Clean Slate Part 1: Homecoming

Hi everybody—I missed you all during my sabbatical! Oh boy, do we have a lot of catching up to do…

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile (or reading the archives), you know that in 2009 my husband and I sold our house, and almost everything we owned, to move overseas. The whole experience was like starting life anew with a clean slate. We traveled extensively, and lived a mainly nomadic life—moving every few months with all our possessions in our duffel bags.

Well, it’s time for a clean slate once again. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be filling you in on some big changes in my personal life (and revealing why I’ve been taking some time off). Today’s post is Big Surprise #1 of 3; stay tuned for the rest!


Photo via Amazon.com

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of home—mainly because I’ve had so many in the past few years.

During my time abroad, I’ve lived in numerous flats, hotels, and sublets: some tiny, some large, some empty, some furnished top-to-bottom with other people’s stuff.

The experience has changed my perception of “home.” No longer is it linked with my ownership of property or possessions; it’s simply where I lay my head to rest each night.

Minimalism made this nomadic lifestyle possible, and enjoyable, for me. It gave me an incredible sense of freedom, enabling me to experience daily life in a foreign country, and extensive travel throughout Europe and Asia. In a sense, I felt that the world was my home.

But travel and temporary accommodations aside, my home has now changed in a significant way.

For the last few years, England was my home—and a beautiful one at that. I loved the energy of London, the beauty of the countryside, and every minute of my time there. My husband and I were embraced by the people we met, and enchanted with the places we visited. We felt so comfortable there, it was easy to forget that we were expats.

The only exception was when we traveled, and returned to England by air. We spent a lot of time in Heathrow airport, much of it in the passport control line. Because we were on visas, we were extensively questioned each time we landed. We were asked where we’d been, where we were living, and what we did to support ourselves. Our fingerprints were usually scanned as well, to make sure they matched the ones on record. I always felt there was the slightest chance they might not let us back in.

Well, I recently went through passport control once again—but this time in the US, as my husband’s job has returned us to the States. It was the first time I’d been back to America since we moved to the UK. Over on the baggage carousel waited my duffel bag with all my belongings—the same one I’d carried the opposite direction two years before. As I stood in line, I prepared myself, as always, to explain my qualifications to enter the country.

But this time things were different: when it was my turn, the agent didn’t ask me questions, fingerprint me, or give me a suspicious look. He simply stamped my passport, looked up at me, and said with a smile, “Welcome home.”

I’d love to know what “home” means to you—is it putting down roots, or simply where you are at the present moment? Has minimalism made you feel any differently about it? Please share your thoughts in the Comments. And once again, it’s great to “come home” to my blog and this wonderful community!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Related posts:

  1. Furniture Update: A Couch and Table and Chairs, Oh My!
  2. Empty, White, and Beautiful
  3. Radical Downsizing

96 comments to Clean Slate Part 1: Homecoming

  • Jaci

    Hi Francine, First, welcome home. I just discovered your website about a week ago and have been enjoying reading your blogs. Second, to answer your question – most of my life has “home” has been wherever I unpacked all my junk. I have spent most of my life moving around. But, I have never felt at home. Currently, I’m in transition. Home??? Well, that is yet to come. That will be where my heart leads me and I’m not talking about ‘love’. I’m preparing to make the world my home. :)

  • Janetta

    Born in Jersey, Channel Islands; 36 years in South Africa; now new citizens of New Zealand – they ALL feel like home! However, I suppose we have settled in so well here, it is home to us.

    Welcome back, I missed your Friday posts (NZ is always a day ahead).

  • Anna D.

    Welcome back! “Home” for my family right now is in another country. While the past couple of years have afforded us the opportunity to travel to some amazing and beautiful places, “home” is America. There are definitely places that have felt more homey than others, but knowing that Europe is not a part of our permanent plan means that we never quite detached ourselves from the states. Going back won’t mean California this time, but the Pacific Northwest. Minimalism, as well as motherhood, have opened my eyes in more ways than I could imagine- Choosing to live somewhere for the best interest of my husband and young son and not just for what makes me comfortable. Now don’t get me wrong, I chose to relocate to the Pacific NW and I know that it won’t be easy at times (Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD), but seeing my son light-up in Grandpa’s arms means I’m making the best decision for my family NOW. And isn’t minimalism about living in the “now”?

    • Nicklas W Bjurman

      You will not have any SAD, Pacific NW is in the same latitude as central Europe. You will have to move up way further like Alaska or Scandinavia where the winter sun is only up for a few hours each day.

