When I was a kid, there was money everywhere. My great grandpa was a lawyer for the Chicago mob in the 1920s, and today, my dad’s generation is still living off that money. Sometimes I wonder if the key to being able to squash materialism is to have a lot of it as a kid. I’m not sure. But let me tell you this: I grew up with a laundress and a housekeeper and unlimited cash from a drawer in the dining room.

When I went to college my parents cut off my money. I think this might have been normal at the time. I remember crying. Really. Crying over the fact that I’d never be able to shop at Lord & Taylor. But it didn’t take long for me to see that people don’t wear Lord & Taylor skirts to class. In fact, I realized that most people don’t wear Lord & Taylor skirts anywhere because some of those skirts could feed a family for a month.

1. Test the meaning of money by doing stuff that’s scary.
One of the first things I did after college was sell three strings of pearls to get myself to Los Angeles. I was really scared when I did it, but in fact, the only time I missed those pearls was when my mom asked where they were.

When I was making a lot of money, I had great work clothes and a BMW (hey, I lived in LA), but that was about it, in terms of splurging. I kept an inexpensive apartment, and people used to tell me I was nuts to live there when I had so much money. They told me I was uncomfortable with success, and I worried they were right, but I stayed there. In hindsight, I realize it felt safe to live somewhere I could afford if my company went bankrupt. Which it did.

2. Put a bunch of stuff in storage to see what it’s like.
When I moved from Los Angeles to New York City my husband and I rented a 500-square-foot apartment. We told ourselves we’d only be there for a year, until we got more settled in the city. So we put all our books in storage, most of our furniture, clothes that were not in season and everything we wouldn’t be using in the next three or four months.

The only way I could put the stuff in storage was to tell myself I could go back and forth every week getting stuff I missed. We ended up staying there six years. We took almost nothing out of storage.

I quote Daniel Gilbert all the time about how we can adapt to anything. Gilbert says that we think some changes will be terrible – like losing a limb – but in fact we are great at adapting to circumstances that don’t change. This is true of putting stuff in storage. You quickly learn to live without it.

3. Understand the concept of aspirational clutter. Get reality and throw stuff out.
When we had a baby, we thought we would move for sure, but 9/11 was too traumatic. It didn’t feel like the right time to move. So we threw stuff out, and we learned a lot about how what you keep in your small apartment is a statement about your values.

So much of what we hold on to is what we wish we were using — objects that commemorate a life we aspire to but do not have. The six books we bought a year ago and haven’t read, for example. We don’t want to admit that we’re not making time to read, so we save them. The treadmill is another object that is loaded because if you throw it out you’re admitting to yourself that you’re never going to use it. Keeping it, even unused, maintains your dream of getting into shape.

In fact, we had to think very hard about every single thing we let into the apartment, and we instituted a rule that if you brought something in, you had to take something out. Maybe other New Yorkers in small spaces had this rule, too, because there is always really good stuff left on doorsteps in New York City.

Then we had another baby. And that was it. With four people living in 500 square feet, I started having recurring dreams about living in a bigger space and I’d wake up to be disappointed that it was only a dream. I decided the small space was driving me crazy, and I started compiling research about where to move.

4. Know this: You could dump everything if you had to.
And then we got bed bugs. We didn’t know that much about them but we captured a bug and checked it on the Internet. When I left the landlord a message to tell him we had bed bugs, our usually completely inaccessible landlord called me ten times in one day. I should have known we were in big trouble.

In fact, our whole building had bed bugs, and maybe the whole city. There is a lot written about bed bugs. There is an epidemic in the United States at all levels of the economic spectrum. (Our bed bug expert said that the worst clients he had were up and down Park Avenue because they felt they had been assaulted by the dirty underclass.)

Bed bugs bite you in your sleep. We had two kids under four years old, and I started staying up all night keeping the bugs off them. Finally the landlord paid for a hotel (about $300 a night in NYC) while we negotiated with him about what to do.

The bugs and their eggs could be in anything in the apartment made of fabric or wood. Here’s how long the bugs can live without food: eighteen months. There is no way we could starve them. We had to poison them. And the only way to do that is to get them to come out of hiding and walk through the poison. The only thing they’ll come out for is human blood.

