Monday, August 31, 2015

The life of an urban nomad


 This new "homeless" life that my partner Paul and I now live is marked by many moves during our times back in Canada, when we shuffle like urban nomads from one housesit to another. Since returning to Vancouver Island five months ago, we have relocated 10 times.
     It stressed me out when we first started doing it last spring after returning from two years in Honduras. But do anything for long enough and a routine seemingly always starts to emerge. We've now grown quite adept at constant relocation.
      We've been doing Cuso International volunteer work in Central America for most of the last three years, first in Honduras and now for shorter postings in Nicaragua. While we still have a small storage locker here in Victoria, we've mostly given up all our stuff so that we're free to go wherever a posting or a whim takes us.
     The periods in the south are relatively stable in terms of housing; we rent a place to live while we're there and stay put for the duration. It's the periods when we're back on the Island that are the most nomadic, as housesitting for people on summer vacation generally means stays of no more than two to four weeks in any one place.
     When we make our big moves between Canada and Central America - which we're set to do again in mid-September - we have two gigantic suitcases and two large backpacks to hold our worldly belongings. But we try to keep things tighter for the "local" moves, using only the backpacks and whatever else we can stuff in the car. (We've figured out how to live without permanent housing, but not without a car.)
      What I've most noticed about the new life is the need for a flexible wardrobe. Gone are the days when I would stand in front of a roomy closet contemplating which fashionable outfit to put on that day. I need clothes that will stuff into a backpack and come out looking not too disastrously wrinkled, and that serve me equally well for schlubbing through an ordinary day and on the rare occasions when I have to look professional or fancy. I need simple shoes that go with anything, because the bottom compartment of my backpack holds only three or four pair.
      While housesits are typically all-inclusives in terms of household goods like cutlery, bedding, pots and pans and such, there are still a remarkable number of things that the modern nomad needs to bring along.
      I have a small backpack filled with nothing but electronics chargers, battery chargers, and specialized cords for all our cameras, phones, e-books, and music players, for instance. We also pack a big blue tote full of basic items like peanut butter, olive oil, breakfast cereal and various other goods that can't be fully consumed in the course of a single housesit, and quite an alarming number of personal-grooming products.
     Then there are the books we're reading, the notebooks we're currently using for work (and the three or four others that you might need because you took notes in them for previous work); the random collection of "important papers"; at least a little jewelry, although it sure is prone to getting tangled and lost in this new lifestyle; the laptops, iPads and external hard drives; and whatever else didn't fit in our backpacks. We've also got two bicycles, but I'm in the habit of riding mine over to wherever we're headed just to relieve some of the packing pressure.
      Our rule is that whatever we're taking can't be more than one carload, and must require no more than two trips out to the car to carry it all into the new place. Otherwise, I think you could go quite mad just from the process of moving house so often.
     This new life has taught me a great deal about what really matters to me in terms of my living situation. Should a time come when we settle down in one place again, I will shop out housing options with much more insight into what makes me happy.
     For example, I now know I have a strong preference for houses that face southwest and have light flooding in through many windows. I need an outside space - not big, but sunny and private, with at least a few flower pots to tend.
      I need to be in a neighbourhood that has a decent grocery store within walking distance and an assortment of recreational options - pleasant roads leading off in all directions for cycling, maybe a beach, nice walks, birding options - close at hand. I need a decent internet connection and a comfortable place to play my accordion, ideally in a closed-off room where I don't have to feel self-conscious about interrupting other people's peaceful reveries.
     I need my own music playing on a decent sound system, which is why the little Bose bluetooth speaker we bought last summer has become one of our most precious possessions. And for at least some part of every year, I need my house to be located not too far from wherever my children and grandchildren are, because being able to hang out with them definitely makes me happy. (I also need my almost-90-year-old mother to continue welcoming two disruptive house guests who arrive regularly on her doorstep to seek shelter in gaps between housesits.)
     When those conditions are met, I'm happy.
     I thought I would miss having my own art on the walls. But I don't. I wondered if it would drive me crazy to have to do a wild search through every unfamiliar kitchen drawer whenever I needed a spoon or a whisk or a bottle opener. But I've gotten used to it. I wouldn't have imagined I could handle having all my clothes in a messy pile on top of my backpack due to the absence of closet space and empty dressers in other people's houses. But now I barely notice.
     "Flexible and adaptable" - the motto of the Cuso volunteer, and now the watchwords of our lives. Most days it's a pretty good life.

Thanks for supporting our work in Central America with a donation to Cuso International! Here's our fundraising site. 


Ian Lidster said...

I admire hell out of how you and Paul are just able to pack up and depart. I envy it. And look at the work you do. I wasn't wrong about how I saw your path way back when you were in high school. I knew instinctively you'd do great things with your life. So happy for you, other than I'll miss a coffee date with you this time around. So, dear, catch you next time. Hasta la vista

Gail A said...

I too admire you so much, Jody and Paul. A real inspiration.

Deb Nilsen said...

Thank you, Jody. It must feel so liberating to discover what you like and need, and then escape all the possessions that can weigh us down - like a trap. Deb

Maurine Karagianis said...

Always a wonderful read Jody, no matter what the topic is! Thanks for sharing this. I am part envious and part appalled at the idea of doing what you and Paul are doing! But you continue to be fabulous, both of you! Thanks - with hugs, Maurine

e.a.f. said...

your post sounds like the guy who writes, "not buying anything". he and his wife reduced, reduced, reduced. by all readings they seem to live a comfortable life as do you. Perhaps workshops on the topic are in order. Its like those tiny houses. People make due with much less, work less, spend more time with families. Happiness may not be the consumer driven society we thought we needed. if this goes "viral" the current economic theories for a consumer society may bankrupt businesses, but do a lot for the environment.

enjoyed your article. thank you.

RossK said...

Admirable, amazing and inspiring.

Sure hope there's room somewhere, if only occasionally for that accordian!


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