This is a much longer entry than is normal for a blog post. But it is important to consider if you have plans now or in the future to cast off. To paraphrase Fastball in The Way, you can just drive off and leave it all behind you. Or Paul Simon, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free …
CHAPTER 1 – BACKGROUND
I am 66 years old, retired. My wife and I have been married for 40 years. She is younger than me. Our son is grown. We live in the suburbs of Charlotte in a four bedroom house. We’ve lived here for all those years. And we have slowly accumulated Stuff enough to fill three of the bedrooms. Not sleeping stuff, just Stuff. This stuff seems very important until you start to examine it. Then it is shown for what it really is, dust catchers and crap. We are now on a lower income scale for several reasons: not working, some poor investment choices, and some rich living in the first years after I retired (I retired when I was 60.)
So one day we looked around and said, “What if we just cash in our sweeps, sell the house, get rid of it all and travel around the country or maybe the world?” We both have some kinfolks in the area, brothers and sisters and whatnot. But they are not major hinge points in our lives now. Our son still lives in the area, but we don’t see him often enough to stop us from this adventure. Besides, he wishes us well if the quest; he would like to do it himself.
As we started researching the idea, we found that it is not easy to just leave. By the way, the term ‘casting off’ is a marine term referring to a ship leaving the dock. A ship, even a largish private boat, usually has several mooring lines: a bow line, a stern line, a forward breast line, an aft breast line, etc. Depending on the size of the craft, there may be eight or ten. On a small craft, usually someone casts off all lines and just holds the boat against the dock by hand until the engines are running and the captain is ready to maneuver away from the dock.
Then he pushes off, jumps aboard himself, and they are on their way, no longer tied to the shore. On larger ships, they do it more formally, and typically have workers on shore that tend the dock end of the lines.
In the Navy, they have commands such as “Single Up To The Bow Line!”, which means release all mooring lines from the shore except a single bow line. Then the pilot will swing the stern out from the dock, and the command to “Cast Off Bow Line!” is given. So, the reference is to cutting all ties with your mooring point, in this case your home. This article will go through what is required and hopefully give you some ideas of your own. Your circumstances may be simpler or more complex.
CHAPTER 2 – JUNK AND STUFF
First, you have to cut loose from your junk. I don’t mean the gear that guy’s sometimes refer to as their junk, their external reproductive gear. I mean real junk. It is one of the major “mooring points” in your life. Before you can even begin to cut the lines, you have to find out what is necessary to keep and what can be thrown or given away. Remember when you cast off, you have all you own on your back, or at least in a vehicle and maybe a storage warehouse.
Look at your rooms. See what is in them. Your mantra should be: If I Cannot Take It With Me, It Must Be Gotten Rid Of Or Stored. If a storage warehouse is necessary, you are not really cutting loose. You still have a base where you must pay rent on some periodic basis, and you must be available to the warehouse management at all times in case they need to reach you in a Goods Emergency.
If you have no choice, you have to do it and make the best of it. We will cover that storage warehouse issue later.
If you are anything like us, each room in your house is a combination of Good Stuff – things you use often, Maybe Stuff – that you use once in a while, and Crap – stuff you never use, but that is not thrown away for some other reason.
I am looking around my office now (bedroom #3 converted). We decided early on to make it a library, and with my limited handyman skills, I lined all the free wall space with floor to ceiling bookshelves. My wife, son, and I all are devoted readers, so we soon had the shelves filled to the Plimsoll line (another marine reference, look it up), and the weight was probably in danger of pulling the walls down. In addition, there were freestanding bookcases all over the house holding other books and piles of books that won’t fit on the shelves. The mix is about half and half, paperback and hardcover.
Over time, and with extreme prejudice, I have culled my books to the point where I have given all my paperbacks and most of my hardbacks to charity or trashed them, depending on how used up they were (I read my copy of Catch 22 twenty-five times, and it was not in good shape). My son and wife are not so willing to part with their books, so we have still nearly all the wall space filled with books. We have the original issue of Whole Earth Catalog. I loved that in our hippy days, but the last time I looked through it, the pages were crumbling and the Tool Sources are nearly all gone away. It is almost impossible for me to throw that away; it is like a part of my life. But what is it really worth if you don’t – can’t – read it without it falling apart?
