Real Life Minimalist Update (and Giveaway!): Betsy and Warren Talbot

Betsy + Warren Talbot

Update: The giveaway is now closed, and the winners are announced at the bottom of this post!

I always love to hear updates from my Real Life Minimalists, and find out what they’ve been up to since they shared their stories here with us. And boy, do I have a treat for you today—a special RLM update from Betsy and Warren Talbot of Married with Luggage!

The last time we heard from Betsy and Warren was over a year ago. At the time, they had just sold their house, and almost all of their possessions, and were planning to embark on a four-year journey around the world. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with them, and thought you’d enjoy learning where they are now…

F: So, please fill us in! Where in the world are you, and what have you been doing for the past year?

B+W: We are currently in Germany, and we have spent the last year traveling around South America, dodging a volcano, hiking the Andes, dipping down to see the penguins in Antarctica, and then cruising up the Atlantic to England as the only passengers on a repositioning polar cruise ship (for free, no less!). We spent the summer touring around Europe, house sitting and visiting with friends, and we just celebrated our one-year anniversary of travel. It has been a whirlwind year!

F: You made a radical lifestyle change to live your dream. What role did minimalism play?

B+W: There is no way we could be living the life we have now if we had not started on the path to minimalism five years ago. We already knew the basics, so it was fairly easy to kick it into high speed 3 years ago as we decided to go on this journey. Because we sold everything we owned – house, car, possessions, even the kitchen sink – we are now mobile enough to move at moment’s notice, taking advantage of every opportunity for adventure. Everything we own fits into 2 65-L backpacks. We could not have such a full life if it was still crammed with stuff. In fact, had we not started minimizing in the first place we would never have even been able to entertain the idea of long-term travel. I would say that minimalism is the key to our new lifestyle, both in realizing we could actually do this crazy thing and in the day-to-day of living it.

F: How does it feel to live out of a suitcase? Do you ever miss having a house, furniture, or the myriad other possessions that typically fill our lives?

B+W: We get this question a lot! The things we miss from our previous life all revolve around people – the friends and family that we see less often in our new life, but that we make a point to stay in touch with via Skype and email more than before. We do not miss any single possession that we owned before. In fact, it would be hard to even try to remember most of them. This concept seems harder for people to understand than anything else we have done – saving money, spending 24/7 together, giving up careers – and I think I know why. I struggled with my pack rat tendencies all my life, and if someone had told me 10 years ago I’d be living out of a backpack, I would not have believed them.

F: What have you found to be the greatest challenge of a nomadic life? The greatest reward?

B+W: The biggest challenge remains being apart from our family and friends. We still stay in touch for all the important things, but we do miss 1000 little things. Our friends and family miss those little things in our lives, too, since there is no way we could put every experience in our blog.

For that one downside, though, there are a myriad of pluses. Our relationship – which was good to start – is now rock-solid. Once you plan and save for a big adventure like this, follow through with it, and live with your partner 24/7 through some of the biggest highs and scariest lows of your life, you will either make or break your relationship. Second, there is a huge confidence boost that comes with exploring the world and negotiating your way through transportation, lodging, and communication difficulties, not to mention the joy you get from meeting new people and experiencing some of the most beautiful places on earth. And last, the feeling of complete freedom – that you can go anywhere you want anytime you want and stay as long as you want. Everything in our bags contributes to enjoying the life we love, and there is not one thing extra to weigh us down.

F: What’s your favorite experience of your journey so far?

B+W: The people, definitely. Both the people that we have become, the people we get to meet and befriend, and the people who get to see what average Americans are like instead of relying on caricatures of us from the media. We are learning and teaching as we go, and for curious people like us, it is a perfect kind of life.

In terms of specific places, though, we would both say Antarctica is pretty spectacular.

F: You’ve recently written an ebook called Dream Save Do – very exciting! What’s it all about?

B+W: We wrote this guide to show everyday people how simple it is to take control of money and focus it toward living the life you really want instead of sustaining the one you don’t. People ask us every day how we managed to create this fantastic life because they want to do it for themselves – maybe not to travel the world, but who doesn’t want a chunk of money to chase a dream?

