Back to the Future: The R-Word

I was very surprised when I came across this post from January 2011 because I thought this part of our journey had come much, much later.

Brett and I have long called ourselves “accidental retirees.” We had never thought much about or discussed retirement although we did save, but at the beginning of 2010 we did not believe we would ever be able to retire. We were drowning in debt at that point, had depleted our savings, and we were still raising young children – retirement was nothing more than a pipe dream. While we had committed ourselves to getting out of debt we were unable to see ourselves ever surviving without being employed somewhere. However, it appears that after just one (very difficult) year of debt reduction, we were not only thinking about but apparently actively starting to plan Brett’s retirement!

The game-changer was not only the elimination of over half of our debt, but discovering Brett would qualify for an additional family allowance from Social Security. Before January 2011 we had no idea such a thing even existed, let alone that we would qualify for it. I remember Brett and I talking with a counselor at Social Security, and finding out that because we had three children under age 18 that we would receive the full allowance, at least for a couple of years. With that, and with Brett’s military retirement, a small pension from his employer, his regular Social Security, and our debt eliminated, retirement became an affordable reality.

Brett did not retire in 2012 – that didn’t happen until June 2013 because stuff continued to happen and the rest of our debt did not get paid off as quickly as we hoped. However, at the beginning of 2011, we finally knew where the path we were on was taking us and how we were going to get there, and we had an even bigger motivation for finally getting rid of our debt. That journey never really got much easier, but knowing what awaited us at the end made a huge difference. 

The R-Word

No, it’s not Rest, Relaxation, Reuse or Recycle. The R-word here is Retirement. 

Brett is eligible to retire (Social Security-type retire) in just a little over a year. This is both exciting and somewhat frightening at the same time. The date is coming fast too, although frankly, not fast enough for Brett. He wants to be done with work yesterday, although he plans to continue working at his current position until the end of 2012. His huge desire to retire is the primary factor behind our urgency to pay off our debt.

The conventional wisdom is that you should work as long as possible, and put off taking your Social Security benefits in order to draw the full benefit upon retirement. We’re in a somewhat unique position though because we have dependents under the age of 18, so Brett will be eligible to receive the full family allowance for a while along with his standard Social Security payment. It makes sense for him to retire earlier rather than later. Social Security, along with his military retirement and pension from his current job, will provide us with an adequate income when he does leave his job. He will probably continue to work part-time somewhere because he’s not a sit-around sort of guy, but that’s an unknown for now. Right around when the time comes for our youngest (YaYu) to age out of eligibility for the allowance, my Social Security and pension will kick in to bring our income back up, although my pension will probably be just enough to buy milk every month. We’re not going to be rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ll be OK, especially if we don’t have any debt.

One thing we are talking about now is whether to stay in Portland or move elsewhere and if so, where? Brett and I are both getting tired of the rain and the cold of Portland winters, but the girls love it here. Any move would have to be done after Meiling graduates from high school in 2014 as she does not do particularly well with change, and is the most embedded here. But I’m not sure we will want to stay an additional four years after that for YaYu to graduate. We have long dreamed of moving out to the Oregon coast, but realize we would face the same weather there as we do here. Although I’m originally from California, I have little desire to go back there, and any place on the east coast would be too far away from our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson in Japan. Hawaii is a possibility, although the cost of living is quite high there. We have lots to think about, and thankfully don’t need to make any quick decisions.

We made some not-so-smart financial choices in the past and would be in even better financial shape if we’d done a few things differently, but we also did some things right or smart, like making the commitment for Brett to stick it out with the navy for 22 years, even though it was not an easy life. Adopting three children when we were in our mid- to late-40s was maybe not a smart financial move, but the right thing for us, and the best thing we ever did in every other sense. Going back to school in our 40s and borrowing for that was also not the brightest choice we made, but we’re both glad we have our degrees, and in Brett’s case it has paid off. Sticking with his current employer for all these years has also turned out well, although he could have made more money elsewhere. His Fortune 500 company has provided incredible benefits that no one else could come close to matching, and some of those will continue to be there after retirement.