How would they get human blood? We had to live in the apartment. What do people on Park Avenue do? The staff lives there while the family goes to the summer home or a hotel. What do the not-rich people do? Use themselves as bait. That’s what our neighbors did.

We tried using ourselves as bait for one night, and every bug (by now there were forty or fifty a night) went for the kids. I developed near complete insomnia, always fearing that the kids were getting bitten as soon as I shut my eyes, even in broad daylight when the bugs are asleep.

The bed bug expert said that the most common thing he sees is that people move, but they won’t give up their stuff, so they take the bedbugs with them. We had two kids bitten everywhere. We took no chances and we took with us only things that could be boiled in hot water or thrown in a hot dryer – to ensure no bugs. We took from that apartment less than half of the size of a small U-Haul truck. We left almost everything.

5. Throwing stuff out is not wasteful.
In Madison, we started with just about nothing. Sort of like college kids. You think that throwing everything out is so costly and such a waste of money. But in fact it taught us how little we needed most of the stuff we had, which made us buy much less going forward.

While we have bought a lot since we got here, the years in New York City taught us about living in a small footprint (we still have one of the smallest two bedrooms around) and losing all our stuff to the bed bugs taught us that we didn’t really need much after all.

People often ask me how was I able to switch careers so many times (professional volleyball, corporate marketing, entrepreneurship…) And how have I been able to do so many high risk things (for example take a 70% pay cut and start new as a freelance writer when I had my first baby and was supporting the family.) The answer is that I had very little to lose.

It’s a cliche for a reason. If you have a very low-cost lifestyle and very few physical things that you treasure, you cannot really imagine a rug being pulled out from under you because you don’t own that great a rug anyway.

People think that what’s holding them back from taking risk is some big financial idea of stability and well being, but it’s really fear of losing your comfortable material life, whatever that is. Mine is so spare that I can easily replace it, even if we got bed bugs again.

Which we won’t. Because we had our new house treated before we moved in; even big risk takers draw the line somewhere.

160 replies
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  1. JG
    JG says:

    Very interesting RESPONSE rate to this posting Penelope. I feel that the next decade in America will try and put a little reversal on the instant gratification age… The credit markets today, the insane amount of “stuff” that is available to our kids today… I see glimpses all around that our cyclical world just might make a move back to values, less is more, etc. I’m hoping so at least :)

  2. Cyndi
    Cyndi says:

    Thank you for the timely post. I completely agree with what you’ve said, but that doesn’t make it any easier to part with my “stuff”!

    My husband and I are relocating to an area with a significantly higher cost of living for our jobs, and are going to have to downsize significantly in the process (2300sf house to 1000sf apartment). The prospect of getting rid of a lot of what we have worked so hard for is daunting to say the least. I’m not sure why we are so attached to things like our furniture. Perhaps because the furniture is a tangible representation of a goal that we’ve achieved? (In most cases, that goal has been saving up money to buy high quality furniture for our house with cash instead of on credit.)

    I know that if we had to part with all of our furniture and other “stuff” in an emergency (flood/fire/bedbugs), it would be ok (not easy, but ok). For some reason I find that it is much harder to make a conscious choice to get rid of things in a non-emergency situation.

  3. Mikeachim
    Mikeachim says:

    I love and agree with every point. Another terrific post, Penelope.

    This is a topic close to my heart in the last few years. I find it faacinating how countercultural it’s become to be thrifty and eceonomical with possessions. A couple of generations ago it was a virtue – now it’s slandered as a lack of material ambition, or even being miserly.

    Extraneous possessions are *stressful*. Every single item isn’t just owned by you – it owns you right back. It demands a slice of your time, of your house, of your peace of mind. If it never gets used and you know all too well how much you spent on it, then it spreads across your inner calm like dry-rot….

    *Necessities*: what we need.
    *Stuff*: what we don’t need but we want.
    *Junk*: what we don’t need and we don’t really want. Usually bought for the thrill of buying.

    The Backpack Game (similar to your suggestions):
    next week, you’re walking to a bus-stop a couple of miles away that will take you to a plane that is flying somewhere exotic, where you’ll be spending the next decade. You can only take what you can carry – and you have an item of hand-luggage and a 45/55/70-litre rucksack. You have a week to sell / give away the rest. What stays and what goes?

