So much has happened since we returned from our trip back in January. We got to see family in Atlanta and Chicago. We moved across the country to Colorado. We found an apartment and moved in. Nate got a job at a property management firm here in Denver, and I launched my business, tipsycooks.
I'm starting to notice all of the ways our lives are different than they were before our trip:
We downsized by 1,000 square feet.
Our apartment in Chicago was a 1,400 sq. ft. two bedroom, two story unit. Our new apartment in Denver is a one-bedroom 400 sq. foot unit. It's also $600 less per month in rent.
When we first moved, we were looking at studio apartments, so honestly the one bedroom we ended up finding feels downright palatial. After a year of living with almost nothing in a number of tiny spaces, we feel like we can fit anywhere.
The smaller space means we're more creative about cooking and storing our things, but otherwise it's really nice. It feels like less to take care of of, and the lower bills are easier on us as we get our finances back on track.
I hand wash our dishes even though we have a dish washer.
When we stayed in places with kitchens, I got used to hand washing dishes. It takes longer, but there's something calming about it that I can't quite put my finger on.
Doing one thing at a time can be really satisfying.
At the silent retreat in Bali, dishes were handled ashram style, so we were assigned one plate, one bowl and one set of utensils. We were responsible for caring for our individual dishes and washing them after every use.
Now when I use something at home, I wash it and put it away. It helps that we purposely only bought four plates, so we can't keep using and using without cleaning up after ourselves. We also purposefully bought appetizer plates because they were both cheaper and are helping us to eat smaller portions.
I wash fewer clothes.
After a year of re-wearing the same semi-clean shirt over and over, I'm less intense about washing clothes. Before our trip, I used to wash every item of clothing after wearing it once. I felt like my laundry basket was always full of "dirty" stuff and laundry was always on my to-do list.
Now, if I wear a shirt once and don't get it dirty, I just put it back in the closet.
I unsubscribed to all of my e-mails.
Before the trip, I was really addicted to my phone, and it made me anxious as hell.
I checked work email every morning after the alarm went off. My phone was the first thing I reached for. I remember my heart quickening when my e-mail loaded and my inbox was full.
The truth was, I didn't need to be getting half of the e-mails I used to get. So many were "deals" that I could get if I "bought now!" I think about all of the clothes I ordered that I didn't really need just because I got an e-mail about some flash sale.
Over the course of the year abroad, I started unsubscribing myself to everything that I didn't feel was absolutely necessary. By the end of the year, the only e-mails I was getting were infrequent messages from family and friends (the messages I really wanted and don't ever make me feel anxious) and alerts from the state department about safety issues we needed to be aware of on the trip.
Since I've been back, I decided to keep my inbox clear, and it's been amazing to wake up each morning and see no new e-mails. The truth is, that stuff was just stressing me out, and almost none of those messages required my attention or were worth the anxiety I felt when opening up my inbox.
I take long walks with my dog.
Having a dog in a city like Chicago is tough. You're constantly feeling bad about them being home alone all day while you're at work. My life was so crammed with unnecessary errands and appointments before our trip that walking my dog, Lily, often felt like an additional chore that I came to resent.
Now, my schedule seems much freer mostly because I've just decided not to sign myself up for much stuff. It helps that we're in a new city and don't have a lot of friends (yet?), but I'm finding myself with more time and energy to take Lil on long walks around our neighborhood. They seem fun and relaxing rather than another thing on my to do list. Recently I've been listening to podcasts while we walk, and it feels like an opportunity to take a break from work in the middle of the day and enjoy the beautiful weather here.
We got rid of even more stuff.
The trip taught me that I can live a perfectly happy life with just one carry-on sized bag.
This knowledge helped immensely when we went to restart our lives. When we got back, we went through the boxes of clothes and kitchen stuff we'd saved in my parent's basement in Atlanta and got rid of about half of what was left. We parted ways with duplicate things like my third (and fourth) sports bra, Nate's ice skates (when did we go ice skating really?), all the sweaters I didn't absolutely love and more pairs of pants than we cared to count (but mostly because we'd gained weight on the trip and could no longer fit into them!). Now that we're in Denver and have an apartment again, we've been really intentional about the things that we're re-buying.
We bought everything used.
Almost everything in our new apartment is from Goodwill or Craigslist, and you know what? It's pretty freaking cute.
We got some good finds from our $40 couch to our $6 coffee table to the kitchen island Nate built to fit our space because we were low on counter space and cook a lot. The one thing we splurged on was a new mattress, which is super soft and comfy. But we compromised by not buying a bed for it, and so the only things in our bedroom are our beautiful mattress and the two little lamps we bought for $4 each at Goodwill that sit on the ground beside it.
It feels good to spend less, buy things we really like and not feel like we're contributing to creating more waste in the world.
We no longer have a TV in our house.
When I used to get really stressed from work and life before our trip, I would spend entire evenings watching dumb shows on our 40-inch TV. It's not that I hate TV- in fact, I love TV, maybe too much. It's my number one go-to when I want to zone out and recharge, but having a TV around made vegging out for full evenings or afternoons at a time really easy. And when we had cable (long before trip planning as that was an expense we couldn't afford when we were saving to travel), it was too easy to just start channel surfing. Suddenly it felt like hours had just evaporated, and I didn't end up really feeling relaxed.
Honestly, the most relaxed I think I've ever felt was those three days at the silent retreat in Bali, and there wasn't electricity much less a TV. There was just a quiet porch and a small library full of books and some really beautiful sunsets. My favorite memories from the trip were ones where we were really off the grid- watching shooting stars from a natural hot springs in the middle of southern Bolivia, camping in an elephant park in South Africa, napping in the afternoons in Italy when the house got too hot to do much else. My goal now is find other healthier ways to relax and decompress rather than zoning out for hours watching TV.
I'm starting my own business.
I've written about it here, but a lot of this year was spent trying to figure out what I want to do career wise. Before the trip, I worked in healthcare and, while it was a really good job, I wouldn't have called it my passion. Having the space to think and reflect on the trip helped me realize just how unhappy I've been working.
When I felt stuck a few years back in my 9-5, I started a side business teaching in-home cooking classes. I wanted to try to run my own business, and I wanted to do something with people and with my hands. I think after several years of sitting at a desk sending e-mails, I was really ready for something more hands on.
I called it tipsycooks and taught a few in-home cooking classes each month. The side money was helpful when we were traveling, and while we were gone, I continued to run the business with an instructor in Chicago.
Now that we're in CO, I've decided to give it a shot here full time. Just like the trip, it's both terrifying and exciting. Many days I wake up wondering if I'll ever make any money and eventually just give up and start applying for "real person jobs." But on other days, I allow myself to dream about what it could be like supporting myself while doing something I really like. I think about what it would be like to work for myself and design a life that looks and feels right for me.
We'll see how it all turns out.
All of these changes seem small, but they're a noticeable difference to life before our trip. We're both interested to see how life continues to change given our year of travel.