This article was published on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global platform in June 2019.
I walked to the supermarket around 10 am one morning, pushing our three months old, with the sole purpose of buying dishwashing tablets. I walked about 500 meters up the street, and something caught my eye. A shoe store had a pair of beautiful tall boots in grey, which I thought were nice. I had a brown and black pair of tall boots, but not grey. I pushed the stroller in, and 10 minutes later, walked out with a $600 pair of boots. I walked home, forgetting about the dishwashing tablets, as Oliver needed to be fed.
In one fleeting moment, I dropped an exorbitant amount of money and didn’t think twice. We lived a fortunate life, but at no time could I really afford a $600 pair of boots. However, I thought I could. I was on a 6-figure salary, we were renovating our 3rd home, and I spent what I wanted. If I saw something, I bought it. I didn’t think twice. I wasn’t usually frivolous like I was with the boots, but I also didn’t hold back if I liked something, or the kids wanted something. I bought it, put it in my closet and felt better about myself for the fleeting moments after.
I look back now, not with a longing to drop $600 on a pair of boots or for the full account balance at which I never looked. I look back in awe and a sense of guilt, for the blur into which I was swept. The life we literally bought into and stored in our closets. It’s impossible to pinpoint any point in time when the consumerism started, but I can pinpoint specifically when it stopped.
In 2017, my husband and I decided to stop the treadmill, close our businesses, rent our house and move to France. Always a pipe-dream, but also always just-out-of-reach as we thought we were in-too-deep. However, we longed for something else, and something in our privileged life wasn’t right. We were running at breakneck speed, had more stress and anxiety than ever and we’re just living to work. With our kids at the perfect age, the rental market affording us the ability to live off our rent, we decided it was now or never. Before we packed up the entire contents of our house, into a container, I purged. I threw out bags upon bags of junk. Small bits of plastic, broken toys and tat from the drawers in my kid’s rooms. From their desks, our kitchen, our closets. I put good toys that we didn’t use into bags and donated over a dozen garbage bags full to our local charity shop. What was left was approximately six plastic containers of ‘stuff’ I declared had sentimental or very useful value. Puzzles, books, toys, games. Each boy has a plastic box with school artwork, reports, photos and special goodies that remind us of their years growing up.
Fast-forward 2 years, where we live in a rented home in the south-west of France. Since our arrival, we’ve slipped into a much simpler life. French country-life and its slower style, is making its way into our personal habits and daily life. I’m learning to accept and perfect living more in the moment, not always having something to do and filling the gaps with mindless scrolling. My happiness has increased, my stress has reduced (anxiety is a hard thing to rid forever), and my sense of purpose is far greater than it was.
What our more minimal life also includes is less stuff. In a way, the decluttering was a side-benefit and wasn’t a deliberate minimizing, because we felt suffocated. In choosing to move only with our suitcases, we inadvertently bought into life, living with less. Because we are also on a strict budget, living in someone else’s home (that we don’t need to do up, buy cushions for or improve), and don’t want to amass unnecessary items we’ll have to ship home, we are collecting less and feeling all the more free for it. I’m finding joy in spending our weekly personal allowance on a nice, long lunch with Rob or on something yummy from the market. I savour the moments longer when it’s not an everyday occurrence. We plan our meals and bulk-up when things are on sale and are just generally smarter about our money because we have to be.
The effect of having less, spending less and being more grateful for what we have, is also having a positive effect on our kids. Christmas & birthday gifts are thought-out, and we lean towards family trips & experiences over stuff. Our youngest, who is almost 4, has also learned how to play on his own for hours, which the others didn’t do. He has the fewest toys but the biggest imagination & ability to have fun with rocks, boxes and his beloved tractor. Whether it’s as a result of having less choice, fewer toys, parents who are less stressed or parents who are around more, all are correlated to our more simple lifestyle here in France and will have an impact on his life forever.
I love helping others now, find ways of simplifying their lives, without the need to move to the other side of the world. Through my writing, coaching & courses, I’m helping other women learn how to reconnect with what matters most, prioritize better, and declutter their minds, homes & schedules. I genuinely love that a few simple changes can help women live with more fulfilment and calm and much less stress.
I reflect on the past two years as the anniversary of our arrival in France, is at the end this week. We’ve decided to extend our stay indefinitely and will embark on renovating an 18th century home and continuing to live in the south-west of France for a while longer. We are intrigued about the arrival of our shipping container soon. It will be interesting to see what stays & what goes, as the contents certainly have not been missed.
I highly encourage others who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the juggle of everyday life, to step back and assess what is truly important in your life. We all have the power to change and take leaps, and you may need to dig deep if that’s what you feel is your calling. Simplifying some aspects of your life, to amplify others can truly be life-changing.