments. The antidote, the article suggested, was simply to get moving, and that is good advice. Moving, in all its forms, has a way of helping us shed the excess in our lives, whether it is bodily weight or the weight of stuff.

As I’ve posted here earlier, my wife and I adopted the motto of “minimize to mobilize” during the process of paring our possessions in order to move as frequently as we liked. But whether or not that is your intention, you can benefit from living with less stuff. I share about our journey in an article titled “Is Your Stuff Holding You Hostage?” in the latest issue of Facts & Trends magazine.

As one reader commented, not everyone is interested in mimicking our mobile lifestyle, but the point I mean to make is that we can all benefit from living lighter, whether or not we opt to go mobile. For the dozen years preceding our radical downscaling we lived in the same house in the same town and so our stuff gradually grew to pack our humble abode. As much as we strived to live simply, our lifestyle became a sedentary one by virtue of our not moving every couple of years or so, as we had before building our house. Minimizing stuff helps you maximize life and avoid sedentary stuff syndrome.

Our New Digs

Friends and family know that my wife and I recently relocated to another place here in historic Franklin, Tennessee but here is an update for other readers, including a photo. As has become our custom since moving toward a more mobile lifestyle, we are leasing a fully furnished apartment, complete with art and antiques, and it even includes utilities so I simply write one check each month and that is it.

Our home is a wing of the circa 1868 Miller-Beasley House and was formerly operated as a bed and breakfast called Rebel’s Roost. It has about 1,200 square feet and even includes a guestroom for overnight visitors. But the piece de resistance as far as my wife is concerned is the bathroom. It not only features a dual-sink vanity and radiant-heat flooring but best of all it includes a whirlpool tub!

Suffice it to say that we are “living the dream” and we are very thankful to God for blessing us so. It is indeed above and beyond all that we had dreamed of, and we are reminded of a passage of Scripture that states: “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land…to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig…”

The Stability of Mobility

My wife and I are moving this weekend for the tenth time in our 25 years of marriage and for the fifth time in the last 25 months. Suffice it to say that our last five moves have come more frequently because we have lived more freely since selling our house and furnishings in Florida a couple of years ago.

Moving is no longer the hassle it used to be and because we lease furnished places that usually include utilities in our fee we even look forward to experiencing a different place every year or so. And since our latest move is so close we are able to make it using only our mid-size sedan instead of a moving van.

As we were considering the pros and cons of our newfound lifestyle anew the other day my wife and I agreed that it has turned out even better than we had anticipated. It is incredibly liberating to live a debt-free, location-independent life and it is one we do not take for granted. Mobility has become its own form of stability and we love it.

Entering the 21st Century

Sitting here at my favorite local café I am reveling in the ability to do what I do, namely write, using the latest technological tools available. For the record, I only upgrade computers about every half-dozen years so I relish using my state-of-the-art MacBook Air laptop, which weighs just a couple of pounds and is capable of truly amazing stuff.

But the piece de resistance of my high tech arsenal is my new iPhone 5, which my wife and I gave each other as Christmas presents last year. Even though we actually attended the MacWorld convention at which the original iPhone was unveiled in 2007, we had never taken the plunge and gotten one ourselves.

Now that we are armed with what has been called the best smartphone made to date we feel as if we have finally entered the 21st century. For the entire past decade we simply used a couple of Nokia prepaid phones and they suited us just fine but I looked forward to getting an iPhone one day and that day has come.

The above setup is not actually mine but a representative photo I got online that not only features my laptop and cell phone but also my external hard drive [tethered to the laptop]. The camera pictured is a Nikon and mine is a Leica but they look similar. With a computer, cell and camera, I am good to go. All I need to do now is renew my passport.

Living Simply With Style

A good friend once observed that he thought the lifestyle my wife and I are living could perhaps best be summarized as “living simply with style” and besides feeling flattered I also couldn’t help thinking that it is a fitting summary. Ever since selling our house in Florida a year and a half ago to travel we have been blessed to live in some very nice locales, all of which have been quite affordable also, contrary to what one might think.

As regular readers may recall, upon the sale of our house we moved from Mount Dora, Florida to Celebration, Florida for five months. From there it was off to Nantucket, Massachusetts for seven months and then here to Franklin, Tennessee, where we have a one-year lease. We lease exclusively and each place has been nicely furnished and included utilities, all for only about a grand per month. Suffice it to say that our move to “minimize to mobilize” has rewarded us with the ability to live in desirable destinations without breaking the bank.

I am reminded of a couple of thought-provoking quotes that have helped my wife and I on our journey of “living simply with style.” One is attributed to Vicki Robin, co-author with Joe Dominguez of the bestseller Your Money or Your Life, who wrote, “I buy my freedom with my frugality.” In other words, each dollar not spent on superfluous stuff can be saved toward living a location-independent lifestyle. And similarly, Henry David Thoreau said, “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

It is easier than people think to make relatively radical lifestyle changes, if one is prepared to make the necessary sacrifice. And I don’t mean sacrifice in the sense that it hurts to do so, but I do mean that in order to “live the dream” you can’t always have it all. For example, we moved from a 1,400 square-foot house in Celebration to a 400 square-foot studio in Nantucket, but my wife and I agree that it was totally worth it to be able to live in such an awesome place. Whether or not you aspire to live the mobile lifestyle, consider changes you can make in your life to experience your dreams.

