It’s my birthday week, and as such, I get to be the boss of me. Alright, I guess I always am, but for some reason, pausing to reflect on the day I was born has this effect on me; makes me want to more thoughtfully reflect on how I’ve spent the past twelve months. It also makes me want to write about it.
In the past, I’ve written lists of things I’ve learned thus far in my small existence, but because of our travels last year, I feel like I learned a whole new slew of truths. Or, not so much learned them, as though they were brand new, but solidified them as really and truly a real-life thing that has showed up in the flesh. These things aren’t just yetis or Loch Ness monsters.
Anyway…. I want to celebrate my gratitude for another year of life by sharing a few things I learned last year while backpacking around the world with my family. And at the end, I invite you to share what you’ve been learning lately.
1. You really don’t need much stuff.
You probably knew I was going to say this one, but I’ll go ahead and say it again. Since we’ve been back and slowly unpacking boxes in our new-but-still-temporary rental home, we’ve been tossing stuff left and right. It’s a privilege to have put things away for a good long year, then unearth them and re-ask whether those things are necessary. It’s like reacquainting yourself with a life you once lived, and asking whether that’s still a life for you.
We honestly didn’t have that much stuff to begin with, and we got rid of even more before we boarded the plane. But now that we’re back, we’re getting rid of even more—box after box of stuff. We lived out of backpacks for a year, and it was glorious. I promise you, we never felt deprived—the kids collectively had about three toys, Kindles and laptops served as our entertainment (and work) portals, and everyone had just a few shirts and bottoms we mixed and matched all year.
Now that we’re back, I never want to fill our home with things “just because.” They really have to pass the test for us—is it useful? Is it beautiful? If not, out it goes. And it feels grand.*
2. There’s lots of ways to live life.
In Thailand, we met a fellow American family traveling to every continent (yep, including Antarctica!) by going back and forth from their home in New Mexico to a new locale. They’d take a week or so in their own home to refresh and recharge, repack their bags, then head to a new continent. I found it a rather quirky way to do a round-the-world trip until they shared some of the details of how it worked, and why it was a better choice for their personalities and work obligations. I saw the logic then.
We continued to meet both traveling families and long-term expats, living an unconventional life in myriad ways—from backpacking to RVing to finding jobs a year at a time in different random spots. And it was a good reminder for me that, just like long-term travel and location-independent living, there’s a million ways to live life.
For some of us, it’s good to work for ourselves and set our own schedules. Other people thrive in a team environment with a supervisor and clear-cut expectations. Some families are at their best because they pour in to their neighborhood public school, while others flourish because of homeschooling. And still others take all this a year at a time, deciding what’s best for the whole family and its members within particular seasons (that’s us).
It’s a beautiful thing that we’re all different, and that there’s no one right way to live life. This is why I love the definition of simple living here at this blog—living holistically with your life’s purpose. It’s not about a master set of dos and don’ts. Each of our lives are meant to be lived according to our inner craftsmanship, with all its many pieces placed just so, where they’re meant to be.
3. Family is the greatest influence on kids.
You’ve guessed correctly—we spent a LOT of time together this past year. We only had a handful of days when we weren’t together literally 24/7, and on the whole, it went beautifully. (And yes, we were more than thrilled to re-enter the land of grandparent babysitting when we returned.)
But even when we’re not together nonstop, family truly is the most influential thing in a child’s life—no matter where they do a chunk of their daytime learning. Even when a kid goes to traditional school, home is where their heart, their compass, their magnetic center rests. It’s where they learn who they are. So long as we parents cultivate that, the rest are mostly details.
4. Space is a good thing.
Because of that 24/7 experience, I also learned that space is a grand and glorious thing. For five weeks in the Sydney area during the holidays, we housesat for a friend and spread out in a normal (meaning, not a guesthouse) house. There was a bonafide kitchen, a real backyard, and enough rooms for everyone to have their own corner of quiet. And the kids simply got along so. much. better.
Ever since that setup, we celebrated any moment when we had more than a two-bedroom apartment. And it confirmed to us that while I’m a big believer in small living in all its facets (and not just in the square footage of your dwelling), a little personal space is also really, really good. And helpful. And healthy.
5. Life’s too short to worry about doing things the “right” way.
One of the more popular responses from people about our year of travel is some form of, “That sounds so amazing! I wish we could do something like that.” And my response, which I only occasionally share outwardly is, “You can! Start making a plan so that it’ll really happen.”
We’re not anything special. Okay, so we can take our work with us and we were already used to homeschooling. But that doesn’t make us unusual by today’s standards—there’s a thousand different upstream ways to do work, school, and life. For some folks, in their core it feels right to follow the traditional route with life, and that’s great. I admire that, in fact, if they’re being true to themselves.
But for those of us who feel the itch to live life… well, a bit less mainstream, it’s wasted energy to worry what others will think of our choices, or to focus only on the risks instead of the beautiful, worth-it benefits. Whatever “it” is, from starting a business doing something you love, to moving somewhere that’s a better fit for your family, to joining a new-to-you church, to strapping on backpacks and hitting the road—as long as it’s responsible, it’s worth it.
Pay attention to details, yes, and thoughtfully consider your family’s needs and obligations. But if you can still do those things AND fulfill a dream, well…. Isn’t it worth it? I think so.
I’m eternally grateful for my 37th year, spent with my worldly goods on my back, passport in hand as a portal to unparalleled education, and my four favorite people as constant compadres. And I’m now looking forward to my 38th year because it’ll be a bit more quiet and conventional. There are seasons for everything, and I’m genuinely glad to be in one that looks more like roots than wings. But I don’t doubt we’ll be dusting off our feathers soon enough.
As a birthday gift to me, I’d love for you to comment below and tell me two things: One—how old you are (because age is meant to be celebrated!), and two—what’s one thing you’re learning right now? It can be deep or completely insignificant. But I wanna know. And thank you, as always, for the gift of reading here. I’m grateful, more than I can adequately express.
*Yes, I’ve read the Marie Kondo book. I’ll talk more about that soon.