Simplify Your Life: It’s Your Money – Keep More of It!

Earlier this year we were approached by Tricia Mitchell – the globetrotter behind the award-winning Travels with Tricia, co-founder of Eloquence, and freelance writer featured in Frommer’s, Fodor’s, and International Living.

She was working on an article for The Savvy Retiree, emphasizing the financial impact and advantages of simplifying your life. She wanted to feature us, along with Courtney Carver, the minimalism expert behind Be More with Less and creator of Project 333.

Tricia and her husband Shawn live and work internationally, ranging from Europe to Asia to Africa. Over the years we have chatted about our nomadic lives – both theirs and ours – and how often our paths have criss-crossed over continents and cultures. They are also on a quest to simplify their lives, and she knew our backstory.

Before writing her article, Tricia asked us to answer these 5 thought-provoking questions about how simplifying and becoming more minimalist had changed our lives.

1. How has your trend toward minimalism improved your life?

Our journey to minimalism began with a quest for F.I.R.E. – trying to figure out how we could become “financially independent” so we could “retire early.”

We were two hard-charging executives in our mid 30s, and had just returned to the US from working in Khartoum, Sudan for two years. Living in Africa changed us, and the experience humbled us. We knew that we wanted to quit our corporate jobs, simplify our lives, and work for ourselves doing what we loved. 

“It would take us five years to realize that goal,
but along the way we discovered minimalism.” –Terri

In order to save money we embraced budgeting and downsizing with a vengeance, realizing that money we didn’t spend equaled money we didn’t have to earn. If we cut way back, we could get by on considerably less. So we did. 

Minimalism has changed our lives immensely. It’s enabled us to travel the world, spend time with our families, and help others – our Big 3 Goals.

2. Can you quantify how much you reduced your belongings?

We’re embarrassed to admit that at one point in our lives, our possessions would not fit in the biggest moving van available. Since discovering minimalism, we’ve progressively downsized from a 3,000 sq. ft. house to a 700 sq. ft. condo. In fact, we recently sold that condo, and to our amazement the buyers wanted not just the condo, but all the furnishings, too! From pots and pans to lamps and loveseats, they bought it all.

So, other than a few personal items and special pieces of art, on the day of closing we walked out with just our suitcases. For the first time since our university days, we moved in our car – and it felt fantastic.

3. Do you have an estimate of how much money you have saved by having a more minimalist lifestyle?

Wow! Great question … and tricky to answer. We decided to pursue our minimalist experiment 25 years ago. Like many others we downsized everything – from homes and cars to wardrobes and furnishings. Our goal was to simplify our lives, reduce expenses, and become financially independent. We succeeded and estimate we save approximately $10,000 – $15,000 a year. So a savings of over $250,000 over those 25 years has amazed us. We never dreamed that could happen

4. For many people, the idea of getting started with downsizing is a daunting task. Do you have any tips? 

These 5 tips helped us on our road to downsizing:

  • Create your own minimalist formula. When it comes to decluttering and downsizing, nobody approaches it the same way. For example, many people think their home has to be stark to be a minimalist. You know – sofa, chair, lamp … that’s it! Not us. We like some books, art, and flowers, too. Friends describe the atmosphere as calm. It’s our version of minimalism and it works for us.

    Our new little apartment – cozy and calm.
  • It’s not about depriving yourself. It’s about making conscious choices. Keep what you love; then donate or sell the rest. Spend what you need to, but not more.
  • It’s a process that feeds on itself. The more you downsize one aspect of your life, the more it motivates you to do it in others.
  • It’s not a contest. Whether you have 100 things or 1,000 – the only prize at the end is your personal satisfaction.
  • You will falter and sometimes fail. Use the experience to learn more about yourself and your habits, then try again.

5. Has a minimalist lifestyle allowed you to travel more? How much do you travel in an average year? How long do you usually spend in one place?

For many years the main goal of our minimalist lifestyle was to travel for 6-9 months a year. We used our skills as home renovators to generate income to travel. We’d buy a run-down house in the US, in a city we wanted to explore. Then we’d fix it up, sell it, and use the profit to go around the world.

“Our families smiled and said we were homeless;
we preferred to think of it as home-free.”

We loved our RTWs. The first one was very well-planned with all tickets purchased in advance. But we realized that approach didn’t afford us the flexibility we craved. So our second RTW was decided on the fly. We let our whims carry us where they may. It was fabulous! Three of our favorite stops were totally unplanned – Jordan, Sri Lanka, and Laos, spending a month in each.

