Simplify / Travel

The Quest to Simplify Our Life

For the past eight years we’ve been on a joyful quest to simplify our life. It’s been a journey that has taken us from minimizing our possessions and streamlining our digital footprint, to downsizing our abode and becoming financially independent. We’ve done it all … and we’re thrilled with where we’ve landed.

For us, simplifying has meant boiling life down to its essence – then focusing on the people, things, and experiences we truly value. Our ultimate goal is to live lightly on this earth, spend time with the people we love, and do the things we crave – especially, travel.

So we’re developing our Simplify Your Life Series, and we would love your input. Maybe you’re facing some of the same challenges we did, and would like to bounce some ideas around. And if we don’t have an answer, we bet that our talented blog community will come to the rescue.

We know that many of you out there have already gone through the process of simplifying, and you probably have tips to share. We’d love to include them in one of the posts, with a link back to you.

So tell us the things that you have either done, or would like to do. What are your tips that have made the biggest difference in simplifying your life?

• Declutter – home, work, life
• Downsize – possessions, wardrobe, home
• Downshift – job, activities, commitments
• Reduce – expenses, stress, work hours, carbon footprint, social media, food consumption
• Change – habits, jobs, social activities, friends
• Increase – time with loved ones, doing things you love, helping others
• Organize – work, home, paper, digital files
• Manage – debt, income, financial planning
• Streamline – routines, chores, exercise, work life
• Explore – minimalism, voluntary simplicity, alternative housing options

Our aim is to offer a fresh perspective on these concepts. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some of our experiences, thoughts, and tips. We’ll tell you how we did it – from disheartening failures to delightful successes, and we hope that you’ll follow along.

Keepin’ It Simple,
Terri & James

Photo Credits: 1.  Rob Helf , 5. xandert 

62 thoughts on “The Quest to Simplify Our Life

    • Hi Beth! Congrats on embarking on the simplifying process. If you’re like us, it just feels good to start … and the cool thing is, you can simplify at your own pace. We found it tricky to figure out WHERE to start. How did you tackle choosing where to start? ~Terri

      • I got rid of everything I didn’t need or love, sold my house, paid off debts, moved to my daughter’s house while waiting for a small condo I wanted to go on sale. I’m closing on it tomorrow with a small mortgage and no other debt. less to take care of, small garden, short walk to town, short walk to river and woods, 1 block to my daughter’s house. next up, repaint in calm colors, take out carpeting, sit in it and see what the space feels like and fill it with only the special things I really love. downsizing and simplifying to head towards retirement in a couple of years. frees me up to travel, wander, hang out with fam and friends and no stress. happy.

      • Wow Beth, that’s SO fantastic!!! Congrats. It’s so exciting that you accomplished all these things … and got the condo you wanted. I love the way you think – calm colors, only special things – you read my mind. 🙂 Good luck on your closing tomorrow. I know that you will celebrate in style. Thanks so much for all the tips – we’ll be sure to hare them with everyone. Wishing you all the best, Terri

  1. Following with interest. I sold up and down sized when I emigrated to the far side of the World 7 years ago and that was great. However, I’ve gradually acquired more and more stuff again which I’m torn about. Also recently reduced my work hours to help with my mental health but still want to do so many other changes, just in need of both the motivation and the inspiration.

    • Hi Fi, I bet your move from Scotland to New Zealand was quite a challenge! Did you move much of your personal stuff, or just figure you’d wait and see what you needed? I know when we moved from the US to Sudan (earlier in life) it was hard to figure out what we were going to need. Like you we recently acquired more and more stuff (bigger house), but decided to downsize and move to a smaller place. I’m really interested in your change in work hours. I’m sure lots of people would love to do that! 🙂 Any tips? All the best, Terri

      • I arrived in the summer so packed only summer clothes. Had to buy a winter wardrobe in NZ when the cold weather came. I still have some boxes stashed at my parent’s house (much to their annoyance!).
        As for my work, I dropped a day per fortnight which might not sound like much but has actually made the world of difference to me. I’m a contractor though which probably made the reduction a bit easier than as an employee.

      • What a good idea, Fi. I can see how regaining that day per fortnight could make a huge difference … and might be something other people could negotiate with their bosses. Thanks for the tip. ~T

  2. T and J, can’t wait for your series! We have downsized our house by half and gotten rid of more than half of our “stuff”. We still can improve on it.