Our New Castle

After seven months of blissful encampment upon this spit of land called Nantucket situated thirty miles out to sea my wife and I are heading to the next stop on our adventure together, the picturesque hamlet of New Castle, New Hampshire. While it is part and parcel of the Portsmouth area, the coastal town I blogged about earlier this month, New Castle has its own zip code, is the smallest town in New Hampshire and the only one comprised solely of islands.

Pictured is the three-story colonial that we will call home for the next several months and while it is not literally a castle it will feel like it compared to the relatively cramped quarters we inhabited here on Nantucket. It is about three times the size of our last place and the entire house is ours, whereas we shared a house last time. Aside from all the extra space we are perhaps most excited about the prospect of using the fireplace in the autumn, our favorite time of year.

Again located on Main Street, we will be across the street from the town post office, church and town hall and just down the street from the market and library. Perhaps most notably, New Castle is also home to the turn-of-the-century resort hotel Wentworth by the Sea, not to mention the Portsmouth Lighthouse, Portsmouth Yacht Club and Fort Constitution, site of the first naval battle during the Revolutionary War. And by this time tomorrow it will be our home.

The Quest Continues

Why two people, namely my wife and I, ever thought a collection of several DOZEN dishes was necessary for such a small family is beyond comprehension. We never planned on having a large family so that wasn’t the reason, and while we have hosted parties for as many as 50 people at our home they were a rarity and didn’t involve dishes. Suffice it to say that the quest for a simpler lifestyle calls for the purging of such culinary clutter.

And purge we have. From that unwieldy collection, including TEN each of matching large plates, small plates, bowls, cups, saucers, etc., we’ve cut our cupboard down to size by getting rid of all but a couple plates, bowls and glasses for my wife and I. So what about dinner guests? The place we are presently leasing is furnished so there are extra dishes if needed and we can simply meet friends at a restaurant to dine together if not as guests at their homes.

The lesson we are gleaning from the continuing quest to simplify our lives is to radically rethink what is necessary to live simply yet satisfyingly, with the measuring stick of mobility as our guide. As I posted here earlier, our family motto has become “minimize to mobilize.” Every item we possess has to pass the mobility test. And we draw inspiration from the life of Christ.

It was said of Jesus, who was no less than the very Son of God, that he had “nowhere to lay his head.” Not that he was homeless, but he chose no permanent place to call his own. In other words, he adopted a mobile lifestyle in order to reach as many people as possible. As for us, we aren’t here to save the world, but our lifestyle does enable us to touch people we’d never meet otherwise. And that is good news.

Our Unframed Journey

As I alluded to in my last post, about a month ago my wife and I cashed in one version of the American dream and traded it for another, one more closely aligned with our renewed vision for simplicity, liquidity and mobility. I am happy to report that the transition has gone very smoothly and we are blissfully ensconced in our new digs at the master planned community of Celebration, originally created by the Walt Disney Company.

While the unincorporated town was originally a tad too “Mickey Mouse” for our liking when we first visited it at its founding almost 15 years ago, it has since grown up and thus grown on us. We ended up here via the good graces of a friend who heads north for the latter half of the year and needed someone to house sit in his absence, thus resulting in a win-win all around.

Our move has allowed us to continue enjoying the Florida lifestyle with our convertible and scooter while getting us closer to such signs of civilization as the mall and the airport. On our very first night in town we ate at a local restaurant that featured a map on its menu of an “unframed journey,” which I thought perfectly captured the essence of what we’ve embarked upon.

White Picket Fences

After more than a dozen years of home ownership my wife and I decided that the white picket fence version of the American dream didn’t necessarily suit us anymore so we finally sold our beloved Lakewood Cottage in the quaint lakeside town of Mount Dora, Florida, which was itself a miracle given the relatively depressed local housing market.

Only four days before our listing was to expire our buyer made an offer and four days after the listing expired we had a signed contract for the figure my wife and I had agreed we needed to make the move worthwhile. Fortunately for us, we had substantial equity in our home so we left with a good-sized nest egg in exchange for our nest.

The bottom line for us is that we are able to retire all our debt and move whenever the mood strikes us. What has helped make such a drastic transition doable is that we started the process of downsizing our possessions more than a year ago when we first thought of selling our home after a neighbor’s tree fell on it [see “Celebrating Life” post].

One irony in all of this is that we didn’t actually have a white picket fence at our old property and yet we do at the new place we are living, which I will write more about next time. Suffice it to say we are loving our new lifestyle and looking forward to adventurous times ahead.

Affluence Without Abundance

I came across a provocative phrase this weekend while reading a sample chapter from tech titan Kevin Kelly’s new book, What Technology Wants: “affluence without abundance.” As I got to thinking about it, I realized that it describes what I want also. It is technology that enables me to enjoy “the good life,” including being able to live and work from anywhere with a laptop and cellphone. And I love the liberty it affords me.

Consequently, my wife and I have been radically rethinking what “the American dream” means for us and we have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t necessarily include the stereotypical “white picket fence” concept of home ownership anymore. While we built our dream home, a cozy cottage, here in a quaint community, lately we’ve grown less in love with “owning” than with “roaming.”

The last dozen years of home ownership have been rewarding for us but the call of adventure is beckoning us to live more lightly and capitalize on our ability to live the mobile lifestyle, personally and professionally. This month alone, we’ve parted with our lawnmower and yard equipment in anticipation of moving and traveling. And we are trying to sell our bicycles and some other stuff also.

It was none other than Jesus Christ who said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And for my wife and I, liquidity has become the new luxury. So, we are in the process of getting out of debt by selling our home and most of our possessions, giving away much of what we don’t sell, and preparing to pack as little as we can live with in pursuit of our dream, wherever it leads.