This is just books: there are also records, vinyl LP’s that we bought over time, probably three or four hundred. I have put some of them on the PC, but even then, do you want to throw them away? How about old High School and College yearbooks? I have three backpacks from different ages of my life. Who throws away a backpack? We have ten suitcases (none of which is ever the exact size we need). Hats, framed photos, files, maps, half-used ballpoint pens. And photographs. Lordy. Until a few years ago, photos were taken with film cameras and nobody ever threw a photograph away. They were accumulated by every generation since the camera was invented and passed on, sometimes by default, to the next generation. Nothing is harder to throw away. But they can be digitized.
Consider furniture. We have a living room we never use. It is a nice room, with a hugely tall ceiling and a fireplace. But we live in the den. The living room has been used maybe four times in the years we have lived here. It is stuffed with furniture, and a new owner will not want your old furniture. Sell it if you can, throw it out, give it to a charity if it’s in decent shape..
The other big set of things a house ties you with are not physical, but financial. Look at all the monthly bills you pay. You would not need utilities if you didn’t have a house. Mortgage, homeowners insurance, property taxes, electricity, gas, water/sewer, trash pickup, maybe landscaper work, maintenance, landline telephone, homeowner association dues, termite/bug control.
All of that exists only because you have a house. To cut loose and get rid of that stuff, you must get rid of your house. Sell it for whatever you can get, as long as it is enough to pay off any remaining amount on your mortgage. You need to be free and clear of that Burden. You can start canceling some of this before you sell: the landscape work, bugman, and telephone can go. But the other things will have to stay until you sell the house. At that magic day, you suddenly find that most of your monthly bills and mail have stopped.
A million things have each added their silken thread to the thick mooring lines. The answer to whether you really need it must be no if you really plan to cut loose. You must steel yourself to this, or you can never do it. In that case, you are permanently moored, and you may as well get used to it. So, we have to assume if you continue, that you are willing to get rid of nearly all of your Stuff. Just remember that whatever you keep is a mooring line. You cannot take it with you, and by existing, it creates a “home base” that must be maintained in the form of a storage warehouse.
Let us now say that you have ruthlessly eliminated almost all of your Stuff. You have entered photos, records, CD’s, and cassette tapes in your computer (and strictly double-backed them up, maybe using the dreaded Cloud). You have cut your books down to what is most important and can either travel with you or that can be easily stored. You trimmed back your furniture to just what you must have as you try to sell the house. You have gotten rid of things to a point where the house looks empty.
But what about paperwork? Some records must be kept for a set period, some should be kept forever (Titles to homes and autos, birth certificates, military records, tax forms, maybe others), and some is simply Hogwash that you need to throw away but have to shred to make it safe because it has your SSN or something on it. That file culling is necessary as much as the other items. You cannot be taking a giant filing cabinet or two with you. We have one four-drawer file cabinet, two two-drawer, and countless boxes and bins of paper. We have paycheck stubs going back to the early ‘60’s. You have to eliminate almost all of this.
This work, the elimination of all things that are not essential, will take you awhile. There will be decisions to make that you won’t want to make. You have to do it.
CHAPTER 3 – MAIL, ONE OF THE BIGGEST BURDENS
OK. Now you have reduced your Stuff to some manageable level. Maybe, if you are strict, all of it is gone except what you use daily. Now comes the burdensome task of dealing with your mail.
Your mailbox is also a result of your house: it defines your physical location to the world. It determines your voting precinct, your jury summons, where all your bills are sent. If you are like most, the mailbox yields a mound of shit every day, and 90% of it is junk, it goes directly into the trashcan.
A diversion: Consider for a minute the life cycle of junk mail. There is someone, somewhere, that is creating a master document, say an offer for a larger penis, or maybe an offer to buy magazines at a discount. These people, whoever they are, do not expect many nibbles. They may send a million mailings and be happy if a hundred suckers citizens respond.