    • Hi Brenda, it’s so fantastic to hear from you! Wow – downsized by half on your house and stuff – that’s truly impressive! I knew you’d made a change, but had no idea about the scale. I have so many questions. How did you and Larry decide what to keep? All the best, Terri

      • We kept our favorite things…gave away so much of our furniture to family and friends in the midwest (since we lived near them when we sold the bigger house). Now we get to visit them and also visit our furniture! We still have some things to shed, but we are working on it.

      • What a great approach, Brenda. I love that you can still visit your furniture and family simultaneously. The perfect solution – totally win-win. Over the years my sisters have also helped take some things off our hands. 🙂 Wonderful to talk with you. ~Terri

    • Hi Sharrumkin, I’m so glad that you stopped by. I see from your bio that you taught in seven different countries. That’s amazing! I’m sure that moving around like that certainly encouraged simplicity. And your financial advice is excellent. I particularly like, “If you cannot afford it do not buy it.” We’ve lived by that maxim and it’s really paid off. Thanks for the tips, Terri

  3. We downsized from our large family home and gave away most of our furniture. I retired early from a job I loved, but it was necessary in order to have total freedom. My husband also retired and we now we live most of the time in a motorhome touring Europe. It is amazing how little you need to be happy. I will be looking forward to hear what others have done and your downsizing experience.

    • Gilda, it must feel empowering to have worked hard and achieved a long-term goal … and then follow through on the fun part. As we’ve discussed, we too do a bit of camping/touring, and doing it in an RV in Europe sounds wonderful. Terri and I have had many conversations about exactly what it is about possessions that make them so easy to accumulate and so hard to get rid of. But, one thing that travel has taught us is how little we actually need on a daily basis, and that is a great starting point. ~James

  4. Inspiring! I am looking forward to your future blog posts. My intention is to declutter and downsize, and I have been doing that (Marie Kondo’s book provides motivation as well), and find that sometimes it is easy, and other times it is really hard!

    • Bertie, it sounds like you’ve made a good start, and that’s a big part of the battle. One thing that got us into trouble in our last house was having an abundance of space in our home. We suspected this but we now have proof, that the more storage space we have the more stuff we acquire. Hopefully, we won’t make that mistake again. As for Marie Kondo, we think that whatever works as a motivational tool is a good thing. Best of Luck. ~James

  5. It seemed each time we moved we sold, gave away or threw away tons. The key phrase is “each time” because after we arrived at our new location, it miraculously filled up again. Perhaps it was because we really never downsized, and indeed even when we sold our house and moved to a condo, the condo was bigger than the house.
    Now we are planning to do it again. I shall look forward to the series.

    • Ray and Alie, this is exactly what happened to us in our latest round of the down-up-downsize game. We were living a small townhouse, and for a couple of reasons, one primarily medical, we needed to make a change. So we ended up in a much larger house: empty rooms to fill up, etc. We’ve gone through the downsize process again, because ultimately, we’re both minimalists at heart. For us, it appears that the one thing that gets us into trouble is having more space. How about your future plans? How will they impact your downsizing effort? ~James

  6. From reading the comments, it appears that this topic resonates with all of us. As I read through your list I recognized that each item was one I’ve been chipping away at for the past 8 years – some successfully and others … well, not so much.

    Looking forward to reading more about this shared experience.

    • Joanne, inertia is a strong force, and for most people, it’s probably easier to stay the course than to make a change. And when it comes to possessions, as I’ve said to others, I believe that it ultimately comes down to how much space is available. Its’ so much easier to stuff something into the closet than to make the decision and follow through on getting rid of it. At least that how it worked for us. And good news on your successes. What has worked for you so far? ~James

      • I guess it helps that I’m just naturally not a clutter bunny. Whenever I’m in a closet or drawer and encounter something that I no longer need/value I pull it out immediately. I keep a box or bag in the basement where rejects get dumped. When the bag or box is full, it goes to a donation centre.

      • The constant donation box is a great idea Joanne. We keep one going as well, and I’m an absolute zealot about getting it out of the house and donated ASAP – out of sight, out of mind.

