In the midst of a hectic move, conveniently scheduled during the first pandemic in my lifetime, my sister said “wow, it is happening!” In the stress of the move and a major pandemic (and associated ramifications), I had lost sight of how close I was to what I’d been dreaming about for years and planning for months. In that moment, I realized that it was, indeed, happening. #vanlife is no longer an abstract concept, a goal, a dream. It has officially begun. 3/20/2020: the day it all began
In most ways, moving during a major pandemic is not something I’d recommend. Moving is stressful. Moving while trying to divest oneself of all of their stuff is incredibly stressful. Moving, selling, and donating everyone one owned during a pandemic is insane. But, at this point in the process, I didn’t have a choice. The new lease was signed, and my walkthrough was scheduled. The show had to go on.
Yet, all of my perfectly laid plans for the move had fallen apart. For very good reason, the conferences I’d been planning to attend (which would bridge the gap between having no place to live and trying to set the new Pinhoti FKT) were cancelled, so I was officially without anywhere to live. I’d been planning to donate a huge portion of what I couldn’t sell to the Habitat for Humanity Restore organization, but they decided not to accept donations because of the outbreak, which left me with a pile of household items that were useful but not sellable. And as of Wednesday morning (3/18) I still had an apartment full of large furniture that I had sold but the new owners hadn’t picked up yet. The stuff felt like a weight around my shoulders, and stress about if/when it would all be gone weighed heavy, suffocating me.
Added to that was the closing of campus, which meant I had to transition my face-to-face classes online. However, the university had only cancelled on-campus activities until April 10, which meant I couldn’t actually make any permanent plans for where I would be for the rest of the semester aside from making ill-fated guesses about what might happen. And, while everyone was stocking up on things in preparation of a government-mandated quarantine, I was doing the opposite, leaving me stressed that I’d just donated what I would have used in a zombie apocalypse-type situation. My stress levels were through the roof, and there was evidence of that throughout my life. Everyone time Zoom flashed this message: “Your connection is unstable,” during class, a meeting, or and advising session, I just had to nod. Yes, Zoom, it is. Every connection is feeling unstable right now.
On the positive side, there have been developments in what #vanlife is going to look like for me. In my last update, I mentioned that I was going to have to store at least 4 75-gallon totes full of things I just couldn’t bear to part with. Saturday night, after doing an inventory of what I thought I needed to keep, I realized that I didn’t actually need to keep any of it after all. So, Sunday morning, I woke up and instead of heading out on my long run, I went through the giant box of paper keepsakes I’d been holding onto and sorted into three piles: keep, digitize, and trash. The biggest pile by far was trash – I had held onto almost all of my schoolwork from my entire academic career. I had literally no reason to keep any of it. I kept the things that my mom had worked hard on, like my baby book, and legal documents, like my birth certificate and tax documents. I digitized old pictures that I either thought were entertaining or reminded me of important times. After digitization, those things were trashed. In fact, most everything was trashed. I also listed for sale some of the things I’d thought I needed to keep – my keurig, fancy knives, and microwave. After starting to feel the freedom that came with having less stuff, it all diminished in importance to me.
This process has led to a revelation for me – the things I was still holding onto, all of my stuff, was both a security blanket and prison bars. Having all of this stuff was literally locking me in geographically to one place. I was paying rent to hold things, most of which I never actually used. These things were also a security blanket in two ways. First, I realized that my keepsakes were a tangible connection to the people in my life that are the most important – my family and friends. I was holding onto the keepsakes because my mom had held onto them for me for two decades, and it felt disrespectful to discard them – keeping them helped me to feel close to her. But what I really wanted was to be close to her and the rest of my family, so this stuff was actually keeping me from that. Second, the kitchen appliances I wanted to store were a part of almost ritualistic food habits that I’d built as a part of a shaky eating disorder recovery scaffolding. The microwave, blender, coffee maker, knife set were all part of the security blanket of my eating rituals and routine. As long as I had that routine, I’d told myself, I could make it through anything, anywhere.
But the larger thing I realized Saturday evening was that not only did I not actually need any of these things, I didn’t want them any more. Part of having disordered eating patterns has been inexplicably tied up in societal expectations for how women should be in Western society. By pursuing #vanlife I am actively rejecting societal expectations of what success looks like. And I am leaving the remains of my eating disorder with the physical conveniences that allowed it to persist. So far from home and everything that I loved, I felt like all I had was this strict eating structure, and that structure was comforting, has been comforting, as I’ve been desperately unhappy. I can recognize now how that ritual held things together, and frankly, I’m grateful. Through sexual harassment, regular harassment, stalking, and illness, this illusion of control helped me hold it all together.
Now though, I’m done. I don’t want that life any more. I choose to live, fully, and work through whatever comes. The first part of that is letting go,
I also feel like this is a part of the process of getting rid of everything. At first, I could only get rid of the things I obviously didn’t need – clothes that were too big, guest bedroom furniture that had never been used. That cleared things up physically and mentally to get rid of the things I didn’t need but thought I wanted (or could use). And divesting myself of those things helped me to examine what I thought I couldn’t live without and then get rid of that too. I’m left with four suitcases and one 55-gallon tote now, so I suspect there is still one more stage of divestment to come. It all fits in my suv with room to sleep. But, for now, this will get me home.
And by home, I mean to my people, whether that’s a geographic, virtual, or metaphysical space.
It is, indeed, happening.