Fifty Shades of Downsizing – It’s NOT A One Size Fits All Approach
I first downsized my life almost 30 years ago. The impetus of being young and single, a bit of cash in my pocket, a backpack full of dreams and a taste for adventure was all I needed back then. Fast forward a lifetime lived in a first world country full of the trappings of a capitalist society, how easy is it to downsize my current lifestyle? What are the compromises my husband and I are prepared to make to design the future life we want to live?
We have been pondering these questions for some time now, as the clock ticks on eating into minutes, days, months and years; making us realise that a big chunk of our lives is now over and we are not getting any younger. We most certainly have lived more than fifty percent of our life expectancy and no doubt the most healthy years of our lives. A huge chunk of a life spent working, earning money and accumulating stuff that now feels like a pile of clutter and things we no longer need. It is often so ingrained into our brains to believe that progress is directly related to bigger, better…more is more… that downsizing can feel like going backwards.
For us this is intentional downsizing, we feel very lucky that our downsizing is not due to necessity, poor health, financial issues, divorce, or any other distressing reason. It is mostly because we both feel that the time has come to shed some of the no longer needed things and stuff that have kept us pedalling at full speed on the hamster wheel in order to maintain a lifestyle. Living in a large house, the expense of having more than one car, motorbikes, and buying things that we don’t actually need. Although we have never been slaves to the keep up with the Jones type of mentality or caring at all about designer gear, expensive clothes, handbags and shoes. There have been times in the past when we did not think so carefully about our expenditure and have parted with our hard earned cash without a second thought. Our jobs have afforded us a comfortable lifestyle. Something that we are very grateful for. In recent years though, there has been a shift towards being savvier with money, save more, invest better, planning for a future of not needing to work for a living. We have started appreciating more the many things that can be enjoyed for free, like being outdoors surrounded by beautiful nature, spending more time hanging out with friends and family, choosing activities that are good value for money.
We are selling our home
A large For Sale sign is now placed in front of our home. When I first saw it there, coming home from work one evening, it did make me stop in my tracks and feel a little sad. It is, after all, our home, there are many happy memories lived here; our children playing in the garden, barbeques on the deck., parties with friends, large family gatherings with enough room to easily accommodate everyone. We have enjoyed the seclusion of living in a private, quiet, leafy road, surrounded by a forest of maple and pine trees, wild flowers, a nearby protected heathland. Wildlife such as squirrels, fox, bats, rabbits and deer are often spotted in our garden eating our plants and grass. And a variety of birds including robins, owls, jays, woodpeckers tweeting away like a symphony waking us up in the early spring and summer mornings.
We have invested a lot of time, effort and money into our home, but in recent years we started resenting the time and effort spent maintaining a large house, a high maintenance garden with lawns to mow, hedges to trim, weeding, planting, pruning, patios and driveways to clean. The never ending tasks that take many hours to complete, eating away into the little free time we have in the evenings and weekends. Brian works full time, a stressful job with long hours. I have recently reduced my hours and my job is less demanding and stressful, but again I find most of my spare time taken up by domestic chores. We know that we are no different than most other families around the world who find themselves in the same situation with a poor work and lifestyle balance. One can argue that we could pay for a gardener, a cleaner and at times of desperation we have done that, but for how long do we want to continue feeding the monster?
Time has come to stop thinking about it and to start taking action, we are now in a position to begin making the necessary changes to take better control of our lifestyle. But what kind of lifestyle do we want? I have for years now followed the blogs of people who have taken the plunge to live a simpler life. Some who have sold all of their belongings to live a free and nomadic lifestyle, when all they have is what they can fit into their suitcase or backpacks. Others who have moved to less expensive parts of the world are renting cheaper accommodation, are living off their savings or working part time. People who have swapped a house for a motor home or RV and are living a life of travelling and adventure, seeing the world and living life on their own terms. Some of these people have taken retirement, some have simply quit their jobs and are using their savings to fund a new lifestyle, some are working harder than ever, but doing more satisfying jobs, spending less money on stuff and having more time for experiences and relationships. A huge variation with many shades of downsizing and lifestyle changing decisions.
Quitting my job will be hard for me since I do love my job. I love being a Dietitian; working as a health professional is incredibly rewarding and satisfying, I work with some amazing people, nurses, doctors, other Allied Health Professionals. There is no other job I would rather do, quitting the NHS is just about the freedom to travel. I could do freelance work, but that would mean compromising on the type of freedom that I want to experience in this next stage of my life.
The question is what is the right shade of downsizing for us?
The answer is not very straightforward since things might change as we go along. We do agree on one life-changing decision which is to stop working so hard or at all, to maintain our current lifestyle. We also agree that we still want to have a home base in the UK, a place we can return to in between travels. We do want to travel extensively, but we are not sure how long it will take for us to start becoming homesick? Or feel travel burn out? What type of travelling will suit us best? I think we have already established that we are no longer the backpacking type of traveller, we don’t need luxury, but equally hostel dorms will not be for us either.
We do feel like frauds of house downsizing though since our criteria for a home to base ourselves in the UK has been very specific and is not exactly what one would call “tiny living”. There are some braver than us folks out there really going for it, we applaud and admire them. But for us downsizing will not be an overnight process, it has to happen quite organically, slow but a steady, deliberate transition into a new lifestyle. One thing we both agree on is that we do want a complete change from living in the leafy suburbs, so location for us has to be in the town centre, walkable distance and good transport links to local amenities, so we can also drop down to just one car for us both. We liked the idea of a townhouse as opposed to an apartment, no garden to look after, but with some small outside space such as a balcony or small courtyard. A lock up and go type of property with a minimum of three bedrooms, so we can have the family, particularly our children and friends visiting, at least two bathrooms; garage for bicycles, motorbikes and fishing gear; some parking space for visitors; an open plan living area with a good size kitchen. We are not asking much, are we?
It is going to be a learning experience, as we started the process of clearing out we realise it will be hard. We thought of our house as the minimalist type, but going through our stuff was an eye opener. Our cupboards and store areas were full of stuff we had not seen for years, like toys our kids don’t play with since they were toddlers. Gadgets that we have used once or twice only and have been forgotten in a kitchen cupboard. Books, CDs, DVDs and don’t even get me started talking about the clothes, shoes, and handbags that have been filling up endless boxes for the charity shops. The garage was possibly the hardest to clear out and it continues to be a work in progress, poor Brian has spent every weekend getting rid of stuff. We have a gym in the top room full of exercising equipment that we have not always used and had recently been used more to dry clothes than to exercise on. Some belongings have an emotional attachment, an element of nostalgia such as our University bits and pieces, family heirlooms etc. Some items I guess will be harder to part with, but somehow we will need to be ruthless and suppress the urge to keep it.
Although we have made some good progress on getting rid of stuff, starting the process of selling our house, looking for a future property and making the necessary financial arrangements, there is lots more to do. We don’t yet have a deadline for moving house since we have not yet sold our home, perhaps when we do have a deadline we will have a greater sense of urgency to step up a gear or two and get rid of all material items that no longer fit into our lifestyle. I am sure it will be a process fraught with anxieties, but also a great sense of excitement about what future lies ahead? We look forward to a life with fewer responsibilities, schedules and routine, a life filled with adventure, lots of travelling, new experiences, more time for ourselves doing what matters most to us now.
I will no longer be a Traveller Interrupted, although I don’t think I will be renaming my blog…