Here is the process. The master is created, sent to the printer, a million copies are made, folded and stuffed into envelopes or taped. The post office generously offers to mail this precious cargo at a reduced rate, picks it up, and delivers it by uniformed representative of the US government to a million addresses. (No need to go into at this time why it is that the USPS is still a government entity) The million recipients open it, and 999,900 of them throw it in the trashcan. A hundred are intrigued by the concept of having a porn star penis and respond. The trash pickup people come by, pick up all the discarded junk mail, take it to a landfill, and throw it out to molder away for years. Later, when that landfill is deactivated, trees grow on it, and some assholes come along and cut them down to make paper, and the cycle begins again. I wonder why the senders and the trash people don’t just get together: the junk mail goes directly to the trash people, who immediately bury it. That would speed up the loop and make the citizens happier.
Back to the story. Junk mail you can ignore: they can keep sending that stuff to your address forever after you are gone and you won’t care. It is the 10% “other” mail that is the problem. Go through all your mail for at least a month, preferably for three months. Make a list of all important items you receive: any Federal, State, and Local government communications, phone and internet bills, electricity bill, tax bills, etc You cannot just walk away from those things.
First, see which of them will let you pay and communicate online. That will remove them from your US Postal Service load. You can later cancel them online when you are ready. Your goal now if to make it where the only mail you get is trash or stuff that can be ignored.
CHAPTER 4 – HOUSE THINGS
Now that you have managed to cull out most of your House Stuff and have reduced your Mail Stuff to items you can throw directly into the trash, you are ready to start cutting the ties that hold you in one place. The timing is critical: you cannot, for example, have your electricity cut off until you have moved out. Lay out a list of what you are still paying and what can be done away with when. Electricity, gas, water, and trash have to wait until you are out. Your phone service can be eliminated unless you use it for Internet access. If you use a DSL line or some other method that requires a physical landline, you have to keep it so you can pay your bills. Same with cable TV. You can drop cable TV as soon as you are willing, but if you use your cable service for your Internet access, you have to keep it. You will be able to tell from your list what can go now and what has to wait.
Now put your house on the market for whatever you are willing to sell it for. It will sell faster if you make it cheap. Use an agent or do it yourself if you have the personality and energy to deal with weasel potential buyers. One big advantage you have in selling is that your house is nearly empty now, after you got rid of so much stuff. The word on the street is that a clean empty house sells because the buyer can visualize it whatever way looks best to them instead of with your stamp on the rooms.
You need to line up a place to stay so if the house sells the first day on the market you are ready. A short-term apartment lease is best, if you can get one. It must provide utilities. Otherwise, you will end up signing back up with the same people you are getting ready to cut loose. If you cannot find such an apartment, you have to go to a hotel or motel. You need this place to stay because you will still have some accounts to close out after the house sells. You need to look over the things you have left: furniture, kitchen gear, clothing, electronics, paperwork, etc. and decide if you can just give it all to a charity or trash it. If you have to rent a warehouse, how big.
You should have already had an account with a national bank, one with branches all over, so you can get funds from anywhere at an ATM. You ought to get a safe deposit box with them to hold your valuables: original documents, backup flash drives, etc. Arrange to pay for it by having them take it from your bank account so you don’t get bills from the bank.
Let’s talk about that storage warehouse a bit. It is unavoidable in some cases. If you just cannot bring yourself to destroy the actual physical photo albums after you have digitized the contents, or can’t part with the small clothes your children wore when they were toddlers, or many other things, you have to get a place to keep it. Climate controlled is essential: otherwise, the mildew and heat/cold/moisture will eat up your precious stuff. Remember that whatever you get, 10 X 10 feet square, 20 X 20 or whatever, you have to not only pay a monthly fee for it, but you have to keep in touch with the management so you can be notified if there is a fire, or when you have to pay some more. Or they are going out of business.
I strongly advise you to get rid of everything you cannot carry with you. But if you must have a Place, see if they will let you pay a year or ten years in advance. Just be aware that there is a life cycle of property. There is a chain of uses, each link of which makes more money for the owner. A vacant, weed grown corner lot is worthless, only costing the owner in taxes. Making it into a service station will bring in a little money to offset the taxes. The next step up is to turn it into a storage warehouse. Foot for foot, that makes more money than a retail business. That is where your Things are stored now. But no storage warehouse is permanent. The surrounding area will either decline in value, and crime will drive the owner away, or it will increase in value, and he will sell out. As soon as some asshole developer decides he wants to build some condominiums or a high-rise, the warehouse owner will drop you like a dirty shirt and sell out. You don’t want your precious items put on the street corner because they cannot locate you. Be advised.
