Making Space

Warning: Disturbing photos included in this post. Beware. Neatniks everywhere, please choose a soothing beverage and do some deep breathing before you being to read this.

Enjoy this kind of photo while you can.

Here’s a little metaphor I use with my clients who ‘do too much’, those people who come to me because they suddenly find they cannot manage all the requirements they believe their lives impose upon them. This visual image is born of my worst nightmare: being on a cruise ship, faced with all the food they reputedly offer up at each and every meal, and probably between meals, too. So many choices!! It makes me want to run screaming. The visual image goes something like this:

Imagine life is like eating on a cruise ship, except that the buffet line stretches off into infinity. You cannot see the end of the line, all the foods are set out before you. There are salads, meats, vegetables, breads, puddings, cakes and pastries, sauces and creams. There are smoked oysters and cracked crabs. Everyone gets one plate and everyone has to keep moving down the line. No stopping for long. You must eat as you go. You begin putting foods on the plate, and because you are a conscientious soul, you make sure to put steamed vegetables and other tasteless fare on the plate along with your devil’s food cake because you know what’s ‘good’ for you, right?

The ubiquitous cruise ship.

At first, you can eat fast enough to keep up with the line, and your plate never really gets over crowded. You can keep the broccoli from touching the roast beef.  But as the line progresses you begin to feel full and your plate is looking a bit crowded. You would like to stop now and digest, perhaps take a nap,  except that the rules of the cruise ship are that you must keep choosing foods. You don’t get to stop. Your choices slow down, but eventually, somewhere around mid-line (or maybe earlier if you have a lot of kids and a high pressure job), you notice that you cannot keep up and the mashed potatoes are hanging dangerously, tenuously, over the side of your plate. If you add that helping of bread pudding, it’s going to push lots of things over the edge, no matter how good it tastes. Or it’s going to get all nasty with broccoli juice on it, destroying the essence of pudding that it is. You look ahead and realize you still cannot see the end of the line.

At this point, poised with burgeoning plate, you begin to panic. How can you do this thing? You end up making an appointment with me. And I totally understand your nightmare. I completely capiche your almost-adolescent angst. Oh yes. I get it. Oh client of my nightmare, you are me.

Letting go of my koi was very hard for me. I still miss them. Here they are in their new home, though, happy as…well.. koi.

You’ve got to make space on the plate in order to move forward in the line, in order for happiness to be restored so you can enjoy the cruise. You really do want to at least taste the strawberry cheesecake but there is simply too much steamed cauliflower without butter or salt on your plate. Everything you have already put on your plate is taking up all the room. What to do, what to do, what to do? The rule is you have to keep going. You have to continue to eat what is on your plate. There is only one thing to do. Break the rule. And you can do this in one of two ways.

You can keep overloading the plate until everything just sort of falls apart onto the floor; rule-breaking by ommission.  It’s a valid choice, but you won’t be in control of the triage attempt. Or you can do rule-breaking by commission. You can do it with malice and forethought. You can practice a little of what I like to call ‘Nancy Reagan’ therapy on your rules. You can ‘Just Say NO!’ to stupid rules.  I like to choose the latter. I like to actively break rules that suck.

Oh large pile of dead tree branches, Oh wasted dinghy and little falling-down hut that Andrew built many years back. You are the boiled cauliflower of our lives.

All that stuff on your plate? It’s keeping you stuck in the line. You can’t move forward, and you can’t move back.  It’s taking up space that is mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.  How can you invite yourself to partake of the cheesecake, or even the nicely aged cheese, if you don’t get rid of some of that other stuff on the plate? You must find a way to surreptitiously dump your plate without actually eating the food. You simply have to make room on the plate another way, a way that your internal rule-maker has not thought of before or won’t notice. Or maybe could actually get used to!

Looking around, you notice no one looking your way. The time is now. You let your plate droop like a woman with southern charm. You let the food slide quietly down under the table, concealed by the table cloth. You keep moving. No one gives a crap that you did this, and this is a revelation to you. You just broke the rule and the ship didn’t sink? What the what???

See this work area? Well we aren’t working on anything back there anymore. The ‘rule’ was that work scraps go back in the work area. But what if those projects are a thing of the past?

Your plate now almost completely clean, you begin again; moving more slowly, thinking carefully about the choices you make. Taking only small portions where before you would have overloaded. You are mindful of the process and the plate stays in balance. You have perfect proportions of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and desserts and because you eat and move through the line thoughtfully and slowly, things work better. And you remember the plate-dumping and how easy it turned out to be.

The energy of life is not infinite. We have X amount of energy; mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, that we can expend on living our lives. And anything that takes up too much room on one part of our life plate is impinging on all the other things, no matter how  small the ‘thing’ is. People many times do not understand this concept. Just because something seems like a ‘small thing’ doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take up energetic space. And that means it’s harder for something new and terrific to come into our lives.