    (I think this would be called ‘The Zen Of Travel’).

  4. kneurotyk
    kneurotyk says:

    This post is interesting and raises many good points.

    I do think, though, that for someone who was raised with money and probably has every expectation of a generous inheritance, it’s much easier to “tame materialism” than for people who are trying to cover their living costs as well as saving for college, retirement, and caring for elderly parents of limited means. It’s not as hard to let “stuff” go if you know that, if push came to shove, you could reach into the livingroom drawer to replace it.

  5. Carol Quovadis
    Carol Quovadis says:

    Penelope, another great blog and you have very interesting readers who make great comments.

    Oliver James goes even further and in his book “Affluenza” makes the case that materialism is responsible for causing depression, anxiety,etc and basically infecting our society so people live in a totally insane unhappy manner.

    I blogged about an American group called the compactors who got a lot of abusive publicity for harming the American economy because they made a compact to spend as little as possible. You don’t seem to be encountering this at all, so views do seem to be changing.

    A last word from J. Brotherton
    “My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions but in the fewness of my wants”

  6. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Penelope,
    I’m so glad I read this today. My husband and I are moving to a house. Just a tad bigger than our condo, but the bedrooms are a tad smaller. But with a better layout. I was freaking out about the closet space. Being a fashion whore and a vintage clothing dealer, closet space is essential. but I took a critical look at what I have and what can be thrown out. And you know what? It wasn’t that hard to throw stuff out. And now I will have a yard and a little dog. I think the dog is baby training.

  7. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    Well, I’m obviously 10 days behind in my blog reading, but I must say this is now one of my favorite blog posts of all time. The struggle with materialism is a topic that is near and dear to my heart; I battle it daily. So you live in a small house, too? I’m in good company then.

    A friend of mine who traveled in India noted that the folks she stayed with here poor (by our standards) but certainly generous, more so than what she had experienced in the States.

  8. Polly
    Polly says:

    Penelope,

    As I read I felt I could have written your post, so much I lived what you did, in a slightly different order. Including the bed bugs (these were bat bugs, but the same deal), and moving from a six-bedroom house to a 70-square meter apartment in Paris. Three dumpsters of junk, endless yard sales & Goodwill deposits, and now 5 storage containers of stuff sitting untouched in the states for 18 months. What do I miss? A few paintings and photo albums.

    I decided that you can own your stuff or you can let your stuff own you. It was & is liberating to not have to worry about it all. Talk to “attic debris removal” providers about their horror stories and you’ll never want to save — or buy –another item.

    The mantra is simple: Want less.

  9. elcontra
    elcontra says:

    it’s funny… you americans have a concept of frugality that is seen as so obscene in the rest of the world… you guys think of frugality as not having 2 cars and a 5 bedroom’s house… oh boy, that’s not frugality… actually take this as a compliment for the wealthiness of this country, but have in mind that as time goes by, things that are not commodities now will be and such difference in wealthiness won’t be justified…

  10. Bouncing Betty
    Bouncing Betty says:

    I live in a very small house that is 476 square feet of living space, no bookshelves, one closet, no attic, no basement, no garage, one very small garden shed. For a number of years I paid for a storage unit to store my things. I finally took everything out of storage last year and wondered why I paid someone money to store, well not a whole heck of a lot.

    I realize I have issues with my possessions and I have been slowly letting then go. It’s hard, even 18 months later I am still cleaning out Rubbermaid bins of things I brought with me when I moved to New England 7 years ago, never missed, never used. I have sold things on Craigs List, books on Half. com, given things to freinds, put items on Freecycle, thrown out items, had a tage sale, etc.

    Part of me wonders how I accumulated so many items and part of me is having a hard time getting rid of these items. I can remember a time in my life when I could pack up and move in less than an aftenoon.

    I’ve made it a goal for 2008 to reduce my possessions by half.

  11. SueB
    SueB says:

    This was an excellent article. The reference to bedbugs was particularly timely- several apartments in the building I live in have them- fortunately not me… but I did get fleas (horror).

