Minimizing my minimalism 

Since starting this journey I’m learning a lot. My most recent revelation is that I do not want to live my life according to a term.  I am a member of a few groups defining themselves as “Minimalists” and have found lots of interesting people and useful information. But I have come to believe that many are living within this set of quotation marks who seem almost afraid that they won’t be true to the title if they don’t quite fit the mold.

Let’s go back a bit further. 

I’ve been a Christian for many, many years. More than half my life. For a long time I tried to make sure that I fit the term. I used all the right jargon. Made sure I called everyone brother or sister, said amen a lot. You know what I mean.  After many years, saying and doing all the right things almost seemed more important than the goal. The Bible is my handbook, the written source of all I know about God. But just reading it and carrying it doesn’t create a personal relationship with Christ. I have that now.  But it isn’t because I fit the mold. It’s because of the relationship that I have developed with Jesus over the years. Like marriage, the commitment takes a second but the relationship can take a lifetime.

Not my house

Back to the present 

I took a dream job on a ship where I would have very little space for stuff. I planned to be gone for 6 months and it didn’t make sense to keep paying for an apartment and utilities and so I left it all behind. The monetary value of my possessions was less than the cost of keeping them in storage for 6 months. At first I tried selling things. I did sell a few items but the clock was ticking and I had to be on a plane by a specific day. After distributing the most sentimental items to my kids I had to figure out what to do with everything else. I’ll admit it was difficult. There was nothing that I could not eventually use again in the future. But my plan was to be at sea for a couple of years. Little did I suspect that this would change and instead I’d be back in less than 3 months. You can go back and read about that another time.

And so, minimalism, was thrust upon me. But I embraced it. I took it to the utmost degree. One day I dragged my old sofa outside and not having a truck, hacked away at it with a hammer until I could haul it away in tiny pieces in the trunk of my small car. I removed every item from upstairs and brought it downstairs. The clock was ticking faster. If someone came in to buy a chair, they left with a bunch of other stuff as well. A hoarder would have been devastated by my wonton disbursement of all that I’d  accumulated. 

Not my house

I was by no means a packrat. Before the kids grew up and before my wife passed away, we had already downsized to move from our house into an apartment. But that is another story.

My goal was to only have what would fit and could be stored in my car, which would stay in storage at a family member’s home.

I met that goal. 

Now here I am just a few months later with much less than most minimalists. What is not in my car is in the room where I am staying. I recently went on a road trip up north and literally had all that I own with me. 

Not my house

As minimal as I have become,  I am avoiding the definition. I’ll admit that when I first started I embraced it wholeheartedly. I watched the videoes, joined the groups and took pride in this new identity. I made sure my Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other profiles all specifically identified me as a “minimalist” with extra large quotation marks!

I suddenly realized that I was doing the same thing I had previously done with Christianity. I was making sure I had the fish symbol on my car, went to every service, was on several church boards, etc. It was not until after I’d lost my wife that I realized that seeking God was the goal, not just talking the talk. 

Not my house

The same is true of what we are calling minimalism. I seek a simple, happy,  uncluttered lifestyle. I’m getting pretty darn close. It’s a bit late in life but sometimes you must lose a lot to figure out what is important. There is still a lot of tweaking to be done.  Ultimately,  satisfaction will not come to me be because I only have a chair and a tv and one piece of art on the wall. It won’t because I have less clothes than everyone else. It will be due to finally figuring out who I am and what I want my life to look like. With God’s grace I am going to get there.
Comments, questions and subscribers to this blog are appreciated. 

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After two months of shiplife… 

It took lots of research over a couple of years time before actually getting hired to work on a ship. It isn’t an easy job to get and deciding to end my contract early was not easy either. Working on a ship is nothing like working a land job but like land careers it has its pros and cons. I’ll attempt to share enough here to satisfy the curiosity of anyone considering shiplife or perhaps you are just wondering what it was like. There are endless YouTube videos on the subject but you might want to hear from someone you actually know, namely me. 

A little background 

I’ve always had what you might call a safe job. Fairly regular hours, mostly decent pay. We do what is needed to provide for our families. I’ve done this for most of my life. Even so we still struggled to make ends meet and never succeeded in getting ahead. When my wife of almost 30 years lost her battle with cancer, it gave me cause to evaluate my future. With the kids grown and I found for the first time in a long time there is no one to take care of but me.  For the most part my life seemed to consist of one stressful job after another. One day I changed all that by working at the Grand Ole Opry. This changed my perspective on what is possible. 