  7. I am so looking forward to this series. As you know, we moved to Spain from Canada 4.5 years ago. We got rid of 75% of our belongings and have seldom missed any of it. Which makes me think why did we have it all in the first place. We have been good about not accumulating, except for getting a dog. If I buy a book, I have to get rid of one, if I buy a pair of shoes, I have to get rid of a pair etc. Less stuff, less stress.

    • Darlene, I’d like to think that we all have the willpower to make these decisions on our own, but honestly, there’s nothing like a major change to get one motivated. And as you found, an international move will do it. We’ve had the same experience. I’m interested to hear your “buy one, toss one” rule. Terri is a firm believer in this rule and calls it “one in, one out.”

      Amen on less stuff, less stress! We’ve just gone from 1700 sq ft of home ownership in the burbs to 700 sq ft of apartment rental in the center, and we celebrate our freedom every day. ~James

      • It took us a little while to get used to 700 sq ft. as we kept tripping over each other, and then we got a dog! Fortunately, in Spain, we have a large outdoor patio and spend a lot of time outside. I like Terri’s “one in, one out” rule.

      • Darlene, when we looked for our rental an outdoor space was a deal-breaker. As you know, an outdoor space becomes another room, which if you adjust a bit, can be used for much of the year. I think that this point should be in the Small-Space Living guidebook. ~James

  8. Looking forward to your series and seeing what ideas other people have. One thing I learned when we were downsizing was terminology is key when planning. Have a “yard sale” on Fri, Sat and Sun and you will do OK. Have an “estate sale” on Wed, Thur, Fri and Sat and you WILL clean up! Then you have one more sale, a “moving sale”, at that point everything left goes for next to nothing. The $100 coffee pot – $5! Let it go! Craig’s List is a great place to advertise, but don’t forget to look at the Wanted section. Those children’s clothes you have packed in the basement could go to someone who truly needs it. I wrote a post called “Taking it all with us – or not” It didn’t solve all our problems, but it did help with a major one. We also live by the “one in-one out” rule. Waldo is only 400 sq. feet so everything has a place – no room for extras. All the best!

    • That’s so fascinating about the “Estate Sale,” Laura! I’ve never tried that one, and I love the idea. Why do you think that wording worked so well? And your post “Taking it all with us – or not” ( ) introduced me to another ingenious idea – photo album curtains. You’re amazing! Thanks so much for all the great tips – we’ll be sure to include them in future posts. We’ve only lived in 400 sq. ft. once. What was the most challenging adjustment you and Steve had to make? ~Terri

      • Part of why “Estate Dale” works is being open on Wed & Thurs. People who buy at those types of sales are usually busy at flea markets on the weekend. Also the term implies an entire household of items, not just odds and ends.
        We love the curtains and they really worked well in Alaska! With the room darkening curtains behind, when they are shut you really have to turn on a light to see anything. A few months ago I wrote a post called 5 Truths About Our Life on the Road, but probably the biggest challenge has been I have learned I need my “me” time. In 400 sq feet, it is always us. But we’ve adjusted well!

      • Aha! Now there’s an interesting insight I hadn’t considered. So are they buying stuff to sell on the weekends? No matter what, it’s a great idea. And about the “me time.” Ditto! I guess it helps having The Great Outdoors as your playground. We had a 400 sq ft apartment when we lived in St. Pete, FL. It worked out OK, except that James was keeping his bicycle in our only closet. It was kind of like tackling a moose any time you need something to wear. 🙂 Thanks so much for all the great ideas and insight. ~Terri

  9. Many readers have focused on downsizing, which we did a few years ago with great happiness. My husband took a much less stressful job with the move, and I too reduced my hours and commute by a lot. I have long been a “zero-inboxer,” keeping my electronic clutter to as bare a minimum as our physical possessions. But our renewed aim is the one you mention about living lightly on our Earth. There are so many more steps we can all take, and we are trying to add to ours every day!

    • Lexie, I haven’t heard the phrase “zero-inboxer,” but love the concept. We’ve worked very hard on the going paperless side, and we just got back from a month-long road trip, and we didn’t have a single piece of snail mail that wasn’t junk that we tossed. So something must be working. We’re working on the digital side as well, but not making as much headway. Do you have any tips, links, recommendations, or info on zero-inboxing? ~James

      • I’d say it’s just a relentless purging of anything useless or too frequent. I immediately unsubscribe to anything I don’t want regularly, knowing I can always go to a website if I choose to; this alone keeps my daily new mail down to mostly personal correspondence or things I want to see. Because I now have it so stripped down, I can deal with each thing that comes in quickly. I do not let things sit in there! I respond quickly, and if the topic is fully covered, the email string immediately get archived, trashed, or put in a folder.

