Real Life Minimalists Update: Caroline McGraw

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week, I’m happy to share an update from previous Real Life Minimalist Caroline McGraw. We first heard from her in April 2011, while she was a live-in direct caregiver with the L’Arche DC community, caring for adults with intellectual disabilities. Read on to find out where she is now on her minimalist journey (for more details, surf on over to her blog, A Wish Come Clear).

Caroline writes:


Hello Miss Minimalist readers! It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since I first appeared here as a Real Life Minimalist. (As Gretchen Rubin notes in The Happiness Project, “The days are long, but the years are short.”)

The past two years have brought many changes for my husband and me, the foremost of which was our relocation from Washington, DC, to a small town in northern Alabama. How did we get here?

In April 2011, my husband and I were living in a small apartment and serving full-time with L’Arche in Washington, DC. (L’Arche, French for ‘the ark’ is a worldwide non-profit that creates homes wherein people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.) My husband and I met and fell in love there, and community life formed the foundation for our marriage.

Yet while our space was small and our material possessions few, our lifestyle was far from simple. Both of us worked long hours in our intense leadership roles, and I had a significant commute as well. We were doing meaningful work, with and for people we loved, but something was off.

We were separated most of the time, and when we were together, we were often exhausted. And despite our frugality, choosing to live near L’Arche (in a more expensive area of the city) didn’t give us much financial margin.

We dreamed of having more freedom: freedom to rest when we were tired, to be together more often, to put aside tight schedules and stop rushing around all the time. We knew that something had to change.

And so, after laying the groundwork for several months, I made the jump to full-time self-employment in November 2011. It was exhilarating and terrifying to pursue my lifelong dream of being a writer. And it was a successful transition … so successful, in fact, that my husband decided to work for himself in 2012. (He supported us with steady income when I transitioned, and was able to return the favor.)

And moving toward self-employment led to larger questions, such as: If we could both work from anywhere, where would we choose to live? For the first time, location and employment were separate questions, and as such, it made sense to move to Alabama, we owned (and rented out part of) a home. Out went the $1,000+ rent, the stress-related illness, and the money and time spent commuting each week. (True, there were additional costs, like private health insurance, but the overall balance tipped dramatically in our favor.)

We were freed up. For the first time, we could choose how much time we spent working. The move simplified our expenses so that we’d have more time for ourselves, each other, and our new work too.

True, it was incredibly difficult to say goodbye to friends who are like family. Yet even as the move led us away from L’Arche itself, the choice was grounded in the values of L’Arche. To use language from the L’Arche charter, our new life “gives priority to relationships.”

As I wrote in 2011, “The rest of the world may include wealth, power and nice cars in their definition [of success]. Mine includes just two things: the company of those I love and the opportunity to do work I value and enjoy.” Moving has allowed me to live into that definition in a new way. And even as I said farewell to beloved friends, I knew that our move would afford us more opportunities for us to travel and visit with loved ones near and far.

I also knew that, in caring for ourselves with a simpler life, we’d have new opportunities to care for others. For example, since we have more (literal and figurative) space, we’ve welcomed a feisty kitten named Boostie into our family. And as my husband renovates our turn-of-the-century home, I continue to write and ‘dig for treasure’ in people with special needs.

So much has changed in the last two years, yet so much remains the same. And that’s what real life minimalism means to me. It’s about changing with the seasons, letting go of that which no longer serves you even as you hold fast to what matters most.

{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.}

26 comments to Real Life Minimalists Update: Caroline McGraw

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