Sharing a personal story today from Vee – someone that I met through this blog and have kept in touch with as we both moved overseas. Some important reminders for me in this essay about being kind to yourself during big life changes and examining why you have things you don’t use or even like.
Emptiness and longing are both aspects of life we as humans frequently try to avoid. Let’s face it humans do not like to suffer. We believe that by filling in the emptiness with external stimulus whether it be a new fancy gizmo for the kitchen counter, a relationship with the “right” one, a slinky little black number to woo the “right” one or buying a ticket in a lottery we have a one in a trillion chance of winning we can stay away from the discomfort of pain.
I learned the hard way that the voids will always be present. Suffering will always be. No matter where you go and what you have there will always be pain. The grass might appear greener on the other side but really once you are standing on that grass there is another patch, just as inviting, waiting to be claimed.
It has been my experience that no amount of longing for something to replace empty feelings will make life better. In fact what I have discovered is living with less stuff , living without the stress of debt has opened my eyes to a whole new world where I can feel free and unencumbered. There will always be the space of emptiness no matter where I am. It is how you respond to the feelings which will make all the difference.
In September 2013 my husband, two year old daughter and I packed our treasured possessions into three bags and moved from Canada to Australia. Despite living in Canada for 18 years and maintaining a strong and loving bond with my first two children, I constantly carried a strong yearning to move back to Australia, the country of my birth. I longed to be closer to family and the culture of Australian life. As I aged I became more than aware that others were aging too.
Four years prior to moving back to Australia I had left a long term marriage. A year after that marriage dissolved I met the love of my life. With his support and through much personal work and forgiveness of myself and others I felt that I was living again.
When I left my first husband I also left with him all of the belongings he and I owned together. This was not a voluntary act but a matter of circumstance. That stung and I was angry and confused knowing that the things I had worked for were gone, just like that.
Starting up again as a single woman with shared custody of two teens, I turned to filling the emptiness and addressing the anger and frustration I felt by acquiring new things. I was faced with the task of filling a three bedroom suite allowing me the opportunity to own things I had always “wanted” for myself. For instance, I always desired a large dresser with drawers on both sides and a place to sit with a huge mirror. In the days of retro and vintage such pieces were not hard to find and I was quickly the owner of such a dresser. It sat in my room and became cluttered with the other things I had always wanted. I spent thousands on my credit card refurnishing a house, making multiple trips to Ikea other large box stores buying whatever took my fancy. I was a keen thrift store and yard sale frequenter always keeping my eye out for a “bargain” never realising that things are not bargains if you spend hundreds of dollars every trip you make. Back then I thought that I could improve my life by filling it with things.
Change of Heart
Fast forward a few years and something had shifted within me. By the time we were getting ready to move to Australia I had learned that the dresser, the Ikea furniture, the thrift store junk was not worth the time or money I had spent on it. Within the embrace of a new and loving relationship I had begun to live a near minimalist lifestyle. I understood all of this new stuff was not making me happier than before. Any upset I had in my life was due to changes I needed to make within myself. The shift was gradual but obvious.
Within the first year of meeting my now husband we rid ourselves of the burden of half of our possessions, downsized the size of our home and prioritized when it came to finances and commitments. I subscribed to blogs whose focus was minimalism, sustainability and frugal living. I took a keen interest in alternative economies such as freeganism, free markets, bartering and volunteerism and still do. With the help of my partner we reduced what seemed like a staggering debt of a previous life from $40,000 to nothing while saving for the funds to be able to emigrate. In order to move we happily sold or gave away all of our household possessions and left to start our new life.
This exercise was very freeing. While I would not say I became a complete “minimalist” I prefer to say, even now, I am an “almost” minimalist. I get the concept of minimalism and I embrace it, yet to this day I am still the girl who likes to go to the thrift store and yard sale in hunt of a bargain. Even this is beginning to wane. I certainly subscribe to a minimalist mindset and have honed my skills at discerning what I “want” and what I “need.” It turns out I need less than I thought.
