Redefining Freedom

My family – Jude, age 6 (right), Simon, age 2 (left)

Freedom means different things to different people depending on circumstances. For many, travel means freedom. It is even popularized in a commercial as being “free to roam the country.” I had this grand Freedom at Forty plan that I would finally be able to go someplace to have a stamp in my passport.

While I would love to travel, I have had some life circumstances lately that are not only making travel impossible, but literally threatening my day-to-day existence. When faced with a life-changing crisis, we quickly realize where our priorities are and fight to make sure they are met. For me, that means that this year I am redefining freedom.

Freedom now means the ability to live with my family someplace safe and in peace. As long as the three of us get to stay together, nothing else matters. This has always been my first priority, but it tends to become more pronounced when your family unit is threatened with ultimatums such as “separate or get out,” or “choose between your children because you have too many.” Sometimes even just keeping a family together feels like a losing battle.

That losing battle straddles a fine line between freedom and survival. There are ways to keep families together and survive. It could be living in a car, a RV, or migrating somewhere new where you will hopefully be able to stay together safely. Freedom is more than survival. Freedom is being able to keep your family together in a way that enables you all to be comfortable, safe and to build a life where you can transcend survival and be able to thrive.

Right now, I am in survival mode trying to keep my family together and find safe, affordable housing that will accept us as a family unit. I’m hoping that the Fourth of July will be some sort of good luck charm to finding freedom to live with my family intact.

It’s pretty sad in this land of alleged plenty that keeping a family together is seen as a privilege and not a right. If keeping a family together is a privilege, then we truly are not free at all. Everything can be taken from you with only a moment’s notice – including those you hold dear. The whole point of minimalism is not to have nothing. The point of minimalism is to have just what you need so you can focus on what’s important. Being able to be a minimalist is also a sense of privilege in a country where some people are struggling to obtain even just what they need and to hold onto what’s important.

Freedom should include the right to keep a family together. As people spend the Fourth of July having barbeques and watching fireworks with their family, they should think about whether that family is a right or a privilege. Currently, in this country and as I am seeing in my own life right now, family is a privilege. True freedom would include the right to keep a family together in a safe environment.

The Fourth of July is also an anniversary. It was Fourth of July weekend back in the late 90s that I moved from Massachusetts to New York. I have gone back and forth over the years whether or not that movement was something I regret.

I have come to the conclusion that I do not regret leaving Massachusetts because of the positive things that have happened since I arrived in New York. I was finally able to achieve my degrees and I would not trade a single minute with my family to go back and do it over differently. However, the moving that I did that long ago Fourth of July weekend has had significant impact on the course of my life over the past 20 years.

While I do miss Massachusetts and wish I could afford to move back, I realize that in New York, I achieved a level of freedom that I would not trade. I now have education to bring in income that buys freedom (unless you are looking for affordable housing). I have the freedom of being with my family and that is the greatest gift I have ever received.

This Fourth of July, I am redefining freedom. My Freedom at Forty plan no longer includes international travel. Given my current circumstances, that is not a realistic goal. This year, I am redefining freedom as the ability to keep my family together. If I can keep us together in safe, affordable, stable housing that will be even better. The outcome is yet to be seen.

How are you redefining freedom this Fourth of July? What does freedom mean to you?  

 

Seattle #TBT

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Monthly #TBT from when I returned to the east coast from the west, and all the thoughts and feelings a decade brings.

When I think about leaving the west coast and returning east in 2005, I think about freedom. Everything we owned fit right into the back of a pickup truck. I took one backpack with me on the plane from Sea-Tac to Upstate New York. I was perfectly content with being able to wait a week with the contents of that pack while the rest of my belongings arrived. While books, CDs, and other household items make one feel comfortable and help to fill the time, they are not necessary to survival.

Fully embracing your local community and taking advantage of what is readily available is key. Using farmers markets and shopping locally not only helps your neighbors financially, but helps you to make friends as well. When we were in Seattle, we were constantly going to this show and that show, and having the best time with people – all by word of mouth without things such as Internet and social networking.

While it took time to build this same foundation and network on the east coast, we did build. It started with a poster. Go to a show. Talk to like-minded people who hang out in the same places as you, and suddenly you have a group of friends with common interests.

What I miss the most about the west coast is that it was affordable to live right in downtown Seattle and be within walking distance to practically everywhere. While we did have a truck, it often set idle in the driveway. Many times, we could bike or walk any place we needed to go.

