Real Life Minimalists: Lori

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.

Today, we have an inspirational story from Lori. She and her husband retired early, downsized their possessions to two carry-on bags, and are pursuing their dream of long-term travel. I for one look forward to following their adventures on their blog!

Lori writes:

Lori

Lori

Upon asking my mom about a picture of a four-year-old me on Christmas morning long ago, she said, “This was a Christmas we spent at your grandparents’ house in New Jersey. Your father was stationed overseas at the time and I didn’t want to spend the holidays alone. I remember that you walked downstairs on Christmas morning and saw so many glittering, wrapped presents piled high just for you. You were so overwhelmed that you chose only one gift to open, a simple child-sized rocking chair. We had a hard time convincing you to open anything else but you did, to make us happy. That year, surrounded by so many toys, puzzles, dolls, games, and books, you know what your most treasured gift was? That rocking chair.”

This story was like a light bulb moment for me because I made the connection that maybe I’ve been a minimalist all along. Other clues as I pondered my past behaviors were that I had a deep fascination with The Little House on the Prairie series of books as a young reader. I remember being so comforted by Laura Ingalls’ descriptions of her simple log house in the Big Woods, her cozy sleeping loft that she shared with her sister, and her simple corn husk rag doll that her Ma made for her.

Later, as a young rookie teacher, I lost some of my minimalist tendencies. I started saving stacks and stacks of worksheets, file folders, supplies, craft materials, children’s books, and classroom decor “just in case” I could use them someday. Multiply that by 27 years of teaching, and you can guess that I had a lot of unnecessary and unused materials dragging me down, just collecting dust in boxes on the shelves in my classroom. I forgot what I even had in them.

Once I got married and started a family, the stuff just kept accumulating. Wedding gifts to sort and store, first home furnishings and decor to manage and keep organized, then a baby boy with all the many things needed to nurture him.

It took a big move overseas to Japan, to reawaken my minimalist nature. My husband and I received teaching assignments in Tokyo and as you know, housing there is a minimalist’s dream. Really tiny and efficient spaces force you to reevaluate what you really need. I remember that we could only take a few items with us to start our life in Japan, but the rest of our household goods would arrive a few months later. We didn’t realize how much our stuff had been weighing us down until we were forced to live without it temporarily. Once the rest of our shipment arrived, we looked at each other as we unpacked box after box. We often asked ourselves, “Why did I even think I would need this?” Instead of using only a few plates, bowls, glasses, and utensils, we now had cabinets overflowing with them. I once again felt heavy and burdened.

Our overseas teaching experience afforded us the opportunity to travel to many places. As we observed family after family living happily with so much less in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the minimalist ember began to burn brightly again.

When our son moved away to college, we faced our empty nest with a new resolve. Seeing Chase’s near-empty bedroom prompted us to do some major purging of our own. We started in very small steps, but you know what? A funny thing happens when you start clearing the clutter. It becomes strangely addictive. The more we cleared away, the lighter we felt. So, we kept going to the point that one day we jokingly challenged each other to consider letting it ALL go. Every. Single. Thing.

It took over a year of soul-searching, deep discussions, planning, purging, and more than a few sleepless nights before we were able to finally make the leap. We realized that waiting for just the “right” time would never come. So, this past June, after selling or donating all of our possessions, we left our very secure teaching jobs well before retirement age and stepped into a future of full time travel. We now carry with us only what can fit in two carry-on sized bags. The world is literally at our feet and the excitement we feel each day is akin to that of falling in love.

Our first stop on our early retirement journey is Chiang Mai, Thailand. We are here for a year and have switched roles from teachers to students as we are learning to speak Thai. It is a humbling and gratifying experience to be on the other side of the desk at this point in our lives. People we meet ask us where we’ll go next. Our answer? Everywhere! Travel is our true passion and we plan to keep going as much as we can, as far as we can. Want to follow along on our adventure? Be sure to check out our blog at http://freetirement.weebly.com.

Lori, age 4

Lori, age 4

{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.}

38 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Lori

  • I find your story really exciting! And your description ‘like falling in love’ makes me want to be more courageous in my simplifying journey. Thank you and best wishes.

  • Thank you, Freda, for your kind comment. I wish you every success as you move forward into your own simplifying journey. You won’t regret a second of it, and who doesn’t love the magic of falling in love, right? :)

  • KaeSue

    I would LOVE to get rid of Every.Single.Thing., but my husband has a recording studio and many large collections. : ( I keep setting the example (have been for 3 1/2 years), and he has cleared a few things, but at this rate it will take YEARS. I’m ready NOW. : )

    • Hello, KaeSue! Thanks for commenting. Wow! 3 1/2 years of downsizing your own stuff, huh? That’s amazing and shows great commitment and tenacity! I agree that it’s tough to force anyone else on board. We had to wait for our kid to go off to college before he would finally clear his clutter. Haha! Keep up the great work and I will send good vibes that your husband jumps on the bandwagon sooner rather than later. Cheers to you!

