Ken Keiter

Ken Keiter

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13 Oct 2012
A Personal Project

I’m excited to begin a new personal project upon my return to Portland: I’m going to attempt to live in a different place, with different people, every month for the next year.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone whom particularly liked to travel. Sure, I’ve lived in Germany for a year, toured much of Europe, and tooled around the US — but I’ve always been so anchored by the concept of “home.” Home was always the place I was trying to get back to. It’s an apartment, a set of people, a beaten path to and from an office and a favorite coffee shop, my possessions.

For the last few months, however, I’ve experienced a different challenge. My startup was accepted into TechStars at the last moment and, with little warning, I uprooted my life to move to Seattle. I fretted over what to bring with me; what tools would I need? What conveniences? I stood in my apartment and tried to make a list (several times) of what I might need for four months in a new city. I pared the list down, packed and re-packed, until it consisted of nothing but clothes and the barest essentials. I left for Seattle, nervous that I’d managed to fit everything I needed to live and work for four months in a 27-gallon rolling container, and my backpack. I reasoned that, if worst came to worst, I’d buy what I needed, or return to Portland to pick it up from my apartment.

A few weeks into my trip, I did return and, with the help of my amazing parents, quickly moved out of my beautiful sixth-floor apartment in the heart of Portland’s Pearl district.

I’d had a storage pod delivered — exactly 120 square feet of space into which I could place my possessions for later retrieval. The thought of giving all of those things up was agonizing. I would no longer have a home to return to.

And yet, as I placed my leather chairs, my sofa, computers, Bose sound system, flat panel television, espresso maker, kitchen ware — everything I owned — into the storage pod, I realized I was starting to go faster and faster. Throwing caution to the wind, and ignoring the OCD that typically enforces my Tetris-like packing habits, I hurled things into the pod with what more experienced writers frequently refer to as “reckless abandon.” Although a haze of sleep deprivation prevented me from realizing it at the time, a weight was being lifted from my shoulders: six pounds for my paper shredder; another twenty for an ottoman; four more 27-gallon containers of tools; a four-pound box of parts. It all went in the pod. I closed the rolling door. Padlocked it. And got the hell out of there.

I returned to Seattle with nothing more than when I’d left; back to my 27-gallon rolling container, and my backpack. The container holds my clothing and some documents; the backpack contains the tools I need to build software and make basic repairs to myself and my equipment. I have a mattress on the floor, a cardboard-filled Ikea end-table, and a lamp which sits atop the end-table. All three could only be described as “adequate.”

I find the end-table and lamp to be excessive.

This has been an invaluable lesson for me. It’s not the stuff; none of it matters. Objects and possessions have only the meaning and value that we give them. In owning them, we lend them a piece of our mind, soul, concern, equity — whatever you wish to call it — and in doing so, those things grow to own us. This was something that, as someone who considers himself to be appreciative of art and design, I should have realized much sooner: you cannot own an object without it owning you. Pick which objects you will give your equity carefully. Pick them because they aid in your enjoyment of life, or because they help you accomplish your dreams. Refine that list of things further; and take only the ones which are well-crafted, and accomplish exactly what you need them to. Nothing more; nothing less.

So much more important than the objects and possessions in our lives are the people. It’s overlooked more frequently than one might think. We’re the most narcissistic generation in history — and with the influx of social media, the world seems mighty big. Many respond by closing themselves off to it, focusing further inward. So I’ll focus outward.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve met more people than in the last year. I’ve met people whom I’m hoping will remain my friends for life, people much smarter than I, people kinder and more humble. One of my single biggest realizations as TechStars and my time in Seattle start winding down is that these are the people that I want to be with, and the people I want to be. And the fact that I’m discovering this now simply tells me that I need to meet more of them. Hence, my new personal project.

The goals are simple: experience new people and places; make friends; get to the bottom of myself. My first stop is an AirBnB in North Portland, where I’ll be living with a naturopathic physician and her grad-student roommate. I’ve never met them, but I’ll be living with them for exactly 31 days, starting at the end of November.

I’m so excited to discover who they are and, in doing so, broaden my horizons, and discover more about myself. Like everything in life, it’s an experiment.


Ken at 16:27

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