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One Year and $5,000 Changed My Life

Editors Note: I’m taking this week off to spend quality time with my mom.

The following is a guest post by Jessica Reeder. I’m a huge fan of Jessica’s work, writing and commitment to community building. You’ll see why once you read this fantastic article. Jessica recently launched an awesome blog called Love and Trash. Stop by and check it out!


I’ve always had a lot of stuff. By the time I was 25, I had a truckload of possessions (most of them stained and dented); a leased car; two separate wardrobes for work and play… and the list goes on.

From that point, I started relying on money. I needed enough income to pay for my car, and I also needed a big enough apartment for all my things. I needed money to spend at San Francisco clubs every weekend, and I also needed fabulous outfits to wear to those clubs. I needed good haircuts, and awesome shoes.

You can see where this is going. After a while, I realized that my lifestyle no longer fit my personality. Like anybody else, I was a slave to my stuff. I was no longer able to live in connection with the natural world as I’d been raised. I could see blue skies through my window, but never had time to go outside. I had two, sometimes three jobs and a recurring headache. I was developing weird addictions and health problems.

It was time to make a drastic change: I started giving things away.

Getting rid of my stuff was an time-consuming process, however. It took years to wean myself off my piles of beautiful junk. I had time to think about why I was doing it, where I wanted to end up. It was mid-Bush era, and after marching against oil wars I’d also come to recognize my dependence on that oil. I dropped off my car and walked away on foot. But it wasn’t enough.

I wanted to find a way to live more naturally, with less energy expended and more chance for fulfillment. But I really didn’t know how. How could I reconcile my desire for simplicity with my love for the new and fashionable? Was there a way to be sustainable without being a barefoot hippie? And if going hippie was the only way, how would I make the change? I knew nothing about gardening, cooking, keeping chickens. My internet skillz wouldn’t help me in the “real” world.

At the same time, I realized that I couldn’t stay in California, not permanently. Property values, rents, the cost of living (especially in the Bay Area) were ridiculous, and I’d never be able to slow down if my expenses stayed high. I wanted to find a place to settle down, get some land, build an energy-efficient house. But where? California was all I knew.

So, at the age of 30, I decided to have an adventure.

I bought a 5×8′ trailer, packed my remaining possessions into it, and parked it in my dad’s backyard. I threw a few things into a backpack and set out on the road with $5,000 in savings. My goal was to find a place to live, and the skills to build a new life from the ground up. I would blog the whole thing at Uprooted, an eco/travel blog.

Four months later, the economy crashed and most of my coworkers were laid off. I suddenly found myself with an advantage: I’d gotten out before things got bad, and I was ready and able to live on pennies. Despite my fear and despite feeling sorry for those who weren’t so fortunate, I realized that I really was…lucky.

Over the next year, my luck continued. With only that $5,000, I traveled throughout America. I worked on farms, built Earthships, camped, volunteered, and met amazing people. I discovered a massive, powerful undercurrent running through our country. Everywhere I went, everyone I met had opinions on the environment. Everybody (aside from a few hardy souls in San Francisco, LA, Texas and New York) was making some kind of effort to reduce their impact.

Some of the most inspiring folks were the ones you might pre-judge as top offenders. A Republican construction worker in Colorado gave me a ride in his big white truck. He drove back and forth from Denver to Boulder every day, he said, and always tried to pick up a rideshare so he didn’t feel so bad about wasting the gas.

An Arizona insurance agent in his 50s told me he’d dropped all his work for six months to volunteer on an organic farm, simply because it felt like the right thing to do.

A good-old-boy cab driver in Arkansas waxed poetic about wildlife management, hunters’ responsibilities and urban encroachment.

Then there were the liberals, the anarchists, the artists and freegans. So many people, working to change the world with only their callused hands and fevered brains. Experiments in architectureagriculturetransportation and community: they were everywhere, all around. And every time my passion began to flag, a new and exciting experience would come along to sweep me up again.

I landed back in California in late 2009, worn out and entirely changed. I knew what I wanted now, and I knew it was achievable. It all seemed so easy. But I’d also come to recognize that the current that had been sweeping me around the country was still under the surface. Many of the people I’d met felt unrecognized, alone in their efforts. That’s part of why I’d had such good fortune: the people I’d met were achingly eager to share their knowledge with the greater public, but they didn’t have the means to do it.

I decided to become their means. It was time to focus on the individuals, the little actions, the possible and entertaining side of sustainable living. I wanted to build a bridge between those who were living like I was five years ago, and those who are living like I will five years from now. And so, Love and Trash was born.

We’re a brand-new DIY blog dedicated to radical interdependence, small possible actions, and grassroots inspiration. We like to focus on real people and real possibilities—because although it’s wonderful to dream about a mansion made from recycled materials, none of us ever expect to live in one. Rather, we expect to have small, modest houses, happy families, a garden and a few chickens, and the opportunity to create a tiny sphere of goodness in a world full of trash.

Please, join us. And if you believe in what I do, please, donate to help me continue my work and take Uprooted around the world in 2011.

If this post helped you, please share it with your tribe! Thanks.

Note: Photography by Jessica Reeder

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mars Dorian May 21, 2010, 6:13 am

    That sounds like an incredible Journey, Jessica

    And it looks like as if really did completely change the way you see the world – that’s awe-some, those valuable experience are what make life the sweetest (especially after periods of darkness).

    I have just checked your Love and Trash site, and it looks stunning (not only idea wise).

    I respect your mission. Mucho success on your journey.

