Stuff and Nonsense

“Mommy, I want some headbands”  – Isa.

I replied with love “Yea?  Why?”

“Because the bathroom is so empty and it makes me not feel at home, there’s no stuff in it” – Isa.

It’s so true.  We have this overwhelming urge to fill our space don’t we?  Not only our space, but other peoples spaces too.  It’s been a really interesting experience coming back into this consumer driven culture after living fairly free of it for a year.

Even before we flew out of Mexico we were falling victim – “We should get some gifts for friends”, then it was “I have to get a gift for a birthday” and then, naturally “I must stop off at the market to bring them something special for dessert”.  Things are the language of love.  In Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, he talked about the nature of gift giving and how many people very much associate it with love.  I personally LOVE giving a well received gift, it’s very satisfying.  So, I respect it, I understand that giving generously and receiving graciously are part of our nature and culture.  Its wrapped up in tradition and symbolism and.… there are cultural expectations.  But HOW we do it, can make a difference.  In my blundering back on land, I’m trying to take home some of what I learned aboard.  If I can imagine it being in the trash in 2 years… I’m not buying it…

Sunset in Bandaras Bay, looking out over Las Marias Islands
Sunset in Bandaras Bay, looking out over Las Marias Islands

When on the boat our gift of choice was a loaf of fresh baked bread.  This was always received with enthusiasm and it probably cost us 5 pesos.  One of the things about boat people is that we are all on a tight budget and everyone respects that, even remotely elaborate gifts are OUT.  But thoughtful, handmade or just sweet re-gifting is totally IN.  I will never forget my deck of cards and bottle of wine I received for my 37th birthday from SV Agamere and SV Wild Rumpus collectively.  Replicating this on land is tricky!

Minimalism is such an interesting idea and it sounds fairly easy…just have less stuff!  I envision naturally hued modern spaces, sparse but well organized…  But the reality is… When Tommy has a birthday party and your kid is invited, what can you bring that satisfies your values of minimalism!  I wish I knew the answer… I brought Legos because, my kids love legos…  And I didn’t re-gift because, that just felt strange on land.  What would have been totally cool in our boat community would have been a slight here.  I thinks it’s mainly because – its there.  There is just so much at our fingertips that if you don’t utilize it, it means you didn’t put an effort out.  So, showing effort…   Well, I’m going with the home made bread for now and for kids, I’ll have to get creative, and that, is half the battle.

Isa opening her birthday pressest last fall with my sarong as the wrapping. She doesn't seem upset about it.
Isa opening her birthday present last fall with my sarong as the wrapping. She doesn’t seem upset about it.

Resisting the urge to fill our own space is the other half of the battle and it really is the harder one.  We have had 6 years of practice though so we are getting better.  For the 5 years before we left, I knew that we were going to be getting rid of most of our stuff.  Kinda puts a damper on accumulating stuff.  Every purchase was weighed and balanced… would this go to the boat?  Does this replace 2 other items that both need replacing?  Is this important enough to be stored while I’m on board.. Some things YES.  It didn’t stop me from purchasing and enjoying my lovely Antares saddle.  But it did stop plenty of frivolous purchases.

Now we are faced with this large 4 bedroom house.  When I put my clothes away into my own personal walk-in closet I just laughed.  It was so empty!  But I felt a deep and primal urge


to fill it up too.  Naturally, I’m not going to… but I might need a support group to keep me honest.  That, and the fact that we only have so many suitcases and this hiatus from ocean cruising won’t last forever…


  1. rockzilla says:

    Annie…I have been on vacation with your family and you didn’t even notice me…Your post get me out of Rockzilla and into wonderland…Thank you soooo much for your posts…Miss you all…See you soon I hope..Dwayne

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Thanks Dwayne! It’s little comments like these thank keep me writing! We might be going climbing for Adelaide’s birthday tomorrow. It’s that, or riding horses… you know what I’m voting for:) Climb on!

  2. Nick Vawter says:

    Annie, I took a load of clothes to Goodwill yesterday and after reading your post today, I will take another load tomorrow. Thank you for helping us see what is really important in our lives.

  3. Kathy McLoughlin says:

    Hello Annie (Erin’s Mom here) How I hope one day to meet you! You are an inspiration to me. I happen to be preparing for the dreaded yard sale (haven’t done one since Erin was younger than your girls!) and your words are making me think about my surroundings and “stuff”—better late than never? I hope you can stick to your instincts, even on land. 🙂 A big hello to Cameron! -Kathy

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Great Luck on the garage sale!! My rule when I was moving out of our house was that if I looked at something three times and was undecided about whether to keep or donate, It was OUT. It took a long time to come to terms with letting go of LOTS of things. I hope to meet you as well! I love your daughter so I know I’d love you!

  4. Joanie Schumann says:

    This is a great lesson learned….I needed to go thru my over stuffed closet..I also think u could write a great book…Love your writing..
    Joanie Schumann. (Erin McLoughlin Bernhardt’s aunt)

  5. Janice Keats says:

    I love this blog. You put it all in such great perspective! After moving seven times in about ten years, it took until the last move to realize that I didn’t need all my stuff. Although I still have 30% of it, which is still too much. I love the idea of staying small and living big!! You have inspired me to try harder. May give bread baking a try too.

  6. Karen Minton says:

    l loved the bread you bought to our house. To me homemade is definitely the sweetest and most memorable kind of gift. I always love reading about how you approach the challenges of reducing things and keeping the consumerist junk at bay – it has helped me be aware of making frivolous purchases, and notice if I have something around that is taking up valuable space and not pulling it’s weight. But there is always room for a new sundress!

  7. Michelle says:

    Love this Ann – this urge to hold and hoard is insane but so normal from a primal perspective! I struggle with gift giving as well and usually settle on a gift certificate to an activity but honestly some of Liam’s favorite toys are plastic craziness that I’d never have bought but entered our house as gifts.

    • Anne Vawter says:

      There-in lies that challenge. 🙂 We just have to keep fighting the good fight. Most important is that we own our stuff, and our stuff doesn’t own us! Much Love Michelle. Keep me posted on your plans!

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