When we finally said our good byes and arrived in Australia our possessions were few. This placed us in an interesting position where we were not weighed down by possessions. Passing on our things in Canada was so easy knowing that we would have very little in the way of “stuff” when we made it to Australia. We saw a fresh slate, a new story to write. Once we found a place to call home in a small rural town we wanted to furnish and make a home once more. For several reasons this is when some of our frugal and small living goals took a temporary detour. I returned to the behaviours of old where I thought if I had this and that not only my home, but myself, would be complete. I believed I would be distracted enough not to feel the pain of missing my kids and friends and the life I had left behind.
What Do You Need To Make A Home?
Once in Australia family and friends generously offered us items for our new house. Feeling grateful and frugal we would say yes and thank you very much to whatever it might be. We would go to yard sales to see what we could find. Our little girl would leave with arm loads of stuffed animals and other plastic “toys” given to her by well meaning elderly ladies and people trying to be kind. They would express their sorrow for this child who had to leave all she owned behind in Canada.
I began to see the old me returning, the one who wanted a bargain regardless of its worth. I saw myself trying to fill an empty space inside myself again. For some time it did not matter what the item was if it was free then it made its way to our address. After awhile we found ourselves accepting items we did not want and likely would not be using. We feared not having another opportunity to get the same thing or even worse, we would have to pay for it!
This went on for some time and our house started to swell with furniture, toys, kitchen items and a variety of ornamental pieces. It did not take us long to realise that once again we had to stop and take stock of what was really important. I realised that it is ok to say “no” to items I knew we would not use or those which did not fit our lifestyle. It is our home after all and while people are well meaning in their intention to help out, sometimes they just want to move things out of their overflowing spaces to somewhere else. I had to use tact and a firm thank you but we do not need it on several occasions. I did not want to return to being the person I was in Canada, filling a void with items with no personal value or meaningful history. And I began to remember that what we had in the way of possessions was not what mattered.
This Is What Matters
Our move to Australia left a void of a different kind which was not to be filled with stuff I could replace. Following the rush of filling our home I soon understood this to be true. When I left Canada not only did I leave years worth of physical items I also left behind two much loved children, now adults, who I am very close to. There is nothing to replace the connection a mother has with her children. The guilt I felt for abandoning my children was immense. Despite this I understood that there are the memories of their lives and mine together. Years of love and laughter watching them grow into amazing, articulate people with compassionate hearts and sharp minds. This is real, this means something. This has been my reminder of why possessions do not matter. The things that mean something are not boxes of kitchen items, books I never read but kept anyway, cool dime a dozen furniture, more clothes than I can wear in a year. What matters are memories, relationships and future plans. It has become deeply important to me to keep the bond I have with my children alive over the internet and through the fun of writing letters or sending small meaningful gifts. Distance is nothing when you take the time to nurture them.
My journey to this point has included gaining and losing (or giving away) possessions several times over the past few years. Funny thing is I cannot recall most of what I owned in Canada during my first marriage and then in my second. What I do remember are the years and years of significant life events, birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Days and holidays. I remember my son’s first steps and the first time my daughter crawled. What I did decide to keep, perhaps not so minimal, are the little notes and drawing my children did for me over the years, the cards they wrote and other mementos. Through this move to Australia what I have learned is what matters is the family I have joined again after spending almost half my life away from them. What I care about are my children who may not be physically close but are certainly more valuable than any piece of furniture I could ever own.
Vee is a mother of 2 “big kids” who live in her heart, though are forging their own lives in another country. She lives with her young daughter, little g. Little g is vegan and is proud to say so. Vee is married to an amazing (also vegan) partner, Big G. Vee’s Easy Vegan is her recipe site that shares vegan, plant based recipes that will delight both vegans and omnivores. Vee and her family live with their rescue dog, Lola, in rural Australia.