The guide is over 100 pages of practical steps, inspirational nuggets, and the creative financing strategies we used to amass the cash for our dream, and it also includes videos from us as well as credit card debt reduction expert Adam Baker of Man vs. Debt. Last, just because we want there to be NO reason why anyone can’t do it, we have included a 3-month email followup system to help keep readers on track. We’ve done everything we can to set up an environment for success. You can learn more (and get a launch day price discount on October 18) at

F: What are your plans for the future?

B+W: As I write this, we are heading to the airport in Germany to fly to Thailand. We’ll be staying there for the next six months as we work on our website development business and write in an effort to fund our dream long-term. You see, once you accomplish a big goal like this, the stakes keep getting higher. We’re no longer satisfied with 3 or 4 years of travel. We want to make this a lifestyle, living and working around the world at our own pace and on our own terms. So stay tuned for much more from Married with Luggage. We’re just getting started!

Feeling inspired? Well, generous souls that they are, Betsy and Warren have offered to give away 3 free copies of their new ebook, Dream Save Do, to Miss Minimalist readers.

To enter, all you need to do is leave a Comment and tell us what dream you’d like to save for (traveling full-time? starting a business? staying home with the kids?).

I’ll keep the giveaway open until Monday, Oct. 17, at 5pm EDT, and use the random number generator at to select the winners. Please use the email address at which you’d like to receive the ebook; if you win, I’ll be passing it along to Betsy and Warren so they can email it to you!

The 3 winners (selected via the number generator at are…

Lynn, who on October 14th, 2011 at 11:01 am wrote:

Thanks for the really nice interview, I love reading about people who have made it possible to travel long term. That, indeed, is my dream too and what I am saving for!

tara, who on October 14th, 2011 at 4:09 pm wrote:

I dream of being able to stay at home with my son and work from home doing some kind of writing. And I could then grow a big garden to help me live more off the land.

Emily E., who on October 16th, 2011 at 2:48 pm wrote:

My dream would be to pay off student loan debt, become a lecturer who travels all over and meets interesting people, and to have a family of my own that I can afford to take on trips all over the world. I would love to write a book and my all time fantasy destination is Africa. I love this couple’s story and inspiration!

Congratulations to Lynn, tara, And Emily E., and thanks to everyone who participated–it was so inspiring to read about all of your dreams!

Leo Babauta on his new book, “focus”

Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’m not the productivity type. I take a fluid approach to life, rarely set goals, and would rather empty my schedule than jam more stuff into it. To me, it’s a serene and creative way to live.

Over the last year, however, my digital commitments have increased dramatically – and I’ve found that between email, blogging, Twitter, and the myriad requests that fill my inbox, it can be difficult to find the mental space to write and create.

Enter “focus,” the new book by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits. It was just what I needed to read, at the time I needed to read it. It’s not about getting more done, but rather doing less; for when it comes to our work, it’s the quality (not the quantity) that determines our happiness and success.

I was so excited about the book, I asked Leo if he’d stop by and tell us a little more about it – and fortunately for us, he so kindly obliged.

Francine: It’s an honor to chat with you, Leo. My readers and I are always looking for new ways to pare down our lives, and practice a minimalist lifestyle. How can “focus” help us?

Leo: Focus is simply about finding sanity in a digital age that has increased the urgency, frequency, intensity and ubiquity of the distractions in our life. It’s about finding focus for whatever you need: focusing on creating, on your inner voice, on finding stillness, on getting things done.

Francine: Many of us have decluttered our desks, and streamlined our workspaces. Yet when we sit down to work, we still find ourselves distracted – by stuff like emails, IMs, and our Twitter feeds. What are some things we can do *right now* to reduce this mental clutter?

Leo: The first step is always awareness: be more conscious of what urges you have, what distracts you, why you’re doing it. Once we become more aware, we can address the root problems (usually related to fear). But right now, you can simply turn off the Internet for 30 minutes — and find out that it won’t kill you.

Francine: With the advent of social media, our friends and acquaintances are no longer limited to the people we physically meet. How can we manage online relationships with hundreds (or thousands) of people, while preserving our sanity?