  • After I was married to the military for 20 years, my notions of home have changed from “where my extended family is” to “where the Air Force put us” to “where my heart is.”

    We just moved into my dream house (movers brought our furniture on Thursday!), and my heart is here already. The physical structure and lot (large, with lots of trees, birds, beauty) fit our family perfectly in ways no other house we owned has.

    This might not be consistent with the nomadic minimalism you and many others have experienced, but the great purge is about to begin. I am a wanna-be minimalist in many areas of my life who lives with three hoarders, but even hubby admitted that the junk is out of control. We’re focusing on one thing at a time right now, working our way through the stuff, and when we’re finished, there will be WAY less stuff we don’t use to clutter and distract from the stuff we actually would use…if only we could find it.

    I am so grateful for the opportunity to settle now, to feel like any time and energy and (most importantly) creativity I put into this dwelling will last long enough to be worth the effort. The military lifestyle keeps a person thinking short-term on decor and perversely holding onto stuff that “might work in the next house.” Letting go of the old stuff feels right.

    Congratulations on your return “home.” What a lovely welcome you received at the airport. I’ve not been reading your blog for long, but I’m very much looking forward to your next few posts!

  • JLouise

    I’ve been missing your writing Francine so it was such a pleasant surprise to find you today. Welcome back!

  • Anita

    I once read a quote in a magazine, that said, “Home is a place where your feet may leave, but never your heart”. It has always stuck with me. Recently, due to some circumstances I won’t go into, I have packed all of my belongings up and put them in storage and moved in with my sister. She lives across the street from the house I grew up in. So I have literally “come home”. There are both some sad and happy memeories associated with this move. I am trying to focus on the positive and have been considering selling all of my belongings that are in storage. And if/when I move again, just living in an extended stay hotel.

    Glad your home Francine.

  • Kari

    Welcome back! Missed your posts so much. And I have to say, for me, there is a definite feeling of home in one’s own country that doesn’t exist anywhere else, no matter how much one is enjoying the other country. Home is home.

  • Sara

    Welcome back Ms. Minimalist! I have missed your posts, and I am looking forward to some new fresh insights into minimalistic living!

  • Heather

    I’m really glad you’ve started writing again.

  • Heather

    Gosh..this could be a post in itself. I left where I was born as fast as I could at 18…from CT to 2 times around the world over the next 17 years. We finally landed in Texas…which is HOME to me FOREVER. It’s where my heart is..my passion…my true nature of who I am. Most people don’t get it…they think I was born in CT so I am from there…but I say God just overshot Texas and I had to find my way home. : )

  • Ruthie

    Welcome home!! I have missed your musings. I find they really keep me focused on keeping the right path. :)

    I haven’t decided where home is yet. I think that’s a valid answer :)

  • Mia

    Glad you are back!

  • Barbie

    I looked for you like a letter in my mailbox! Welcome back. B. Hatch

  • Barbie

    P.S. Home, is where the Love is.

  • My heart skipped a little beat when I saw you were back! I’ve missed your posts (although the Monday ones were nice). Yay that you’re back and will be blogging again!

    I am preparing to move overseas for a 2-year voluntary service term through the Peace Corps. So my husband and I have been doing much of what you did a few years ago — going through stuff, deciding what’s important and what we’ll take along, etc. I imagine my sense of home will be shifting along with this change as well.

  • Betty

    I’m glad you’re back, Francine, refreshed and obviously reinvigorated for a new chapter. It will be lovely to read of your life in the forthcoming months!

    In the meantime, your reflections on ‘home’ are in tune with my own recent musings. I’ve returned this week from a holiday in Thailand, back to my native Sydney, Australia. It was so wonderful to breathe the fresh air of a cool sunny morning when I landed, to really appreciate the open spaces and the wealth we take for granted here.

    But I suffer from a terrible case of ‘Cultural Cringe’. It’s not uncommon here, in Australia. Even as a teenager, I longed to be in Britain, to live around the places and the culture I experienced through British television, film and music.

    I was raised to speak ‘The Queen’s English’ and so was often made fun of here, for not being very Australian… but I didn’t care, because in my mind I belonged elsewhere, in Britain.

    So you can imagine how crushing it was for me, when I went to live in London, and also spent time with my (now ex-) boyfriend’s family in both England and Scotland, to be made feel that cultural cringe even more. Jokes about Australian cultural inferiority in all thing may be in jest but they just made me realise that I didn’t belong THERE either.

