These days, as Kara and I work to reduce our footprint and downsize our lives a bit, I've stopped (or at least slowed) a few old habits.
Junk driving, for example, was something I really enjoyed doing, but which has the unfortunate side effect of bringing more stuff into the garage and the house. I used to get up early on trash days and scour my neighborhood for "discarded treasure." And though it may sound a little icky to some folks, it's a lot of fun. I've repurposed and upcycled some amazingly cool stuff over the years—from chairs and other furniture to technology such as computers and video equipment. In fact, my sound booth contains no fewer than five upcycled items, including the 32" video monitor that I use for reading scripts and rolling video for voiceover.
That's cool. And it's fun. And you could argue it's actually good for the environment. But with Kara and I deciding we want to live in a much smaller space that would actually facilitate us traveling to real-world places we love, junk driving has become a hobby I can no longer afford. Space-wise.
The same could be said of flea markets, which are arguably my most-favoritist-thing-of-all.
My friend Bob and I try to hit the flea markets at least once every two or three months. It's a long-standing tradition from deep into our single days, when we would spend an entire Sunday scouring every dirty, filthy inch of every mostly-run-down flea market the Greater Houston Area had to offer. It could be hot, sweaty, muscle-straining work. But it brought joy like nothing else in our lives.
There's just something about the smells, the sounds, the piles of endless possibility spread on makeshift tables, waiting for us to haggle over the price.
But then there's the downsizing.
Since the decision to go for an RV life, I've been pretty diligent about keeping my "intake" low. I've stopped picking up just every little cool thing I see out in the wild (i.e. curb finds). I've stopped buying physical, space-eating odds and ends like books or gizmos or knick-knacks or anything else that might take space and add weight. I've shifted to a life of mostly-digital possessions. They take up a lot less space, and weigh nothing.
But they're just not the same.
The thing is, Bob and I have always had a few running gags about our flea market trips. We've always said, for example, that if we were to hit the lottery we'd still hit the flea markets—we'd just buy more stuff.
It's never been about the money.
We go to the flea markets because we enjoy the thrill of the hunt. We enjoy scouring tables looking for something useful, and then bargaining the guy down to get it for the lowest price possible. We enjoy finding unexpected treasures among the junk. We enjoy the nostalgia of coming across something we recognize, and maybe might have had use for once.
The other running joke is that as time goes by, those treasures we always dreamed over or drooled over are becoming less attractive.
Laserdisc players used to be an automatic purchase. So were cheap laptops, digital VHS decks, portable DVD players, high-end audio and video production equipment, photography gear—we actually each have our mental lists of "things we must buy on sight." But as time and technology advance, our lists are becoming thin and wispy. We don't need these things like we used to, because there's usually an app for that.
Actually, I'm in a constant stupor over just how much technology my iPhone replaces. With this one device alone I could do literally everything I ever wanted to do when I was growing up. I have a word processor, a mobile communication device, a camera, a video camera, and audio and video production studio, a GPS, a portable game station, an entire digital video, book, and music library ... do we even stop to think about how much this thing can actually do? IT BOGGLES THE MIND.
It also replaces most of what I used to look for at the flea market. And it makes it possible for me to reduce my footprint and go small. I can minimize, because I have this device that does everything.
But dang it takes some of the fun out of the flea market.
These days, Bob and I tend to get through a flea market a lot faster than we used to. We're spending less time stopping and haggling over something that's caught our eye, because less catches our eye. And, frankly, I'm less inclined to buy anything anyway, given that I'm trying to avoid more piles of crap in my life.
So I'm thinking about this, and I'm wondering—have I lost something here?
A bit of joy. A fun hobby. Maybe. But not really. Bob and I still go to the flea market for the camaraderie of it. We still enjoy the nostalgia of it. We still, occasionally, find something useful that we can't live without. It's still fun for us.
And maybe that's the point. We do it now, not because we're a couple of broke college kids trying to cobble together a production system on the cheap (a principle reason we got into the whole flea market scene in the first place). Now we're a couple of seasoned pros who don't need as much. We're buddies who just want to spend the day doing something we enjoy, in good company. And as I downsize my life more, I'm starting to see just how valuable that actually is.