  • Melissa Gorzelanczyk May 21, 2010, 7:21 am

    Hi Jessica – I LOVE this story and just subscribed to your blog. I also love that your blog is dedicated to “small possible actions” – in a country of big everything, it’s a good reminder that the choice is, ultimately, ours.

    Much love,
    Melissa Gorzelanczyk

  • Weston May 21, 2010, 8:35 am


    Hope I’m not giving short shrift to your content but the main thought going through my head right now is that you write like an absolute dream.

  • Jessica May 21, 2010, 9:06 am

    Wow, thanks guys! That’s really kind.

    For what it’s worth, I’m a HUGE fan of miss RowdyKittens too. It’s so wonderful to have someone like her to inspire me. I love the online community, for exactly this reason. Thanks Tammy for your ongoing support and inspiration–and thanks Mars, Melissa and Weston for totally making my day.

  • Lynn Fang May 21, 2010, 9:59 am

    Wow, that is incredible. I totally cried.

  • Reinette Senum May 21, 2010, 3:42 pm

    Hello Jessica! What a fabulous blog. So incredibly beautiful and fitting. I know many will follow your lead.

    Currently, I am Mayor of Nevada City, CA: a little town with big intentions. We are collectively on a similar path as yours. If ever you would love to visit our fair town and perhaps speak about your journey, please let me know. We’ll set you up with a lovely place to stay. You’d fall in love with the community…. and we have fabulous organic farms as well as an awesome, local farmers market.

    If you need bloggers. Please let me know…. our council and town are working towards a simpler, more resilient world. We feel it’s important to be open source about our progress and we’re happy to share with the world.

    Keep up the beautiful life!

    Reinette Senum
    Mayor, Nevada City, CA

  • katie May 22, 2010, 3:49 am

    “A tiny sphere of goodness in a world full of trash”, nice! You are my new rebel sister. I’ve subscribed to your blog and can’t wait to soak up more of your amazing and inspiring vibe. You rock! and you’ve rocked me awake this Saturday morning. Love it. (and thanks Tammy for connecting us all with this wonderful woman)

    • Jessica Reeder June 7, 2010, 9:44 am

      Thanks Katie! You’ve got a beautiful site too! Lovely to meet you.

  • finallygettingtoeven.com May 22, 2010, 7:41 am

    What a wonderful adventure you must have had on your journey into a world so completely outside your own realm. How i wish i could have been right there beside you.

    I remember when i took up backpacking. So different from the creature comforts that i had grown to know. The world and your place in it takes on a whole new meaning when you are carrying your home on your back, like a turtle. Suddenly you are no longer in charge, you make no rules, mother nature does and you live within those boundaries, you get no say.

    I like to tell others that ask me why i do it, when it sounds just nuts, that when one gives up all they have taken for granted it makes them realize a whole new perspective on their lives. Take showering for example. A simple action that is done without any thought. You climb into your shower, turn on the hot water and mindless spend the next 5 minutes thinking about anything and everything instead of the fact that you HAVE the ABILITY to partake in this luxury when many parts of the world does not. After a week spent in the woods, often times having been rained on, muddy, sweaty, dried blood from scrapes & cuts you begin to think you would give anything for a shower, and suddenly you begin to realize it for what it is. And when you finally do get that shower, well it is one of the most glorious actions that you think you have ever had. And even now, when i am not washing away all the after-effects of a trip well spent i try to stay mind full of where i am at in the world and appreciate the simple act of the hot running water gliding down my backside.

    I think you have to be willing to really open your mind to truly be able to see with your eyes.

    • Jessica Reeder June 7, 2010, 9:48 am

      Too true! It’s so difficult to be mindful of all our luxuries and creature comforts. Utah Phillips (my hero) once said that if he had one defining goal/challenge in his life, it was to approach the world without the tools of privilege. I personally enjoy my privileges very much, but learning to see them for what they are–gifts, not rights–is the ultimate path to wisdom. At least I hope so.

  • Arvind Devalia May 24, 2010, 5:41 am

    Wow! Jessica, what a story and what an adventure, all to make the world a better place.

    I have always believed that we all have this innate desire to do well for others, make a difference and leave our mark in the best way possible (no matter how small).

    And I am so glad to know that you are helping others do just that with Love and Trash – I will be there often:-)

    Good luck!

    • Jessica June 7, 2010, 9:49 am

      Thanks! I can always use more luck. It’ll be great to see you over at Love and Trash.

  • Eric Normand May 24, 2010, 6:31 pm

    So inspirational!

    My girlfriend and I are about to set out on a trek around the world. We want to volunteer and CouchSurf and see what there is to see.

    Thanks for letting us know it’s possible.

    You’re totally awesome.

    • Jessica June 7, 2010, 9:50 am

      Eric, I LOVE your story and am so excited about what you’re doing. Keep in touch!

  • Bankruptcy Ben June 6, 2010, 5:59 pm

    Hmmm I’m guess you didn’ thave a partner at the time. Sounds like an amazing trip you were very brave to make. The triping around your own country is also very cool. Did you ever start working again. Were you freaked out about waiting to long to have kids?

  • Jessica June 7, 2010, 9:52 am

    Ah, Bankruptcy Ben, thank you for your sincere concern. You have made me LOL today.

  • Bankruptcy Ben June 7, 2010, 3:38 pm

    My Pleasure Jessica:) Sometimes the sounds of clocks ticking around me almost makes me deaf:)

  • Susana May 22, 2011, 4:19 am

    Oh god,

    I wish I had the clarity and courage to do that when I was younger … What a great adventure!



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