Wednesday 31 July 2013

Moving out, not dropping out (well, maybe a little)

For the past few weeks, pieces of me have been breaking off and drifting away - not in an existential sense but physically (or at least metaphorically). My Life as I've known it for the past 10 years has been a Kon Tiki raft (great movie, by the way, about Thor Heyerdahl's voyage across the Pacific) made of logs that have been jostling apart.

To speak plainly, I've just moved out of the house I've inhabited and loved for 10 years. But it's taken a few weeks to peel off the band-aid of my attachment to it.

 Miffy the neighbour's cat
in my ex-home
The big stuff is easy - I've been selling or giving away furniture on Gumtree, meeting lovely people. Couples setting up house (and needing a couch), backpackers Stefano and Battiste heading up the coast (they took the roof racks), a woman who picked up a bookcase in her husband's Mustang convertible, surfer boys furnishing the verandah of their share house (with my barbecue and outdoor table and chairs). 

It's the small stuff that trips you up. I've always thought of myself as a minimalist - I don't often buy clothes, don't wear makeup, live fairly simply - but it turns out that even after culling a whole lot of stuff I still have enough of it to fill a small room (aka my storage unit).

Fridge magnets - kept
You realise how much you own when you have to eyeball each and every thing and decide its fate. 

How much do you love your favourite books, that stone Buddha that has been sitting ignored on your back patio for years, the fairy lights you bought in Cambodia, the smooth stones that remind you of a beach you’ve forgotten the name of?

I’ve been finding out these past few weeks. It's been a farewell to the old house and to old bits of me, like rewinding life’s videotape and watching the cherished bits again, sometimes in slo-mo (as I sit on the floor in the hallway at 10pm reading a page of the diary I kept when I was 13.)

It was all going swimmingly until I had to dismantle my desk. That was the point of no return. In my nomadic and uncertain life as a travel writer the desk I made out of a hardwood door (don't ask) 15 years ago has been my anchor, a still point I've always returned to. Now that's gone, I'm officially adrift - and it feels surprisingly okay. Sort of.

Then there was the mammoth task of packing everything into boxes, like doing 100 jigsaw puzzles at once, packing for upcoming trips and clearing out a house in which I'd inherited the left-behinds of past flatmates...

Now it's done, and on Monday this week I handed over the keys, closed the door for the last time (with no way of getting back in to the place that has felt like mine for so long) and said goodbye to my feline friend Miffy, a neighbour's cat who made herself at home at my place the last few months.

I've learned a few lessons big and small these past weeks:

Bay window with a much-loved view
  1. You can miss something before it's gone. I've been pre-missing the view from the house mostly, looking out at the harbour and boats and ferries more than usual, and making the most of favourite natural places (little beaches, low-tide rock-hopping routes, cockatoos in the Norfolk pines, the sunny backyard).
  2. It's liberating to not have a car, not think about petrol prices or parking - except when I want to go surfing (thank goodness for kind friends with cars). I got more exercise, walking and biking everywhere. And when I really did need a car, I booked the nearest GoGet one, called Gigi the Yaris (only $5.65 an hour + 40c per kilometre, petrol included, and there are more than 10 GoGet cars in my area).
  3. List something for free on Gumtree and it will go, guaranteed. People love a bargain, especially one that's free, and they're doing you a favour by coming to take away your old couches, beds, tables. On top of that, you get a surge of benevolence (at the giving part) and environmental points for diverting things from landfill for re-use. 
  4. You can donate foreign coins to UNICEF's Coins for Kids program - by taking them to any Commonwealth Bank branch (who knew?). Fifteen cents can immunise a child against polio, $6 can buy 500 water purification tablets (each one treating up to 5 litres of water), $20 can provide four mosquito nets to protect families from malaria. 
  5. Beyond Vinnies there are other ways to offload stuff that's still good enough to use. I gave Manly Food Co-op a bag of glass jars. Pot plants to friends. And a couple of surfboards to newbie surfers in developing countries, via
    Another me, Freshwater Beach
    Pic by Mark Watson
    LineUp surf shop in Dee Why, which runs surf trips to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Samoa and Indonesia and often takes surfboards to give to kids there. I'll miss one of the boards, a bright green 6’3” I rode until I switched to a longboard after a surfing accident (on this very board) 10 years ago. But it's been out of the water pretty much since then, so hopefully it'll get wet again soon. 
Sorting through my stuff has been a kind of listening, as each thing tells me its story: how I came to have it, and why I kept it, and takes me on a little emotional trip. I'd forgotten about this aspect of moving, thought it would be all about simplifying, streamlining, getting back to basics. In fact it has been far from simple, and way more life-consuming than I'd thought, but no less interesting for that.

My next post will be from ... Ubud in Bali (wifi permitting) where I'm going for a month for some RnW (rest and writing). It'll be strange not returning to the old house, and there will be so many things I'll miss about it, but right now I feel ready to step off the ledge into the unknown.

On that note, I'll sign off with my favourite quote of the moment, by American author Edward Abbey:

"May all your paths be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view ...  where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you."


  1. Good luck Lou! Can't wait for the next update from Ubud. Sarah x

    1. Thanks Sarah! Much as I'm going to miss friends like you, I'm looking forward to dropping out!

  2. Nothing changes if nothing changes. I've moved so many times and feel every one of your moments. Journey on . . .and if you don't mind, I'm going to cut and paste your bit on where to donate foreign coins - there has been a conversation on Travel Writers facebook page - which you don't seem to be on . . . au revoir!

    1. Sure, Bev, my fellow nomad, happy for you to use any bits on facebook. spread the word...

  3. Oh Lou. Such a brave and wonderful step into freedom. All I know is that with your heart, mind and spirit, you will always find friends wherever you go x

  4. Thanks Em, my noble friend. Good luck with your return to Sydney from country living. We'll pass like shooting stars in the night (faster than ships) :)

  5. Lou, Please share more details! how, why, where what when ...?!? Although I was there just for a few days, I too am missing that little slice of paradise where we did yoga, ate yogurt with mango (which you showed me how to properly slice up) and of course my cuddles with the legendary Kaiser.

  6. Hi Peggy - yep, sure was a special house and I'll miss it even as I look forward to new horizons. I'll email you the background but basically felt a change in the air and knew I had to act on it. More soon!

  7. Enjoy the unanchored time. All is well if it can end with an Edward Abbey quote...

  8. Thanks Andrew. Yeah, he's one of my heroes... Bali blog post coming soon!

  9. I had the good fortune years ago to read Desert Solitaire when I was hiking in Havasu Canyon, where part of the book was set (though I was clothed where Abbey was not). He was the perfect companion.

  10. I think this is one of your most memorable blogs, Lou. A huge and much awaited step, yet one made in the now, mindfully, and with so much consideration of others -diverting long loved treasures to be loved by others, not decaying in landfill. Ubud and your Japanese Room there looks perfect as the place to start your R&W

  11. Thanks so much C, for the kind and thoughtful words. I've only been away a week and it feels ages already since I left the dear house. Strangely, I don't miss it (at least not right now). Maybe I will when I return to Sydney...

  12. Hi Lou, great to hear you've opted for Ubud - such a serene spot! Frank and I are back in Sydney from The Netherlands and London; the past months have been crazy work-travel wise for both of us and it doesn't look to get any better in coming months. We're trying to take a week off in October though and we'll try to find some calm in Noosa or Bali. Will let you know! Take good care and enjoy your adventure! Love, El

  13. Thanks El, welcome back and yes Ubud is serene - sort of. In this village I'm in there seems to be a festival with assorted broadcast music and chanting almost every night. It reminds me where I am, at least!