The research 

Deciding what it would take to be happy was and is still a work in progress. A friend and colleague told me about how he once worked on a ship and how much he loved it. That conversation was 7 or 8 years ago and although I did not act on it, the idea stuck in my head. At that time most of my kids were still at home and my wife was well. I’m sharing this part just to let you know when I first heard about shiplife. Fast forward to about 2015.  I decided to find work in an environment where people were mostly happy and excited. Thus began my research into jobs at hotels, tourist attractions, spas, amusement parks. I also began to develop a desire to travel. After much research it made the most sense to look into ship life. Free housing, free food, free travel to places I’d otherwise only dream of. 

Getting there

It wasn’t easy. After applying for several positions over the course of a year with no results, a friend stumbled upon an ad that seemed custom made. And so I began the application process. This included a lot of forms needing to be completed and a lot of waiting. Then a physical to determine if I was fit for duty. Having made it through all that,  I received my travel package to Vancouver so I could join a ship there.

Preparing to be homeless, sort of 

I was living in an apartment. Obviously I could not take my furniture, cookware, decorations, etc. with me to a tiny crew cabin. Even most of my clothes would be unnecessary since the crew basically spends most of the time in a uniform suited to function. And so I started giving things away to any of my family that would take them. Once they got tired of being offered second hand items, I started giving things away to neighbors, community centers and whoever else would take them. My goal was to only be left with what would fit in my car. I succeeded in this and also gave up the apartment. If part of the goal was to be rent free it would not make any sense to keep paying for an unused apartment. I knew it meant I’d have no where to call home but that really didn’t bother me at this point.  The notion of a “normal” life lost its meaning after I lost my wife. 

The journey  

I was now prepared to leave behind all that was familiar for a way of life I could not visualize except for the videos and pictures that others shared on the internet. After arranging for a family member to carsit, I left for Vancouver. Here I was, after hardly ever going anywhere, leaving the US to meet a ship in Canada. Thus began my adventure. After spending a night at a hotel, which was paid for by the cruise line as was the flight, a shuttle took us to the port. I say us, as there were several others who were transferring ships or beginning another contract. I was the only newby in the group.

On the ship 

To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about my first ship. It was the Nieuw Amsterdam. I was guided to my cabin by my manager, a young man from Bosnia. There I met my roommate from the UK. The room was tiny, tinier even than I could picture from all the videos I’d seen. Bunk beds, as I expected, a desk and chair, side by side closets, drawers under the bottom bunk for shoes and such, and of course a bathroom. I found that it was easier to stay in bed while my roommate got ready for work to avoid having to maneuver around each other. I didn’t know it at the time but this was to be the first of a total of five ships that I would be assigned to before eventually returning home. Who knows how many more ships I might have worked on if I had stayed. Let me say at this point that I was told how unusual it is to transfer to a second or third ship so soon after joining and I went through 5! My team on this ship was from all over: UK, Thailand, Argentina, India, and the US. Subsequently I would work with people from Bosnia, Serbia, Russia, Alaska, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Scotland, Italy and everywhere else. It was fun hearing so many different accents in such close proximity and such a brief time. 

I learned quickly that this was not casual photography. People would not be lined up awaiting their turn to have a photo taken and then happily purchase them. My previous work at the Opry spoiled me as there was really no pressure on guests to have their photo taken or to purchase. This was going to be much different. Sales and numbers were all important. Plus there was almost everything about photography that I did not know. I had a lot to learn. 


Sleeping 

The first person assigned to a cabin gets to choose bottom or top bunk. So as the NEOP, the term used for new hire, but also if you are new to the class (size) of a ship, I was given the top bunk. A short ladder was standard in each room to get up there but usually it was quicker to step on a chair then onto the desk and up into bed. You could not sit upright in the top bunk or you would hit your head. There was a curtain across each bunk that could be drawn for privacy. Each bunk also had it’s own light for reading and a switch to operate the room light so that you would not have to get out of bed to turn it off. Since there are no windows in crew cabins, without a light it is pitch black. There is no sunrise to awaken you so you better have an alarm. The bunks are not uncomfortable once you get in them. On one ship the room always felt very warm so I only used a sheet as a blanket. On another ship I was so cold that I used two blankets. Once you become accustomed to the size of the room and develop a rhythm where you and your room mate are not both getting ready at the same time it’s not bad at all.  Cabin availability is a bigger deal than one might imagine. You might even be transferred to another ship simply because there is not enough room. Several times I was fortunate to have a room all to myself but this is very uncommon and usually very temporary. 