On the east coast, housing is too expensive to live in a city or town to be able to walk or bike anywhere. On the east coast, vehicles are a necessary evil, as housing prices are more affordable in the suburbs, and things that you need like grocery stores and medical care are too sparse and spread out to be able to rely on public transportation. Not to mention, public transportation on the east coast often runs infrequently with limited routes.

Seattle reminds me of being able to throw the surfboard in the back of the truck and spending a day at the beach. Literally everything you needed was readily available. There was no need to have a vehicle on a daily basis unless you wanted a beach excursion or other type of road trip.

I’m sure that things have changed since I left the west coast- housing prices and availability for one. There is something to be said about being able to pack up all your belongings in two or three storage totes and pick yourself up for a cross-country relocation. There is freedom in not having to spread yourself thin trying to get to work, obtain groceries, or run other errands. On the east coast, the geographic challenges tend to contribute to more social isolation, and thus I feel it necessary to have more entertainment and distraction options in my home – movies and books for when the snow flies, and everything shuts down for a day, buried under feet of white stuff.

While hindsight is 20/20 and often viewed through rose-colored lenses, the aspects of coming back east that stick with me the most is how much I experienced on the west coast with so little belongings. When you settle in one place for an extended period of time, as I have been on the east coast, you accumulate stuff. Life was so much simpler without all the things.

It is thoughts such as these that contribute to my wanting to rewind real slow. That yearning for the wanderlust of youth when you had exactly what you needed, and nothing more, and if someone said, “let’s do this,” you enthusiastically replied “okay.” Seattle also taught me that I was put on this planet to live. Living is not simply working and paying bills. I deserve to have experiences in my very short time I have to be on this planet. That is a lesson I often forget in the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality of east coast workaholics.

Seattle is also special because it is the last large expanse of time in which I remember being present. Before the widespread use of smart phones, constant pings and notifications, social media, etc, we lived every day in the moment. Life really was much simpler when if you wanted to see or talk to someone, you had to find them, and if you could not get there due to distance, you wrote them a letter. The mail takes 3 days.

Ten years of living the grind on the east coast has definitely taken it’s toll. In my efforts to rewind real slow, I am hoping to return to some of the ease I felt on the west coast. Not only the relaxed pace, but the ability to live in the moment without fear of the future. The desire to recreate that feeling anywhere without being geographically bound to a particular location is what I am hoping to achieve. They say home is a place you carry with you. I am trying to build that feeling for myself where I presently am.

Is there a certain place in your life that elicits certain feelings? How can you recreate those feelings in your current location? Whether nostalgia or rose-colored glasses, how can you work to create experiences you envision?

Good riddance to bad karma

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In my efforts to purge, downsize, simplify and minimize, perhaps the most difficult objects to make decisions about are those with sentimental value. I am definitely not one of those minimalists that have blank, white walls and only a certain number of items in my home. My goal in simplifying and minimizing is to have more time and space in my life for what is most important and to only be surrounded by people, things, and experiences that I love.

If I have fewer things, I spend less time cleaning, and more time engaged in activities with family and friends that I love. If I have less things, and someone spontaneously says, let’s pack a bag and go to Europe (wishful thinking, but just saying), my response would be an avid “yes” with no hesitation, as I would not have to worry about a bunch of stuff holding me down.

While some of my early years in life were very challenging bouncing around trying to get an education and housing, I have to say that they were the most freeing times of my life. There is freedom in the fact that I hitch hiked the west coast in the 90s with only a backpack. While I am much more settled now and have all the accoutrements needed in a household, having only what I absolutely need and love in my life enables me to regain some sense of that feeling of freedom.

It is very easy to go through the house and purge items that are multiples of each other. Did you get married recently and end up with three blenders? Even if you are the green smoothie queen, I hardly doubt you run all three at the same time. Most people can get by with one. Do I really need 37 coffee mugs? Yes, 37 coffee mugs. I recently took them all out of the cupboard and counted them. That’s a mug for every day of the month without doing dishes. Who doesn’t do dishes? I kept my 6 favorites and donated the rest.

I really won’t go there (yet) when it comes to sentimental items like that jean jacket you wore to high school football games or a copy of your graduation announcement, but when it comes to items with bad karma, it’s time to let it go.

Sometimes we hang on to things not because they are functional or useful, but because they evoke certain emotions and memories when we look at them. If those are happy times, then okay, but if not: let it go.