    Tip for anyone with bedbugs: (my friend is a bug geek) you can steam them to kill the eggs, and use a spray to kill the adults. Rent a steamer (or use your clothes iron steam feature) to go along the baseboards and cracks and floor boards. Steam your bed frame, rugs and mattress too. Wash sheets in hot water and hot dryer. Steam heavily. Repeat every few weeks until they’re gone. Good luck!

  12. SueB
    SueB says:

    Oh, and you should caulk the cracks along the baseboards to keep more from coming in to your apartment from adjacent apartments.

  13. Trish
    Trish says:

    Penelope, I love this story. I work in a part-time role five days a fortnight and on the other five working days have a couple of freelance jobs working from home. I own hardly anything…no car, no apartment (which is a studio anyway) and am generally cheap to run. I always felt weighed down by possessions…now I just have books. What really annoys me is when people say “You’re so lucky, working five days a fortnight!”. I let them know that they, too, could do the same if they wanted to earn what I earn. It’s not luck…it’s good management.

  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I just read this post (and the comments) and it’s easy to see why this post is one of the popular posts. I’m gradually reducing the weight of my material anchors. In addition to my own mounting material mass I somehow managed to acquire a fair amount of ordinary stuff from my parents estate since I bought the family house. I even had my brothers and sister and their families over for dinner so that they could lay claim to stuff I really didn’t need or want. They thanked me for that but I didn’t really get rid of much stuff. However I have managed to give away some of those things since then as the opportunity presents itself. It’s an ongoing process and my level of consumerism has decreased considerably over the years. It’s now more about what I need or else feel I will really use and benefit from. Truly a timeless post that applies to almost everyone.

  15. peter
    peter says:

    I have lived in the third world…..and when you see how much “we” have and they don’t, you begin to think deeply on many things

    we are creatures of our own culture, our own advertising…we are soaked in it from day one…and it is soooo shallow

  16. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Peter: Much as I can see the point you are making, I have to say that as a person born in the “third world” and having lived there till my early 20s, my observation is that there is nothing “profound” about being poor. The business of survival takes over the human being so much that he/ she also is materialistically focused, only at the other end of the spectrum. And those, who are not poor, ignore their fellow human beings, who are poor and go about their rampage of consumption. I wouldn’t say they are very profound either.

    There is a saying in Sanskrit: “bubhukshitah kim na karoti paapam” which means “what crime a hungry man may not commit!” and highlights the dangers arising from extreme or relatively considerable poverty too.

    Eventually, what satisfies us is a function of how we define our life. Most get caught in their peer group comparisons; many do not. Nothing to suggest the latter is holier or more profound, just materially less attached. After all a shroud has no pockets!

  17. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I have to say, although I do not live in a third world country, I will have to agree with Shefaly. People could say I have too much, but not people in a first world country. I work in the not-for-profit sector, so I live in a shared flat, I have to budget pretty carefully to make sure I have fresh veggies to eat, I can’t go out and buy things, like toilet paper on a whim. In the winter, we don’t really turn the heat on (and I live in Scotland right now, so I need to!) But I am safe and comfy, I am not starving. So it enables me to jump from job to job, live where I want, and travel sometimes.

    Yes, mass consumerism is terrible, but honestly, if you HAVE to make due with nothing, it’s a lot harder than if you choose to.

  18. Alison
    Alison says:

    What an experience with the bed bugs! I will never complain about finding the odd cockroach flying in the windows again. Many many people have told me that they live with minimalist possessions. “If you don’t use it within a year, then you probably never will. Throw it out!” That seems to be valuable advice.

  19. Russ Page
    Russ Page says:

    If I’ve learned anything about materialism it’s that it’s a mindset, a habit, and a paradigm that can be changed, but it starts internally.

  20. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    Try living out of a van. You sleep, you eat, you read, and then you go hiking. It doesn’t get simpler or more downsized than that, unless you are homeless on the streets. The van is way better than that.

  21. rk
    rk says:

    I wonder what kinds of bed bugs can climb over water? I mean take a four plastic containers, put the four bed legs in those after filling with water.
    The only way for the bug to get onto the bed will be to swim accross to the bed leg. Which it wont do.