After the house sale, when you are settled in your new temporary place, get on the Internet and cancel everything. Include notifying local government agencies about shutting off your water/sewer account, canceling your voter registration, removing you from the jury pool, changing the property tax assessment from you to the new owners. Then check back periodically to make sure these cancellations actually took place. You don’t want the power company to keep sending bills to your name that won’t be paid. If you can, check with the new owners to get them to forward any bills that still come to the old address. Sometimes the bureaucracies that run these places cannot get it through their heads right away.
After you have been in your temporary place for a month or two, you should be down to no bills (except your current rent, cell phone, and internet access). And you should not be getting any mail except the usual “Occupant” crap since you have not signed up for anything at this new address.
CHAPTER 4 – THE GOVERNMENT
As usual, the government is the biggest sticking point. Sure, you can drop all your local ties, even most state ties. But federal law requires that you have a driver’s license. And every state requires vehicle insurance. And a car tag and registration papers. You may (as I do) have a concealed firearm carry permit. Yep, it has to be renewed periodically. And you have to have an address for them to mail it to. Some states will let you renew your drivers license online. But eventually, you will have to go to some government office to get an eye test, or for some other reason.
All those bureaucrats will want a street address. They won’t be happy with “the Highway”. The post office will hold your mail, but only for 30 days. It will even forward it, but only to an address, not “to milepost 12 on state highway 112 between Las Vegas and Reno”. And even if they would drop it beside the road, you would have to make sure you were there to get it. That sort of crimps the free style of being unmoored.
Also, the turds at the IRS want to be able to get their hands on you. I don’t believe you have to have a permanent address to pay taxes. I understand they even badger homeless people that live in refrigerator boxes. The IRS is mostly assholes. You must consider the feds on this tax issue. Maybe you can work out an arrangement where they will accept a P.O. Box or a tavern in Montana as your address. Ideally, all your tax business can be done my the internet. Or you can make sure you never get refunds, so they have no reason to send you anything..
But what do they do when you are out of the country, say on a sailboat heading to the South Seas? People do it, and we need to find out how. I am still working on this. It is a problem.
CHAPTER 5 – SHAKING OFF THE BONDS
At this point, you are as free as you can be with a permanent address (your temporary apartment or hotel). You still have to have Internet access if you want to use email and the Web. But that can be wireless. Better yet, satellite. I have not used it, but if you can find an Internet service provider that allows connecting via a satellite uplink from your own dish, that is best. Then you can go anywhere in the world that the satellite can see you and have secure access. Otherwise, you may have to use free Wi-Fi links that are provided by many retailers. It is not secure, so you cannot easily do financial transactions using them, but with the proper precautions, you should be able to.
Use all the anti-crook software available to you: spyware detectors, anti-virus, secure websites, password managers, rootkit revealers, incoming/outgoing firewalls, maybe even contact your financial institute and see if they will let you use PGP or some similar encrypting software that lets you provide them with a public and private key so only they can decipher your messages. Don’t forget that your passwords and usernames are weak links.
CHAPTER 6 – FINALLY
Now you are free. You cancel your temporary dwelling lease, walk out to your vehicle, and drive away. Or catch a train. If you want to travel, just do it. Want to spend the grape harvest season in Napa Valley? Just go and do it. You won’t miss any mail, you can get money from any ATM, and you can stay anywhere you want. You have no ties (I assume you made arrangements for any pets that won’t travel well to go live on ‘Grandma’s Farm’, and had any favorite plants put out to stud). Get yourself an RV, or ride the rails, or live under a bridge, or get in your car and drive away.
You still have some gear: clothes, computer, and such. But it’s down to a point where you maybe can get it in a large car or a small RV. Maybe even a small cabin cruiser. Open the world via sea. The main thing, you have cut your mooring lines to a permanent base. You can go wherever you want. Except I have not figured out that annoying government tracking stuff.