See all this stuff in the v berth? It’s about to get a new home. We’re making more space in the workshop aboard Galapagos, too.

So all of this is to say that ever since we moved the date up for our Little Cunning Departure, we’ve been in overdrive trying to relinquish some of our food onto the floor of our cruise ship so we can have more space for chocolate cake. You know? We are running into our own internal rules all the time and having to challenge them. For instance, until now Mike’s ‘rule’ was, “I will work until I am 57.”  He dumped that rule on the floor. People cheered the decision. He felt free of a rule.

The hardest rules for me revolve around our family home. These are extraordinarily difficult rules for me to challenge. For instance, I have a ‘rule’ about wanting to maintain a land-based home in case we want or need it, or in case our kids need it. That’s one big, heavy rule and it’s really based on fear, like most internal rules. Fear that we will never be in a position to own this nice a home again. Fear that once the family home is disposed of, the diaspora of the children will be complete and finite. They will never be home again because the home will be gone. Fear that I will miss my home more than I can bear. So many fears. I have to work through them one at a time. At the end of the day, the tie to the home represents a huge investment of time, money, energy, and emotional space that I could be using for being excited about our big transformation into world travelers.

Yes, I will miss this space for maybe a long time. Maybe not. I hope NOT.

Yes, I will miss this space for maybe a long time. Maybe not. I hope NOT.

Some of our internal rules are just too solidly attached to the plate to budge. For instance this week we came smack up against the reality that is getting our home ready for either sale or rent. There is a long list of projects that need to be finished at home and these projects are taking up space for us that could be used other ways. We need to get them done. So we got out the paper calender and began making goals about accomplishing those tasks in a timely way, metering it out over the course of a few months.

One of our rules as a couple has been ‘we can do it ourselves. Why pay someone else?’.  We have learned with Galapagos that sometimes it is just a relief to pay others to do work that, while you could do it yourself, is not your best use of time. Thinking we would make faster progress if we paid someone to help us, we had someone come out and give us a bid for getting the mess in those photos above cleared away. There is a small structure to tear down and dispose of, left over from Andrew’s ‘building things in the yard’ days. There is a pile of old wood to go, and a huge pile of tree branches; victims of recent stormy weather. We have two areas of the yard that are holding space that needs to be freed up. We were dead excited to be getting some help with this stuff.

But oy!  Now we remember why we’ve always been ‘do it yourself’ types. The bid was 1200$, plus, of course, the dumping fee. Um. Hmmm. Damn. For some people that’s not a lot of money. For us, right now, it is. That’s a new sail for the boat, or a radar system, or half a fridge. Our rule solidified. The fee, when measured against the work of three men for a day, seems reasonable. But we cannot pay it with a glad heart. So we will have to do it ourselves. Of course, this attitude has made us into people who will consider living off the grid on a boat almost exclusively when the time comes. So there’s that benefit.

It’s going to be terrific!

On the Galapagos front, we are creating lots of space in Mike’s workshop. Our friend Larry Simmons is a talented and experienced wood worker. Mike has engaged Larry to refurbish his workshop area on Galapagos so that it will more efficiently hold the hardware store we have on board, currently taking up the v-berth.  The money we spend on this kind of thing feels good. We cannot do that work ourselves as it requires skills we will not have in this lifetime and Galapagos is worth it.

This letting go, this challenging of the internal rules we live by, is not a thing to take lightly or for granted. These are the rules that have allowed us feel in some semblance of control over our lives. Many times they are so dyed in our wool, feel so much like ‘laws’ instead of ‘rules’, that we forget that we chose them. We made them up. We can unchoose them and make space for other things.  Letting them go is challenging and fearful work. But, you know, I really really like cheesecake. So … onward!

A January bloom.

A January bloom.

If you are cruising or living on your boat and you remember some rules you let go of in order to get from that life to this one, please stop by the comments section and tell us about it.




21 thoughts on “Making Space

  1. O.M.G. I love this post!
    I don’t have home-shedding rules per se, but I’m in complete agreement that re-evaluating, letting go of old rules about who you are is absolutely crucial work even if the destination isn’t living on a boat. It’s funny how even a decision whether to keep something simple can end up challenging some long-held belief or assumption you’ve had. (I’m currently hung up on getting rid of a set of springform pans. Of all the things I’ve kept or unloaded, I’m hung up on those, but whatever).
    You know, we’re also very much DIY-ers. We actually just paid someone to do part of a project for us and it worked out great. We did all the parts we could do and just farmed out the awkward part and it was such a relief!
    As far as your shed and wood, you could always see what Craigslist will do for you. I don’t know how many posts offering free wood or sheds that I’ve seen. At least it is stuff outside your house. We’ve had pretty good luck giving stuff like that away, but there’s also salvage places like ReStore–but you probably have already worked this out, right?

    Anyway, so awesome, really excited to see you put all this into high gear and get to it.

