“It isn’t life that weighs us down – it’s how we carry it” – Elizabeth Potier

Landing in Seattle. July 23, 2014

Landing in Seattle. July 23, 2014

I lasted 10 days at home before I felt the need to go again.  The first day home, i wandered through my familiar rooms, opened cabinets, and  stared in wonder at all the stuff.  Questions drifted idly through my mind as I sat there, motionless for long minutes.  What is THAT? When did I stash it here? Why did I keep it? Where can I donate it? Who needs it? How did I go a year with so few material possessions?

These five Ws started to repeat each time I turned around. The act of making breakfast our first morning back was a painful illustration of my pathos. I opened a drawer to get a skillet and started pulling out pots and pans that I intended to donate. I hunted for a spatula and guiltily realized I had 12. I went to find a grocery bag to put the excess in and started cleaning out the pantry, ridding it of food that had sat untouched for well over a year.  I was literally paralyzed by the need to purge our house. I made incredible messes and accomplished little. It continued like this every day, with blissful moments of interruption to visit with friends or go for a run or to drive kids to reconnect with pals. I was doing several loads of laundry a day to keep up, as the kids were wearing and discarding clothing as fast as they could pull it out of drawers. Over this past year, there were times we went 10 days without washing a single item. We bought a car, since we were having trouble juggling just the one that we had kept. We went to Costco and spent a small fortune to restock our now barren pantry. Jon went to work and I didn’t see him for a full day. There were times that I wasn’t sure where the kids were, and I mused with irritation that they would need cell phones soon. Our lean, efficient, and close-knit family unit was suddenly unraveled, floundering in place, and suffocating in all our stuff. And it had taken only a few days.

Washing the backpacks - a year's worth of dirt, down the drain.

Washing the backpacks – a year’s worth of dirt, down the drain.

So I did what any slightly irrational person with a bad case of wanderlust might do… I packed a bag, gathered the kids I could steal away, and hit the road. I wasn’t completely agenda-less, as Jon and I had decided to block some time out in our lake place in Chelan a few months earlier, predicting that we might need some transition time after we got home. Plus, we have family on this side of the mountains.  As we headed east, over two mountain passes, I started to regain my senses.  With the hum of pavement below our tires, and the world rushing by, I was reinvigorated by the forward motion.  Action was the antidote to my inertia, and somehow gave me the sense of purpose that had wilted away the moment we came ‘home’.   I can honestly say that it felt like a tranquilizer going through my veins as I unpacked my bag and placed my four little packing cubes that I had brought along with me into the completely empty drawers in this house.  As I stood watching my daughters sleeping, I felt a familiar relief wash over me in the realization that I had with me what I needed, nothing more.

As I write this, I’m lying awake, spending my first night as the sole occupant of a room in over a year.   Typing that sentence makes me want to run into the kids’ room and crawl into bed with them.  I consider this solitude and let other feelings of right now creep into my consciousness.  I’m not completely relaxed here. The wifi doesn’t work, the source of a funky odor in our living room eludes me still, and the storage room is stuffed with items begging to be trashed or recycled.  Somehow sleep finds me.

For the first time in just over a year, I put my arms around my Dad and gave him a big hug.  It was incredible to see my Dad, who wasn’t able to join us at any point on the trip and so we made do with Face Time and Skype and following one another via instagram.  He made a very cool observation a few weeks before we came home – that he actually felt almost closer to us this year than he has in previous years (he lives about 300 miles from our Seattle home) simply due to all the sharing we do via social media.  It definitely eased the sharpest pangs of homesickness along our journey, but nothing compares to being in the same room, just being together.  Within a few minutes of seeing him, we began discussing plans to remodel our vacation rental here in Chelan.  It was like he sensed my need for action and change and responded like my Dad, trying to make it happen, calling on his contacts here on the east side.

I don’t know what will become of the remodel, but coming home to Seattle, leaving Seattle and coming to Chelan has helped me see things a little more clearly.  I don’t have an explanation for it, but there is something about having so much stuff that really stresses me out.  Judging from the fact that I’m unable to open a drawer or cupboard (even here in Chelan) without emptying it, purging 85% of the contents, and then organizing the rest, I’m either completely insane (and it is manifesting in this weird OCD behavior) or one of the changes I have undergone over the past year is that I’m a minimalist and it suits me.   All I know is that I’m suffocating in my home environs, it literally drives me crazy when I’m there.

I have to say that this realization brings with it more than a little twinge of disappointment.  I think I was hoping for more impactful and meaningful changes to “me”.  People keep asking me how this year, and this trip around the world has changed me, and in truth, I don’t really know.  Could it be that the ‘travel transforms you’ idea is really just a cliche?  Because I think I am the same person, but now I simply know more about what I’m missing, and I am restless to discover it.

Lares Trek, Peru, June 2014

Lares Trek, Peru, June 2014

“She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short.”

Story People art, titled “Bittersweet” by Brian Andreas

1 comment

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  1. Balu Vellanki

    Hi Gretchen, I am Balu and we met in Vietnam at the Phong Nha cave system. While digging through old notes, I saw the link to your blog and decided to check it out. I am incredibly moved by this blog post. I felt a similar sense of “now I simply know more about what I’m missing, and I am restless to discover it” feeling after I came back to San Francisco. It only grows stronger each day. Please write a follow up post on how you dealt with (or embraced) this feeling.

    “Travel transforms you” is not a cliche in my case. It did transform me into a more open minded, trusting, loving restless, thirsty and curious person than I initially was. If you already have these qualities in abundance, may be it wont transform you. But it sure leaves you with a life time supply of memories, anecdotes and love. Here is wishing you happiness and content life. Cheers.

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