When my partner and I moved to the west coast from the prairies in 2003, our world changed in many ways. So much was different. I wasn't expecting culture shock, but you can find it just moving from one part of this vast country to another.
In terms of economics, we left a situation where our two full time salaries were more than enough to sustain us.
When we relocated to the coast, we encountered a much higher cost of living. We also found only part-time employment and settled into our new lives, learning to live with less.
We discovered Thrift Stores. I haven't bought a brand new pair of jeans in fourteen years. Now I can't imagine why I would. I'm willing to admit I have a somewhat skewed view of the world from over here on my tiny island, but seriously, who pays $90 for something they could get for $5??
Our island also boasts a Free Store and it is exactly what it sounds like. You should have seen me trying to get my mother out the door with the shirt she found. Yes, Mom, you just walk out. Trust me.
We didn't have TV for the first few years we lived here and without being regularly subjected to the barrage of messages about what we needed, we came to realize that life would not end if we didn't wax the floors. Or our legs. And whiter teeth don't impact your social status as much as we had been led to believe.
Other truths revealed in the absence of constant advertising:
- Chairs that have been sat on by others will still hold your weight.
- Cinder blocks and boards make great bookshelves.
- You can still be a contributing member of society if you don't own a microwave.
And then there's food. Do we live off the land, you ask? Well, if you could live off blackberries and clams, then yes. I'd like to tell you that we have learned to grow our own food, but that would be a stretch. We grow greens and tomatoes and herbs. Turns out my thumb is not green. It's big though, and I hitch hike and walk whenever I can. We drive a small, fuel efficient vehicle and walk to work most of the time anyway. We spend about $25 a month on gas.
We save up longer for vacations or new appliances, and we make choices about purchases more judiciously. All things we should have been doing anyway.
Then a health crisis shifted things even more. Shifted reality and, thankfully, shifted perception.
On the other side of that crisis, we find ourselves rediscovering life all over again.
And we are both thrilled to work only part-time.
My partner was taken out on the ocean by a friend to do a little fishing last Thursday. On a day that would have been a work day in the past, she saw porpoises swim by, she caught a beautiful (and delicious) red snapper, and she watched the drama of two Orca whales swimming toward a colony of seals. (The seals were all bunched together pointing at each other. Take him, he's fat and juicy.)
The highlight of her day, though, was sitting in that little boat for more than half an hour, watching a massive Humpback whale taking a nap about 50 feet away. It would rise slightly every couple of minutes and expose its blowhole. Psh. Don't worry.
Can you put a price tag on such a day?
We capped it off with dinner with friends. We ate in their yard, with deer munching a few feet away. We had fresh salmon, fresh beets, carrots and potatoes from their garden. Fresh strawberries for dessert. We talked about our amazing lives. All four of us work part-time. And we all have enough.
When I am on my death bed, looking back, will I wish I'd made more money? I hope I will be too busy remembering the sound of whales, the feel of sun-warmed cotton on my lake-cooled skin, the curious faces of seals, the great friendships I have enjoyed, the endless wonders I have encountered here in my new life, where I am learning to live with more.