        P.S. I just looked it up and it’s actually called Inbox Zero!

  10. I noticed that your blueberries are the wild ones. You can tell the difference by the size. (I’m an old blueberry picker from the wild) They taste so much better than the cultivated ones.

  11. James and Terri – Will be reading this series with interest. We moved from 2400 sq ft to 600 sq ft seven years ago, debt-free, with most of our ‘things’ sorted out and given away. We are on the cusp of another move, and are trying to figure out why, in our mid-sixties, we haven’t yet ‘settled down’. Keep adventuring! All the best – Susan

    • Susan, we are totally simpatico with you since we experienced the same situation a few months ago! Our friends said, “But we thought you were all settled!” Is the 600 sq ft place the house you talk about in your book? I can’t wait to hear what the next move is. I’m so impressed that you managed to become debt free with your things sorted out. Congrats! Was there one particular thing you did that made a huge difference? All the best, Terri

      • Terri – Yes, same place. Owning the little beach house outright has been a matter of great luck – we bought very low. But prices in California are so high now, we are planning a move. It has been great, though, to be walking distance to grocery, restaurants, walking trails. Is convenience one of the reasons you moved to the apartment?

      • Absolutely, Susan. We had ended up in the suburbs (story to come), and we are not suburbanites! It was an island with nowhere to walk. So we decided that our #1 priority was a great walkable location. We figured we could make any abode work if it was in the right location. And that’s what we did. Are you going to stay in California or try a new destination? ~Terri

      • Oh, my, Terri – we have so much in common. Walkable locations can add so much. Our town is tiny, but we have 5 restaurants and one grocery store within two blocks. About the move – we have for a long time figured we would move from California at some point. Since our son just moved to Washington State, we figured – why not?
        BTW – if your travels bring you to this coast soon, we have a small cottage just vacated by our son, and are inviting visitors for the next couple months 😉 -Susan

      • We lived in Oregon for a while and really enjoyed our visits to Washington. With such great access to the Pacific Northwest and Canada – it’s ideal. We got into Whale Watching and did find it to be a real weather change from California. Thanks so much for your very kind invitation – We just got back home in Kentucky from camping in your neck of the woods for a month! Rats! I wish our timing had been better. Many thanks for thinking of us. Hopefully our paths may cross in the future. 🙂 ~Terri

  12. Florence and I downsized before we traveled and lived abroad for three years. It took a couple of years to sell a house, two cars, furniture and all our beloved keepsakes. What we couldn’t sell, we donated. In the end, we got everything we needed into a suitcase and a carry-on apiece.

    What we learned when we boxed things up was, if we didn’t open a box for over a year, we didn’t need whatever was inside. It was a heart rending for me to let go of skiing and camping gear, and for Florence to part with the dozen or more exclusive art pieces we had accumulated. Nonetheless, we wouldn’t trade those or any of our possessions for the friends and memories we gathered along the way. Even now on special occasions, we get notices from four continents!

    We’re back stateside, and since returning from Europe, we’ve continued to move around having lived in Washington, South Carolina, and now Idaho. Travel is still in our future once Florence is fully retired, but we’ve found a beautiful spot to call home…for now. 🙂


    • Hey Mike. It’s good to hear from you and it sounds like you and Florence are doing well. You two could be poster children for simplifying, downsizing, and then harvesting the fruits of your labors. We’ve taken a similar path, and while there’s no right or wrong way to do this stuff, it’s worked well for us. All of our RTWs and our extended time outside the US was when we didn’t own property, and the few things we had were in storage – usually the smallest unit we could fit into. We’ve moved so many times that at some point (after move 27 I believe … no joke), we said “There has to be an easier way.” So now we’ve settled into a 700 sq ft rental in Lexington, KY which is our old university town and close to family. Years ago we learned that we never say never, but it feels damned good right now. BTW, where did you guys land in Idaho, and why there? It’s beautiful country for sure. All the best to you both. ~James

