In 2018, my husband and I made the life-changing decision to move overseas. We left our spacious Texas home–and most of its contents–behind for a cozy London flat. But between all the downsizing, planning, and saying goodbye to loved ones, I picked up a few simple living lessons along the way.
1. A lot of the stuff we own is hidden from view
Although I didn’t give much thought about living a simple life until after our big move, I prided myself on the lack of clutter in my home. Aside from a few dog toys on the floor and some decorative items, you wouldn’t find much “stuff” just sitting around on tables and shelves.
However, when it came time to sort through every possession we owned, I had a disturbing realization. Despite the appearance of not having much stuff, my drawers, cabinets, and storage closets were positively packed with things.
I foolishly thought that downsizing our stuff would take a few days at most. In reality, it took weeks.
But there were a few silver linings. For one, sorting through every sock, power cord, and throw pillow in my home is what led me to create my minimalist decluttering checklist.
And I learned a valuable simple living lesson: just because it’s behind a door doesn’t mean it’s not clutter.
2. You can resell pretty much anything
As someone who cares about both simple AND sustainable living, I wanted to rehome as much of our stuff as possible. And because we decided to relocate with only checked luggage (no overseas shipping), that left us with a ton of random items to sell.
In the beginning, I thought we’d end up having to donate most things to Goodwill. But as it turns out, people are willing to buy pretty much anything off of Craigslist!
I sold Christmas decor, throw pillows, metal signs, entry rugs… And the furniture was even easier to offload.
While it took a fair bit of coordination (and some awkward haggling), we made thousands of dollars without ever having to leave our house.
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3. Priorities change, but personalities rarely do
When we lived in the US, I was totally swept up in the culture of productivity. In the words of Courtney Carver, author of many of my favorite simple living quotes, “I measured who I was by what I got done.”
Above all else, I cared about being the best at my job and completing the most tasks as possible in a day. It’s a common mentality among American millennials, and it’s an unsustainable way to live.
After moving to the UK, where the pace of life is slower and people are (generally) less career-obsessed, that mentality melted away.
Today, I still care about “being the best”–it’s a core part of my personality. But what has changed is how I measure my self-worth.
Instead of prioritizing general career growth, I’m focused on building a future that I truly care about. That means performing tasks and building habits that keep my body healthy and my bank account full enough.
4. It’s easy to take what we have for granted
The saying “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is painfully true for expats.
From big things like spending time with loved ones, to small pleasures like a Saturday morning breakfast taco ritual, the meaningfulness of those experiences fades away after a while. You assume those things will always be there, and you slowly stop appreciating how wonderful they really are.
And then suddenly, you’re 3,000 miles away and crying because you miss pub trivia with your in-laws and the taste of good queso.
Learning to appreciate the little things is one of the best benefits of simplifying your life. I’m not only more mindful about living in the moment, but also about enjoying what I have nearby.
Instead of going to the same handful of restaurants, we make a point to try new places. I savor my morning dog walks through the neighborhood. None of these things are mind-blowingly amazing experiences, but I give them the attention and gratitude they deserve they deserve nonetheless.
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5. Experiences are priceless
Can you put a price on your first time stepping off a plane into a new country? What about watching the sunset along Venice’s Grand Canal with a creamy gelato in hand?
Both of those experiences cost us a pretty penny. However, I cherish those memories far more than having the trendiest clothes or a house full of gadgets.
The downsizing we did before moving overseas was the catalyst for our simple lifestyle. But the desire to spend our money on experiences is what kept us from amassing more stuff since the move.
We may not own our own home anymore or make as much money as we did back in the US. But we feel wealthier than ever. And that’s been the most profound simple living lesson of all.