BY MARY BETH HORIAI
(image at left: Kaptain Kobold)
One driver of change I haven’t discussed yet is a changing economy. In most developed countries, high levels of GDP usually indicate a sign of a strong economy. The general understanding is that the more we buy and own the better off we are. The biggest purchase for most individuals is their home. We have been fortunate to own two homes over the years and enjoy the many wonderful aspects about home ownership. Along with that comes the large output of money, time, and energy. With a deepening global economic crisis, more often people are either losing their homes or unable to buy one. Many are finding themselves having to think of other options like renting, cohabiting, living with friends or relatives, and sometimes being homeless. My daughter Emi majored in social work and informed me that except for renting, the rest of these categories are officially considered ‘homeless!’ If that’s the case then we have been homeless since May.
Since we are nomads by choice and have found some interesting positive points to our situation, I’d prefer to call it by a fancier name. Something like, ‘nouveau sans maison’ or the ‘New Homeless’ sounds potentially fashionable (humor me, please). I’d like to share our circumstances, experiences, and some pros and cons regarding owning and maintaining a home and all of the things that go with it, or bartering, sharing and doing without.
About six years into our twelve-year stay in Las Vegas, I remember having a conversation with my brother-in-law. We were discussing the various assets (or liabilities) we had accumulated almost on a yearly basis since returning to the States. The first year we brought a car, the second year another car, then a bigger house, a time-share, and then the highlight of the American dream, a business. At our peak, the stress and financial load of keeping all those plates spinning was difficult at best. Eventually, we had to make a choice between saving our health, marriage, and peace of mind or hanging on at all costs, hoping everything would pay off and our business and/or our home would eventually give us some kind of future security. This is a dilemma faced by many. Within the proceeding six years we narrowly sold our business in 2007, crashed some cars, gave back our timeshare (although paid-off, maintenance tripled and it wasn’t worth the stress of maintaining), and sold our house (with no profit). When I recalled this progression of gain and loss to my Mom recently, I added, “and now, we’ve never been happier.” We are finding that having less leads to less stress and fewer funds funnelling out.
In preparation for our move to Japan, we then sold, recycled, or gave away almost everything else we owned, which I thought wasn’t much to begin with. Upon entering our home, people would often noticed the scarcity of things and comment, “did you just move in?” or “are you waiting for your things to arrive?” Having said that, we still left our basic furniture and appliances with our girls to fill their three-bedroom condo, gave away multiple carloads and held endless garage sales. It makes me wonder if we nomads had that much stuff, how much more do other, more settled people have? Most of the stuff we got rid of seemed necessary at the time, but over time was unused, forgotten, and mostly unnecessary.
So in May, our ‘New Homeless’ life began and since then we have spent a little time with my mother and more extended time with Toshiaki’s parents in Yamada (see Renew Yamada). Toshiaki was there for three months this summer. We have been fortunate to use JoAnn’s warm residence as our second home in Tokyo to store our minimal luggage (consisting of clothing, primarily, Toshiaki’s knives, and my writing materials) and crash for interval periods.
The freedom that two suitcases each allows is indescribable. Yes, I realise it’s not for everyone and I don’t profess this as a life-long plan however, we have decided to stay as light as possible for as long as possible. Our ‘New Homeless’ venture now includes housesitting. We have been spreading the word amongst the foreign community, that we are available to care for homes, plants, and animals while people take vacations or visit their homeland. At present we are on our second venture and I will catch up on those experiences in future writings.
It’s been five months and so far Toshiaki and I have tried to make wherever we are our home. We found that we have all we need and as one ‘zen’ friend said recently, ” the key is to want what we have.” We are grateful to our family and friends who have opened their homes. The gifts we have experienced have taught us that ‘less really is more.’