  22. clar
    clar says:

    I really liked the blog. It just realizes the old saying by buddha that if you don’t need then you don’t desire and from not desiring can come true happiness.

  23. Walter
    Walter says:

    I like your advice. I am in the process of trying to do well for myself. For me it is not necessarily a quest to `get more stuff` it is about being able to live without the worries of trying to pay the next bill. I understand that if I make more money I would have other worries but at this point I like the idea of being a bit more comfortable financially.

  24. Suzie Harfnan
    Suzie Harfnan says:

    Ouch. Thank goodness I don’t have a rodent, insect, or bed bug problem.

    If you have trouble try cleaning up the house, remove all food crumbs, and definitely hire a fumigator/exterminator. I find that they can easily wipe out such annoying pests. If bed bugs persist you will have to continually fumigate on a regular basis.

  25. SiteBetter
    SiteBetter says:

    I woudl have to argue about your comment about putting stuff in storage. I understand the principle you are making, however, putting stuff in storage is a waste of money. Like you said, you put stuff in storage for years and then at the end you didn’t even want it. The best advice is to limit your storage six months and then get rid of all of the stuff you don’t want. I have seen so many people pay for storage year after year and only to find out they don’t want or miss the stuff.

    In regards to missing stuff; I cannot tell you how many time I have lost CDs and tapes and always long to have the back. But later realized I didn’t need anyway.

  26. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Penelope,

    My boyfriend and I went through a similar experience when we found bed bugs in our L.A. apartment. It was incredibly emotionally traumatizing. I spent so many nights afraid to fall asleep and subject myself to feasting by the bugs. We boxed up all of our belongings for two years b/c, as you said, the bugs can live for 18 months without feeding. We moved to a house about a year after we found the bugs and bought new furniture, never bringing the boxes of books, CDs, photographs, Christmas decorations, etc into the house until we passed that two-year mark. While the experience was a nightmare, it definitely taught us the importance of having a minimalist lifestyle. I was surprised when I didn’t miss that “stuff” at all. Three years later, some of it still hasn’t been unpacked.

  27. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Penelope,
    I cannot believe what a nightmare bed bugs are. What did you do with your shoes during the bed bug escape? We’re having our own bed bug issue now, and it would be very expensive to buy everyone new winter boots (we’re in Vermont-the boots have to be the real deal). Our exterminator seems pretty blase about the whole thing, saying we can get away with checking the boots for bugs then bring them inside. I think he has inhaled too many fumes and is not quite right in the head. Any thoughts on this?

  28. Erin
    Erin says:

    As I was reading this I couldn’t help but analyze the difference in how I grew up and my husband grew up. I grew up in a family that had little where my husband grew up with a family that had all the latest toys until his dad decided it wasn’t worth not being with his family and he lost it.

    I’ll admit because I can now afford to eat out, buy the toys I never had, etc. I find myself typing this in a three bedroom house for two people, a dog, and a cat. Do I need all these things and all this space? No. This is what I am struggling with. While I, being the organizer, would love a scaled down household, my husband (and another part of me) likes the basement full of the big TV, pool table, pinballs so we can entertain friends and family.

    Your post helps put some of what I’m wrestling with in perspective and some great links for me to check out.

    Thanks.

  29. Xjaeva
    Xjaeva says:

    Bedbugs are the devil.
    We’re on the tail end of them. I only felt slightly sad about losing our furniture when we had to dump it into the dumpster.
    People who haven’t been through bedbugs think you’re being overly dramatic about how traumatic it is. “Losing” the “stuff” gives a sense of relief.

  30. Anne
    Anne says:

    Interestingly, in Vermont our farms have been carved up and dotted with mini storage units. The irony is that the farms have been in families for generations and are deeply rooted in our landscapes; the storage sheds are for those in transition and uprooted in their lives.

    Yard sales, tag sales, garage sales and moving sales are also part of the Vermont landscape. It is like maple season for some, you really look forward it! The sales offer up something you really need (or not). The VERY best of these are the moving sales, because at moving time one has a tendency to truly clean out life’s residue. The thought of moving the unused but usable items is more weighted and the lift one gets from lightening the load is real. The second best sales are at the storage units themselves!