Some bad karma items to which I recently said good riddance and could not be happier about it include:

  • A dress I wore last fall to the apple orchard with someone who I was dating, and the relationship ended very poorly. Every time I looked at the dress, I would remember the apple orchard day, and I haven’t worn it since.
  • The travel mug that was in my backpack when I hitch hiked both the west and east coasts. It was my only “dish” and I drank and ate everything out of it. I don’t need to be reminded every day of how hard life used to be. I am where I am right now and right now, I have bowls and plates and glasses.
  • The strappy heels I wore to a wedding, which spent their time on the dance floor by themselves under a table because they were so uncomfortable, I spent more time barefoot than I did wearing them.
  • The blanket that was a wedding present 15 years ago. I have since divorced, and I have many other blankets. I do not need that one to remind me of a failed marriage. I have learned from my experience and moved on.
  • Cigarette. I quit smoking years ago, but have always kept a pack in my center console “just in case.” I haven’t touched them in years. I don’t need the reminder. My life is different now. I threw them away.

Sometimes when you look at something, it brings up memories that are painful, or reminds you of a time that was really challenging for you. Those are the things you need to kick to the curb and let go. Do not let baggage bring you down. If it is not purposeful, serving you in some way, or actively contributing to your current happiness, then it is time to say goodbye to bad karma.

Some items are there to remind you of challenges you have overcome or survived, like the cigarettes I had in my console. I don’t need them to remind myself that I was able to quit smoking. I have 13 marathon medals that prove I quit smoking and live a healthier life.

Bad karma can be hard to identify sometimes. It could be something you use everyday “just because.” Evaluate the items in your life to be sure that they are either useful or bring you joy. Life is too short to hang onto reminders of miserable times.

Finally, it is also important to remember that it is not just things that can produce bad karma. Toxic relationships and people, bad habits, negative reinforcing behaviors are all things we need to break up with. I recently went off the grid and kicked my face book account to the curb because it was making me sad. I stopped making the effort to talk to, call, and text people who never take the initiative to talk to, call or text me. Relationships are a two-way street. If you are the only one doing the work, it may be time to engage in some self-care and disengage from people who either don’t care or give you nothing in return. I am now having higher quality interactions with the people I want to have in my life.

Is there a bad habit you want to give up? Quit smoking or engage in healthier activities? Do it. Say goodbye to bad karma and make changes in your life. Don’t wait for New Year’s or the first of the month. You get one life. The time is now.

Say good riddance to bad karma and dissociate from the things in life that harm you. If it is not helping you, serving a purpose, or bringing you joy, it is time to let go. Life is way too short to hang onto that which brings you down.

What bad karma items, people or habits in your life can you kick to the curb?

From the back of a jacked up tailgate

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On this 4th of July holiday, I think we all take the time and opportunity to appreciate the good things in life – family, friends, and leisure time. Weekends like this make me wish every day was Independence Day. Oh wait, it is. You are in control of your own life. The choices you make decide what you do today, and what you do tomorrow. Granted, some of those choices are constrained by societal constructs and standards, but for the most part, we have a lot of freedom to decide the intricacies of our days.

Some of my favorite moments have occurred during 4th of July festivities, and I look forward to creating many more memories not only on 4th of July, but every day, as I orchestrate my life. Some of my favorite memories include:

  • Sleeping in the back of the pickup truck on the beach of the Pacific Ocean looking up at the stars after a long day of surfing, and an evening of bonfires, singing, and spending time with good friends both new and old.
  • Going to the drive-in to watch the latest movies with the one with whom you really want to spend your time.
  • Hiking the state parks and being able to see waterfalls along the way. For some truly spectacular views, check out Watkins Glen State Park in New York, which boasts over 100 waterfalls along their trails, the most of any park in the state.
  • Barbequing with friends after a game of ultimate Frisbee on the lake and spending time talking well into the night.
  • Fishing on the waterways, enjoying the quiet of nature, and the peace of the waves.
  • Tailgating prior to the DMB concert at VA Tech in the 1990s.

By far, one of my favorite views of the world has been from the back of a pickup truck. Whether transporting surfboards, hanging out with the dog, or sleeping under the stars, there is just something about feeling the calm and enjoying the scenery and the ones you are with.

What are your favorite ways to spend the holiday? While holiday weekends allow us a break from our normal lives, we don’t necessarily need a holiday to take that break. Yes, we all need to work to make money and live, but do not allow your occupation to define your life. You are not your job. How you spend your time when you are not at work is entirely your choice. Many of life’s greatest moments are experiences that do not require money, only time.

Happy Birthday, America.

Remember the freedom for which we have fought and obtained.

Embrace it. Fully. Rewind real slow.