What It Means to Live a Slower Life

You might remember that back in January, my family sold our house, gave away our stuff and headed off on an open-ended adventure. It’s now May and we’ve been travelling through Canada for four months, living nomadically, balancing school/work/adventure/life and playing around with what it means to live a slower life.

In that time we’ve met a lot of people with a lot of questions about our situation:

  • What do we do for work? (We’re self-employed: I’m an author and my husband’s job allows him to work remotely.)
  • When do you work? (I work early most mornings and nights if needed, and Ben works Australian business hours. i.e. Early evening through to around midnight.)
  • Are the kids in school? (Yes, they’re enrolled in a Distance Education public school out of Sydney.)
  • How’s that going? (Oh, you know, swings and roundabouts.)
  • What do we miss about home? (Our family and friends, our little dog who is staying with Ben’s sister, my garden, magpies warbling in the morning.)
  • Don’t you get sick of each other? (Sometimes.)
  • How are we making this whole thing work? (With a lot of flexibility and experimentation and by learning to let go of the ‘shoulds’ and expectations of our old life.)
  • Can I come with you? (Uh…can I get back to you?)

The question I’ve found myself answering the most, however, is, “What’s it really like, honestly?”

When we first headed off in to the great unknown I tried to keep my expectations at bay. I tried going in to the entire experience with very few pre-conceived ideas about what it would feel like, how we would make it work and what we would learn.

But one of the things I was sure of, absolutely positive about in fact, is that life would be simpler.

I mean, how could it not be?

We were stripping away so many layers of commitment and stuff and status quo, it must follow that we would have more time, more headspace, more energy.

And in many ways selling our house, giving away our stuff and heading off to Canada for the first half of 2018 has simplified life enormously.

But in other, unexpected ways, it’s created a more-ness.

A complexity that I hadn’t considered, and can I tell you – I’m here for it because it’s juicy and delicious and overwhelming and life-affirming.

The simplicity that living a nomadic life brings is pretty great:

  • There’s no home maintenance to worry about, except for regular cleaning if we’re staying in our VRBO rentals for more than a week
  • We have way fewer belongings than we’ve ever owned before – fewer clothes, fewer entertainment options, fewer toys, less choice, less picking up, less tidying
  • I have a mobile phone that doesn’t work outside of WiFi and it’s amazing how liberating that feels
  • There are fewer social commitments and obligations to attend
  • We aren’t beholden to a school schedule or weekend sports

With less stuff, less to do, less to keep up with, less to prove, fewer requirements and fewer expectations, yes, life feels simpler.

And yet, as I mentioned above, it feels more complex too.

Yes, the logistics of balancing school/work/adventure/life is trickier.

Yes, working out where to go, where to stay and how to keep our budget in tact is a different kind of complexity.

Yes, we miss having the familiar structures and helping hands of family, friends and community at times too.

But the biggest complexity for me is undoubtedly the emotional kind, as I dig down in to layers of values and purpose and time and priorities and Big Life Questions that I’ve never had the headspace to explore before.

The past four months have been an excavation of the middle layers of life, a removal of the expectations and the status quo from our day-to-day, and in doing so we’ve uncovered depth that we didn’t know existed.

The peaks feel higher and the valleys deeper.

My feelings are bigger and sharper. My heart feels fuller and more vulnerable. I find myself asking questions that scare me, experimenting with ideas and perspectives that I had previously never considered.

Some of the stuff I’ve been unearthing is no joke. There’s been tears and terror and one moment where my entire body simply froze as my brain took up all available resources while it silently freaked out.

I don’t know whether my heart actually is fuller or more vulnerable, if my feelings are bigger or sharper, or if it simply feels that way because I’ve removed some of the layers that used to surround them.

Like the slow excavation of a mostly-buried fossil – it may look small on the surface but as the work of digging and removing layers of rock and soil continues, it appears to get larger.

What I do know is that my perspective and purpose are shifting.

I find myself wanting to get more involved in causes that are important to me, I want to be a force for good. I don’t want to create simplicity for simplicity’s sake, I want to remove layers of the unnecessary so that I can use that space, time and energy for things that matter.

So let me tell you what it’s really like. This is not what I expected.

As I remove those middle layers I realise, it’s no longer a matter of simple vs. complex. It’s about inessential vs. important.

The fun part is gradually figuring out which is which.

6 Comments

  1. Geri Grad

    How exciting a time this is for you and the family..I admire the strength it took to let go of the familiar daily life and things..I sold my house and am in an apartment for the first time in my life..the changes are big and hard at first..because of what I gave away and the neighbors I love..But I have new friends and new adventure to explore with the freedom of not having to care for the house and property..I have a lot more to get adjusted to but …like you, I’m DOING it..God Bless you all and keep posting the new things your discovering.

    Reply
  2. The Poyner Family

    Hi Brooke, I just read your article out loud to my wife after it was forwarded to us by a friend. It really struck a chord with us as we are currently in the process of selling our house, our cars and all our stuff (in Canada, coincidentally!) to embark on a family adventure with our four young boys starting in July. Like you, we are trying to keep our expectations minimal but this will be uncharted territory for us so the honesty of your insights is hugely valuable. Thank you and happy travels.

    Reply
  3. Linda Sand

    We are retired folk but when we sold all our stuff and moved into a motorhome to go traveling I was surprised at the changes as well. Especially how much time I spent researching where to go and what to do. We spent three years touring the USA and managed to at least drive through every one of the 48 contiguous states during that time. It’s a big world and we were glad to be able to learn more about our part of it. The memories you are building will last a long time. I’m glad you decided to do this.

    Reply
  4. Susan

    My husband and I are working our plan to do the same in a few years with our son. This weekend, while we were away camping, I asked him what he thought we would do with our time once we were full time on the road. We are contemplating that big answer and I appreciate you sharing how that mental unpacking has been for you. Safe travels!

    Reply
  5. Steph

    This is a dream. How do you frame your feelings about kids and their friendships left behind?

    Reply
  6. Amphasis

    How are the kids getting along this journey, do they like it?

    Reply

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