    The sales are excellent for young people going out on their own. It is here that just about anything you need can be found, and if you go to the affluent areas, the chances of filling your first apartment with gently used stuff begins the cycle accumulation.

  31. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I’m not sure exactly when or why I started downsizing, but I’m now at the point where I can travel the country in a camper van. At this point, pulling a trailer that serves as a “closet” and having a very portable business, I find that even a yard sale doesn’t attract me like it once did. At first I thought the lack of an address would hamper my ability to acquire more things via mail order. But even that became a non-issue once my attitude changed.

    I’m visiting my thrift store sister now, and she simply has to visit every thrift store within a 25 mile radius of her house every other day or so. I have been going with her, and did find a few handy items to make cooking in the van easier. But I also donated several items from the “closet” that weren’t as handy as first anticipated.

    It’s hard for us hunter/gatherers not to hunt and gather, isn’t it?

  32. Wilbert
    Wilbert says:

    I like how you presented the five step technique. I think that the best way to taming materialism is to be grateful for what you have. Knowing that what you have can all go away very soon makes people respect the value. Personally, I wouldn’t give anything away i would give things that I don’t want to others who might need it.

  33. Dr. G
    Dr. G says:

    I’m all for throwing stuff away and also for inheriting other’s stuff (if it fits). At a deeper level though, you can’t tell someone living in poverty that materialism sucks. They’ll want to have all the stuff first and then make their own decisions. Great to be able to cast off the shackles if you’re able to, but everyone wants the goodies first.

  34. Debra W.
    Debra W. says:

    I’ve been reading your blog off and on for quite awhile. And have enjoyed, debated, frowned, and laughed quite a lot reading your thoughts, experiences, advice, and every remaining detail of your life.

    I read this posting, now for the second time, and I am in the grips of my own dilemma with materialism, success, money, and identity.

    I was never successful. I never had a lot of money. I never considered myself someone who cared too deeply about material goods. My apartments were always sparse, and what many of friends would call, “like a motel room.” And my fashion sense was always a little basic, neutral, and minimalistic.

    I had a reliable, respectable stable job (with benefits); I did have a running car, even though I wanted to take a baseball bat to it on many occassions; I lived in a great place with a view of downtown Portland, Oregon. I was always reminded that I should be grateful and happy of what I had, but to be honest, I never was happy. I hid that truth from everyone, especially myself.

    In November of last year, just before Thanksgiving, I quit my job. I really didn’t want to, but after an unfortunate gossiping incident that I sadly overheard, I brazenly confronted the one who talked about me behind my back. She was horrified and instantly apologized. We talked later that day, and as we discussed my future at the job, the truth came out. My sobbing kind of sealed the deal after that. After my somewhat unwanted yet necessary decision, a move that to many was considered an irresponsible, rash, impulsive move on my part, I unfortunately started to lose one thing after another in my life. Things that I worked hard to obtain, but never really wanted.

    I now have no job. No car. No money. I’m struggling to find work — this has been this way for over two months. I almost didn’t have a phone.

    I don’t have a home anymore either. I do miss having a roof over my head, but I don’t think I will miss the particular roof that hovered over my head like a dark cloud for the last several months. My place felt more like a prison. I lived on a Dead End street in a posh part of SW Portland, up in the hills. I called my home “my room with a view on a Dead End street” I used to joke that it sounded like a title or a lyric from a Bruce Springsteen song.

    So I am, right now, January 21, 2010, officially homeless and completely broke.

    But to be completely honest — and the most truthful I’ve been in months, no, years —

    I’ve never been happier.

  35. Nambi
    Nambi says:

    Amazing and telling post – just thinking about my journey in the last 15 years – starting with nothing from India and now gathered too much of stuff – at least 30-40% needed that what is really required! Thanks for the great post!

  36. HERRMOTO
    HERRMOTO says:

    On a related theme, my father used to say, “Kids don’t need money, they need activities.” That is absolutely true.

  37. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    I left everything I had except one suitcase of clothes and moved to Peru to be with the man I loved. I risked everything, and gave up much. I’ve never been happier.

