Solo Traveler: From Riches to Rags

Solo Traveler: Riches to Rags

After a three-month trip to Europe, I told my sister I needed to buy some new clothes. “Halleluiah,” she cried.

She thinks that wearing the same clothes over and over is a sad state of affairs and she loves to shop. She’s convinced shopping will be the cure to my obsession with not having things.

You see, I’ve gone from riches to rags – literally – in my sister’s opinion. I’ve joined the small but growing number of people who want a simpler life.

Simple living begins with having as little as we can get away with and continues with not letting more stuff become a boat anchor that keeps us stuck.

My first brush with simplicity began with an infamous fire, a fire that destroyed forests, my home, and the homes of a thousand other people.

It was May 11, 2000. A tsunami of flame swept over the mountains west of Los Alamos. When the fire passed, everything I owned was gone. Books had turned to white ash, jewelry was melted beyond recognition, bottles of pickles were full of black goo. About the only recognizable thing was a bag of Cub Scout popcorn, buried under falling bricks, that was only partially burned. Not one kernel in the bag had popped.

I discovered a number of things about myself as a result of the fire. The most important lesson was, stuff is just stuff.

Stuff is not very valuable when compared to pets or people that you love. It is not happiness. And while losing it can be traumatic, that’s no reason to get depressed.

Stuff is easily replaced and in fact, stuff has a tendency to come into your life whether you want it or not.

For 10 years after the fire, stuff flowed into my life like rising floodwaters. Papers built up in piles. I acquired clothing, furniture, books, paintings, tools and more tools: a lawn mower, hoses, rakes, a shovel, vacuum cleaner, sewing machine, cake decorating kits, a step ladder, painting supplies, a freezer, and just everything else a homeowner needs. My son accumulated toys and more toys, games, clothing, and for a while, dozens of broken electronic devices that he loved to take apart.

Pretty soon there was chaos.

I was rich in possessions and poor in time because my time was taken up trying to maintain order and with making money to buy more things.

I wanted to travel, and I didn’t want to be obsessed with my possessions while I was gone. It was time for a decision. So I got rid of the tools, sold the house, and bought a condo.

After 10 years, all my furniture was used, so I thought, why not rent the condo already furnished with good used stuff? Or I could trade condos with other people who might want to visit New Mexico. 

In reality, for the last four years, I’ve mostly rented to very nice students while leaving personal things locked in my bedroom. The Toyota van has been rented or loaned so I still have a car when I come back. I got rid of every item of clothing that didn’t fit or that I hadn’t worn in a year. My shoes are now only those that are comfortable. The high-heels have stalked off to footwear heaven.

As for the stuff I do need to keep, each thing has its own place and is easy to find. No more wasted time hunting for something I’m pretty sure I had but can’t now locate.

Life is simpler. It’s not as simple as some people who have literally gotten rid of everything, and taken up a vagabond lifestyle. I still have a place to come home to, and I like it that way.

Banking, paying bills, and money shifting is easy thanks to the Internet, so there are no more piles of bills and mail. Life has gone from chaos to a clean easy lifestyle that I can walk away from and go off to see the world.

It’s not easy to pare life to a minimum, but there are many good reasons to start. For me, the desire to travel was a powerful force. With better organization, I now have much more time to do the things I really want to do. I’ve lost nothing by relieving myself of things I no longer need, and I’ve experienced the most amazing life now that I’m free to go anywhere, anytime.

Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website:

Hardage welcomes comments via email:

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