In 2012 we journeyed around the world. It was the culmination of years of preparation. We’d scrimped and saved, renovated and sold houses, downsized and donated roomfuls of stuff. The time was right.
We traveled with only two small rolling backpacks for the better part of a year. That’s it … and we were happy. Our ability to survive – and thrive – with just a few possessions was empowering.
Before departing for parts unknown, we’d put our few remaining worldly goods in a 10 x 10 storage unit – and turned the key. What followed was months of endless wandering with no worries other than how to get from Point A to Point B. It was bliss.
As our journey was winding down, we decided that we would establish a small home base back in the US that would enable us to live simply, connect with family and friends, and continue to turn the key and travel. We named it Basecamp Gallivance. And since then we have pitched our domestic tent in four homes.
But on Home #3 we lost our footing and ended up with more house than we needed – way more! Hence our need to simplify … once again. And that brings us to where we were a few months ago … looking for Home #4.
So we talked endlessly about how to get things back on track, and we noticed that the same themes kept resurfacing, We realized that they were the keys for how we could simplify.
Our solution was a blend of conventional – and unconventional – wisdom coming from a couple of simplifiers. We had to:
1. Figure Out Our Priorities.
What were we trying to achieve? Sure, it’s great to declutter, but first we had to make sense of the Why? What did we hope to achieve – or were we just initiating change for change’s sake? So we painted a picture of how we wanted our new, simplified life to look. We wanted to:
- Travel more with no worries about our home
- Live in the part of town we love, becoming part of a vibrant community
- Become less car dependent and improve our quality of life
- Focus on the people we love.
2. Change Our Mindset.
We’ve been serial homeowners and renovators for years. In the past we would choose a city we wanted to explore, buy an inexpensive house in need of TLC, fix it up, then enjoy living in it. When we were ready to move on, we’d sell it – and that profit would finance our next trip. But when we moved to Lexington we knew we were finally home – and we wanted to stay. We just had to find the right place. Home #3 was very pretty, but turned out to be way bigger than we liked. It required so much attention that it made it tricky for us to go traveling.
So we changed our mindset. We decided to become renters. And just that simple shift in attitude has made all the difference.
3. Move to a Smaller, Simpler Abode.
We found a cool little apartment in an old fourplex, located smack-dab in the middle of the neighborhood we love. It’s a 700 sq. ft. charmer – just the right size for a couple of simplifiers. The advantages are amazing:
- We can walk to the grocery store, restaurants … and the list goes on.
- Now if we have a problem we just call the landlord (who’s a really great guy). After years of battling with contractors, this is a dream.
- We can live in a nicer neighborhood than we could afford as homeowners.
- Since we no longer have money tied up in a house, we can invest it and use the proceeds for travel and doing good.
- Now we can “lock it and leave it” at our whim.
4. Keep Fewer Possessions.
“I’ve got too much stuff!” is the frustrated refrain from many of us. And getting rid of stuff is both an art and a science. Whether you use the KonMari Method, “Packing Party,” or “Swedish Death Cleaning” – they’re all good. And if you’re motivated, you’ll find one that works for you.
Our mantra is “Love It, Or Lose It.” Simple enough, right? Keep the stuff you love (and need) … but when you stop loving it (and there’s a good chance you will on some things), then lose it. As James (the scientist) says, “Let’s don’t out-science this!”
So that’s what we did. We sold and gave away loads of stuff; then transitioned from a sprawling 1,700 sq. ft. house with a garage, shed, and huge yard, to a compact 700 sq. ft. apartment with 2 porches. Ahhh. As we say, “It may be small, but it lives large.”
5. Streamline Our Finances.
We needed to be able to handle our financial life online, whether we were at home or traveling. We decided we had to:
- Reduce the number of bank accounts – instead of 3 checking accounts, just have 1.
- Consolidate mutual funds to fewer organizations, making them easier to manage. Then reinvest or direct deposit the interest and dividend income to bank accounts.
- Pay bills online, and arrange Autopay for utilities and recurring bills.
- Go paperless on everything possible – statements, bills, and taxes.
- Limit the number of credit cards to our active accounts and one backup.
- Get a PO Box to make sure that any mail that slips through the cracks will be held securely until we’re able to deal with it.
6. Uncomplicate our Travel Life.
Travel is a big part of our life, and as all travelers know – it’s complicated. We wanted to make it easier. We realized the big question is What Bugs Us? Turns out it boiled down to 3 things.
- Lodging snafus
- Transportation challenges
- Long-haul flights with no breaks
When we’re traveling long term we love to stay in apartments instead of hotels. And we have loads of experience. But we are no longer willing to chase landlords across the city to get the keys. Now we look for apartments that have a 24/7 reception so there’s someone there to give us the keys – no matter when we arrive.
We research transportation options in advance, so that upon arrival in a new place we know if we’re looking for a bus, train, or tuk-tuk. No more guesswork. And we’ve solved the long flight issue by making more stops … and taking advantage of them. Now instead of flying through Reykjavik on our way to Europe, we take advantage of a free stopover to explore the town.
7. Let the Rough Edges Drag.
Sometimes letting go of old behaviors is the hardest thing to do. In our professional lives we were the “People who got stuff done.” As homeowners, we could customize a house to suit our personal taste. But if we were going to successfully transition to being renters, we’d have to take a chill pill.
We reminded ourselves:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Care about things you can change.
- Don’t be a perfectionist.
- Stop trying to control everything.
- Let life happen.
Fortune smiled upon us. A few months ago we signed the lease on a wonky, 1925 apartment with brown walls. The old James and Terri would have had it whipped into shape. Instead, we just painted it white.
So now we gladly tolerate cracked ceilings, a creepy basement, earring-eating floor registers, poltergeist cabinet doors, and a whistling toilet. We love it!
We are content. We are gleefully letting the rough edges drag.
Terri & James
P.S. We were gobsmacked by all the fantastic ideas and tips for simplifying that you shared last week. Absolutely awesome! Our next post will be dedicated to all your great suggestions with links back to your blog. So if you would like to join in, please answer this question:
What are the things you did to simplify your life that made the biggest difference?