Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Living the Vida Low Life

I used to live in a million dollar home. It didn’t actually cost that much to build but I was lucky enough to go bankrupt and find myself forced to sell at the height of the housing bubble. How different my life is today. I live in a one bedroom apartment which could easily fit in the living room and dining area of my former home. I have one tiny bathroom instead of three large spa-like ones. Instead of a thousand square foot enclosed courtyard outfitted with coy pond, waterfall, hot tub and flower garden, I have a 4 by 8 balcony. My home theater is now a TV in the living room.

At night I could look at the stars through the skylights in my bedroom and if it was chilly there was a warm fireplace to fall asleep by. In the morning the sun would filter through the plantation shutters. The thing I loved most of all was the beautiful pink dogwood that stood just beyond the French doors leading out from my bedroom to the courtyard. I really was living the life.

The funny thing is that I don’t miss it very much. It doesn’t take much more than cable TV and a decent internet connection to keep me happy. Food tastes the same on Corelle Living Wear as it did on bone china and you get used to cheap beer after a while. I’m still better off than a lot of people.

Yet sometimes I like to live at an even more primitive level. That’s why I like camping. It’s very satisfying to be out in the woods with not much more than a tent and a Coleman stove. Once again I can enjoy a warm fire at night and wake up to sunlight filtering through the trees. I enjoy the engineering challenge of creating a comfortable and functional living space from no more than what can fit in the back of my little Ranger pickup truck.

You’d be surprised how much can fit in that truck. My tent is enormous; a queen size air mattress takes only half of the space. I use plastic stuff from the dollar store as a dresser and night stand. A throw rug keeps the floor comfortable for bare feet. I also set up a ten foot by ten foot screened canopy which serves as my kitchen. A folding table becomes the countertop on which I place the reliable Coleman stove, a dishpan, and various plastic boxes of food items, plates, cups and utensils. I cover the ground with indoor/outdoor carpet.

Over the past few years my camping buddy and I have been steadily adding to the gear we bring. At first we were practical. We only brought items that made a significant improvement to comfort and enjoyment like the automatic drip coffee maker that sits on the propane stove. Over time we have become more frivolous – a mirrored disco ball, lighted pink flamingo, and a mini wind-up blender (it didn’t work very well).

As I watch my retirement savings evaporate it occurs to me that a further retrenchment may be in my future. Some day I may write about how I used to live in a really grand tent with a queen size bed and a drip coffee maker but now I am just as a happy in a backpacker pup tent. Maybe. But I just saw an ingenious device that converts an ice cooler into an air conditioner using a small battery powered fan. Can a propane powered, inflatable hot tub be far behind? I think I’m going to need a bigger truck.

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