If I know just one thing now, it’s that time passes way more quickly than you ever think it will and suddenly something like actual retirement looms. When we were young, when Brett was deployed, time seemed to stretch out forever. I never gave much of a thought to retirement or what we’d be doing or how we’d pay for things but all of a sudden . . . here it is. “Old people” were always talking about retirement and saving and investments but we felt like we had forever to get there. How wrong we were! We know that Social Security, in its current form, should be there for us and for that we are immensely grateful. For our son, or our daughters, or others younger than us, maybe not. We’re lucky and we know it.

P.S. I was doubly surprised to see Hawaii mentioned this early as well, as I remembered that as coming much later too.

P.P.S. Neither of us has ever had to (or wanted to) work after retirement – with a changed, more frugal lifestyle, our income, approximately two-thirds of what we earned pre-retirement, has turned out to be enough that we haven’t needed additional employment.

Moving = $$$$

After many frugal months on the road, our last three weeks have been anything but. Moving always costs money, sometimes a LOT more than expected. We get that. Even when the navy (supposedly) covered all our transfers back in the day, from pack-out to unpack, those moves were still a drain on our bank account. These last three weeks though have been unlike any move we’ve experienced before.

Once the decision was made to return to the U.S., to Kaua’i, the money started to flow. Although our previous flight reservations were changed to cover our flight back with no added expense, we still had to purchase YaYu a ticket plus pay for almost three weeks in a vacation condo to cover her quarantine and have a home base while we looked for a permanent place to live. When we were searching for a rental back in March, almost everything on the island was still booked for vacations and there was a very limited selection of rentals to choose from. We ended up paying over $140/day, one of the least expensive rentals we could find, double our usual budget of $70/day. However, if we’d been able to start looking two weeks later, maybe even a week later, we could have had our choice of almost everything, anywhere on the island, and at a much better price.

Finding a place to live on Kaua’i turned out to be easier than expected although we had to pay two months’ rent upfront (one month as a security deposit). We got lucky and found a lovely, affordable place on the south side of the island, our first choice for location and with utilities included in our rent so we didn’t have to also pay additional deposits to set up electric and water service in our name. We also had to buy a car right away, and again we were very fortunate to be able to buy our old car back at a great price (and it’s in great condition). 

We knew furniture was going to be an upfront expense and budgeted accordingly. We needed a sofa, dining table and chairs, a bed and frame, bedside tables, a TV and something to set it on, and once we found our apartment we knew we wanted chairs and an umbrella for the deck, and a grill. We soon discovered we needed a coffee table (we underestimated the need for this piece of furniture – currently we have nowhere to set a drink if we’re sitting on the sofa) and lamps. Thankfully we found pieces that fit within our budget; the only piece of furniture we still want at this point is a sofa table, but it can wait. We thankfully didn’t need to buy a dresser as the closet in the master bedroom is fitted out with built-in mesh drawers, nor did we have to buy a microwave oven – the kitchen came equipped with one. We are still waiting for the apartment’s washer and dryer to be installed, but those two items still haven’t arrived at Home Depot. There will be rugs and a side table for the living room coming in our stored items, and when those and our other things arrive we will be set. Although the above sounds like a lot when I write it all out, it’s currently very minimal but enough for now.

It’s been the other small but necessary stuff to make the place habitable that has added up surprisingly quickly and been the real drain on our bank account. These are the things I like to call the hidden costs of moving, the small but necessary household items you rarely think about but add up quickly when you need to buy them. We’ve had to purchase a broom, dustpan, and other cleaning paraphernalia. Bathroom rugs. An anti-slip mat for the shower. A trashcan and wastebaskets. Basic cooking utensils including a frying pan and lidded saucepan. Command hooks. Glassware. Very basic dishes and cutlery. Bed linens and pillows. Kitchen linens. Towels and washcloths. Hangers for the closet. Placemats. Hot pads. And on, and on, and on – in our case, all the things we got rid of or stored before we left on our adventure but need once again to set up housekeeping. 

