We were in our forever home: 5 bedrooms, 12 acres, swimming pool in the backyard, settled down with our 18 month old daughter and our family close by. My husband worked from home at job he had been in for 12 years. We had a routine. We did DIY projects and church on the weekends. We painted bedrooms, hung pictures on the walls, rearranged furniture. Dusted the pictures, cleaned the bathrooms, thought of more projects, cut the grass. We were living the life that most people start planning when they get married, the life that most Americans label as the “American Dream.”
We had moved five times over our 6 years of marriage on our way to this “American Dream,” big moves both across the state of North Carolina and across the country. We had lived in an apartment in downtown Seattle, Washington. We had lived at a beach house in North Carolina. We had lived in the suburbs of Apex, North Carolina. And we were now living in the country in East Bend, North Carolina. We had done it all. Every time we moved, we moved into a bigger place, and naturally accumulated more stuff. We collected more kitchen gear, more books, more furniture, more pictures. And then the baby gear came, and all the toys that followed. And we just had more and more and more stuff.
The funny thing about “stuff” is that you have to tend to it. You obsess over it if you can’t find it, you get upset if it breaks, you get tired of it when its old. Suddenly your “prized” stuff is taking up the space you need for the newer stuff. It’s a never ending cycle. Stuff just takes up your time.
I started asking myself what we were doing with our lives. This endless cycle of maintenance on our “stuff” was leaving me unfulfilled, week after week. I dreamed of traveling and minimalistic living. I dreamed of taking back my weekends and spending them exploring cities, restaurants, museums, hiking with my daughter and showing her the world. I wanted more time to wander. And I wanted to teach her how to both wander about and wonder at the world. But all of our stuff was in the way.
Parallel to my struggles, my husband was growing restless in his job. Like me, Samuel always needs a mountain to climb, just a different type of mountain. So when a Microsoft recruiter reached out to him asking if he were willing to relocate to Redmond, Washington for a Commercial Software Engineering position, we both jumped at the opportunity.
But what to do with all of our stuff? It wouldn’t/couldn’t fit into the 2 bedroom apartment we would be moving into, close to Samuel’s office. We decided to do something crazy and only move with whatever would fit in the back of Samuel’s truck and buy the minimal furniture we would need in the apartment once we got there. Our haul boiled down to 7 rubbermaid boxes, four suitcases, and a basket of toys and books for Isla. That’s it.
You would think packing for that would be incredibly difficult. It was at first, and then it wasn’t. We walked through each room of our house and asked ourselves what we really needed on a daily basis. It turns out, not that much. We had accumulated so much stuff over the years just because we had an empty space to fill. Now, we were about to have a quarter of that space.
All the random trinkets we had collected seemed pointless. My closet full of clothes and shoes seemed excessive. My bookcases crammed full of books…well, I’m a writer, so we’ll excuse the books. The basement and the garage full of miscellaneous objects suddenly had us scratching our heads. Why did we ever think it was a good idea to buy half of this stuff in the first place? Suddenly all of our glorious “stuff” was just excess. All the furniture and decorations I had spent months hunting for was now going to be left behind…because my giant chesterfield bed wasn’t going to fit in an apartment. And I was weirdly ok with it.
We are now in a 1200 sqft apartment in downtown Redmond which couldn’t be any further from the life we were leading back in East Bend, NC. Our apartment is now “furnished.” We have a table and chairs, a couch, a tv. But our mattress is on the floor and a rubbermaid box is my makeshift nightstand for now. The old me would have panicked and fretted over this for days on end searching for the perfect nightstand or the perfect bed frame, but I’ve already done all that before, and I chose to leave the perfect bed back at our home in East Bend. The new nightstand will come to me, eventually. For now the rubbermaid box does just fine holding my kindle and phone.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love my stuff. I miss a lot of my comforts, but I’m also learning I really didn’t need most of it. I thought I did. I thought I needed all 50 or so of the coffee cups I had collected over the years. Turns out, we can get by with just 5 or so. I thought I needed all the stuff in that big house, or I wouldn’t have bought it, but in the end the stuff didn’t make us happy. Samuel and I have learned through many trial and errors in our seven years together that we both value experiences over possessions. It finally took us being overwhelmed and overworked with all of our stuff to decide to put it into practice.
We wonder why we spent so much money over the years on things that are now collecting dust or causing us headaches. Before we ever bought our first house, we had a long conversation about whether we should buy a house and settle down, or if we should live lightly and travel more. We unfortunately chose the safe option and bought a 4 bedroom house that we never needed. Thankfully, it was a good investment, but ultimately, we wish we would have squashed the notion that we had to settle down at that point in our life to chase what we thought was the “American Dream.”
We may have had one version of the “American dream,” but it wasn’t the version for us. Realizing that, we decided to change our course of direction because life is simply too short. More than anything, I wanted to set an example for my daughter to chase what she will eventually dream about. My and Samuel’s dream involves less things and more experiences, especially with our daughter.
Packing up and leaving everything was hard. Even though we wanted this life, it was hard leaving everything behind including both of our families whom we love deeply. But Samuel and I both wanted more by owning less, and Samuel’s new job at Microsoft just so happens to be in one of the coolest parts of the country for those with explorer hearts. Instead of being bogged down with house work and yard work and all the work related to our “stuff,” we plan to spend every weekend this summer hiking and exploring the PNW. Throughout the week, Isla and I explore walking trails, coffee shops, bakeries, and her favorite Bubble Tea.
We have truly found that having less is more for us. And we’ve discovered that it’s ok to chase a dream that sounds crazy when we said it out loud. Aren’t the crazy dreams always the good ones? The things that scare us the most in life are probably the things we should be doing, right? That’s all for now. Isla and I have a 3 mile walk to go on because…why not? It’s a beautiful day, and I don’t have a single thing I need to maintain. The sun is shining, and it’s time for exploring, and for me, that’s the ultimate win. That’s my American Dream.