How Downsizing Upsized Our Lives

I am so excited to feature this guest post from Betsy & Warren of Married With Luggage, one of my all-time favorite blogs. Betsy and Warren sold everything they owned, including their home, to realize their dream of traveling the world. This post is about how they turned their dream into their current reality, and how you can too.

About the authors: Longtime readers Warren and Betsy Talbot sold everything they owned to travel around the world. How do you go from a house in the ‘burbs to just a backpack? Find out at Married with Luggage.

You know, we didn’t start out with the idea to travel around the world for 5 years. In fact, our grand travel adventure started with a very basic question:

“Do we really need all this stuff?”

At the time we were in our mid-30s living in a big house in the suburbs of Boston, and we were working and traveling nonstop in pursuit of career advancement and financial security. When we weren’t working, we were spending time and money to maintain the house that was way too big for us or we were buying ourselves rewards to soothe ourselves.

Frankly, it was exhausting.

Our wakeup call came at the Denver airport. You may recall that I said we lived in Boston at the time, right? Well, on this particular day we were both traveling in opposite directions for work, but we were able to meet up at the Denver airport for a drink before heading our separate ways. All we had time to discuss were housekeeping items – bills that needed to be paid, dog-sitting to be arranged, and other details of a life made overly complicated.

When we both got home later that week we decided to make some changes, and we started with that very question: “Do we really need all this stuff?” The term “stuff” eventually came to mean everything that wasn’t directly involved in giving us happiness or contentment, which in our case was practically every single thing about our lives.

First order of business: Stop buying stuff. I mean, why bring more in when we were obviously drowning with what we already had? This was a little bit tough for us because we had gotten into the habit of going shopping every weekend, and now we had to find another way to spend our time. How big of a relationship wakeup call is it when you realize that your main topic of communication has been about purchases or maintenance of purchases.

Second order of business: When nothing new was coming in, we paid more attention to what we already had. This was true for everything from the stock food in the pantry to the clothes in the closet to the furniture in each room. Appreciating and using what you have instead of only seeing the gaps is a pretty profound mind shift in evaluating the happiness  of your life.

Third order of business: Once we started changing our attitudes about stuff, we realized the biggest drain of all was our lifestyle. If we were ready to get rid of things that didn’t bring us happiness, why would we be content with jobs and schedules and commutes and responsibilities that kept us from living the life we wanted? We began making lists of what we really wanted and – just as important – the things we no longer wanted in our lives. We realized this meant job changes and a probable move. We made a list of what we wanted in our new lifestyle and then started shopping around for a location and jobs to suit that lifestyle. What a change from our previous job changes and moves!

We ended up in Seattle, one of the 3 cities on our “desired location” list, with jobs that allowed us to commute via foot or shuttle while living in a small place in the perfect location for walking to find everything we needed.

In our new home we explored the kind of social life we never dreamed we could have, lived on far less than we ever expected, and explored hobbies and interests that were previously too time-consuming to even consider. I ran a half-marathon, wrote a novel, and had more friends than ever before. Warren took up photography, learned to build websites, and did a few crazy things like skydiving. Together we started a small consulting business.

With each step we became bolder in defining the life we wanted and saying no to the things that just didn’t fit, no matter how great they sounded. We turned away interesting opportunities that did not fit only to be doubly rewarded with the right opportunities at other times. It was almost like having a compass in hand at all times and only picking destinations that fit our true north.

In time, we determined that our dream was to take trip around the world, giving up everything we owned to satisfy our curiosity about the world around us. As we went through the planning process, our initial goal of a one-year trip became a life-changing five-year plan that involved shedding every material possession back home (including our home). Once we got started, it was really easy to fully commit to this goal and make it even grander than we first envisioned. Less stuff makes that possible.

People often ask us how long it took to plan our dream lifestyle, and we tell them 2 years. In fact, though, we can trace it back to that one question several years ago that started us on the path where a trip like this was possible.

“Do we really need all this stuff?”

Do you?

Betsy and Warren, wearing everything they own now (literally).

A few photos from the first 120 days of their adventure:

Readers, please feel free to make Comments. And thank you Betsy and Warren for that inspiring guest post.

Comments

  1. Pidge says

    wow…inspiring! this is why I love your blog…I leave inspired! I spend alot of time reading about people “simplifying” their lives….one of these days maybe i’ll do it myself!

    • Angela says

      Pidge- What a nice comment, thank you so much. It is so much fun to have Betsy and Warren to share their version of simplifying their lives, definitely an adventurous and inspiring one! Thanks so much for commenting.

    • Angela says

      Carla- Yes, the older I get the more I sometimes long for the days of being much less encumbered, not by relationships or commitments so much as by STUFF. I’m slowly getting to my own version of a simple life, and I haven’t missed anything so far. Thanks for commenting, it’s great to “see” you here.
      I always remember when I first read your blog and your wii avatar looked nearly exactly like mine, down to the orange top.

