me in tuscany

5 life lessons in 37 years

Tomorrow I turn 37. And while the past few weeks been insanely full packing up our home, selling anything we don’t need, putting anything we’d like for the next year in backpacks, and then hanging out with friends, I’m still hoping to practice my annual ritual to celebrate another year of life: chill.

My favorite birthday activities involve reading with a hefty cuppa coffee by my side, watching my kids play, getting a bit of alone time to journal, and perhaps go on a date with my favorite boy to celebrate, gin and tonic in hand. I’m an easy-to-please gal.

I’ve learned a lot this past year. You know how you have some years that are more daily grind, just doing your thing and keeping on with what’s in front of you? Yeah—that was not this past year for me. I’ve been stretched mentally and emotionally more the past twelve months than I have since we moved overseas seven years ago.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about life this past year.

1. Living simply isn’t just about having less stuff. It’s also about consuming less.

It’s easy to think that because music mp3 files, digital movie downloads on iTunes, podcasts, blogs, and ebooks don’t technically take up any physical space, then it’s perfectly reasonable to consume as much as possible. You’re not adding more visual clutter or wasting natural resources, so why not?

I’ll tell why not: because when you’re bent on consuming any and everything presented to you, it dilutes the great stuff you really should enjoy. It makes the truly life-changing harder to find. The ‘just okay’ waters down the truly great, making what you really need indistinguishable from something that might be wonderful for someone else, but maybe not for you.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

It also clutters the mind and emotions, leaving you almost as stressed as when you fill your house with needless stuff. I’ve learned to be very selective with what I consume, even in digital form.

• Read more: Beauty in what remains

2. I really, truly, honestly don’t need much stuff.

I’ve believed this for over seven years now, of course, when I first started this blog. But I love how I’m still reminded of this truth. As we’ve decluttered and packed up to get ready for our big trip, we still routinely take boxes and boxes for the thrift store.

I’m completely stoked to live out of backpacks for this next year, all five of us.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

• Read more: The thrift store can be your nearly-free storage unit

3. Going gray is a big deal… to lots of other people.

I’ve been perfectly content about my hair going gray for a long time now—it’s a natural part of life, it has its own sort of beauty, and it’s really not that big a deal. But several months after telling you all I’m going to let it grow out now, and I still get comments.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

A few of you have even said you sense the start of a small cultural revolution here, reminding women that IT’S OKAY to go gray. It’s seen as wise on men… why must it be seen as haggard on women?

• Read more: The gray hair, it’s growing on me

4. Your late 30s is not too late to completely change your mind.

I won’t get into details here, because they don’t really matter for this post. But I’ve long held on to some beliefs that were shaken out of my hands this past year, and I’m happy to be free from them. I’ve simply assumed these ideas as part of my upbringing’s subcultural context, but this past year, I actually stopped to analyze whether I really did believe them. Turns out, I didn’t. And i feel much lighter to no longer grip onto them as a black-and-white truth.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

• Read more: Subscribe to The Art of Simple Travel, our new travel site, to get a free copy of my ebook, Twenty Things I’d Tell My 20-Something Self

5. Everything is better once you know how you’re wired.

Okay, so I already knew this fairly well, but this past year I really challenged some things I assumed were true about me. I read, talked to other people, observed my own thought processes and behavior, and ended this year much more self-aware than in years past.

Once you understand your core wiring and makeup, it’s lightyears easier to make life choices that are best for you and your family. What’s more—you don’t have to apologize for them. How and when you work, what you say “no” to, why you do what you do, how you educate your kids, who you spend your time with, how you cultivate your marriage… there’s no one universally right way to do any of that stuff. But there’s a right way that’s best for you and your family.

There is so much freedom there. And to not apologize for embracing it… that’s a people-pleaser’s milestone. It’s been big for me.

• Listen up: Confront Your Junk: episode 66 of The Art of Simple Podcast

5 simple, valuable life lessons

All this points to more peace, more lightness in life, and more fuel for living simply. it’s a journey, for sure… I’m thankful for the bends in the road this past year that have steered me further down the right path.

What are you learning these days?

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