Japanese Minimalism in a Consumerist World

We did it!  We actually, honest to the gods, did it.  Through terror and anxiety, with the help of friends and family…we packed a few boxes that my father-in-law is going to send to us, but the rest of the household stuff either went to someone else’s house, to the Fauquier County thrift store, or into the trash.  I don’t even want to think of the dollar value of the things that were straight out trashed.  It’s over and done with, I don’t know what exactly it was and I won’t ever see it again, so no need to think about it or worry over it.  I didn’t even have to clean the house, as F-i-law also hired someone to help us who managed to clean it up for me.

Things were so off schedule that we went to the airport in the clothes we had been wearing for about 3 days as we had packed and pitched and so on–there was no time to shower or put on traveling clothes.  Oh well.  We got to the airport and through TSA (might I suggest going in a a wheelchair, as you move to the head of the line?) and were at the gate with about 30 minutes to spare before the scheduled loading time.  You note that I said “SCHEDULED” loading time.  The plane was delayed 3 hours.  So we sat and tried to decompress from the high pressures of the month of preparation for that moment.

And as another note, I will never fly anything but First Class again.  Should I ever fly anywhere again.  Before we’re even off the ground, the First Class stewardesses are handing out drinks–and I mean DRINKS.  We had gin and tonics.  Once we were off the ground, it was more drinks, warmed mixed nuts and then dinner.  (Very nice, reasonably good food)  Then more drinks if you wanted and the TV was free, so we could watch movies or whatever.  Mr. Technology watched the live feed of our flight, sort of like watching the GPS when you’re driving.

We arrived in Sacramento to find the nice young men with the wheelchairs at the airplane DOOR.  They took us through the terminal, got our bags and we loaded up into the hotel shuttle.  Off to the hotel, which was very nice, thanks to our friend E who had provided it for us.  SLEEP, blessed sleep.  Up and out in the morning, back over to the airport to pick up the rental car and up the state we drove.

Got to Eureka just in time for my beloved to keep his promise: we stood on the beach and watched the sun set into the ocean.  It was cold and windy, so no toesies in the water.  And mostly, I just stood there and cried.  If I had actually been able to put my toes in the water, I think the rest of me would have followed.  Then off to dinner at the Cambodian place I had found during my research; very good food, interesting combination of Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese.

And then began our learning about Eureka.  When I had been on Craig’s List, looking at cars and rentals, it was before the plague of locusts had arrived, in the form of the HSU students, who had taken every possible rental and all the cheap (but drive-able) cars.  It took longer than we had hoped (and budgeted for) to find a place to live–but here we are, actually about 4 miles south of Eureka, in Fields Landing.  We had to settle for an upstairs apartment–but we have also discovered that the stairs here are built lower in rise–about 4-5 inches–instead of the 7 inches in VA.  So there’s more of them, but you don’t have to do a high step to climb them.

So…you come up the stairs, and turn to the right to our apartment.  You walk into the kitchen (which has brand new stove and refrigerator) and then it’s a right hand turn through what is ostensibly the living room, but that is our bedroom, because it’s then another right hand turn into the largest room of the apartment, which we are using as living space.  The bathroom is off of this room, with only a walk-in shower, no tub.  Oh well.  The room itself has two windows, which face west–and if I look carefully, I can see the bay.  So water is only about 3 blocks away.

The apartment has been just redone, repainted and repaired—and like I said, new appliances.  We have a year’s lease but will then go month to month.  So we have time to look around and find a ground floor place, maybe a house even.  The stove is gas, as is the heat.  People have been telling us that sometimes the PG&E (gas and electric combined utility) bill is “high”–as much as $50 or $60 dollars per month.  We fall out laughing, since we were paying about an average of $180 per month.  I think we can handle this.

We explored the natural food store I had found online–it’s okay, a bit disappointing and not quite what I had hoped–but nearby is the North Coast Co-op and I suspect that we will do the majority of our shopping there.  We always have Costco–and this one nearly specializes in organic foods, because of the high demand for them here.