    Now that I’ve become more of a minimalist, and have contemplated moving to another city (within Australia – I have no rights of ancestry to live elsewhere, and do not have a strong career that would allow me to travel) – I realise that home is not about a place, for me. It is about relationships. The reason I’ve not moved to Melbourne? Because I have strong friendships here in Sydney. I know others that have made the move interstate, but they’ve done it with partners, husbands, wives. I’m single, and have a casual job. So I live in Sydney where I have friendships, and I travel to other places on holidays.

    Perhaps one day, if I find someone to share my life, I will have the opportunity to live in another state or another country, with that person. I would love to do that, and I would make my home where my most important relationship is.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Thank you for letting me think that through ‘out loud’ and I wish you all the very best.

    Betty

    PS I’m about to move again, to another share house. I’m 35 this year, and single, and I don’t earn enough to live alone… Anyway, the place I’m moving to has a very small bedroom, and I need to have my work desk setup in there as well – my job involves working from home – so that means I am going to have to downsize to a large single bed. It would be really interesting to hear your take on this sort of thing. In researching buying a new bed of this size, I am forced to endure pictures of pretty pink girlie rooms – because a ‘king single’ is something that only a child or tween or teenager would have, right? (I’m using all my fortitude to stay firm in my beliefs that an adult can need – and maybe prefer? – a bed of that size, under certain circumstances. Like me in my current situation!)

    Anyhoo, more rambling! Bye for now.

  • Patt Ward

    Welcome back! Looking foward to your posts and suprises.

  • Elaine

    Welcome back! I have missed your posts. I have always had a somewhat stable “place” to call home. Except for college, I have lived in the same state and have been in the same house for the past 18 years. I love to travel and I try to travel lightly and keep my possessions minimal. However, home is still my comfortable house with my husband and children and I am always glad to come back to it. I admire those who are not bound to a “house”. Not sure if this would work for me!

  • Your blog is inspirational, and I am really looking forward to what you have for us next!

    I am a real homebody…I love the coziness and security of actually having a brick and mortar home, but in the last ten years, we have had a different lifestyle. Since the dog died and the kid got married, we make our home on the road 50% of the time – because my husband travels for work. Whenever it is possible, we go together. I have learned to live out of one carry on sized bag most of the time, and how to make a hotel room home. I like it! No dusting, vacuuming or laundering linens! We even have a repertoire of “hotel” meals that I can fix with limited space and ingredients. The one thing I have not learned to do, is exist on restaurant fare! For us? Home is basically where you cuddle up at the end of the day, but it is also where we love to head when we have had enough!

  • Madeleine Lawrence

    Welcome back, Francine, I’ve missed your posts :)
    To me, home is the place where I’m now putting down roots. I’ve moved many, many times in my life and would dearly love to stay put for quite some time.
    I’m renovating my very old cottage and have planted about a dozen fruit trees, put in a chook run and vegetable and flower gardens.
    Because my big dream is to live as self-sufficient and natural lifestyle as possible, staying in the one place is pretty important – it’s a long-term goal which requires an investment of time and energy in the land.
    Home to me is a safe haven where I can restore my energy and spend time with my children. I try to make it as beautiful, warm and comfortable as possible – otherwise it’s more of a ‘house’ than a home.
    My home is not as minimalist as that of many reading your blog – this is due to our way of life. Gardening to produce food, and doing all cooking from scratch takes more ‘stuff’ than buying as you need food from the shops.
    Also the storing of grown foods – this may require a big freezer,extra cupboards,Vacola bottles etc… But I believe this way of life helps to reduce our carbon footprint (much of our food comes from metres away, not hundreds or thousands of kilometres) and so I think it well worth the extra stuff. I’d like to start keeping bees soon too. Yes, that involves a bit more ‘stuff’, but makes us that much less reliant on fossil fuels for our sustenance.
    The other thing we do is try to repair or reuse things rather than throwing them away. You guessed it! Tools,sewing equiptment etc…is need to do this. I also like to make some of our clothes,curtains etc..

    I would love to see a dialogue opened around self-sufficiency and minimalism. In many ways self-sufficiency supports a minimalist lifestyle as you are making do for yourself and not as likely to go out and buy new stuff that’s not needed. But of course one cannot be self-sufficient and own less than one hundred items,especially with children.

    I wonder is anyone else following this path?

    Madeleine

  • KM

    Enjoying being ‘home’. I am a student and have lived in 6 houses in 4 places in the last few years. I enjoyed them and two of them, London and my parents’, felt like home. Home is about roots and for me somewhere feels home when I know people will miss me when I leave. That makes me sound insecure and dependent. I am now looking to stay somewhere for at least 2 years, get to know my area, my neighbours, have friends near me. I want a home and part of that is stability and security for me. I thought I could be a nomad but now I don’t think it’s for me.