  • Alix

    Good for you, Lori! I must admit, I’m always curious about people who can pare down their things so dramatically. Have you kept no sentimental items at all (that’s what would get me)? Just wondering… Safe and happy travels to you!

    • Hi Alix! Great question you have for me. It took stages to pare down so dramatically and at first we hung onto some sentimental items like my wedding gown (preserved in a box under the bed) and our high school yearbooks. Then, when I realized that the dress could be donated and maybe reused somehow (even if it’s terribly out-of-style it still could be remade into something, right?) we let that go. As for our yearbooks, a flash of divine inspiration got to us both. We are from an area in the states that Hurricane Katrina devastated about ten years ago. We got word through Facebook that a few of our classmates lost everything, including their own yearbooks, to the tidal surge from that storm. So, we decided to box ours up, send them on to our classmates to have and enjoy and we actually haven’t missed them at all. The only things we have left all fit in two under bed storage tubs at my mom’s. We have several hundred photos and home videos that we haven’t had the time to get digitized yet. Thanks again for your comment, Alix!

    • Kathie

      Have you heard of a memory box? Choose a sturdy box in which to keep things from the past. The size can be your own choice. Mine’s the size of a large, plastic file, about 11x15x18. Once you fill it up, then if you want to add something new, you must remove something from the box to make space for the new item. I never thought I could do this, but I did it. I got rid of everything from the past except for what I keep in this memory box. I’m very happy because it puts a limit on the past and encourages me to reach for the future. Also, I find I rarely get into the box. Maybe it will work for you? Good luck!

  • Pamela

    Beautiful writing, Lori! Thank you for reminding people like me that there are infinite ways to live and enjoy our lives! Did you get rid of the worksheets/teacher stuff before you retired? Did you find you missed anything? I have many worksheets that fill binders on binders, and I’m ready to dump almost all of them but same as you, wonder if I may need them one day?Would love your insights and advice! Thank you for a timely and uplifting piece! Bon voyage!

    • Hello, Pamela! Thanks for your kind comments. Made my day. As for the worksheets, oh boy! When I moved from the elementary level to the high school level in my career I gave away all of my elementary stuff. I made some new teachers very, very happy. I didn’t let myself think “what if” because I knew I would have kept it all. I chose not to look back and told myself that IF I ever went back to the elementary school level I would simply start over. I’d need to update and freshen my ideas anyway, and it would give me a chance to reach out and ask for ideas and borrow materials from others who were willing to lend a hand. When we left our teaching positions for good last June we basically opened our classroom doors and yelled into the hallway, “Come and get it!” Worked like a charm. When I left I had a completely empty classroom and a very full spirit. I haven’t missed a thing materially, but I do miss the friendships with other teachers and feeling “needed”. Working on sitting with that for a bit before I jump into anything else just to fill that need. Thanks so much, Pamela, for your comment and have a lovely week.

  • Tina

    I got rid of a lot of my craft materials, but saved instruction. Then I asked myself what I was likely to make in the next year or two. That helped me get rid of more. When we went on trips, I never bought souvenirs but I had some receipts and small ticket stubs in a notebook. I am still getting rid of more china I inherited. I bought a few jig-saw puzzles but when I’ve done them 2 or 3 times I take them back to the Goodwill store where I bought them. There are a few DVD’s we watch and I need to put them in a case. I think we could live in half as much space as we do if we got rid of a few more things. But since we own our condo and the kids and grandkids visit a lot we probably won’t move soon.

    • Hi, Tina! Well, it sounds to me like you’ve got a “simple soul” in that you naturally find small ways to pare down and simplify your life. For that, you get an A+ with a gold star from this early retired teacher! I love the fact that you mentioned not purchasing souvenirs on trips. We stopped doing that as well and chose to spend our money on experiences over things. One of our favorite experiences was skydiving in New Zealand last year. Although, it would have been nice if we’d purchased the souvenir video of the jump (it was so surreal that I can’t remember the first part of it at all), we realized that it would have just sat and gathered dust while we moved on (and it was expensive, sheesh!) so we didn’t do it. Keep up the great work, Tina! You are setting the example for your grandkids to keep it simple in their own little worlds. Yay all around for that!