Finding things on Kaua’i can be a challenge even when times are good, but during this shutdown, it’s been more than challenging at times. We were fortunate that two furniture stores agreed to open for us, and that we found things we liked that were also good quality and affordable. Wearing our masks, and bringing along our alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer, we’ve made numerous stops the past two weeks at Home Depot, Costco, and Walmart for other necessary items. Amazon has been a lifesaver too, although shipping times, even with Prime, have been running from the sublime to the ridiculous, and almost nothing arrives in less than 10 days.

Our friends, Alan and Cheryl, have also returned a few items we gave them when we departed in 2018, including our vacuum cleaner, Brett’s tools and ladder, and some of our old dishes. They turned out not to need these items, and we’re grateful to have them back and not have to buy them again.

We have splurged on a few items to make our life more comfortable. I bought some decorative pillows for the sofa. I also ordered a good-quality hand mixer and a three-quart InstaPot, especially because that was less expensive than buying a new rice cooker and slow cooker (although the InstaPot isn’t scheduled to arrive until the end of the month). YaYu loves smoothies, and I bought her a blender she can take back to college whenever she returns. 

Thankfully, the spending associated with the move seems to have come to an end. Everything is falling into place, and all we’re doing now, for the most part, is waiting for our Amazon orders to trickle in. The apartment is comfortable and in a great location. We’re making do with what we have and learning to appreciate a more minimalist lifestyle these days.

We have come to realize though this would have been our scenario whenever we stopped traveling, although I like to think that with more lead time we could have spread all the spending out a bit, and been better prepared. A less frantic schedule under hopefully better conditions would have been easier if nothing else. Whatever, for now, we’ve landed and we’re safe and comfortable, and that’s what matters.

A State of Inertia

Hot chocolate packages sit out on the counter so we remember to use them.

Inertia (n.): a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.

It feels a little right now like we are holding a place in slow-moving line. It feels like nothing is happening, or at least the things that are happening are small and mundane, and aren’t moving things along much, if at all.

I’ve been taking down pictures and filling holes (and I defy our landlord to find them!), cleaning out the pantry, continuing to go through and sort things to go the thrift store or trash. Brett has cleaned out our papers and has shredded the items we’re not keeping. We’re working through what’s left in the pantry, using things up or at least trying to figure out how to use them up. No matter what we do though, for now it doesn’t seem as if we’re accomplishing much of anything.

I don’t remember feeling like this back in Portland, before we moved over here. There seemed to always be something to do, something big and important that made a noticeable difference. Maybe there wasn’t though – maybe there actually were long stretches of nothing like we’re experiencing now and I’ve forgotten it all.

I keep reminding myself that all the little stuff adds up, and I will be glad in a few weeks that I have been taking care of all these small things now. The movers are scheduled to pack us out on June 29, our friends arrive on the island on July 1 and will be taking most of our furniture, and we’ll hold a garage sale on July 6-8. After that it will pretty much be just us and our clothes, one bed and an inflatable mattress, our computers and Kindles, the vacuum cleaner, and maybe the slow cooker if it doesn’t get sold at the garage sale. The car will be listed for sale toward the end of July. We’ll step up our deep cleaning around here so we’re ready to do the walk-through and hand over the keys to the landlord on the afternoon of 28th of July so we can head over to the condo to begin our last three weeks on the island.

There are still a few reservations to be made for our trip before we leave Kaua’i, but in the meantime we’ll keep plugging along with the small stuff, and I’ll keep reminding myself that we’re just at a slow spot in the river right now, and that things will soon pick up and begin moving swiftly again. I know when it’s time to depart we’ll wonder how the time passed so quickly.

Using It Up

Liquor and chocolate . . . but not at the same time.

We’ve got less than two months left to go in our house, and less than three on the island, so one of our major goals now, besides downsizing our possessions, is using up the food we have on hand, especially things in the pantry like sugar, flour, cereals, spices and such.

Back when the navy was moving us around, pantry items made the move with us as long as they were in Tupperware containers. I had an immense collection of those as I probably attended at least one Tupperware party a month (one month I went to five!) and was always adding to my storage collection. Those containers segued to European glass  jars once we settled in Portland, most of which I picked up at yard sales and thrift stores. We moved the glass jars over with us, many of them filled with pantry items, but almost all them have been emptied now and were all sold last week. The jars were a lifesaver here, keeping things dry and fresh in spite of the humidity.