After years of a nomadic existence we decided that we wanted to be based in the US, but still go traveling anytime we want. Now we take month-long trips several times a year, and we’re considering another RTW.

* * * * *

Tricia’s excellent article, Set Yourself Free: Simplify Your Life and Save Tens of Thousands, appeared in International Living’s newest publication, The Savvy Retiree earlier this year. The site is for subscribers only, but they graciously granted us permission to reprint the article below. If you’re not yet familiar with the publication, please check it out for great articles

We would like to issue a huge thank you to Tricia Mitchell for including us in the article. Tricia is a traveler, photographer, and writer extraordinaire. She says, “As an explorer, I am passionate about the power of citizen diplomacy – the idea that everyday people can represent their home countries and promote positive intercultural exchange.” We couldn’t agree more, Tricia. Visit her at Travels with Tricia.

And we want to tell Courtney Carver how honored we are to be featured with her. If we were to recommend only one minimalist blogger to follow, it would be Courtney. We’re huge fans of her gentle, thoughtful, and persuasive brand of minimalism; and we’re devoted advocates of Project 333 – her creative approach to managing a simple wardrobe. Visit her at Be More with Less.

We already know that so many of you out there have simplified your lives – or are in the process of figuring it out. So how would you answer any, or all, of Tricia’s 5 questions?

Terri & James

Photo Credits: 1. svklimkin 2,4. Ellen Lasher


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

88 thoughts

      1. Officially moved in yesterday, and loving it. Funny, the things I learned to live without while they were in storage. Even though I minimized then, I’m doing so yet again. Perfect timing, a young family with 3 young children who were homeless and now moving into a home, were in need of everything. I gave them a ton of things that they needed more than me at this point. A win win.

      2. That is SO fantastic, Beth. You are the shining star of everything we’ve all been talking about. How fortunate for both the young family and you – talk about Win-Win! While we’ve been getting rid of stuff, out mantra has been, “We’ve enjoyed this item – and now it’s time to let someone else enjoy it.” 🙂

        And isn’t it fascinating how “out of sight – out of mind” works? We have the same revelation when we come home from traveling, having lived out of our small backpacks for a month, to all the “stuff” at home. You are so smart to minimize again.

        Congrats on getting moved in. These life transitions are so exciting. Wishing you all the very best in your new home. ~Terri

      3. Thanks so much, Terri. I’ve always taught my family to just “put it back in the universe” and it will go to someone who needs it. It seems to work very well and makes getting rid of things very easy )

  1. It was great reading this because we learned more about you guys that we did not know before! Love love love the model of buying a run down place, fixing it up and enjoying a new city and then reselling it and using the funds to travel the world. That obviously takes talent, organization and real estate good luck.

    Amazing that your condo sold with all the contents!! Love how you decorated it, by selecting choice items that appeal without all the added clutter. Our definition of minimalism is exactly that. To make our home as comfortable and aesthetic as possible (we just wrote a post about our new minimalist home in Viet Nam) but without excess stuff ~ by carefully selecting things that we either need or love.

    Our approach to achieving minimalism is a lazy one. We just move countries and leave everything behind. It’s happened a few times now. It forces one to be less attached to objects. After all, it is all just STUFF.

    With regard to RTW ticket… We have not done that yet as we continue to be “derailed” by spending longer periods of time living in different countries. However, when we do travel, even if we know it will be for an extended period of time, we still only buy the first ticket and it is always a one way ticket. As you said, this gives optimal flexibility to stay as long as you like and to cross borders opportunistically.

    Congrats on the article!

    Peta (& Ben)

    1. Many thanks, Peta and Ben. We are still chuckling about your approach to minimalism, “We just move countries and leave everything behind.” 🙂 I love it. We’ve only done that once when we lived in Sudan and were forced out of the country by a military coup d’etat. I used that real-life experience when I taught a course called “Living Internationally” for an exercise called “You’ve got 5 minutes to pack a tiny bag and leave your home for good – What would you take?” It really gives you pause for thought about what you truly value … and what is just fluff! Most people’s first priority was photos of family and friends.

      Your new place in Hoi An is so gorgeous. I love its simplicity … and those views. You two certainly landed on your feet after all you’ve gone through. You are an inspiration to anyone who wants to live simply.