  • Lori,

    Did your husband have the “downsizing” light bulb go off at the same time you did? We have lived with a few items as a result of moving and remodeling…and we both question why are we bringing this stuff back into our life when the moving/remodel is done…I’m usually ready for a dumpster or a ride to a thrift store to donate…but my darling husband gets colder feet. Any suggestions?

    https://awellstockedlife.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/minimalism-when-the-heart-is-onto-it-but-life-is-a-little-behind/

    • Hi, Stacy! Thanks for your question. Reflecting back, I think we were pretty much on the same page regarding downsizing all the way. That’s mainly because we had the common goal of full time travel and it didn’t seem cost effective on our limited budget to pay monthly for a storage unit for our stuff we may or may not ever need again. If we hadn’t been on the same wavelength I would have downsized just my own stuff and given him space to do his own decluttering at his own pace. I pretty much started with drastically paring down my closet of tons of clothes and shoes and noticed that he started in his own closet a few weeks after seeing how much lighter mine looked and felt. From there, he liked the feel of that small victory and he moved on to clear our our computer room where all old, outdated electronics and cables and wires were left to die. By the way, loved your blog post about perfectionism. It resonated with me a lot. Brought a quote to mind….don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. My daily struggle. Rowing that boat along with you, sister! Cheers on your journey.

      • Oh, another suggestion….try keeping your things boxed up in another area of your remodeled house and the things that you need and love and miss over the next 3-6 months from the boxes are the things that bring you joy and therefore they must belong. Worked for me when boxing up items I wasn’t sure about getting rid of. If I didn’t go searching for them after a period of time, they got sold or donated.

  • Sharlynn

    I absolutely love this article! Thanks for sharing, Lori. As a high school English/Speech/Journalism/Drama teacher, I find myself purging my 7,000 volume book collection by moving the best to my classroom and extra clothes, household items and furniture to the costume and prop storage areas behind the stage. I love the idea of opening my classroom doors at some point and yelling, “Come and get it”! I started teaching high school at 50 years old and will be 80 before that happens and in the meantime I, too, enjoy empty-nest travel.

    • Hello Sharlynn, and thanks for your comment. I love meeting fellow teachers and the drama teacher at the high school where I worked was one of my closest friends. Wow! That is quite the book collection you have there! I wish you many years of health and exciting empty nest travel. We are lucky, that a teachers we get an extended break in the summers to do just that, right?

  • Susan

    Beautiful and inspiring post, Lori. The comments were very interesting and inspiring as well. Thank you all for sharing your stories and ideas:)

  • Alexandra

    It is something a young person without responsibility would want to do. To live without a home, no grounding and no roots would not interest me In the least. As a daughter who cared for a elderly Mom for 25 years while I worked 12-16 hour days to help support her,, I have a innate sense of responsibility to family so that careless life style does not appeal. At your age I was helping my elderly Mom-getting degrees while I worked full time and I would not change that for any tourist spot in the world. it was the most valuable and rewarding experience. I have no desire to go overseas and would never leave the USA. You have so much to see here its a shame your missing it all. My beach cottage on the Pacific Ocean is grounding, home and pure happiness to me every minute of every day I would never give up my gorgeous home or my family items.

    • Hello, Alexndra, and thanks for sharing your story. One of my favorite parts of this process has been reading everyone’s different perspectives and learning their stories about how they are finding their own unique path to happiness. And that is a win-win all the way around! Just like you, we wouldn’t change a single thing about our choices. Cheers on your continued journey!

    • Juliette

      No one asked to you give up anything, Alexandra! She’s sharing her journey and not dictating.

  • Alison

    I relate to your story about Christmas in a way. I had similar experiences with Christmas as a child — I loved all the colour, the festive spirit, and family and friends gathering. I could spend hours gazing at the Christmas tree, in all its twinkling, sparkly glory. I would be transfixed in an almost meditative state looking at it. I still get a real kick out of a beautiful Christmas tree and beautiful surroundings with lots of colour and vitality generally.

    I also remember though, that all the gifts made me feel overwhelmed. One year, I was left sitting surrounded by wrapped presents long after everyone else had opened theirs and my brother threatened to unwrap them for me!! I finally relented. In reality, I would have been happy to see them stay wrapped and magically vanish right after Christmas (like Cinderella’s carriage after midnight).

    I still love colour and beautiful surroundings and sometimes it’s a challenge balancing that with a desire for simplicity and being free from overwhelm. I’m not sure I could ever be completely “minimalist”, but taking steps to simplify has most certainly had its own rewards.

    • Ah, a kindred spirit! Alison, it sounds like you really take time to truly cherish the “now” of a moment. That is a gift in and of itself. Wishing you continued balance and beauty on your own sweet journey. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • As a child I was a huge fan of the Little House on the Prairie and also the Boxcar Children series. I loved the creative way they had to made do with so little (especially the first book in the series.) Thanks for bringing up some lovely memories :)

  • Hi, Jennifer! Isn’t it amazing which books stay with us well into adulthood? It’s like the characters quietly speak to something in our souls that we’re still too young to articulate, even to ourselves. It just quietly burns there like an ember until the day we begin to follow our dreams. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your own special memories.