Leo: Start with the realization that it doesn’t matter if you have thousands of friends, and that a few quality friends (online or off) are much more valuable than thousands of surface-quality friends. So sure, connect with people online, but find the ones who you really connect with, who enrich your life, and concentrate on those. Then unfriend or ignore as many of the rest as possible — a few people might get offended but most will just go on with their lives, because in the end, none of that matters.

Francine: In “focus,” you advocate “single-tasking” over multi-tasking. Why do you think it’s a more effective (and enjoyable) way to work?

Leo: Multi-tasking seems more productive, but it’s part of the myth of “busier is productive”. It isn’t. It’s just busier. And more stressful, more distracting, more fragmented, less focused. When you focus on just one important thing at a time, and clear away distractions, you’re able to give it your full attention, do your absolute best, really pour your mind and heart into it. That’s effectiveness, not jumping around between 10 unimportant tasks.

Francine: I’ve always thought of you as a goal-oriented kind of guy, and was surprised (and delighted!) to read that you’ve recently “broken free of the shackles of goals.” Can you tell us more about this transformation?

Leo: It’s been a gradual transformation for me, over the last few years actually, as I explored simplicity. A little more than three years ago, I realized that there was no way to know what opportunities might present themselves in the future, and that planning based on such woefully incomplete information was a waste of time. So I simplified. I gradually gave up goals and have been goal-less for nearly three years, even though for a little while longer I wrote about achieving goals … because my readers would ask me about how to do that, all the time. I’ve learned that goals lock you into one path, when really there are many possible paths. They keep you focused on the future rather than enjoying the present. They block out possible opportunities because you’re focused on one thing, and they limit our ability to learn new things, discover alternate destinations we didn’t imagine from the start.

Francine: As a writer, I’m fascinated by the way you created “focus”: posting the chapters online, soliciting reader feedback, then revising and expanding. Are you happy with how this model worked, and will you use it again for future books? What are your thoughts on individual versus collaborative creativity?

Leo: It’s been absolutely the best thing I’ve done as a book writer. Writing a book is a long, isolated, difficult, overwhelming task. I’ve made it public rather than isolated, so you’re motivated … short bursts rather than one long writing period so it’s not too difficult … small rather than big so it’s doable. And the feedback loop is almost instant, rather than waiting until the entire book is done — for me that’s really improved the book, because readers pointed out holes that I didn’t realize were there.

I like to collaborate with other people, because more and better ideas are generated when you bounce things off each other. But in the end, creation is best done as a solitary act, in isolation. I love connecting, but I love solitude even more.

Francine: I love haiku for its economy of expression. Can you sum up the message of “focus” in a haiku for us? :)

Leo: I won’t follow the common haiku form, but here’s 17 syllables:

let the world rush past
sit quietly present
find yourself, and create

Francine: Brilliant. Thank you so much Leo, it’s been a pleasure talking with you!

To wrap things up, I’d like to share one of my favorite excerpts from the book. It’s from the chapter on single-tasking, and sums up what “focus” means to me: eliminating distractions so that I can fully appreciate every moment of my life.

Imagine instead, a single-tasking life. Imagine waking and going for a run, as if running were all you do. Nothing else is on your mind but the run, and you do it to the very best of your abilities. Then you eat, enjoying every flavorful bite of your fresh breakfast of whole, unprocessed foods. You read a novel, as if nothing else in the world existed. You do your work, one task at a time, each task done with full focus and dedication. You spend time with loved ones, as if nothing else existed.

This is summed up very well by something Charles Dickens once wrote, “He did each single thing as if he did nothing else.” This is a life lived fully in the moment, with a dedication to doing the best you can in anything you do — whether that’s a work project or making green tea.

Leo has generously released a free version of “focus,” in addition to a deeper, full version. The full version includes several bonus chapters by Leo and other authors, videos, three PDF guides, and audio interviews with David Allen, Seth Godin, and Dave Navarro.

As most of you know, I rarely promote books or other products — but reading “focus” had such a profound impact on me, I wanted to share it with all of you. And rest assured, my recommendation comes from the heart: Leo has decided (quite admirably, in my opinion) to forgo an affiliate program for the book. My only incentive for recommending it is that I think you’ll love it as much as I did. :-)

Talking with Tammy Strobel

Tammy Strobel

Tammy Strobel

I have a special treat to share with you today — an interview with the fabulous Tammy Strobel, who blogs over at Rowdy Kittens! As many of you know, Tammy left her day job earlier this year to start her own tiny business. She recently gathered up her experience, advice, and some inspirational case studies into a new ebook, Smalltopia, for those who’d like to do the same.