The (expensive) bag of Valhrona dark cocoa power in the picture above is a good example though of some of what we’re up against now. I bought the chocolate around a year ago, and am now trying to use it up by putting a chocolate glaze on just about everything I bake. Brett has been enjoying it in his coffee now and again, but it’s not disappearing as quickly as we hoped. I’m determined though and plan to have it all gone by the time we move out of the house – it was too expensive a purchase to throw any of it away. Same for my matcha powder.

We are also a bit dismayed by the amount of alcohol we still have to use up before we go. Brett and I only drink on Friday and Saturday evenings, one drink each (either wine or a cocktail), so when we buy those big bottles from Costco they last for a long while. The bottles of gin and rum in the picture were purchased well over a year ago and were stored in the freezer. However, I think it was easier to get rid of the freezer than it will be the alcohol. We’ll be enjoying gin & tonics, mai tais, mojitos, and Cuba Libres every weekend from now until we leave – thank goodness limes are cheap and plentiful here on Kaua’i!

As things we’ve bought get used up we are not replacing them, especially not with the big packages from Costco, and are learning to go without some things. I’m downsizing the items we keep in the freezer, and using more prepared foods, things like pizzas and such from Costco, versus keeping the freezer full of meat and other ingredients. It’s not as frugal as preparing meals from scratch in the long run, but for now we are buying less and therefore spending less. With just the three of us a Costco prepared dish provides a meal and a couple days of leftovers, and keeps us from spending on restaurant meals. The farmers’ market will continue to provide us with our weekly allotment of fresh fruits and vegetables right up until we go.

Brett and I are determined to throw as little as possible away when we leave, and get the most out of what we have left. It’s going to be quite the challenge though, but through creativity and persistance, I think we’ll be successful in having very little food waste and be able to use almost everything.

Goodbye March, Hello April

Although some good things happened for us last month, I think we were all glad to see the end of March come around. Mainly because we’ve all been pining for blue skies and warmer temperatures, but also because we are eager to keep moving forward toward the fall and the big changes that will be coming around for all of us. We’re making progress, but it still feels like there is so very, very much to get done, and not enough time to do it all. Things are still moving though, albeit slowly for now, but will pick up speed the closer we get to our move out date.

Anyway, here’s how we did with March’s goals:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings account. We put $1067.50 in to our account. Lots of it came right back out to pay for all the reservations we made at the end of the month.
  2. Clean out at least three cabinets in the kitchen. Done! I organized two cabinets and one now holds the dishes we’re storing, and the other holds the ones we’re letting go. I also cleaned out the baking cabinet; most of what’s in there now are items we’re using now but selling later.

    Although we’re still using them for now, these dishes are all being sold.
  3. Clean out and organize my nightstand. Done! There was an awful lot of junk in there.
  4. Clean out the two tansu in the living room (they’ve both been sold). Done! Most of the stuff that’s left are things we’ll continue to use until the buyers come to claim the chests.
  5. Narrow our list of suitable Airbnb rentals for the first half of our trip. Done! We’ve reserved all our homes for the first half of the trip, with the total less than $30 over our budget.
  6. Set up an additional area in the garage for moving sale items. Done! And it’s filling up fast.
  7. Take at least one bag of stuff to the thrift store. We filled one bag last month.

Here are our goals for April:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings account.
  2. Continue to look for and possibly book air travel down to Buenos Aires.
  3. Clean out and shut down the garage freezer.
  4. Use up as many condiments as possible in the refrigerator.

    So many (hot) sauces, so little time
  5. Move my IRA from the local bank to our primary bank; help YaYu open an account at our primary bank.
  6. Order lei and a haku for YaYu’s graduation.
  7. Take at least one bag of stuff to the thrift store.

Once again, we’ll see how we do!