      You are so smart to only buy one way tickets when you travel. It took us a while to learn that lesson. One tricky thing we did encounter on our most recent RTW is that there are several countries that require you to prove you have an “onward ticket” before they will allow you to enter their country. They want a guarantee that you are not going to stay beyond your visa. Is this something you’ve ever encountered?

      All the best, Terri

  2. I believe in the idea but think the most important part is in your one line: “It’s not a contest. Whether you have 100 things or 1,000 – the only prize at the end is your personal satisfaction.”
    Like everyone, I filter your words through my/our own experiences. We have had to deal with major medical issues for over 50 years. It makes me wonder if you ever encountered any in your travels and how you financed them.

    1. Hi Ray and Alie, You make a great point. One of the biggest challenges to budgeting and travel can be medical issues ranging from finding (and affording) medical insurance to managing the physical aspects of travel. Although we’ve lived, worked, and traveled internationally, our medical insurance has always been based in the US, so we can only speak to how things have been here since the mid 1970s.

      As young adults, our first medical insurance was though our corporate and education jobs – and we had few medical issues so we gave it very little thought. The monthly (greatly reduced) premiums were just deducted from our paychecks … and we lived on what was left over.

      But in our mid 30s we started our own small company and reality set in. We had to find and pay for our own medical insurance – and it was very expensive. It became THE major line item on our personal budget and we had to plan everything around it. We raised our deductibles ridiculously high in order to afford the monthly premiums. Sometimes this strategy paid off … and other times it didn’t. During that time we also encountered medical difficulties ranging from surgeries and severe hearing loss for Terri, to Dengue fever and skin cancer for James.

      Fortunately, when the Affordable Care Act was introduced we were able to find insurance at a much more reasonable cost. Finally, medical insurance and medical payments are no longer the biggest line item on our budget.

      I know that you two have mentioned having these challenges, too. How did you decide to handle it?

      All the best, Terri

      1. We did not really consider anything but working and striving in the early days with short trips when we could take them. Then Alie was forced to quit working and file for disability at a young age and was covered by Medicare. When I retired early, like you I kept my deductibles very high until I was able to get into the VA system. I had a service connected disability, and contrary to the impression one gets in the media, the VA has been very good to me. We buy extra coverage when we leave the country.

      2. Ray, as we both know, those high deductibles are scary to have hanging over your head. I’m so glad that you and Alie had both Medicare and the VA. We have family members who have had similar experiences to yours, and they have nothing but good words for both Medicare and the VA. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. ~Terri

  3. I’m in awe of your lifestyle and the conscious decisions you make along the way to live ‘rightly’ in the world; with forethought, compassion, so much joy.. and so little ‘stuff’! I adopted a minimalist mentality nearly 20 years ago, when I realized that I was starting to feel suffocated by all the superfluous items (knick-knacks, souvenirs, unused things, etc) that had piled up over the years. An unbearable heaviness. I’ve realized even more, from living in the tropics, that natural light, slim pickings in the clothing/footwear department, and the freedom to get up and go are much more valuable to me than most objects I’ve amassed over the years. We have more than enough. Thank you for sharing your process and advice. Journey (mindfully) on!

    1. Thanks so much, Amit. I love your phrase, “An unbearable heaviness.” That is so perfect – and something I can really relate to. So, If you got started 20 years you were definitely ahead of the curve … and you’ve certainly tested out the concept of “freedom to get up and go.” 🙂

      I know that one challenge we faced as expats was that we ended up with belongings in more than one country. Is that an issue for you, or are you consolidated in one place? ~Terri

      1. Ahhhh, the seemingly impossible dream of consolidation… Indeed, the issue of stuff, split up and spread around a few locations, has been the tricky bit (still is!). But each time I visit each place, I scan, skim and slim down even more 😉 As a matter of fact, I’ve got a huge pile of papers that will be fed to the shredder tomorrow!

  4. This was a very helpful, inspirational and encouraging article. Thanks for posting your journey.

    I’m slowly purging my possessions, but it seems as fast as I get rid of something, I inherit more. It’s harder to get rid of heirlooms, especially when they are nicer than what I discarded previously 😉 I’m saving some of the inherited items for my two adult children, leaving the decision of disposing of the stuff to them.