    • Ah… springform pans. If it were not those, it would be something else, right? Yes, it’s important to question authority, even it that authority is you, so to speak. I saw something on facebook today that said something on the order of ‘I’ve already lost touch with several of the people I used to be.’ That’s a good one. As far as the wood goes, you can’t give this stuff away. We have tried. For two years we have tried. People who want free wood also want it cut and stacked for free. Go figure.

      • Oooh, that is a good one!
        Bummer about the wood. I suppose, in the nature of “if you don’t ask”, but still that seems to be asking a bit much to have someone else do everything for something they’re getting for free. 🙁 Do you have wood/plant recyclers up there? We’ve got a couple of places that will only accept things like garden waste and chippable/compostable wood products-not sure that qualifies, but at least it’s not the landfill. It seems to me you should have even more resources than I do here in semi-podunkville…
        Anyway, we are still running back and forth regularly, give a holler if you’d like some help one of these days. It’d go quick with a few extra warm bodies.

        • You are sweet to offer. I think we are going to rent an industrial sized chipper shredder and all the raw wood that is safe to shred will be returned to the soil. We do have a yard waste recycle place here and we’ve put that to good use in the past. But we would need to buy mulch anyway, so why not make our own, right? The rest of the stuff will go to the dump.

    • I don’t know about that rule, Tate! You and Dani, however, are in the perfect place to try it and see! Why not try that and report back as to how it goes? Glad you two are having a good time.

      • As a serious note… A story from my own life. After my Mom passed away and all the kids had flown the coop, my Dad moved into a 3200sqft home with a pool and all the fixings. It was a beautiful but huge house. He lived there for a few years spending gobs of money on taxes, upkeep, etc.

        My sisters and I asked him why he was staying in such a massive place like that. It wasn’t like he was having weekly parties or entertaining people. He would say, “I just want to have a place that you kids can come stay if you like.”

        The reality of it is though, in my experience at least, once someone has a baby, all family “get togethers” happen at that place. The parents have an easier time with it. And it happened in my own family. Finally one day I pointed out to my Dad, that if every time the family came to visit him, he rented out a floor of an upscale hotel, he’d still have a cheaper time of it than maintaining that huge house.

        Eventually he sold the big house and bought a much smaller place he wanted to fix up and “flip”. I think he is enjoying it so much that he wants to stay there now instead and take up travel.

        I guess my point is, from a child’s perspective, parents have strange emotional attachments to the “nest”. Home is where the heart is I say (or where the babies are).

        • Words of wisdom, Tate. Our kids have both told us to let go of the house. This time of life us a rite of passage that must be worked through. The measure of the pain is the same as the measure of the love. We have never been in denial that our holding on is really for us although our kids have certainly come and gone as they moved through their own process of growing up. Thanks for sharing that story.

  2. Wow! This was deep and I’m ashamed to say, made me hungry.

    We opted to have construction dumpsters delivered to the house. It made the DYI tasks a little easier. We agree with the thought process of comparing the cost of something to items needed for the boat. We did the same thing.

    We’re sorry to say, this part for us, did not get easier. The initial downsizing was not too bad, but it got harder and harder. Our easiest decision was that we wanted to sell the house. When we return from sailing, we are both of the mind set we wanted to live elsewhere. Deciding what went to storage and what didn’t was tough.

    • Construction dumpsters are on the list. Mike is waiting for a bid from the local garbage utility. I only wish the decision to sell the house or not was an easy one for us. we know we don’t want to live here in retirement but this house is a good rental investment and would give us sime additional income in our doteage. We are in an area with a lot of high-ranking military snd there is a shortage of good housing. On the other hand the costs of keeping it would be considerable. We hope the decision will become more clear as time progresses.

  3. On the fear issue…I think you’ll find that you become such a different person after cruising awhile that all the things from your life before cruising would feel foreign to you if you tried to return to them. If you need to return to land – for whatever reason- you’ll probably want something completely different anyway. A tiny house maybe? I’m immensely glad that we got rid of it all.

    S/V Kintala

    • Thanks for that, Deb. I hope you are right. I know that is the common wisdom and that it is true for most people. I hope sincerely that it becomes true for us, too. The letting go is very hard for me, but I get glimpses occasionally of the freedom it will enable us to feel. A tiny house, yes. We don’t plan to continue to live in this house in our final retirement.

  4. Sell your house; you won’t miss it. You don’t want to be a dirtdweller anyway. If you rent it you’ll be worried about the renter’s plumbing problems in Bora Bora. It’s true: You can’t go home again.

  5. Sell Your home! You can always get another! There will be a grieving process but you are starting a new adventure! Things will be ok! There are always ups and downs in life, this is an up! Enjoy it! Kids will visit you wherever you are and they will even get their own homes! Enjoy this part of your journey, sometimes you just have to go with it! Love you! Mary

    • BTW, are you leaving on your journey this June? I’d love to see you before then, even if I have to help you move out of your home! I’ve been busy laying plans for my own life change, but it’s not official yet, I’m working on that!:)

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