 

Thinking Ahead

As mentioned a short while ago, Brett and I have started discussing where (and even if) we want to settle when the Big Adventure ends in May 2019. There’s much to consider, and still lots of unknowns right now, the biggest being where YaYu will attend college. That information alone, once we have it, will have a profound affect on our decision, but in the meantime there are things we can begin to talk about. Brett and I have gone back to our tried and true method of developing lists and spreadsheets, and looking at the pros and cons of different options. Once again, we’re taking our time to come to the best decision for the direction we’ll take once the Big Adventure is over in May 2019.

For the time being we’ve been putting together a list of the things that are important to us, or that we believe will be in the future. We haven’t particularly ranked anything yet, and none of the points listed below is yet a deal-killer. Some of the things we are considering so far are:

  • Do we want to settle somewhere or keep traveling? Everything will revolve around our answer to this question.
  • Cost of living: We’re pretty sure we’re going to want to continue traveling in some form, and the lower the cost of living if we decide to settle somewhere, the more we will have for travel.
  • Taxes: We will want a location with a good tax environment for retirees that doesn’t tax Social Security, has a lower or no tax on military retirement, low sales tax, etc. (We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?).
  • Walkability: We do not want to own a car again, if possible. We would prefer to live somewhere where we can walk or use public transportation for the majority of tasks, and use ride or car share for those times when we absolutely have to have a car.
  • Culture: We’re mainly thinking about having access to classes for enrichment, but would also like a variety of other other cultural offerings nearby if possible, like art museums, theaters, etc.
  • Health care: The availability of good medical care, specialists, etc. will become even more important as we age.
  • Travel & transportation: If we settle, the ease of our getting to other places and for our children to come see us will be important.
  • Weather: While we would prefer sunny, warm weather, we (me especially) also would prefer someplace with less humidity if possible. We’re also not crazy about living somewhere that gets a lot of snow, especially since we’d like to walk a lot for as much of the year as possible.

So far, we have come up with four general location options with pros and cons to each one:

  • Return to Kaua’i: The thought of leaving here permanently is difficult to think about, but we’re not sure it will make sense to return if all of the girls are attending college, or living, on the mainland. Especially since neither we nor they can afford the cost of them (and eventually their families) traveling here every year, or us to the mainland to see them in all in the various places they live or will live. However, if YaYu ends up attending the University of Hawai’i, it will make sense for us to continue to live here, for a few more years at least. We would move to a smaller, more affordable space on the island, and perhaps even buy a condo here (although local HOA fees have pretty much priced us out of the market).
  • Settle somewhere on the mainland: If YaYu ends up attending college on the mainland, it will make much more sense for us to resettle back there somewhere, as it will be easier to see the girls and for the girls to come and see us. It’s also easier, believe it or not, for our son and family to travel to the mainland than to come to Kaua’i from Japan. Where that somewhere might be though is the big unknown. Living on the mainland would be more affordable overall, and we would probably buy something small, a true pied à terre so to speak. Brett and I dream of being car free and able to get to places by walking, using public transportation or using a ride-share or car-share service when necessary, and there are locations on the mainland where we could make that dream a reality.
  • Relocate overseas: The opportunity to live in a different country and experience a different culture still greatly appeals to us. Having lived overseas twice (in Japan) we know many of the ins and outs, pros and cons, and pitfalls of overseas living. It would mean a major, major lifestyle change and affect the whole family so it’s currently not as viable as the two options above. Still, it’s not out of the running. We both agree that if Japan ever offers a visa for retirees (highly unlikely) we would move there in a heartbeat.
  • Continue traveling: The Senior Nomads, who have been traveling non-stop for the past four years, were the inspiration for our own upcoming Big Adventure, and we are not ready yet to write off the possibility that we will enjoy our experience enough to want to keep going for another year or longer. There are so many places we want to see and that we won’t be visiting on our upcoming Adventure, and we may decide we just want to keep traveling for a while longer.

I am grateful we have so many choices, but there is a great deal to consider before making a decision. Thankfully nothing has to be decided in a hurry. Both Brett and I are physically, mentally and in good (enough) shape financially to take on any of these options, and all of them appeal to us in one way or another. We’re currently leaning toward one of the first two options, but will reevaluate our position as the year progresses and eventually come up with a firm decision about our future direction.

In a Downsizing State of Mind

Downsizing has already provided some surprises, like six travel-size containers of hand & body lotion from previous travels (I found one more after I took the picture).

