Guest Post: The Story of Stuff by Andrea Mortensen

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Hello wonderful readers! I'm extremely excited to be hosting a guest post by Andrea Mortensen today on the blog. Andrea is a current member of the Tiny Transition and Downsizing E-Course (registration is currently open for the next session!) and has offered to share her story with us. I think you'll love reading about her journey as much as I've loved hearing about it! Andrea blogs about her simple life and downsizing efforts on her blog, The Newborn Minimalist. Make sure to go check her out there too to read more about her ongoing journey toward tinier living! Thanks for sharing with us Andrea!

My Story of Stuff

Guest Post by Andrea Mortensen

We lived in Italy and Austria during the 6th and 7th year of our marriage. We moved halfway across the world and before then, we lived in a house that was 450 square feet, plus a garage. We had deliberately kept our life simple because we wanted to travel, and also, we got married to spend time together.

So we worked part time, we volunteered, and went on lots of backpacking trips and traveled all over the world. It was pretty awesome. So picking up to move from San Francisco to Sicily was exciting, but getting rid of stuff wasn’t a problem. We didn’t have anything, so we gave away the few things we had, sold our car, and packed our clothing and stereo and that was pretty much it. The movers that came to ship our furniture were pretty shocked at how little the company that moved us was going to have to pay to ship our things overseas.

When we moved to Sicily, we got a HUGE apartment. Our Italian friends figured we were like the other Americans they knew (stationed there through the Navy) and found us a beautiful place, and negotiated the rent for us. We had a wonderful time, learning the language, meeting new people, traveling all over Italy, and learning to cook.

Our Sicilian and Austrian friends commented how much we had become Europeans, unlike the other Americans they’d known, and they expressed concern about our impending return to the USA. We had really made it our home and were not looking forward to returning to the States for good.

When it came time to return the to San Francisco Bay Area, we had changed so much and we experienced culture shock back in the place we had grown up – it was much tougher than moving from SF to Sicily!

One of the things that brought us comfort though, was that we had purchased a houseful of European furniture and the company paid to ship it all back for us. We had never found furnishings we liked in the US and we were very proud to have such beautiful memories when our shipping container of STUFF arrived. Then we had to find a big enough house to put all those things in it, and we were still trying to adjust to NOT living in Europe, so those things (STUFF) we had meant so much to us.

Then we bought a house that needed a LOT of work. By this time, we were both working full time, making a lot of money, but we still had the travel bug. Life became an endless circle of working crazy hours (he’s an engineer, I was an accountant at a CPA firm), remodeling our house by ourselves, and taking exotic vacations to get away from the stress of work and the fast-paced lifestyle.

We bought a truck to make our weekly (and sometimes daily) hauls to/from Home Depot while remodeling. We have completely gutted our 1950 ranch style home, and have re-wired the electrical system, re-done the plumbing, upgraded the electrical to the street, gutted the bathroom and the kitchen, and replaced insulation and installed sheet rock where there had only been paneling.

If that wasn’t enough, because we were making so much money we had to find other investments, so we invested in real estate, including a 9 acre parcel in Tahoe. Over time, the tools, materials, and useful scraps stacked up. We also had lots of parties at our house, trying to show our American friends what life was like in our beloved Europe, so we accumulated lots of cooking and kitchen equipment. We used it all and had a blast, and so did our friends.

Fast forward to 2012: we started re-assessing our lives, now that several of our friends have left California and have remarked at how stressful life is here. We listened, learned, and talked a lot to each other.

We remembered our simple, carefree life (when we were poor by choice) and realized that the things that have been important to us all along were:

1.     Each other

2.     Friends

3.     Cooking and spending time with #1 and #2

4.     Being outside doing #1, 2 and 3

5.     Time to exercise, garden and eat well, like we did in Europe

 

We had been aware of the Tiny House movement for at least 10 years, and we thought it was awesome but not for us. Then we started seeing our STUFF get in the way of what we really wanted. And we were exhausted.

Things happened quickly after that – we finally got over ourselves and decided to sell our home here in the SF Bay Area, realizing that it was the big thing we were attached to. And since it was going, we had to think about where all our STUFF was going to go. We didn’t even know how much stuff we had. And now that we’re sorting through it all, oh man! I always made fun of people who had storage spaces but really, we had three of our own: they were just called The Attic, The Garage and the Back Porch. But we were kind of stuck on how to get rid of stuff that we were attached to. So it sat. Meanwhile, we watched a lot of YouTube videos on Tiny Homes.

I came across Mariah’s course online one day and signed up immediately. The first video that we watched, “The Story of Stuff”, and the book Radical Simplicity blew my mind. We both considered ourselves “green” types – we composted, recycled, in fact we usually had only 1/3 a can of garbage every week. We are Audubon Society members, and Sierra Club types. Our ecological footprint was STILL too big, despite our efforts. It was time to change, just so we could live with ourselves and not be hypocrites.

One of the best pieces of advice from Mariah’s course was concerning getting rid of all those expensive clothes from my time as an auditor – business suits, etc. It was really holding me up. However, I did what Mariah said: I took a leap of faith in MYSELF and realized that I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. I don’t ever want to work in a place where there is a dress code again. Ever. And since 2009, I’ve worn jeans AND taken my dog to work, and those clothes had been sitting in my closet, just in case. And now I’m working from home – in JEANS and a T-SHIRT. What was I DOING?

At lunch, it took me an hour to remove everything from my closet that didn’t fit me or the person that I know that I am. And that afternoon, I took a trip to a consignment shop and the Goodwill and it was all gone.

Just a week ago, we took a Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop in Berkeley, CA. While we were still pretty sure we were just going to build a small-ish house on our property in Tahoe, and NOT live in a Tiny House, we thought the class was a good investment. We walked away from that class, committed even more to being in a Tiny House and simplifying our lives such that we can fit in one. I sure didn’t see THAT coming!

So now the tough part begins – parting with the furniture we brought with us back from Sicily. The Tiny Transition course has helped us see that it’s not the THINGS that mean so much to us, it was the people we met, the experiences we had, and the food, cooking and stories that live within us that are what really stay with us. So we hope to be ready to live in our Tiny House by next summer, since we’re going to be building one for ourselves.

We are exhilarated, excited, scared, and most of all, we are proud to stand up for ourselves and design the life we have always been snatching glimpses of. After all, life is short.

Eat (and live) well,

Andrea Mortensen


Thank you Andrea! What a cool story. And you can read more form Andrea over at her blog!