We’ve done our bit to get into the various helpful systems here–been to Social Services, got me updated in the VA health system and talked to their extra services (none of which we are eligible for as long as my LTD will hold out).  We have also had to go to Verizon for our phones since our (old) Sprint phones had exactly 0% coverage in the new place.  Verizon has a new tower on the hill just behind our apartment.

Since we didn’t bring furniture, we’re having to add it as we can.  Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, we were able to buy the actual bed we wanted instead of the interim we had planned–and so we’re sleeping great.  We bought some fold-down tables and got me a folding chair from Costco–and figure that this will work for the long term as well.

We met the neighbors from the house next door–seems they got a piece of mail for us, and coincidences abound when they told us that they used to live in this apartment.  They have been very informative and friendly, so we’ve already got someone to hang out with!  They have given us a chair that they were getting rid of that so Beloved doesn’t have to sit on a suitcase or lay on the bed to use his computer.

We’ve also met the man who lives in the apartment across the hall–a student at the College of the Redwoods, but an older man.  He’s in the middle of finals week, so we’re only catching glimpses of him for now.

Everyone here is kind, polite and as helpful as they can be.  No matter if it’s someone on the phone, at the store, or in a restaurant, even just on the street.  There is definitely a slower pace of life here–and based on the people we’ve seen, this is the Bohemian/tie-dye capital of the US.  Lots of dreadlocks, even (or especially) on the white people.  Lots of flannel pajama bottoms instead of pants (on the college students, I think).

The town itself is like stepping back into the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Victorian homes, Craftsman style, Cape Cods…and things that look like the slave runs on plantations–all in the same block.  And there’s no “good” part of town versus a “bad” part of town.  It all sort of runs together.  And there’s a lot of dichotomy here: tech savvy people, listening to iPods and using tablets, but most restaurants do not have a website or online menu.  And the working people (waiters/waitresses, store clerks, etc) wear…almost anything, a lot of gauged ears and piercings and tattoos–but are some of the most professional people I’ve met.  And they are more than willing to go the extra steps to get you what you want, including ordering items for the store that doesn’t currently carry that thing.

The kindness and generosity to the veteran population is overwhelming to me.  I am not used to it, but once people find out that I am a vet, we get discounts and stuff that I wouldn’t have thought of asking for.  Apparently there’s a sufficient population of veterans that it’s just a matter of habit here in Eureka.

I told people before we moved that if it only turned out to be 50% of as wonderful as we hoped, it would still be better than staying in VA.  Well, that’s turning out to be quite true.  There are some down sides.

The un-considered and un-planned delay in finding housing really ate into our budget.  Our last major thing is a car, and we may have to do the “$199 down, and a million dollars a month for the rest of your life” plan to get one.  Ok, not quite that bad, but you know what I mean.  And we MUST have a car, and one that my dear Beloved will both fit into and be comfortable driving.  We are hoping for a van, fingers crossed.

As we drive around, and as we talk to more locals, we are discovering just how incredibly economically depressed this area is.  The jobless rate was not something I factored in; we aren’t going to need/have a job, so I didn’t really look at the unemployment rate.  And there are jobs to be had, but there is a large and visible homeless population.  (I’m willing to bet that it’s really no bigger in relation to the general population than in VA, only that in VA, we sneer at them and either render them invisible because we will not see them, or we shame them into trying to appear as “normal” as possible.  That’s not done here.)  There is an ongoing fight against meth and meth makers / dealers / users.  In fact, the house on the corner across from us is boarded up–used to be a meth house, and very active all the time.  BUT they got them out of here.  Oh, I know, to go somewhere else, but at least it’s not on my front doorstep now.

Another sign of the general “poorness” of the area is all the thrift stores–and there are a lot of them.  The “stylish” ones are up near the college (HSU) and get their stuff from the kids when they leave, so we’ve already been told that the time to hit those is just before the start of the semester, when they are full and ready for the students to descend, or just after the end of the term, when the students dump all the stuff they’re not taking with them.  We had not realized just how much of an impact that college has on all of the little towns around it–and HSU is actually about 5 miles north of Eureka, in Arcata.