We didn’t bring much with us when we moved to Kaua’i in 2014. Our things barely filled half of a 20-foot shipping container, and that’s with everything wrapped and packed within an inch of its life. In the almost four years we’ve been here we’ve only bought the following items: a washer and dryer, a microwave oven, a small two-shelf bookcase, a nightstand for the girls’ room, a chair for the living room, and a stainless steel worktable for the kitchen. Other than new clothes and replacement electronics, that’s it.

But there is still So. Much. Stuff. Or at least it seems that way.

We’ve got around six months to get rid of all of but a very few things, which will be going into storage in July. We plan to hold a moving sale in early July to get rid of as much of what remains as possible. We started our downsizing last month by cleaning off one set of stainless shelves in the garage and getting them ready to hold items that will be sold at the moving sale. This month I’m cleaning out the hallway closets (which we use for pantry storage), and next month I want to declutter the tansu in the living room, clean out my bedside table, and get started in the kitchen.

Friends Cheryl and Alan bought several pieces of furniture from us when they visited last December. They will be moving here in early summer and our things will get them started on furnishing their Kaua’i home. Our landlord also wants to help up sell some things, and he has loads of contacts around the island. Combined with a big moving sale in early July, we’ve got our fingers crossed that almost all items will be taken care of and gone, and our travel savings total a little larger.

However, before July arrives, there’s an awful lot of stuff around here that we don’t intend to sell but that’s still usable and needs to go. We’ve given ourselves a goal of taking at least one bag to a local thrift store every month. So far we’re on target this month to take at least four bags. The other day I went through and cleaned out the girls’ closet, a veritable gold mine of junk, and filled three of those bags with clothing that’s no longer worn, purses, tote bags, etc. Every day though I try to put at least one thing into the thrift store bags. We’re using up odds and ends of travel-size items we’ve accumulated over the past four years. It took us over two years to downsize for the move over here, but that provided an invaluable experience and a solid roadmap for getting it done now. The most important lesson we learned was we had to work at it every day, even if it was only one thing that got tossed or put on the “for sale” pile.

We’re also trying to downsize food supplies as we go. Although buying in bulk is the way to save here, we’re trying not to buy as much at Costco as we have been in the past. We’re trying to use up supplies on hand, and buy more items individually as they’re needed. We don’t know yet how much it will affect the budget or even if it will.

Both Brett and I are in a downsizing state of mind, and determined not to be stuck with an overwhelming amount of stuff, and lots left to do, when the end of June arrives. For now we’re keeping at it day by day, item by item. Brett is the more ruthless of the two of us, which is a bit surprising because he held the title King of the Packrats for more years than I can remember. I’ll remark that maybe we should keep something and he’ll reply, “let it go.”

And so it goes, or hopefully at least most of it.

 

Will It Stay or Will It Go?

The jubako will be stored; the chest they sit on will be sold

A big topic of current conversation between Brett and I these days is over which of our things we are going to store while we travel next year, and which ones we will sell or otherwise get rid of. We mostly agree, but there are few items we’re still haggling over (with Brett usually saying “let it go”). We plan to start the downsizing process fairly soon after Christmas, with our tree the first thing we’ll put up for sale. We’ll start gradually, but end with a big moving sale right before we leave.

Will it go? is the easy part because the answer is: almost everything. We have to no plans to store any furniture other than our big hibachi table, so our dining table and chairs, all bedroom furniture, our remaining antique Japanese tansu, living room furniture, etc. will all go up for sale. Everything except the tansu is replaceable, but after some discussion we decided to let them go as well – they will fetch a good price, and our goal is to eventually live even more streamlined than we do now.

We’ll be storing the KitchenAid mixer, the slow cooker, our set of All-Clad pots and pans, most of the pottery collection, one cake stand (a gift from the girls), less than five Japanese cooking utensils, and a few of our coffee cups; otherwise, everything in the kitchen will be sold as well. We’re going to let Meiling go through the things we’re not keeping (i.e. bakeware) while she’s home and will send what she wants back with her.