    A lot of the expensive designer clothing and jewelry what one relative left behind was sold pennies on the dollar. There was just too much of it to deal with. That was a wake up call for me. She just couldn’t get rid of her belongings, even though she couldn’t wear 75 percent of it any more. Her possessions were her life’s work. She was ordering new clothes until almost the day she died in her mid-90s.

    Another shopaholic relative used to work at estate sales in large homes and always bought items, which usually ended up unused in her closets and cabinets and then was sold at another estate sale when she died. I visited her a few times at these sales, and saw closets full of expensive but out of style clothing from decades ago that no longer was of use to anyone but movie prop people.

    I don’t have a gold mine in my closet, but I don’t want my heirs to have to deal with a lot of junk. I need to pare it to the essentials: favorite books, family photographs, some family heirlooms (be sure to provide the history). Now, if only I can put that into practice!

    1. Thank you, Catherine. This is such a beautiful, compassionate, and thoughtful look into the lives of people you treasure – and the possessions they treasure. James and I have had so many conversations along these lines – about stuff – both ours and loved ones. We try to be brutally honest with ourselves – would we have simplified if we hadn’t moved so much? In the end, the answer for us is yes – it must be our nature – but we took a long time to arrive at our decision.

      At first we were inspired by people like Elaine St. James, Joe Dominguez, and Paul Terhorst. More recently we’ve enjoyed Francine Jay, Leo Babauta, and Courtney Carver. All these people engage in conversations about simplifying your life and addressing the challenges you face.

      Over the years we’ve lost both sets of our parents, and we, along with our siblings, have faced the daunting task of finalizing their affairs and deciding what to do with their belongings. It’s so tough because you want to find a way to honor the things that were truly important to them – but with so much stuff, you may not know. As their kids, we’ve each handled it differently. James and I decided to focus on lots of photos (scanned), voice recordings (surprisingly rare in that time) and a few small objects that represent a fabulous story. For example, my dad had a cedar tree that split in half under the weight of snow. He called James’ dad, who salvaged the beautiful wood and carved it into a chain that he gave us. It’s so special to us and we keep it. But we helped find new homes for his other carvings.

      So, I think it’s really important to let people know what is truly important to you and the story behind it. Thanks for your wonderful comment. All the best, Terri

  5. I’m wondering if I’ll ever get there. Had to give away a lot of my things to store our son’s possessions. Of course there are a lot of things for our grandson too. I need more room.

    1. Hi Leslie, I’m sure that the challenge of juggling family situations and personal desires has left many parents scratching their heads, wondering what they’re going to do. Since I’m a “glass-half-full-kind-of-girl,” I’m hoping that the good news is that you’ve already downsized many of your own possessions. 🙂

      Courtney Carver addresses this issue in her post “The First 5 Most Frustrating Things About Simplicity (plus solutions)”
      It’s a great read – just to know that you’re not alone in this situation.

      All the best, Terri

  6. Part of “getting there” is acknowledging that we have achieved many of our goals…
    and some of the ones that looked so good on paper didn’t suit us. Contentment is so very important to savor!

  7. Thanks for your continued inspiration. Tricia Mitchell hit a ringer featuring you two, making us all realize that you’re not just bloggers, but influencers.
    I’ve completed the last of my big-time volunteer positions with Friends of the Library, and I’ve begun shredding notes, notebook contents and flyers, an action step you shared with us readers years ago. (I’m slow, but mindful of your advice!) please continue sharing ways to cut back, cut down, and cut out. This all makes good sense!

    1. Rusha, thanks so much for your kind words. We’ve made many transitions in our lives, and as active researchers, we’ve managed to pick up a few seeds of wisdom from writers and other bloggers that have made all the difference. It’s amazing what can happen when the right seed hits fertile ground, and we’re pleased to know that some of our ideas are helping. It’s readers like you that keep us motivated, and we appreciate your continuing to follow along. ~James

  8. This is such a timely piece for me. I’m going through yet another life change and trying to chart my course. I’ll be watching this blog more (and catching up, been away for a while), as well as those you recommended.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom, I am verrrrry far behind on this, hah!