Food 

The ships all have a crew mess on “A”  deck. This is the same deck where most petty officers and other staff live. A deck is just below deck 1. There is also an officers mess which may be somewhat nicer than the crew mess but that varies with the ship. Crew are the people who clean, cook, and maintain the ship. Staff are photographers, retail, entertainers, etc.  I was staff and a petty officer so we were permitted to eat on the Lido deck. Every ship of every line has a Lido deck or so I’m told. This is informal dining where you may eat just about anything you can imagine. I still could not tell you of some of the foods I tried as I couldn’t identify them. In the crew mess much of the food is oriented toward Indonesian and Phillipino diets. There are deserts galore and as much as I tried to resist I was not able to.

The job 

I mentioned earlier that being a photographer on a ship is not easy.  During embarkation we set up a shooting area for passengers boarding the ship. They are weary and many are grumpy so it’s not always the best time to take a photo.  Once on board we, the photogs as we’re called, walk around the ship and try to take photos of guests as we start our voyage. We also set up studios around the ship trying to get anyone to stop for a portrait. We photograph them each time they leave the ship for shore excursions, each formal night as they are eating dinner. We also try very hard to book them for upscale photo shoots. If you do not have a somewhat aggressive personality and love photography then I would not recommend this job. The photos are displayed in a gallary in the hope that they will be purchased. It’s the photogs job to sell them and maximum the number sold. I’m not gonna lie. If you have the right personality there is a lot of money to be made. 

Friends 

You cannot help but make friends. After 5 ships I met a wide variety of people from all over the world. Within minutes you are sharing stories and building close relationships. I still keep in touch with several of the people I worked with. You must remember that when you work on a cruise ship it is also your home. It’s where you eat and sleep.  It is a community of people who are literally all in the same boat. One night I walked into the crew mess and they were having a birthday party for one of the crew. Before I knew it there was a plate handed to me and I was thrust into the line for food. I didn’t understand a word they were speaking but I was part of the family.


The places  

I joined a ship that was cruising to Alaska. I’d never been there and heard it was among the most popular of cruises. To say that there were beautiful and amazing sights would be more than an understatement. If any of you who are American, in possession of a passport and pretty good with a dslr camera then you may have a fairly easy time getting hired. Only Americans may work in the Alaskan ports. Even now HAL is seeking American photographers. The Alaska run varies slightly with each ship but mostly you can expect to visit Vancouver, Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Victoria and you will see glaciers, lots of amazing, breathtaking glaciers. Seeing them is a surreal, change-your-view-of-the-world experience. Had I continued with the rest of my contract I would have ended my run in Australia or Singapore with many other amazing places along the way. 


The verdict 

If you can get a job aboard a ship I advise you to take the opportunity. A word of advice though. Find out all you can about the available positions. Make sure you are qualified for the work. Make sure you are willing to do it for 6 months or more. In my case I entered into a position which was not at all in line with my personality or skills and that was my mistake. For that reason I made the difficult decision to end my contract early. Now I am investigating other positions, the correct term is function, so that I can go back and pick up where I left off. If you have any questions I’ll try my best to answer. 

Get rid of all the things – Part V

So many little things can, when accumulated, be as bad as just a few bigger things. In my conversion to living more simply, I am having to let go of my tendency to toss the little things into a drawer thinking that they will not make any difference to my overall, not really out of control but still a nuisance, clutter.

As I look around for more stuff to part with, it’s the little things that escape notice and fly under the radar. If I was playing the increasingly popular Mins game I would be counting how many items I am getting rid of each day. I prefer to freelance. Guess it’s my rebellious side that comes out on occasion. When my wife passed, I did not attend grief counseling nor seek out traditional methods of dealing with my grief. I cannot recommend that for everyone though. Similarly, I am using my own methods of parting with the material things I want out of my life.

You really have to play some mind games with yourself. Not only do you have to ask yourself if something is useful, or will I ever use this but you also have to ask how long it might be before that set of eyeglass nose pads will ever become a necessity when you tend to buy your glasses at a dollar store. Discount cards and coupons for places you never or hardly go to are not worth hanging onto. How many buttons are worth saving? Okay, I am not throwing the buttons away. I am putting them with other buttons instead of having a few scattered here and there. If you are going to keep something around at least put the item with others of its kind.

My personality can often be extreme. Unchecked, I have the capacity to throw literally everything away. This could be a good thing as long as it’s not going to be something difficult to replace. But the loose watch batteries I’ve accumulated would only cost a dollar or two if I need some in the future. So they must go. The spare shoelaces that I never seem to need can also go even though they don’t take up much space. Sometimes I feel like replacing my laces just to use the new ones even though there is nothing wrong with the ones in my shoes. That’s a little dumb but I never said that I am beyond doing some dumb things.

It is getting much easier to toss things in the trash than I ever thought it would be. I am glad I’ve started this trend. I’ve got plans for later on in life that will require me to have a little as possible to burden me or slow me down. I believe I’m off to a good start.