We’re keeping all or most of our blue and white Japanese porcelain although there are a couple of pieces I don’t have any strong feelings about and can let go. All of our artwork will be stored as well. Our collection was curated before we moved over here and we don’t want to part with the pieces we kept. A couple of the pictures will go back with the girls this year, but that’s all. We’re keeping both of our wool rugs.

Things like our collection of Christmas ornaments, lovingly collected over the past 40 years, and the few other sentimental items we brought with us will also go into storage. We debated dividing up the Christmas ornaments among the kids this year, but then realized the girls don’t want to have to worry about storing Christmas ornaments while they’re in school, and the cost of shipping our son’s bunch over to Japan would be prohibitive. We still plan to get together for Christmas every year no matter where we are, so Brett and I will remain the ornament keepers for the time being.

We’ll also store our new TV, mainly because it will be less than a year old, and we see no sense in replacing it so soon. However, our washer and dryer set and our freezer will be sold.

The car will be sold too, hopefully around a month before we depart on our Big Adventure. I’m amazed at what people get for used cars here on the island, even ones with high mileage, so we’re hoping our little Honda Civic will bring a decent price with its fairly low mileage. It’s a terrific island car, in pretty good shape, and gets good mileage (34-36 MPG) so we’ve got our fingers crossed that it sells quickly. Both Brett and I are looking forward to not owning a car for a while.

The items we are keeping will be stored here on the island – whether we’ll do that independently or work with a local moving company is something we’re still investigating. Doing it independently will most likely cost less, but the moving company would offer packaging and protection for the items being stored (especially the art work).

Can I admit to being a little bit excited again about downsizing even more? Brett and I grow less and less  sentimental over our things as more time goes on, and feel like we have a lot of stuff we just don’t need anymore, especially because of our upcoming travels and because we won’t have any children living with us full time. But, we also recognize we’re not ready to part with everything just yet. I’ll think we’ll be keeping enough to make wherever we eventually settle, whether that’s back here on Kaua’i or somewhere else, feel familiar and like home, but not enough to tie us down. That’s just where we want to end up.

 

The Older I Get, The Less I Want

Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan
Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan. Our home looked like a museum of Japanese antiques.

When Brett retired from the navy in 1992, it was at the end of a three and a half year tour in Japan. He spent most of that tour deployed on an aircraft carrier; I spent most of those years shopping and accumulating stuff.

We had always lived fairly simply and had not acquired much because of the small weight allowance for moving our household goods, but at the beginning of our Japan tour our household goods allowance was upped by several thousand pounds. In the second year of our tour Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise he also received another increase in our household goods weight allowance. I, to put it mildly, went nuts.

Shopping became my primary form of recreation, a way to keep busy while Brett was gone and our son was busy with school and friends. I was teaching English conversation, making good money, and all I did was buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. We came home with 15 (yes, 15!) antique tansu (Japanese chests) of all types and sizes, loads of antique porcelain and other items that I convinced myself we had to have and couldn’t leave Japan without owning. I told myself these things were an investment. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. Looking back, it was obscene how much I shopped. The only good thing, if I can claim it, was that I paid cash for everything. We had no debt and actually had a decent savings account as well. And the shopping stopped when we arrived home in the U.S.

Our household goods were supposed to arrive back in the States about 4-5 weeks after we did in 1992. Four weeks arrived and no shipment. At five weeks we called to check on the status of our shipment and were told it could not be located, that it had been lost. Initially all I felt was panic, deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever. But then something changed. As I began to think about having to start over, I also began to feel liberated, like an incredibly heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As I moved through the near-empty rooms of the house we’d rented, I began to question why I had ever wanted all of those things. I felt deep, searing pain when I thought of the photo albums, the few items of our son’s I had kept from when he was a baby, the truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever. But for everything else, I felt no attachment whatsoever.

I wanted our simple life back again.

Our household goods were eventually found, delivered, and squeezed into our small house, but they never held the same appeal for me they did when I bought them or when we lived in Japan. We spent the years after Brett’s retirement slowly divesting ourselves of most of our Japan things. Brett was unemployed for almost three years following his retirement, and the sale of several of those items saw us through some hard times, so maybe they were an investment after all. The sale of other items helped fund our adoptions, pay down our debt, and get us moved to Hawai’i. I haven’t missed even one of the things we sold, and never regretted that we let them go.

