In March 2013 I sold most of my stuff, loaded the rest into my car and got ready to live out of suitcase while I figured out what to do with my life. I spent the next few months extracting myself from what, with hindsight, was an emotionally abusive relationship. I had my first “summer fling”, pierced my nose, and drank more alcohol than I probably had in the previous two years combined.
At first the whole thing was exhilarating. I enjoyed the freedom that came with having discarded a lot of unnecessary possessions, and one controlling boyfriend. I also enjoyed the fact that I was doing things differently – I rented a room near where I worked for four nights a week, and spent my weekends travelling round the country staying with friends and relatives. I felt smug that I wasn’t tied down to somewhere I had to clean, pay bills and or do anything more domestic than occasional laundry. Of course, I was relying on the people I knew to be paying bills and their mortgage, so it was less “alternative living” and more “sponging off my mates.”
Lucky for me, the people in my life are pretty awesomely generous. Because I can be quite stubbornly independent, I hadn’t actually realised that before. But being forced to ask people for help was incredibly humbling, rewarding and taught me who my friends are. These were the people who, over my tricky few months, were always been there for me when I’ve needed them, both practically and emotionally.
I was also able to work out what is and isn’t important to me. I didn’t have all my possessions to hand because they were spread over several people’s houses. Staying with other people made me a little dependent on their schedule and food choices. Being forced to live a little differently and without everything I own really highlighted what I miss. Weeks where I found myself without craft supplies, running shoes and healthy food drove me crazy. Things I did not miss included television, my bike and (surprisingly) books. Two years on, I still don’t have a television and I’ve been slowly getting rid of books I don’t plan to re-read.
There are bloggers I admire who lead a nomadic location-independent lifestyle. But I discovered that, contrary to what I like to believe about myself, I am not a natural nomad. I need a nest. I missed having a home to go home to, a space that was nobody’s but mine. I remember one day in particular where I was tired, a bit miserable, and just wanted to go home and curl up under a duvet. But I didn’t know which duvet I wanted to crawl under. It wasn’t the one in the room I rented mid-week, it wasn’t at my parents house, it wasn’t any of my friends spare rooms. It definitely wasn’t the room of the man I was sleeping with.
“I want to go home, but I have no home, ” I whined to my friend who very kindly let me crash on her sofa for a bit and brought me a cup of tea. Obviously, a happy-go-lucky always-on-the-move lifestyle does work for some people. But it doesn’t for me. I need security, I need my own space, I need a nest to crawl into at the end of ‘one of those days’. For your own self-care, I think it’s important to know what you need. I no longer give myself a hard time for needing this kind of nest, or wanting to stay in by myself on a Friday night.
Perhaps the most important thing that this semi-homelessness gave me was the opportunity (born out of necessity) to spend time with my family. I went on long bike rides with my Dad and had long conversations with my Mum, and felt much closer to both as a result.
I wasn’t to know this, but 2013 turned out to be the last year of my Grandpa’s life. It could have passed like any other year: about once a month I would go back to my hometown, and spend an hour or so of that time at my Grandparents house. Enough time for a cup of tea and some polite conversation but not time to really connect. Instead, I spent at least every second weekend living with my parents. And one day of each of these weekends working in my Grandparent’s garden. (It was about an acre of woodland garden. They were in their mid-eighties. It had gotten a little out of hand.)
I planted vegetables under Grandpa’s watchful eye. His vegetable garden was his pride and joy. It was heart-breaking to watch him physically deteriorate to the point where he could no longer work on it, but an absolute honour to be trusted to do it in his place. Of course, there were some adaptations that needed to be made. I diligently followed his potato planting instructions. He told me to place my heel on the ground where I had planted the last potato, and plant the next one at the end of my toes. When he saw the result, he told me there were far too close together and to take them all out of the ground and start again. My feet are clearly much smaller than his were.
On the first weekend in September I moved in to my current house, feeling proud that I had whittled my possessions down enough for everything I owned to fit in my car. I breathed a sign of relief on finally unpacking my belongings after five months of being in limbo. But I would not trade my experience for anything. While we are never done growing and learning, I still think of that summer as the one in which I grew up. When I look back I am reminded that it does us good to shake up our schedule, and to live a little beyond our comfort zones. While I am still living in one place, I still constantly question what I need to be happy. Can I get rid of some more possessions? Can I see more of my true friends? How can I make my relationships more meaningful? What do I need to do now to take care of myself?