    1. Welcome back! Great to see you again. You know, when it comes to life change and simplifying your life, you are never behind. 🙂 You can just start wherever you are and go from there. I’m glad that this topic is timely for you, and hope that with the help of all the great contributors here, you’ll find some inspiration to help you chart your course. Wishing you all the best, Terri

  9. First – congratulations on the article in The Savvy Retiree. Of course Tricia wanted you guys! This is a wonderful post, but oh good lord every time I read one of your posts about minimalism I think I should get up right away and clean out my cupboards. Even tho we’re in a 500 sq ft apt, and there’s room for everything I still think we have too much – you know, that stuff at the back of the cupboard that you never look at or use. Inspirational! Now I just have to get off my butt and tackle a couple of boxes. But first we’re off to a 10 day silent meditation retreat to uncluttered our minds.

    1. Alison, you guys live in 500 sq ft, so there’s little doubt that you’re way ahead of most folks when it comes to living a downsized life. And I suspect that everyone (monks excluded) has a couple of boxes hidden away that need to be gone through. I think that some of our attachment to belongings is probably just human nature, and most people would rather donate than just toss things into the landfill, so getting rid of stuff becomes a project. But in the meantime, an uncluttered mind counts for a lot, so enjoy the retreat. ~James

  10. I had no idea you had started your current lifestyle so many years ago! I know you’ve changed certain things every so often, but wow – what a long and productive commitment you’ve had to your long-ago idea for life!

    1. Lexie, our corporate gigs convinced us that we wanted to do something different. The strategy has evolved over the years, but the objective hasn’t: we wanted to downsize, simplify, and have the choice to determine how and where we live our lives. Removing the mental and physical clutter enabled us to focus on what was truly important, and it’s put us on a path that we still walk today. And as we get farther along that path, we realize what an incredible difference it’s made. ~James

  11. What a great article. I love what you pointed out about not having to earn what you don’t spend. Since we’ve been on the road, we have found we can live fairly well on less than $2000 a month. (It would be far less if I gave up smoking and drinking, lol). Of course our RV site is paid for with part of our hours worked. It would be a very different story if we have to shell out for our site.

    1. Thanks a lot, Laura. We learned that lesson about “money you don’t spend” many years ago when we were struggling to start our small business … and it has stuck with us. Congrats on coming up with a spending plan that works for you – and you guys seem to be thriving in your new life. We camped out west for the month of June and were surprised by how expensive some campgrounds have become. So having your site paid is a wonderful perk. Do you know yet where you’ll be heading for the fall and winter? ~Terri

      1. We will be going back to NH to visit family in mid-Sept, then back to Parkland, FL to sell Christmas trees again. No idea yet what the new year will bring. Yes, there are some dang expensive campgrounds!

      2. That’s great that the work and pay equal out. My sister lives in Clearwater, and every year they buy their tree from “the guy under the wires.” He sets up under some big utility wires, so that’s what her kids always called him. It stuck. 🙂 So you two can be some kid’s “guy under the wires.” 🙂

      3. It’s hard to believe, but we make better than a 1/3 of what we live in for the year in 6 weeks! And this year our bonuses go up! We’re pretty happy being the “guy under the wire!”

  12. I’ve been enjoying this continuing theme on simplicity and ‘right-sizing’. Thanks for introducing us to Courtney Carver and her blog at Be More with Less. I’ve spent some time reading various articles and I consider it time well spent on my own journey to ‘less’.

    I like her concept of tiny steps. That’s exactly how I approach big scary projects and each tiny step is doable and offers a sense of accomplishment.

    1. Ho Joanne, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series. Like you, we also started off with tiny steps in all areas. And James and I didn’t each progress at the same rate – sometimes he was ready for a step where I balked, and vice versa. It took a while to get on the same page – and that was great because neither one of us felt coerced – we came to it naturally. And that’s one of the great things Courtney talks about on her blog and in her book Soulful Simplicity (highly recommended). She acknowledges that you and the important people in your life won’t always be on the same page, so she suggests ways you can continue on your journey. Wishing you all the best on your tiny steps toward that big scary project. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. Thanks Terri for the encouragement. It makes sense that we’re not always going to be on the same page but tiny steps can still be made in the right direction. That’s the sign of a good partnership when we can cover each other’s behind 🙂

  13. Congratulations on being featured in the article. I had not realized that your ‘minimalist’ lifestyle has been a decades long endeavor. I am very impressed that you were able to walk away from your last home with a suitcase!
    I enjoyed reading the comments too. Obviously a huge interest to your readers and many on the journey to simplicity as well. Like Alison, now I feel like i want to empty another closet. Inspire on!