  2. Betsy Talbot says

    Angela, thanks for letting us share our story. We can still hardly believe we are living this life, and looking back to see everything that has happened since we finally started paying attention is mind-boggling. We are living proof that you can bring about huge changes in your life by focusing on very basic changes every single day – the exact message you share on your blog every week!

    • Angela says

      Betsy- You’re welcome, thank YOU! It’s true that any big change can be broken down into baby steps, and I’m impressed with how you were able to sum up so many years and so many changes in one article. It’s been so much fun to share this guest post with my readers and I’m excited that many of them will be able to follow you on your trip now. It’s been great vicarious fun for me.

    • says

      Hi, els. It would be really difficult to travel like we do with a dog, though I know some people do it. We found homes for both our dog and cat before we left, but unfortunately our little old dog Max died from a pancreatic tumor a couple of months before we left. We still miss him terribly and have not been able to write about the experience yet.

  3. says

    We’re with Betsy and Warren all the way ~ We started simplifying our lives 13 years ago by jettisoning all the STUFF that we didn’t need, use, or love.

    We moved from a large home in NJ to a smaller home in MD to a still smaller home if Florida. We went from 80 hour work weeks to 32 hour work weeks to “semi-retired.”

    If anyone is interested, http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/clearing-clutter/ (with linked posts on simplifying and de-cluttering).

    LESS is MORE!

    Thanks, Angela, Betsy and Warren.

    • Angela says

      You’re welcome, Nancy. I’ll check out your clutter posts, because that project has become a long-term one, in every room and every area of my life.

      Yay for giving up the big house and 80 hour work weeks!

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. says

    Wow! What an amazing adventure! This is not where I am in my life right now, but I love the bold decision to go out and make your life truly LIVED! I loved hearing this story, thanks to you and to Angela for hosting!
    Alice.

    • says

      That’s the funny thing, Alice. It didn’t seem like a bold decision at the time – just the next logical step. That’s what I love about continual baby steps – before you know it you are leaping and you only realize it when you look down! :)

    • says

      Jackie, I’m sure there are people out there who do it all at once, but I don’t know that we could have done that. With everything in life – career, health goals, and this trip – the end goal seems so large it would be hard to work up the motivation to do it. But having a little goal in front of you makes it much easier, and before you know it, you have “little-goaled” yourself up to the finish line.

      For us, setting the bar low repeatedly works better than setting the bar high just once.

  5. Irina says

    Betsy,
    I love this article, esp the part about proactive decision making, defining your life and taking opportunities that are right for you and not just because they’re given to you. I’m so glad to see you’re having a great time and the trip is so rewarding!
    Irina

    • Betsy Talbot says

      Thsnks, Irina. In a way it is surprising that it took us so long to feel “adult” enough to do our own thing.

  6. says

    Betsy, you are an inspiration.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    When we are on the “treadmill” we can be so busy that we don’t even have time to reflect on changing our lives.

    I like the visual picture you paint of being at Denver airport and meeting up for a drink and to catch up on the housekeeping essential.

    My wake up call was going from work after an 80 min commute to collect my daughter from After School Care in the middle of winter at 6.30pm. It was dark and my poor little daughter ( kindergarten) was sitting huddled in the dark outside by herself, looking out for my car lights. No one had noticed that she wasn’t inside. My heart broke and I asked myself ” Why am I doing this?”

    I chucked it all in am in the process of redefining my life.

    I look forward to visiting you blog and reading more of your adventures!

  7. Betsy Talbot says

    Non Consumer Girl, my heart just broke a little in thinking about your little girl in the dark and how you must have felt seeing her. Talk about a wakeup call!

    Do you think that our big life changes are spurred more by what happens to us or what happens to the people we love? I vote for the latter.

  8. Angela says

    Non Consumer Girl, Betsy- I love this exchange. It’s true that sometimes we’ll put up with a lot that we wouldn’t allow the people we love to endure. What’s even sadder is when people don’t, or can’t, wake up. Thank goodness you both did (for yourselves and your families).

  9. says

    I love this!
    Reading your story brought tears to my eyes.
    I went through a less-drastic, but similarly freeing transition when I left my movie career and house in the hills in Hollywood about 5 years ago.
    I was free!
    Save for a few pieces of art & memorabilia & my cats, when I move these days – I sell everything on craigslist and re-buy new-to-me stuff via craigslist when I get to where I’m going.
    And my current thrift obsession goes along with this life philosophy, as well.
    If I only pay $2 for something – if it gets ruined or I end up not liking it – I toss it back to charity (no harm, no foul!)
    -stephanie

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