  38. Ed
    Ed says:

    Years ago I was a Naval Officer and would go away on 6 month deployments. I would return to realize I had forgotten that I owned many of the things I had in my apartment.

    I have a friend who ran a national storage company. He told me that people would sign up to pay for storage with auto credit card payments and would maybe stop by once every 5 years and never took anything out. Therefor he said they were paying cash to store items of little economic utility to them.

    When my wife and I moved out of our tiny one bedroom apartment in NYC into a two bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia, our possessions doubled in a day, having gone to buy furniture to fill it up. We then bought a town house nearby and our furniture and possessions quadrupled. Now we live in Seattle in a house nearly three times the size of the house we owned in Virginia. And I cannot imagine how big of a truck it would take to move us out of here.

    Basically, the more space you have the more you will likely have to buy to furnish it and therefore, people should think long and hard about the space they need. Having grown up in apartments and being comfortable with no possessions, I am sure I could move back into a smaller lifestyle. All I really need is conversation and content (and access to the Internet) and there is an abundance of that.

    I would not miss any of the things I own

  39. Nicholas Lam
    Nicholas Lam says:

    A very well written post by Penolope. Thanks for sharing!

    I only came across your blog today 13/3/2010 courtesy from a friend’s recommendation.
    I am a Malaysian Chinese who grew up in the Far East.
    My boyhood dream is to have a chance to go study abroad and to see the world out there. But I never made it due to financial difficulties which my parents couldn’t afford.
    I struggled by working hard while financing my college fees. Eventually I graduated.

    After 3 years of hard work, I realized that it is the right time for me to leave home. I had a stable career,
    I was promoted, I have a very supportive wife(back then girlfriend) that shares the similar dream (to travel)
    I could have chosen “comfort” routes like anyone else, own a car, a house and a family. And I realized it’s all about commitment. I was only 23 then. Imagine the monthly mortgages, car loans, bills, expenses that you need to service for years to come. I’ll be probably stuck there!

    But I didn’t. I’ve chosen to leave my comfort zone.
    Me and my wife both quit our job and head off to the United Kingdom; London. Telling our self it’s only going to be an adventurous 2 years here. To widen up our horizon, to gain more exposure, experience and to achieve one of our dream which is to travel (we’re passionate about travel)

    London is so unpredictable and today we are still here after a 5 rocky years! We have moved houses/rooms/flats/apartments/studios for 9 times within this past 5 years!
    Recently we just got back from our Central/South America trip after having our career break. I quit my job mainly due to job sucks (exactly the same scenario as mentioned in your article “If you’re stuck, take an adventure”).

    I felt so relief and proud that I left my company and had a really great time with my wife in Cuba, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. It was just awesome, mesmerizing, and it was like one of the best moment in our life!
    But now I am back in to the real world again. At this very second as I’m typing this bit of comment, I am actually job hunting, worrying about when is someone going to call me up for an interview and offer me a job (to survive).
    Worse still tomorrow going to be a long tiring day as I’ll be moving house again! For the 10th time! This round it’s going to be just a room in a flat-share for me and my wife. So talking about comfort zone huh?

    Sometimes I was dejected knowing that “that’s life sigh…”. You dictate your own life, you chose your own path and hope it’s a correct choice and live with no regrets. Perhaps it might be time for me to go home? Err… to get back some comfort zone?
    Only time will tell I guess.

    • Cherryl
      Cherryl says:

      Life is full of ups and downs. Travelling seems to have been a fabulous “up” for you and your wife. Now for a little bit of “down” as you readjust to a different lifestyle, by choice. Maybe you plan to work to save enough for more years of travel, or you may feel the need to set down roots with your wife. It seems that all choices have a little up and down in them.

      But if you are dreading the move, could it be that you have collected too much stuff from all the travels? I have lead a full life and raised children doing the 7-7 grind of a fast paced job on the East coast of the US. Now I’m settled in a tiny mobile home in a rural area. I make $300-500 a month selling the stuff I’ve accumulated, which is more than enough to live on. I spend my time hiking, camping, and writing, which I love.

      It sounds like you might have a lot to write about and share with others. Even if you have to take a daily job, you could still carve out some time to do the things you like. All is not lost, just because you have decided to work again.

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