Maybe you’ve seen the cartoon of a garage packed to the rafters with stuff. The garage door is open and in front of the garage, facing it, is an older gentleman with a walker, and a younger man. The caption reads “One day Son all this will be yours!”
When John and I first saw the cartoon we laughed and then I thought to myself: “No, I do NOT want to do that to Cliff!”
When we pass away, I don’t want Cliff to have to lift, move and wade through piles of crap before he happens upon a few golden nuggets.
If Cliff has to wade at all, I reasoned, at least let it be limited to wading through what we consider to be our golden nuggets, not through what we feel is just crap.
As he someday holds each item and turns it over in his hands, deciding what to toss, what to keep and what to donate or sell, at least let him say to himself for a moment, “Hmm, this held value for Mom and Dad.” And then let Cliff take it from there.
The Culling of Stuff
That’s the cartoon, the fear and the hope, that I held in my mind when in December of 2015 John and I made a radical decision.
At 60+ years old and numerous moves from homes that didn’t quite fit us (always being too small for our collection of boats), John and I had FINALLY created a home base that fit: it was a 2000-square-foot home with custom closets (we’d been in the closet custom business in Steamboat Springs for 13 years), beautiful furnishings, family heirlooms, art, photo albums, journals and books; an attached two-car garage; a large detached workshop for John to putter in; and a 24’x30′ barn John had built to house our cherished collection of boats.
Yep, we finally had a place for everything and finally everything was in its place (although we still DID need a large bookcase…and truth be told, well, Rangely wasn’t really John and my’s right place, which DID help in our final decision making).
We loved our house and it’s expansive, lonely views across the mesas.
Then overnight, the boom and bust of Rangely’s oil and gas-based economy popped like a balloon. We gasped and waited, but three months later we accepted that there was no improvement in sight. John and I looked at each other, wondering what to do.
Recently we’d spent four years waiting out the Recession and Housing Crisis of 2008 in our then-home of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Ski Town USA. In 2011, with the lure and promise of work, we moved 130 miles west to the high desert and then-booming oil and gas town of Rangely.
We decided instead of waiting this one out we’d cut our losses, retire and move abroad.
Yep, it was a big jump mentally, but we are adventurers at heart, so why not take the opportunity and JUMP!
You can’t easily take much with you when you move abroad, nor does it typically make much sense. Furnishings that look and work awesome in the Rocky Mountains and High Desert, for example, are not what we’d want in a small home along a Latin American tropical beach.
And we liked the idea of living simply while traveling in the States: out of our camper, suitcases, sea kayaks and tent.
So that meant that besides finding a home abroad, which we spent the next two months doing before settling on a house in Nicaragua, we had a lot to cull here.
We were also still in this hyper mode, which you’re well familiar with if you live and work in the States. I’m only now (August of 2018 and living in Nicaragua) really mellowing out. I look back on our first year of retirement -which wasn’t really retirement because we took a job in Baja Mexico – and realize we were still living at full throttle, squeezing every minute for all its worth.
When we got back from Nicaragua in late February, we had one week to start culling our stuff before we locked the door behind us once again and dashed off to our new jobs in Baja.
Cliff’s school photos K-12
Selling our Home
A couple of months later, while in Mexico, we got an email asking if we’d sell our house back in Rangely, but they had to move in NOW.
We weren’t quite ready to sell. The part of us that loved our home and the precious possessions we’d assembled over many years, and just a few months prior had fully expected to spend at least another ten years living in that very home, was trying to catch up with the part of us that had just bought a house in Nicaragua, had a job in Mexico and couldn’t afford to stay in Rangely even if we wanted to.
And there was still the physical reality of all of our stuff.
We agreed to sell on one condition: that we could keep the exclusive and free use of our barn for two years and two months.
See, our only child, Cliff, was in Engineering School. I gave him a year and a half to graduate. Two months to get a job. Six months to buy a house. And in my wildest dreams that house would come with an empty barn.
The buyer said yes.
We raced back to Colorado with only two weeks to move everything we’d spent years collecting out of our house, garage, yard and shop.
My footsteps being recorded on my Fit Bit watch during those two weeks went through the roof!
Cliff came and got one U-Haul full of easily-identifiable nuggets which he could immediately use in his shared, college-student house: patio furniture, a couch, whitewater kayaks, a bike, some kitchen items, some art.
We hired a boutique consignment shop in Steamboat (a 2.5 hr drive away) to pick up and sell most of our furnishings, ordered a dumpster for the junk and sold the in-between stuff, or that which we needed until the last minute, locally via a Buy and Sell Facebook Page.
The nuggets that we couldn’t bring ourselves to part with went into the barn, nestled up tight against our remaining collection of 13 boats and a dozen skis: tools from the shop which John wanted to keep, along with large black and blue plastic bins filled with family heirlooms, photographs, journals, books, kitchenware, art and clothing.
And by June 13th we’d sold our home. Just like that.
Two Years of Wanderlust
We flew to our new home in Nicaragua in June and outfitted it all from scratch, intermittently yearning for items we’d just sold or packed away back in the barn: items from our kitchen towels, the washer, dryer, a simple lamp.
In October we returned to our job in Baja until our contract was up in May, at which time we decided to retire for good.
That summer we lived out of our sea kayaks, our tent, and our camper, determined to stay in the States through August’s Solar Eclipse. We crisscrossed the country from the Pacific Northwest (where we spent 54 days sea kayaking), back and forth to Baja (to move out of our apartment), over to Alabama/Florida (to visit family) and then flew on to Nicaragua, our new home.
But along the way, we’d detour back through Colorado to see our son in Durango and to visit the barn in Rangely to pick up our paddle boards or drop off a bike or a canoe.
Each time we stopped by the barn we’d winced. What’re we going to do with our beloved Whitewater Wooden Dory? The 100-year-old Grandfather Clock that hung in Grandmother Martha’s one-room school house? Cliff’s school photos? Books we’d always meant to read? And the toilet paper rolls from our last big Sam’s Club shopping spree?
A wave of terror mixed with tears would grip our throats and then we’d thank our lucky stars that today we could close the door and walk away. But it haunted us from afar, the relics of our stories past, calling out our names.
The Hour Glass Runs Out
Flash forward to April 2018.
The bad news: The hour glass holding our two years of bought time with the barn was running out.
When we flew to the States from Nicaragua this winter to begin our Circumnavigational paddle of Florida we knew that afterwards we had to return to the barn in Colorado and deal with all of our stuff.
The good news: By the time our Florida paddle ended, Cliff had graduated, gotten a job and was getting ready to close on the purchase of a house. Thank you Lord!
And yes, he could use our kitchen stuff, the few pieces of furniture we still had in the barn, tools, linens, art.
Cliff’s new house in Durango
It was a townhouse and no, it didn’t come with a barn. But it did have a large storage room off the two-car garage and a Mini Storage with RV Parking right across the street.
We ended our Florida paddle this winter a few weeks early so we could witness Cliff’s Closing at the Title Company in Durango, and when we got word that the date had been moved up we packed up our camp at the Needles Campground in Canyonlands National Park and made a beeline to Durango. Vroom. Vroom.
The time had come. Our son was now THE home owner (in the States anyway). Our baby boy was all grown up!
He’d done his part. Now it was time to do ours.
It was time. To face. The barn. And the past lives we had left partially buried inside.
To be continued in Part 2…
Cliff, the new homeowner!
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.