When we left Japan, our household goods weighed 12,500 pounds and filled five huge crates. Our shipment of goods to Kaua’i two years ago weighed just 4500 pounds, and barely filled half of a 20-foot shipping container. We live with much, much less now and manage quite nicely. The things we kept are functional, or like my bells or jubako, carry special memories that we’re still not ready to part with.

Shopping holds no thrill for me these days. The girls, of course, love shopping and love stuff, but even they have downsized. Brett, the former King of the Pack Rats, got bit by the downsizing bug, and made immense strides in reducing his hoard. He’s no longer in thrall to having or holding on to stuff.

Maybe it’s a function of aging, or just heredity. When I was young and stayed with my grandmother, she always let me go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things any more, even though she already lived very simply. My mother also divested herself of most of her possessions and downsized when she got older. She would rather have traveled than maintained or worried about a lot of stuff, which is where I’m at now as well.

Whatever the reason, it seems the older I get, the less I want as well.

Two Years

IMG_2228Two years ago yesterday Brett, our three daughters and I arrived on Kaua’i to start a new chapter in our lives.

Two years ago our daughters did hold back and let us know again and again how angry and miserable they felt about our move. They left behind everything they knew, including life-long friends, boyfriends – everything – to come live on an isolated little island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were profoundly unhappy with us, but Brett and I did our best to reassure them. “Give it time,” we said, “and then see how you feel.” We explained over and over that it had been time for us to make our move.

Last week, at dinner, as we were talking about some topic I don’t remember now, WenYu said, “I hope some day I can raise my children in a place like Kaua’i.” She went on to say how much she has grown to love our little island, its calmness, beauty, and friendly people. She said that moving here had been the best thing that happened to her. She still greatly missed her Portland friends, but coming here pushed her out of her shell and challenged her to take chances both academically and socially that she would not have taken back in Portland. She said she didn’t think she would be going to Wellesley College if we had stayed in Portland.

YaYu has blossomed here as well. She has made many friends, is doing very well academically, and is also taking chances that she doubts she would have taken back in Portland. Brett and I believe the move was harder in many ways for her than for her sisters, but YaYu now says she too is thankful for the calm and beauty of Kaua’i, and is glad we moved here. She has relied heavily on WenYu these past two years for company and support, but says she is ready to step out from her sister’s shadow and spread her own wings.

Meiling has built a solid independent life for herself back in Oregon, and is doing better than either Brett or I ever expected or hoped for. She did not want to stay on Kaua’i, and it was with great sadness and misgiving that we let her return to the mainland. She has told us though that she doubts she would have become as strong and independent if we were still in Portland, where she could have (and would have) called us to “come fix it” if things were not going well. We talk and text with her frequently every week, and offer advice when it’s asked for, but are so very proud of our daughter these days and the independent path she has chosen.

It has been a good move for all of us. Brett and I are more relaxed and far less stressed than we were back on the mainland. We worry less, hustle less, and let things happen as they will. We’ve made friends here, and are recognized more frequently as kamaaina, residents versus tourists. I absolutely love being called “Auntie.” With a couple of exceptions, we moved just the right amount of stuff along with us, and every day we appreciate our simple life more and more. We’ve figured out where and how to shop here, to find the best bargains, and we focus more on need versus want. We still get to travel. To know that the girls are now happy too about our move to Kaua’i is just the icing on the cake for us. While there is still lots for us to learn about our new home, we have a wonderful life here, and we are content. Our son has sometimes hinted that he wished we had moved to Oahu because of the medical facilities there, but both Brett and I are so glad we decided to settle on peaceful and less congested Kaua’i. It’s a great fit for us.

I’ve read that two years in Hawai’i marks a turning point (believe it or not, most new residents don’t last a year). If you can make it here for that long, then it’s said you’ve truly adjusted to the island way of life and will most likely stay forever, or at least for a very long time.

I know we’ve crossed that threshold. Kaua’i is home, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.