      • Hey James. Yes, I’m back, getting ready to write again. We are almost as mobile as you guys, having moved 19 times in 14 years. 🙂 I couldn’t wait to get back out West where the mountains look more spectacular than foothills. We landed in Caldwell, just outside of Boise, which has apparently been widely discovered. The house we bought in September has increased 15% in value due to the scarcity of homes for sale. We’re far enough out that the farming country is just walking distance down the road. It is similar to my old stomping grounds around Yakima, WA. Hot summer days, cool nights. – Mike

  13. Pingback: Simplify Our Life — GALLIVANCE – Mediarteducation

    • Hi Juliann, it’s so great to hear from you. It’s funny that you say that downsizing is looming because I had the exact same feeling 6 months ago. Trying to wrap my head around the task just seemed too enormous to even start. So i decided to tackle it a bit at a time. As my sister says, “I always start with my socks. There’s always something there to get rid of!” 🙂 We’re getting some great tips from folks, so we look forward to passing them on. Are there any special challenges you want to focus on? ~Terri

      • Perhaps wisdom comes with age. I know mine has. The best laid plans can be consuming in young adulthood. Jobs we earn, things we acquire (deemed necessary by society), status, desires. Then suddenly Life happens and things change, making intangibles much more valuable than stuff. Call it maturity, call it a spiritual awakening. For me things became very clear. Ultimately, simplicity is the answer.

      • What a beautiful perspective, Gail. I love it! And I think your observations are spot on. When I was younger, I never gave a second thought to acquiring stuff – it was just what people did. But now, as you point out, intangibles are more valuable than stuff. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. ~Terri

  14. I look so forward to reading this series James & Terri! We are giving thought to changing our living situation, most likely a downsize, but are still in the process of asking ourselves, what does that look like?

    Before we make our own changes, we are in the process of divesting of a parent’s home of 57 years. Lots & lots of stuff! It certainly has opened our eyes in considering our own home & its contents.

    I would have to say that my husband has a more difficult time letting go of stuff than I do. He has been saying that he is going to clean out his garage for the past 29 years! It’s a slow process!

    • Hi Lynn, James and I are both still chuckling about your garage comment. James can absolutely relate to your husband’s predicament.

      We can also relate to your challenges of dealing with a parent’s home. We’ve been through that with both sets of our parents – and they were of the WWII generation who held onto everything. It took lots of time to sort through their stuff, but it sparked wonderful conversations and memories. It also convinced us we wanted to simplify our possessions down to only the things that were really special to us. It’s immensely satisfying to look around now and only see the few things we love. Consequently, we needed considerably less space, so we downsized that too.

      I love that you and your husband are in the process of asking yourselves what a downsized life would look like. Such a smart idea. We’re really looking forward to the coming conversations and ideas – maybe we’ll spark some ideas for you.
      All the best, Terri

      • Terri, I must admit, it is hard not to raise an eyebrow when my husband announces he is sick of tripping over things and needs to clean out his garage.

        You are so right about our parents being of a generation who held onto things. We have definitely come across some treasures & I am certain, there are many more to come! Cheers, Lynn

  15. I love this idea for a series. Shane & I have simplified our lives and we love it. I left my lab job and we moved to a small cabin on 100 acres. We make less money but have fewer expenses and many more experiences now. We both work less (hence the less money) but we love it. Spending time doing the things we love and with the people we love, it’s worth it! As we call it we are “selective employed”, not old enough to fully retire (we don’t plan on ever fully retiring), we work when it’s needed and play when we feel like it. Looking forward to reading this series.

  16. When we moved into our RV seven years ago, we thought we’d only do the full-time RV thing for a year or two and thus have maintained two storage units full of stuff. In early June we brought it down to one. For the longest time, I viewed my success by my possessions. I also hung onto business awards, etc., but after seven years, I managed to purge and donate a whole storage unit and feel lighter for it. I took photos of all the “Oscar” type of awards and plaques that I had received and then tossed.

    We’re currently spending the summer parked on family property and I’m helping them with purging and organizing. It has been a slow process, but once I got my sister-in-laws mind going in the right direction, she and the Salvation Army are on a first name basis.

    I basically asked her two questions when she was having trouble letting go of things. 1. Is this something you plan on moving to your next home? 2. If you passed tomorrow, what do you think your loved ones would do with this? That seemed to get the ball rolling.

    Great post and subject. I look forward to what others have to say. – Ingrid

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