  • stacey

    I became minimalist about 15 years ago, during a difficult breakup with an ex, whom I lived with at the time. I donated almost all of my dozens of books to the library, pared down my clothes to just 7 tops and about 5-7 bottoms (and the same number of unmentionables), a few pairs of shoes, my small TV,my CD player, and my futon, which I used as a bed; and of course the small atuff,-the little makeup I did wear, hygiene and personal care and cleaning supplies, which I also kept very minimal. When I rented a room and moved out of my ex’s house, it was so easy: just a carload of items, and a friend to move my unimaginably heavy futon. The people I lived with over the next four yrs were borderline hoarders, and were always so amazed & impressed at my minimalism, and how easy & so much cleaner it is to be minimalist. This did not deter them from there hoarding in their garage, but it did inspire them to declutter the inside of the house. I met my husband, and when we eventually moved in together, I realized that he is a packrat, an inherited trait from his parents. At first he could not understand why I did not carry a purse, or have a ton of clothes and shoes, like so many other women.Flash forward to today, with our 9-yr old, very artistic daughter, I believe we have a frugal minimalist in the making, in our little girl. Last year for her birthday, instead of asking for a whole list of things, she wanted just an inexpensive tablet (not a laptop or computer), and JUST the tablet! We felt bad that, as a kid, she was only asking for one thing. But we got it for her, and she still uses this daily. For Christmas, she wanted just 2 things: a pretty tablet protector/cover & matching ear buds; or a $20-$25 gift card, so she could buy them herself, preferably on clearance, at her favorite discount store. Yes ,she is always going for the discount store clearance racks, or thrift stores, instead of the mall or toy store. We got her the gift card…..and several dolls in her favorite girly cartoon characters, special crayons, colored pencils, markers, sketch books, a purse, and other things I know we cannot remember. Her grandma got her a gift card, too, to one of her favorite discount stores. She was overwhelmed by it all. She put on a happy face and unwrapped each thing, looking for that tablet cover & ear buds. She was happy at receiving the gift card from us, and the one from her grandma. And she was happy for the art stuff, being that art is her favorite thing. But she lined up all the other stuff in her room along the wall, neatly, and there they have sat, ever since. She recently told us that all she wanted were the tablet cover and ear buds, or a gift card to buy them on clearance somewhere. But that she was happy for the thought we put behind all of her gifts. But she says that, from now on, when she saysbahe only wants one or two things, and ONLYbthose thongs, that she actually meansnit, that getting only one or two nice things is all she wants for birthdays and even for Christmas. She tells me that she KNOWS what she wants and needs, and that she does not need that much to be happy, as long as its something that is art, or something useful, or something ahebfell in love with, like the mother-daughter necklaces that she has been eyeing for the next birthday or Christmas. My daughter has inspired me to get back to my minimalist self, and because of her, I am already feeling lighter and freer.

    • Hi, Stacy, and thanks for sharing your family’s story here. Your daughter certainly sounds like she is forging her own way to simplicity, even at this young age. Working with students during the 20+ years I taught elementary school I can say that her level of self-awareness is pretty rare. From where I sit, I think you inspired her first, and now her chosen path is reawakening in you what was there all along. Wishing you many more years of feeling “lighter and freer” in your future!

  • stacey

    I apologize for a few type-o’s in my comment above…using my smartphone, and little keys to type with! And the so-called auto-correct!

  • Susan

    Lori, you are such a sweetheart to so thoughtfully respond to each comment. I don’t know you, but your gentle spirit & positive attitude are woven throughout your post and each response. There are many, many students out there who were very fortunate to have you touch their lives. Peace & Blessings to you and your family:)

  • Diana

    What an exciting life of travel. I’m planning to do that when I retire in a couple of years but will want a home base. Just a small condo so that I have an address and a place to rest until the next great adventure!

    • Hi, Diana! Your plan for a condo “nest” sounds just perfect! I hope you travel far and wide. It really changes your perspective on everything. My favorite quote is from Mary Ann Radmacher: “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Here’s to you and the moon!

  • Tina

    We go on a few trips every year. Our kids watch the cats and water the plants. I am making another big pile to give away. There seems to be so much here even though we seldom buy anything. I watch the shows about hoarding and clean some more. Maybe it is brain wiring.

    • Hi Tina,
      Sorry for my late reply to your comment. It sounds like you’re taking the bull by the horns, and in small steps, you’re also downsizing. Slow and steady gets it done more efficiently sometimes than in one feel swoop. Keep up the good work! I see your pint about brain wiring, but I also believe we can break any habits we want to when we set our minds to it. Thanks for your comment!

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