    1. Sue, I don’t know how downsizing and simplifying works for others, but for us, it’s a process that feeds on itself. Yes, it became important to us years ago, and every step was more rewarding and liberating than the last. And even though sometimes we each progressed at a different pace and with more or less enthusiasm, it was key that we were both on the same page and were supportive of the changes needed. It’s made a huge difference in our lives, and in fact, our contentment is one of the things that motivated us to publish this series of posts. As I said to someone else, it’s amazing what can happen when the right seed hits fertile ground, and we hope this series helps others along the path. ~James

    1. Thanks so much – and welcome! I’m glad you stopped by. I love your philosophy of “finding the middle way.” That’s perfect – and what so many of us strive for in our quests to simplify our lives. I’m looking forward to checking out more of your blog. All the best, Terri

    1. Henry, I know from your background that this is a topic that should certainly “hit home.” You’ve seen and experienced the world from a home-free perspective for many years. Where are you wandering these days? All the best, Terri

  14. Terri and James – Ahh, here it is – the back story of your road to your preferred life! It’s fabulous to be able to determine how you want your life to be, and set about making it so. Congratualtions. I must confess that on the road to our next move, I got bored and bought a sewing machine, then of course yards and yards of cloth, and then needles, thread, and a wonderful new cutting board that never dings. Your article on simplifying made me laugh at myself. Well, it’s all a journey, right? – Susan

    1. Oh so true, Susan, it is a journey that meanders. There seems to be no straight lines when it comes to simplifying – thank goodness. Wouldn’t that be boring? And a sewing machine is certainly not frivolous – sounds like you must be planning a big project for your move. Curtains, slipcovers, backyard tent? 🙂 ~Terri

  15. Congratulations for the article, and for your great input in all these posts! One needs inspiration and courage to get mentally prepared, first of all, for simplifying. You might think that if you did that once, you can do it again? Not necessarily.. You made me remember how we moved, years ago, to Canada with 2 bags for each of us. It is not easy to put your whole life in only 2 bags. Photos took priority, and we didn’t have memory sticks at that time, nor laptops LOL I can’t say how much stuff we accumulated over the years; sometimes I wish for another big move to get rid of most of the stuff. It is only stuff after all. Good times, memories, family and friends – we all carry them with us, in our heart. Long overdue, I will start decluttering our house shortly, thanks to your inspirational posts🙂
    All the best,

    1. Hi Christie, it’s great to see you again. I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. Very impressive that you moved to Canada with 2 bags each. James and I can certainly understand and relate to the fact that it’s easy for belongings to gradually build back up – we’re definitely guilty of letting that happen in our last house. I chuckled when you said, ” Sometimes I wish for another big move to get rid of most of the stuff.”

      Two guys, Ryan and Josh, at a blog called The Minimalists came up with a unique solution to the same wish as yours. Even though Ryan wasn’t moving, he decided to have a “Packing Party.” He said, “We decided to pack all my belongings as if I were moving. And then I would unpack only the items I needed over the next three weeks. After three weeks, 80% of my stuff was still in those boxes. Just sitting there. Unaccessed. I looked at those boxes and couldn’t even remember what was in most of them. All those things that were supposed to make me happy weren’t doing their job. So I donated and sold all of it.”

      I thought it was a very cool idea and we have used variations of it when helping friends. If you’d like to read the article, the link is below. In the meantime, I wish you all the best in your simplifying adventure. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. First I had a good chuckle when reading about the “Packing Party” but I realized immediately this is a great solution to find the things we don’t really need/want in our house. I have heard about the minimalists, even though I have not seen their movie. They have great stories to share, same as you🙂 Thank you Terri!

      2. I’m glad it made sense to you, Christie. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Courtney Carver’s Project 333 (a creative way to downsize and manage your wardrobe), but she also suggests packing away extra clothing to help you decide it you need or want them. It really helped me. I hope you’ll let us know what you decide to do. ~Terri

  16. I often declutter my parents’ house only to find it cluttered the next time I visit them. How can I help them keep their space neat without doing it for them every time? They live in a small house and I want to help them minimalize their unused belongings. We are blessed and my father is retired and my mother is still working by choice. I just want them to have an easier time taking care of their house. Any words of advice?

    1. You know, this is a great question, and you’re definitely not alone. Just as your parents wanted all the best for you when you were growing up, you want the best for them now. And that’s not easy. Because as all Simplifiers have learned, decluttering may be right for you, but other people have to come to the decision on their own. They have to want to simplify things and be vested in the process.

