Monday, July 14, 2008

Enjoy the view, even when there isn’t one.

Don't hate me because I will soon have an unobstructed view of downtown SF in my master bedroom. And living room. I've gone through a lot to get to this point. I am moving this week. AGAIN. In fact, since 2005, including this move, I've moved eight times. Yes, you are reading that right. Eight times in three years. From San Francisco to Baltimore in early 2005. Through two temporary housing apartments, two houses that I owned and sold in Baltimore over a two and a half year period, and one apartment in DC that I rented. Then back to San Francisco last year. And now, this move, to my new house with the much deserved view. Hopefully I'll stay put there for a while because frankly I'm exhausted.

With all the changes I'm making in my life, this move to a more permanent dwelling being one of them, I've been reflecting on the lessons that have (hopefully) come out of so much moving and disruption over the last three years. Here are some of them:

-Home is where the dog is (or for a dog, where the couch is). Dogs often have a difficult time adjusting to moves. When I made my first move from SF to Baltimore, my dog was nearing 6 and had lived her entire life in one house, so I expected some trauma after flying her across the country and bringing her to a new place. After sniffing diligently around the new house, she watched the movers bring her favorite couch in, followed them as they placed it in its new position, and then assumed her usual position on the couch and napped as the rest of the move unfolded. That was the extent of her needed "adjustment" for all my moves. I've tried to follow her example in adjusting myself to each new situation that moving brings.

-Making huge mistakes is necessary and empowering, so don't regret them. For several years prior to leaving San Francisco, it was my dream to own an old farmhouse on a few acres of land. I dreamed of the dog roaming free, mildly terrorizing deer and other animals, and of a wonderful garden to occupy my leisure time. This dream came true when I purchased a farmhouse built in the 1700's on five acres of land in the beautiful Greenspring Valley area of Maryland. Without boring everyone with the details, suffice to say that in the sixteen months I owned this property, various nightmares ensued which all left me wondering what the %&#$ I was thinking when I made the decision to buy this, uh, "oasis." The smiling fool pictured here on the day the house closed had absolutely no idea what she was getting herself into. And, selling as the housing market went south was NOT a financially beneficial transaction. Still, I'm not the least bit sorry I briefly owned the wonderful property. Despite the difficulties of that year, I enjoyed passing through such a historical place (at one point it was a general store where Indians came to barter). I was also able to firmly put to rest the notion that my "dream" was to live in the pseudo-country and manage several acres of land. If I hadn't given this a try, I'd still be dreaming of doing this "some day."

Don't be a slave to stuff. I've always had a ridiculous amount of stuff. Starting with shoes and clothing, and extending to furniture and dishes. I mean, how can someone who has never been married have two sets of china, a complete set of Waterford crystal, and three sets of silver flatware? Because someone (ahem, mother) learned this lesson a few years before I did and shipped these "inheritances" to me via FedEx so I would have to deal with them instead of her. Moving so often has given me ample opportunity to go through my possessions again AND AGAIN. I'd say I've reduced my "stuff" by 60% over the last few moves and donated some wonderful items to charity or given them to deserving people on Craig's List. Craig's List rocks. To get rid of something, just post it and an hour later someone pulls up with a truck and takes it away. As I left Baltimore last year, I gave a whole set of bedroom furniture to a woman from Craig's List whose boyfriend had beaten her up so badly she was hospitalized, so she was starting over and had no furniture. As I start the packing process for this move, I know for sure that if it is in my house right now I either love it or need it. No middle ground. Somewhere between houses 2 and 5, I surrendered the notion that I have a responsibility to lug around grandma Sally's china, which I know I will never use (I don't have a grandma Sally, but until recently I had her china). I also stopped keeping things "in case I want them later." It's now or never for using all this crap. I've decided my only obligation is to make sure it gets recycled to a good home. I don't need it, but other people do. Pretty simple. And liberating.

Leave each place better than you found it, and improve yourself in process. I drove past the first house I owned in San Francisco a few weeks ago. The garden I planted out front was thriving – well maintained, and completely unchanged. My Myer lemon tree stood ready to offer up a dozen lemons to the current owners. I remember being distraught over leaving this garden that I'd worked on lovingly for six years. Little did I know that this was only the first of many gardens I'd be leaving. All in better shape when I left them than when I found them. I was also a different person moving out of each place than moving in. I was an excited farm owner starting a new job in a new town, a disgruntled commuter trying to live in DC and work in Baltimore, a homesick San Franciscan realizing I needed to head back home. After living in San Francisco for ten years, I had to move away to truly become a San Franciscan. We owe it to the places we pass through to leave them in better shape than when we found them, and we owe it to ourselves to evolve and become better as well. Now, as I prepare to leave this house, I'd say I am a self-aware woman about to turn 40 who has decided to prioritize my personal life and seek better balance.

I didn't realize I had so much to say on this topic when I started this post, but I guess all this moving has taught me some important life lessons along the way.

Back to packing.


  1. I love the story about your dog finding his same place on the couch in each new residence.

    How wonderful it must have been to have owned a pre-Civil War home and land.

    My husband and I share your "don't be a slave to stuff" mantra. Years ago we came up with what we called our space/use ratio: will the amount of space it takes to store an item be offset by the frequency with which we use it?

    I like your desire to leave each place better than you found it and improve yourself in the process.

    Enjoy your view. You deserve it.

  2. Great post, Paige!

    Something else I get from reading the post is the reminder that appearances may not be what they seem. People who saw you at your farmhouse would probably assume it was this idyllic, envious life when in fact it was frustrating you terribly. It's so easy to think other people have it easier when many times, it's just not true!

    My husband and I gave away 1/3 of our belongings when we moved into our current apartment, and we intend to purge again the next time we move. It was so freeing to give so much away. And we gave a lot of it to families who were transitioning out of homelessness through a non-profit in Atlanta, which was an awesome thing to be part of.