Francine: Tell us about Smalltopia, and who can benefit from reading it.

Tammy: Smalltopia will benefit anyone who is interested in leaving a traditional 9-5 job. It’s full of tips, tools, and strategies that will help folks create personal freedom through a very small business. The guide is broken up into three sections: Smalltopia Philosophy, Smalltopia Essentials, and Smalltopia Case Studies.

The part I’m most excited about is the case study section. It features stories from more than a dozen folks that run the gamut of experience. From those who are just getting ready to break up with their day job, to crazy successful small business owners. The list of rockstar contributors include: Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau, Jessica Reeder, Chris O’Byrne, Russ Roca, Laura Crawford, Karol Gajda, Chloe Adeline, Victoria Vargas, Karen Yaeger, Jules Clancy, Heather Levin, Matt Cheuvront, Tyler Tervooren, and Everett Bogue!

Francine: How did living a minimalist lifestyle help you start your own small business?

Tammy: Living a simple, minimalist lifestyle gave me the financial freedom to leave my day job and start my own business in February 2010. In essence, I was able to cut a lot of unnecessary expenses and take a big risk. If I still had a car payment and a huge two bedroom apartment, there is no way I would have been able to build a profitable business around my blog.

Francine: What has been the greatest challenge, and greatest reward, in your experience as an entrepreneur?

Tammy: Overcoming fear! :)

When I start getting scared, I write and think about where the feeling is coming from. Usually my fear has no basis in reality and I do my best to push past the emotion. I’m incredibly lucky because my partner is supportive of my business goals and I have a few amazing mentors who have urged me to pursue my dreams. Whenever I get stuck, I can count on my mentors and comments from rowdy readers to remind me that what I’m doing is important.

Francine: Can you give us some tips on setting up a minimalist home office?

Tammy: My office is very very simple. All I need is my laptop, a table, chair, moleskin journal, and a pen. I either work at the kitchen table, in coffee shops, or at the library. So I don’t have a traditional office set-up.

For those of you who want to have a dedicated office space in your little home, try implementing some of these tips:

1. Say goodbye to paper piles.
2. Recycle excess paper.
3. Organize items you use frequently.
4. Invest in a minimal desk.
5. And finally keep your office simple and organized.

Francine: What’s it really like to be your own boss? Tell us about a typical workday in the life of Tammy Strobel.

Tammy: I don’t have a “typical” day. Sometimes I stay at home. Other days, I’ll cafe hop or work at Powell’s for a few hours. I love supporting local businesses. For example, Portland is know for it’s yummy Stumptown coffee and I go local cafe’s that serve the good stuff. :)

Every morning, I write down a list of my daily intentions. My intentions include 3 to 4 things that I need to get done. I also make time for yoga, biking or walking. The beauty of working from home is that I can work when I feel creative. Yesterday, I was having a creativity block and decided to unplug and go for a walk. As soon as I stepped out of my house and into the park the ideas started flowing and I started writing in my journal.

Francine: Do you think purging our clutter can help us think more clearly and creatively?

Tammy: Yes, yes, and yes! :) Without so much clutter in my life, I spend less time cleaning and more time working on creative endeavors, like writing and photography. If you have a lot of clutter in your life, I highly recommend starting the decluttering process today.

Francine: What are three things you’d like to accomplish (either personally or professionally) in the next year?

Tammy: 1. Recently, I signed on with a literary agent and started working on a book proposal for the print world. My goal is to finish the proposal within the next month. And then we’re hoping a publisher will pick it up. :)

2. I’m planning on taking a digital sabbatical every weekend. So that means no email, no twittering, facebooking, or Internet surfing. I’ll be spending my weekends writing, doing yoga, and hanging out with friends. :)

3. We’ve been talking about building a tiny house for a number of years and I think it might actually happen next year. My friends Dee Williams and Katy Anderson are going to help us build our little dwelling.

Francine: Thank you so much, Tammy; it was wonderful chatting with you!


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