      The great thing is that you’re providing a wonderful example through your own simplification. A few ideas include:

      1. Get your parents involved and start with what interests them. They’ve had a lifetime to accumulate things, and their reticence may be sentimentality or just not knowing where to start. Maybe they are ready to downsize their wardrobes, books, or power tools. It doesn’t matter because it’s a “start.”

      2. Focus on one category. For example, if your Mom is ready to deal with her stash of a lifetime of photos, consider transferring the special ones to a digital photo frame so that she can enjoy all of them everyday, but in a format that takes up very little space.

      3. Try The Packing Party (described above in the comment to Christie). For example if your Mom has collected a lifetime of shoes that overflow her closet, try putting them all in a box and have her only take out the shoes she needs on a daily basis for a month. This will help her see what she truly loves and needs. Get rid of the rest of that season’s shoes, then repeat the process in the next season.

      Here is a link to a great article on helping your parents declutter. I hope some of these ideas help. I’d love to hear how it goes. All the best, Terri

  17. Great interview, you two. The answers are enlightening and spot-on. When one travels so much, the entire world and the meaning of “wealth” and “stuff” and “happiness” is seen in perspective. All those experiences (seeing how the rest of the world lives) and backpacking around, are the perfect way to discover what you truly need and desire in this one precious life. A joy to read these posts as they resonate a lot.

    1. Many thanks, Liesbet. And you really got to the heart of the matter – gaining perspective on the true meaning of “wealth.” I used to equate wealth with the quantity of stuff we possessed. Wow, was I wrong. I really learned that lesson when we moved to Sudan where we were surrounded by people who viewed “wealth” as the quality of relationships they enjoyed – not the “stuff” they possessed. Their worldview changed me forever … and I’m so grateful. ~Terri

  18. Great concept of F.I.R.E, something I am struggling to achieve too. Instead of cringing , need to learn to spend wisely but still take in “life”. This is a great post.

    1. Hi Tini, thanks so much for your kind words and stopping by. I know that getting started on FIRE is a daunting task – we weren’t sure how to go about it. The first thing we learned was that we had to figure out the WHY – what was our reason for pursuing the goal. For us it was the desire to work for ourselves, live where we wanted, spend more time with our families, and travel extensively. How about you – have you figured out your WHY? All the best, Terri

  19. A goal I continually strive for. The simplicity of minimalism is beautiful, light and freeing. Thank you for the refreshing tips and ideas.

    1. You’re welcome. I’m so glad you stopped by. I agree with you that keeping things simple truly enhances the quality of life and let you focus on the things – and people – you love. All the best, Terri

  20. Terri and James, thank you again for sharing your words of wisdom. It’s been a joy getting to know you via blogging these past few years. You and Courtney made this piece come to life! 🙂

    If ten years ago you’d told me that I’d someday aspire to lead a more minimalist lifestyle, I don’t think I would’ve believed you. Since 2011, I have stopped accumulating household items, but I still have more to let go of. The process doesn’t happen overnight, but I can only look forward, not backward. We’ve been living car-free since 2012. As for belongings, I estimate that we went from needing 2,000 square-feet of space to about 800 or 900.

    The journey hasn’t always been easy, but knowing that we now have less is liberating. Since we didn’t have a car during the downsizing process, I made many trips with my trusty bike to German recycling bins, donation boxes, and a neighbor’s house to downsize crystal, dishes, clothes, and more. The items will either benefit charities, or they’ll be recycled. Keeping that in mind made it emotionally easier to let go of items as well, since I wasn’t simply throwing them into an already overflowing landfill. I now see excess belongings as a major life stressor.

    1. Hi Tricia,
      These past years of getting to know you and Shawn via your blog and travel articles have been fantastic. You’re living the dreams held by true travelers and citizens of the world. And now I see you’re in Georgia – a place that’s been on our bucket list for years. How exciting – can’t wait to hear more.

      Congrats on all your downsizing. I truly love your story about riding your bike to take items to donate and recycle. Now that is some serious dedication to simplifying your life! And going car free is quite an accomplishment.

      I totally agree with your point that simplifying doesn’t happen overnight. We found that we went through several phases of downsizing … and then we’d rest for a while … then start again. It helped give us perspective on the whole process.

      Thanks again for your great insights on traveling and simplifying. And most of all, thanks for your wonderful friendship through the years. All the best, Terri

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