  • Cindy

    There are two homes, the physical and the spiritual. The physical is a permanent place where I can ‘keep’ my things before I embark on another adventure. I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist but I am definitely embracing the minimalist lifestyle slowly. I am slowly but surely getting rid of things. I would not be able to live with just one bag but definitely with minimum but quality things that give me joy. My spiritual home is where I rest my soul and that means literally wherever and whenever in the world I feel right at ‘home’.

  • crunchycon

    Firstly, let me add my “welcome back!” You were certainly missed as part of my weekly routine – at least I had my Monday “minimalists” post to look forward to, but I missed your voice.

    Secondly – I’ve been an expat, and I’ve travelled abroad for work and pleasure, and there’s nothing nicer for me than that “Welcome home” or “Welcome to the United States” I’ve always gotten from the Customs folks. I’m an American and that is always going to be “home” to me. More precisely, though, home’s where my closest family resides – I was less happy in my nomadic ’20s when I lived several states away.

  • There’s a song that says, “home is wherever I’m with you.” It’s my husband’s and my motto. Even though we bounce from place to place and, and don’t plan on placing roots any time soon, we can still feel that “home” feeling as long as we’re with each other :)

    Here’s a link to the song. It’s a good one
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fmtmgxk2J1g

  • runi

    Welcome back, Francine.

    What “home” means to me is somewhere you want to be. My father was military when I was a child, and I attended 7 grade schools and 5 high schools. Every place I lived was “home” to me.

    Now I am old, and have lived in one place for 50 years. It no longer feels like “home” (in fact it hasn’t for a long time). My husband of more than 5 decades and I are considering going our separate ways. I know where my next “home” will be though, because I have travelled back and forth; it is an area southeast of New Orleans that was devastated during Katrina.

    This seems a bittersweet post, but it’s not. Minimalism isn’t only about a 100-thing-list; it is also about being free of stuff to make changes that need to be made. I can take everything I (personally)own in one checked bag and a carryon–with Tar (cat) in her carrier as a personal item, although no one really owns a cat.

    “Home” is where you want to be.

    • Mrs Brady Old Lady

      Runi how very sad. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts in the past. Sorry to hear you are splitting up from your hubby. Take care girl.

  • Lilly

    Hello Francine. Today I came to the website to read about the Real Life Minimalist of the week and was very glad to see you were back. I always look forward to you and your guests’ posts every week.
    I’ve only lived in two cities, so when I was in one city for the first 15 years of my life I considered that home, and for almost 30 years I’ve been in another city which I consider my home. I guess home is where you are. (Unless you’re on vacation!) So to you I say: Welcome Home!

  • Kurkela

    Since my childhood I have moved house twelve times. I have visited almost 20 countries, some of them 3 or four times. Some time ago had my horoscope made as a present. The second sentence read: “Has a difficulty with feeling herself at home anywhere”. I have always felt sort of detached in regard to all kinds of houses of homes. And then I visited a country. I had been there before, nothing special. And on the day two of this second visit suddenly something hit me. Like a big hammer from heaven. I suddenly felt I BELONGED THERE, and this I can’t explain. When I returned to the place I have lived for the last several years, I couldn’t find peace for two weeks. It felt like I was torn out of somewhere and was raw all over. Then it all somehow died down. It seems to me a home is a feeling of belonging. And it is not necessarily one’s native place.

  • denise

    Welcome Home!

    I always thought that home was wherever I was at that time. I lived my first 18 years in my family house, then off to college never to return to the family home choosing instead to work in hospitality. The next 20 years I moved 16 times and the following 10 years I actually lived in one house because my husband said “no more moving”. For work I commuted to my job and lived in hotels or long term appts. The past 5 years I have been in Florida while my husband and 3 cats have been in Georgia and it was the first time that I ever felt that I was not “at home”. My concept of home changed to; home is wherever my hubby & furry children are and this year we will be reunited! This is why I needed to read all of your past articles as we now have two of everything and must purge.

    Welcome back and I look forward to more of your exciting news!

  • Kim

    I was an Air Force wife for many years — 3 continents, 15 houses, 1 husband and 2 kids. We’ve been settled in our home for 15 years. I love the “feet leave, but heart doesn’t” definition of home.

