I was going to call this blog “Minimalist, at 40”. But, I met someone at a party and told her I was a fucking bohemian sleeping on a Thai floor mattress in an empty high rise apartment. And she thought that was a much better title.
I ordered my Thai floor mattress from Amazon.com, and shipped it to my friend Aubrey’s (since I don’t have an address other than a PO Box in Texas and my parents’ house in Colorado). After a month away from Austin for work, when I arrived at Aubrey’s place and realized it had arrived, we excitedly opened it, rolled it out on her floor, and laid on it, head to toe to each other.
I’d been showing people photos of it. “You’re going to sleep on that?” “That does not look comfortable.” Not everyone got it. But the idea of an empty room, with this mattress and a floor pillow, excited me. I could picture my focused existence in this space, where I’d whittle my wardrobe down to a highly fashionable minimalist capsule, exercise or novelize for entertainment, write, work on my taxes, and sleep worry (and rent) free.
The first night I slept on the mattress, I woke in the middle as one does in a new apartment, thrown by my bed’s firmness and general location on the hard floor of the living room. I pulled the mat into the carpeted walk in closet, having decided the bedroom carpet was unfit for contact, and slept there, with my cases around and dangling clothing dusting my head, until 12:45pm the next day. I’ve not had a bad night’s sleep since moving back to the living room and adding a thin foam top to my bed.
I’m currently living in a downtown Austin high rise, empty save for a small table and two chairs, the mat (furnished with pillows and bedding from my storage unit), my clothing and toiletries, a large floor pillow my dog is finally adopting as his bed, and random things left by my friends who are actually on the lease. The joy I felt when I arrived to find there were three bath towels, floss picks and Q-tips, a place to sit, and a ton of leftover food – things I didn’t have to move, buy, or throw away later. I could use them. High rise camping is the new glamping, and you don’t need a boyfriend with better gear than you to do it well.
In a month, I’ve accumulated more than a dozen shopping bags, a new printer, a picnic set sent as a gift, and a pair of boots. It feels like too much stuff, not in the least because I have to move it all out of here soon. It’s weird how much you can get for free in the sense that you don’t spend money on it. Friends leave town for work and I end up with their produce. People visit weekly and take me out to dinner. I’m invited to parties with favors like free glassware and condoms and Quaker chewy oat bars. A dog wash, a pen, a meal, a photo booth picture of me and my friends on that particular day when I was doing this thing. It’s true that money is only energy and energy moves things around.
Moving all the time reminds me how much I don’t need stuff and much of it only serves the purpose of forcing my decision on its fate. I’ve been trying to write down what I do every day, or week, and perhaps I’d have more time for this type of reflection if I didn’t have to track so much literal baggage. I realized, with my constant shifting of places and things, how much I was forgetting my experiences. How much I had enjoyed them. And how much I’d never experienced real practiced minimalism until I put all my things in storage and slept on the floor in an empty apartment I wasn’t paying for.
Things break, making decisions for me that I wasn’t aware of. Turns out I don’t need a cold brew pitcher. It reminds me of my post college existence, when my pants were getting holes and (trying not to use credit cards) I only bought clothing at “Out of the Closet” thrift store. My foot got wet because my expensive Frye boots are ready to be resoled. “Sporks” I purchased a few years ago for camping (something I rarely do in the wild) are used and washed several times a day, and I’ve broken two of four because I use them to stir and flip anything I cook in my mess kit on the glass top stove. It’s comforting to feel a purposeful end, the productive nature of life, the finite usefulness of every literal and metaphorical thing.
I feel my own jackknife-like qualities. I’m amazed at my resilience and flexibility, having stayed in five different places (not counting hotels) since leaving my “luxury” apartment in August. I’m able to sleep instantly and heavily, to get by without the Today Show every morning and that thing I make strawberry peanut butter smoothies in. To jump into different homes and jobs and working relationships. And, leave them behind.
After a few months of this homelessness, I feel clearer all the time. People are attracted to my glamorous non-committal existence. I can’t help but to be myself as I’m vulnerably tied to my environment as much as it can accept me or spit me out. Most days, I’m pretty confident in what I’m doing. I have no one else to answer to and I’m always having a conversation with myself about it. You can’t hide in an apartment with no furniture. You’re left with you and your choices, recalibrating weekly.
I should have been a freeloading bon vivant years ago.
Carrie Bradshaw slept on a piece of foam in an apartment where a lady had died the month before, and covered herself with a white mink, her only possession. This is what passionate people do. We follow the sun. There’s always sun.
My fortieth birthday is days away. Just a few weeks ago I teared up at its mention. I’ve passed cavalierly by most adult milestones thus far, but the timing of my chosen unsettledness seemed particularly dumb. I was dreaming of buying a home, and instead decided to skip rent for six months and drive around to take different jobs, living with family or renting rooms on the fly (hence the free empty apartment in Austin). Someone I knew was living a life I had fantasized about in the desert, and seemed to have gotten it pieced together just in time for their fortieth. I felt failed, alone, and unsure of why I’d be anywhere just at the moment when I’d chosen a PO box over a lease. In retrospect, that seemed like a declaration of my not belonging.
It took me a pouty moment to realize I’m living the goal I set for myself three years ago, after my first trip to West Texas. That was to transition to freelance work and live between Texas and Colorado, and to do so by obtaining clients in Austin. Which I’ve achieved differently than I imagined, and not without pain and loneliness, but nonetheless, the door opened to me, I walked in, and I’m here. And, I felt slightly better.
My friends then expressed their desire to celebrate my birthday in the Airstream that is my next living situation, and for me to have a special outfit for the occasion. My sadness about forty changed because: I am truly so happy. I didn’t have role models like me when I was growing up. And therefore, I never knew that I could be – could feel the way I do now, as the person I’ve come to be, far outside of my former Catholic girl’s presupposed result.
I’m not even living a “lifestyle” or doing “van life” or a “digital nomad” or “feminist AF” so much that I don’t want a man or a family. It’s not sad or political to be a never married childfree poly-city forty year old woman. I’m just doing what I’m doing and has worked for me. Okay, it is political, but because the patriarchy makes it that way!
Next month I stay in the Airstream here in Austin, where I live, have my license plates, and a new but fierce and fiery pack of female friends. I will turn 40 and celebrate with my witchy wolfpack, in this place, in the mild Texas weather. There will probably be country music at some point and a bonfire, because Texas has hosted the best parties I have ever attended. And I’ll feel grateful for my freedom, my joy. I feel it in my skin. There is love. And I am so lucky.