I was raised to want things. Being the youngest with two older siblings, I had at least 4 people in my life who had lots of stuff, and soon I realized that I wanted stuff too. My brother had Star Wars toys, so I wanted them as well. Watching Saturday morning cartoons with my sister meant that from the time I could speak, my first sentences included the words GIJoe or Autobot. My Dad was the ultimate consumer, and still is, so learning to want and buy seems more hereditary for me.
2007, the Beginning of our Future
Flash ahead to 2007. I’m 32 now, and I meet my soulmate. In fact, she hires me for a job in Chicago – she was a recruiter at the time.
After going out a few times, we quickly realize how different we are. I’m a consumer through and through, with lots of debt and expensive tastes. She’s a very conservative spender with simple wants and needs (she didn’t even own a tv). To illustrate this point, when I move in to her apartment, the addition of my computers and electronics drive her power bill up nearly 600%!
We quickly learn to love each other for and despite these differences. After a few short months, we decide to get married, so with the help of our friend Zack, we tie the knot on the lawn of the Lincoln Park Zoo – 7-7-07 and just like that we’re living together in her 600 sq. foot 1 bedroom apartment.
Living Small, Scene 1 – ACTION!
So you’re probably thinking you’ve got this figured out by now. This is why they’re doing it! They are trying to relive this cozy little first experience of living in Chicago, but now just doing it in an Airstream. Hardly.
Our first few months in that small apartment are some of our toughest as a married couple to date. It instantly becomes the perfect collision of possessions, life events, emotions and culture.
We cram each others’ things into that poor little space. It bursts at the seams with our furniture, clothing, kitchen stuff, tools, and oh yea, my dog (her first pet ever). On top of that, as a new couple, we find even more things we like together, so of course we buy them too.
We basically squeeze ourselves out of that apartment, leaving no room for each other. So we buy the only sensible thing a thirtysomething American couple who has everything can buy – a new condo!
The First A-HA Moment
We buy a beautiful new condo in downtown Chicago at what turns out to be one of the nation’s ugliest financial time. My wife isn’t thrilled with the price, but I can be quiet the salesman at times. She sees my passion, likes the layout and loves the proximity to work, so she goes along with the purchase. I convince her and myself that for our age and where we are headed with our careers, this condo is exactly what we need.
I’ll say that line again in case you missed how deeply deceived I was at the time. I convince her and myself that for our age and where we are headed with our careers, this condo is exactly what we need, as if there is a spreadsheet were Row J and Column B meet to say “Buy house. Be happy.” How dumb.
I’ve only experienced two distinct a-ha moments in my life. Once when I realized I was truly free to make my own decisions as an adult, and the other when I realized I didn’t need ‘stuff ‘to be happy, which happens soon.
We carry on buying and filling out rooms that we rarely go into to. We go to work each day, barely have enough time to get dinner cooked and tell a few workday stories before its time for bed, just so we can start it all over again the next day. All told, we probably spend an hour together each night and then some time on the weekends, if one of us didnt have to work. As newlyweds, this just didnt seem like enough time.
The Second A-HA Moment
In 2009, we decided to take a break, so we went on a trip to Mexico. We visited a little island off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula called Isla Holbox (pronounced whole-bosh). We spend a week with no TV, no stress of the office, and no phones. We simply enjoy each others’ company, eat amazing food, and do exactly what we want to do. But all that is fairly common on a vacation. After all, its why people go on vacation, to get away from their normal lives, right? I thought so too. I’ll save you the drama of saying that again, but the idea that we need to get away from our normal lives turned out to be another a-ha moment for us.
On Isla Holbox, we meet so many interesting people from all over the world including a jeweler from the US who moved there a few years prior, set up shop, and never looked back. We meet an inn owner from Italy who spent every morning going to the beach just to watch the sunrise, and then spent all day teaching visitors to windboard. We meet fishermen who spent every day bringing in their fresh catches, and the locals who greet them on the sand ready to buy. But most interesting and ultimately life changing for us is that all of these people exude happiness and true life fulfillment.
They don’t care that the nearest Wal-Mart is 3 hours away by boat and car. It doesn’t bother them that there are only 10 TVs on the entire island. The few shops on the island serve distinct purposes, and there are just enough to satisfy needs. Even gift shops are appropriately numbered to match the amount of touristry Holbox receives.
I’m not saying Isla Holbox is the perfect minimalist retreat. There are of signs of consumerism and advertisements just like anywhere else, but so many of the people we met were truly happy – soulfully content – and they seemed to achieve this in such a simple way compared to how we lived our lives back in Chicago.
For the first time, my wife and I clearly saw what’s possible when you find a way to follow your passion and do exactly what you love all day every day.
So what did we do next? We’ll tell you in the next post, Why We’re Moving Into an Airstream – Part 2
We hope enjoyed this insight into who we are and why we’re doing this. Do you have a similar story, questions, or just want to chat? Please leave a comment, or share it on Facebook or Twitter using the links below. We’d love to hear from you!