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!
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.