    We nearly lost our home this March to a tornado. It made realize how much I love our land. Houses can be repaired or rebuilt, but the land . . . that is my true home.

    Welcome back! I’ve missed your musings.

  • Ashton

    So glad you are back to posting!

    I discovered your book through “recommendations” that amazon.ca made for me. You’ve inspired me to begin a minimalist journey…so far, I’ve carted 5 enormous boxes to the Salvation Army, as well as found new homes for multiple pieces of furniture I no longer needed or even liked. I’m trying hard to make my home into a peaceful space that I enjoy being in. The funny thing is, I hardly remember the contents of those boxes!…which goes to show just how meaningless and useless (for me) they were.

    Yesterday I tackled my closet and even took before and after pictures to inspire myself!

    Already my apartment feels more peaceful and “homey” without those random objects that are supposed to be able to do just that!

    Looking forward to your upcoming posts!

  • Kellie

    As someone who holds dual citizenship (Canada and USA) and who lives in both countries for one half of the year each, I know that home is where you are most comfortable, where your loved ones are and where you find peace within yourself.

    I do that in both my homes and could never choose between the two. I guess I have the luxury of saying my home is not within the lines on the map but in the confines of my heart.

  • For me, home is literally where I park it. The late George Carlin used to have a bit where he said that home is just a place for your stuff. Now that I have less stuff I can carry that version of “home”around with me wherever I want. OTOH, Home is also a region and climate I am comfortable in. Though I am originally from back east – New Jersey and New York – I’ve been in the Arizona desert for over 30 years and consider it home.

  • Yay, welcome back, Francine to blogging and the US!

    I’m excited that you will be blogging again. I’ve been following your blog since…at least the time of your sabbatical.

    You and your Monday stories have inspired me so much! I’m increasingly becoming more and more minimal in the way I live since moving from a 2,400 sq. ft. home to a 400 sq. ft. basement “apartment” (if you will).

    I don’t miss the space any more, or all the things I’ve gotten rid of. I think I may have 1/2 of what I moved in with and I’m still not done ;) Reading your blog has helped me in deciding what I really want in my life and what I really don’t need.

    To me, “home” is a place I can come to and rest, relax, and be – where I can be comfortable and happy. I feel like my basement is a fickle “home”; some days its comfortable and some days it’s just a place to stay. When I finally have a full time “home” again, it will definitely be clean, and UNcluttered.

    I’m looking forward to reading your new posts!

  • Lara

    I have an odd concept of “home”. I’ve moved around a lot; I’m an immigrant, so I left my country of origin at age 13, and never fully assimilated in the US; I never really felt like I “belong” anywhere, culturally speaking. But the first time I set foot in Northern California, I knew it was “home”. I had no family there; I had no friends there; but the place just felt right to me. It felt like home. Something just “clicked” for me when I came here. Love at first sight.

    I want to spend the rest of my life here.

  • [...] in particular, but the idea of suitcases. And living out of one. And the proportions “home” takes on while doing so. I’m a really good packer by now. Of course, it’s pretty [...]

  • Mims

    I was born “abroad”, moved shortly thereafter and didn’t live in the country of which I am a citizen until I was two and my parents got divorced. My father kept moving from country to cuntry while I grew up, and I myself have lived in different countries since graduating hight school. It is not until lately, that I realized that my definition of home actually seems to be “a place where I currently have my base and where I sleep comfortably”, no matter where in the world that is. No wonder I have hardly ever felt rootless in my life! (The sleeping bit is important to me as I’m a notoriously bad sleeper, but still need sleep to really enjoy life.)

  • [...] my last two posts, I announced two big changes in my life: my return to the United States, and the arrival of a brand new minimalist (my little [...]

  • Tina

    Welcome home Francine! I can’t tell you how happy I am to have my favorite blogger back. Look forward to seeing pictures of your new home as you update and settle in. Glad to hear that you are doing so well.

  • Caroline

    I always thought of DC as home, having lived there my entire life (30 years). But I’ve been in London for the past 10 months and I’m not sure anymore. I think I’ll know when I go back to DC for a visit. I intend to stay in Europe, though, which is made easy by having dual citizenship in the US and Germany. I think having 2 citizenships has contributed to the feeling that home isn’t just where I grew up. I’m still not sure if I would live in Germany, but because Germany has given me citizenship through my mother, it almost seems wrong not to spend some time living there and learning to call it ‘home’ as well.

  • [...] in particular, but the idea of suitcases. And living out of one. And the proportions “home” takes on while doing so. I’m a really good packer by now. Of course, it’s pretty [...]

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