On my drive to work this morning, an old Barbie Dream House had been left out on their curb for bulk trash day. And of course, it’s raining, so it was a wildly depressing sight. But the size of the thing! That dollhouse, now crumbling and filling with water, must have been up to my hip and as wide as my car door. I started to think about a reoccurring memory from childhood–sitting in my school friend’s bedroom, “playing” with that massive Playmobil mansion (I could have sworn it was Lego, but the internet tells me otherwise). It seemed like everyone got the same gift for Christmas that year. We were barely allowed to change around any of the pieces, so I use the term “play” loosely. The massive toy house had several floors, an epic front yard, a full cleaning staff, and all of these little lego flowers that you could “plant” around the garden. I thought about how my cats would probably eat these lego-like pieces in a heartbeat if I had it at home. To me, sitting there, staring at this untouchable dollhouse, was a rare, mature moment of clarity in elementary school when I thought, “I do not need this bougie dollhouse in my life.”
I spent a good deal of my childhood in la-la land. This was partially due all the crap my family went through in a very short period of time, but I was also just a space cadet. In Kindergarten, I vaguely remember everyone else sitting and playing with one of the organized games during playtime, while I made a game of spinning in circles. That was it, that was the game. I didn’t want to hang out with people, I just wanted to do my spinning in peace. I had simple needs. I also always preferred exploring my backyard for fairies and pretending I was on a one-person Olympic swing set team.
Now that I’m a big fancy adult with this things like a retirement account, a dishwasher, and you know, “career goals,” you would think that I would spend way less of my day spinning in circles and thinking about climbing tress and looking for fairy people. And yet it took me until 30 to realize that I really haven’t changed. I’ve never really meshed with the world that instructs me to play with the supplied game boards and collect pretty dollhouses.In just under three months, I hop on a plane and head back to the forests of the Camino to go on a long, long walk. When I stumbled upon the Camino in 2008, and later walked the whole thing in 2009, I came to the realization that the fairy lands and epic adventures we searched for in Kindergarten still exist in this overly technological and structured world. That sounds lofty, I know, and it also sounds like I must be one of those “I left my job to go on an adventure!” type of people. But this was no spur-of-the-moment decision. This upcoming second trip–my return to this land of the gloriously unknown–has arrived after seven years of financially prioritizing every paycheck and every work decision. Or at least, trying to. Like the couple from Up, other priorities came first. Student loans, rent, Ben’s grad school, our wedding, my never-ending tooth problems before I had insurance, moving–all very important things that you cannot ignore. But the travel jar kept landing at zero. And as time goes by, it makes less and less sense to justify a trip to fairy land, especially if I listen to everyone else’s life advice.
And so my trip this summer has nothing to do with tattooing “wanderlust” on my arm and declaring myself a free spirit (I am doing neither of these things), and much more to do with claiming, after years of financial and career wake-up calls, that I do not want the Barbie Dream House, or the bougie toy mansion with the hundreds of plastic flowers. At the end of the day, all that stuff ends up on the corner for bulk trash day (oh the metaphors!). If there’s one thing I’ve learned about responsibly choosing well-paying jobs, it’s that we trade our time for physical items. And that isn’t the way I want to live anymore. If trading less of my time means I will have fewer things, well then so be it. My only wish is to fulfill my financial responsibilities with honesty and care, and simplify all the rest. And man, was all that financial trimming and cutting worth it to get to this moment. We may have budgeted out every dime, but through structure comes its own form of freedom.
I have to give society some credit though. Eight years ago, when I told friends about my trip, I received a relatively negative reaction from most people. “Don’t feel bad if you don’t make it to the end.” “Are you really trained to do that?” “Are you sure it’s safe/smart to go as a women?” “I couldn’t justify spending that money for anything but my career.” Even people in hiking supply stores threw me some shade. But nowadays, it’s clear the world is starting to shift. Now I hear, “I’ve always wanted to do that, let’s get coffee and talk logistics,” Or just an overall, “Congratulations!”
This makes me think that our society may be slowly moving away from only wanting Barbie’s Dream House as well. And no, I don’t believe it has to be one or the other, and I don’t believe having financial goals is by any means wrong. But at this point in my life, I do have to choose. We could stay in our trustworthy but unfulfilling jobs, and probably buy a house in the next 5 or 6 years. Or we could get back on the freelancing (but unpredictable) trail we started on–one that sets time and money aside to do things that remind us why we’re alive, to study and practice our art, and to learn to accept that living a scaled-back financial life is doable when balanced with material sacrifices.
This new chapter in my life is not about judging others’ decisions, it’s about feeling less guilty about my own. About not feeling like a weirdo for not wanting the latest model of the thing that needs to be bought or that latest perk they’re offering in the office. It’s about not hating Mondays and only loving Fridays. It’s about watching fewer days pass me by from the inside of an office window. It’s about recognizing, after years of planning and trimming, that we actually need very little to get back to living.