Most of the restaurants are small, family run businesses.  So far, we’ve had some really good meals, only one was “eh” and only one was “never going back”–and that one was for a weird reason–the food was fresh, well cooked and beautifully presented, but…all the sauces came out of a bottle.  And for Chinese food?  That’s a sin.  We’ve already found a better one, with homemade sauces that are off the hook.  There are chain restaurants–mostly fast food, but there is an Appleby’s in town.

Eureka actually has TWO malls; there is a KMart, WalMart and a Target.  I, however, have already picked out about 27 things I want from the fair trade section (non-food items) in the Co-op.  Between Costco and the Co-op, I think I can manage most of our shopping.  Clothes…probably from online, until I am able to actually take the time to wander through the thrift stores and find all the Bohemian clothes I’ve wanted for years and couldn’t get…either because work wouldn’t let me or because I was used to was married to a very conservative, conventional man who would not have liked it.  The only thing Beloved has said is that he literally cannot stand tie-dye as it gives him a headache.  Patterns and patchwork don’t, so…it’s the gypsy life for me.

It’s interesting to see just how easy it is to live without all that stuff we used to have.  And that the desire to replace it has not surfaced.  There are some things we will need to get–cleaning products and the tools to use them (dust mop, etc).  We will be replacing the convection oven with a (slightly bigger and better) one because we used that a lot.  And we want a juicer, to get more of our vegetables in as close to nature as we can instead of taking a lot of supplements.  But generally, we aren’t going to buy a lot of “stuff”–and I don’t think either of us misses it.

Having to bring it up a flight of stairs adds another item on the checklist of “how necessary is this” so we can, I hope, live in the minimalist way we wanted when we chose to move and not return to being a candidate for “Hoarders”.  We look forward to spending time OUT of the house, which we were not doing in VA.  There’s a lot going on here: the beach, the coffee houses, and yes, the gaming.  We’ve been to North Coast Roleplaying and talked to the owner–who indicated a LARGE community of tabletop game players, including Pathfinders and ShadowRun.

So from this particular vantage point, I would say that we were right to move.  It has had unexpected events, both good and bad, as all things do.  Will it all be sunshine and rainbows?  I doubt it.  Will it be better than where we were, both physically and mentally?  Absolutely.  And we have already gone to one service at the local UU fellowship–and were completely overwhelmed by them.  They made a point of telling us way more than I can absorb about activities–in fact, we’re eating lunch with them at their after service “Soup and Salad” (although more soup because it’s a bit chilly) lunch that benefits a local charity tomorrow.  And we get to “sit at the captain’s table” which was a specific invitation to sit with the (new) minister.

Physically, we hope that the organic food and cleaner environment will help, as well as any benefits we might find from medicinal pot (still working on that one).  Mentally, the pace of life is slower, the worries and anxieties of life exist but not at the heightened levels of living near DC and we can handle the more gradual increase in costs of living as it is so much lower to begin with.  Spiritually, I have the ocean in front of me and Beloved needs only to turn to look behind us to see the mountains; these two areas are the most important ones to us individually and to find them in such close proximity that we are both able to be near what matters to us is life-saving and easing to the mind and spirit.  Having HUUF as sacred space only adds to that.  We are also able to be more open about our paths as there is not the ummmm abundant Christian/fundamental/Bible-thumping/ everyone else is wrong population as there was in VA.

Do we miss our families and friends from back East?  Of course, and that’s why the gods invented the Interwebs, Skype and cell phones.  And, in this case, my blog.  Our door is always open to those who want to come see us; there is always room around my table to feed anyone who shows up.  Will this save OUR lives, keep us sane (help maintain what little sanity we actually have, haha) and give us a better way of life that we can afford on a very fixed income?  ABSOLUTELY.

It’s not all that I (or we) thought it would be.  It’s more and it’s less.  Same as the rest of real life.