I'm going to start writing a series of posts called "Travel Lessons," based on the many things I discovered about myself while traveling and living abroad for the past several months. I've been trying for weeks to get my experience down in words but have been having so much trouble. I think I've been trying too hard to put together pretty photo posts and "this is what we did" kind of recaps, when what I really want to do is process all the thoughts and feelings about what I learned. A few photo posts might still be forthcoming, but I'm happy to dive into this hearty new series.
There's something completely liberating about living with only a quarter of your wardrobe for seven months. I took one suitcase with me to Ireland, leaving behind an entire closet and half a dresser's worth of clothes at home. When I came back to the US during the summer to visit my mom, I even brought back a dozen things I hadn't worn in my first three months in Ireland, and then downsized my suitcase for my return trip.
The reasons that "less is more" worked so well for me were many. Our Irish washer/dryer combo was impossibly tiny and took forever and a day for a cycle, making it difficult to do multiple loads of laundry. And the rainy weather prevented me from wearing the light clothing like dresses and skirts that I'd originally brought. Once we started taking our trips around Europe, we quickly decided that we only wanted to travel with carry-on's to save time and money and to have less to schlep from city to city. Let me tell you, if you think living with only a quarter of your wardrobe sounds hard, try packing two people's worth of clothes for ten days into one backpack. But we ended up managing quite well each time we set these constraints on ourselves.
And, naturally, as I readjust to my home life again, I'm questioning the value of all the clothes that remained in my closets all these months. As I mentioned in my post last week, I'm inspired by the seemingly classic and effortless way that French women dress, and that means getting rid of trendy and unloved clothing in favor of versatile basics and coordinating pieces that provide for more options than single-wear items.
It doesn't stop there, though. While I spent a fair amount of time complaining about sad I was without my typical cooking tools while in Ireland, I found a strange sense of satisfaction in channeling my inner Tim Gunn to "make it work." We used baking pans as popcorn bowls, a stock pot as a mixing bowl, and relied on one good knife that we re-washed each time we needed to chop a different ingredient. Our cooking style became noticeably simpler, but that didn't prevent us from creating anything less delicious.
Much like my closet, coming home to a fully stocked kitchen was somewhat overwhelming. How many Tuperware containers stuffed in a giant drawer do two people actually need? Why am I keeping the big bottles of Torani coffee syrups (that are at least 5 years old) when I don't drink coffee at home? Do I really need the big serving platters that I've never once used? Is it excessive to own 30 cookbooks?
I'm discovering that I hold on to so much "just in case." The serving platters are just in case we host a dinner or holiday celebration. The gifted cookbook I never use is kept just in case the gift-giver asks about it. And, as many ladies can probably sympathize, I have a section of my closet reserved for those clothes that I may be able to fit into "someday."
The wonderful thing about traveling is that "someday" is out of the picture. You are IN IT-- enjoying the moment as it unfolds, relying on whatever you have available at the time, wherever you are. The moments that matter are the connections made, the people met, the sights seen. The stuff is secondary.
And why shouldn't my daily life reflect that, not just my travel life? "Someday" should become "today" for those things that matter and make life a little more special or fun. Instead of saving the good bottle of wine, we're opening it on a Tuesday night and having a glass of it alongside dinner, even if we're eating mac and cheese. And for the things that don't matter, well, they have no place in my home. I'm being much more ruthless with my purging and we have a growing mountain of a donation pile, full of items I probably would have previous held on to.
The next few months will be dedicated to less. Less stuff. Less complication. Less distraction. Less clutter, mentally and physically. Clearing out our space (and not continuing to spend money on "stuff") will make room for so much more-- experiences, better connections with each other, and the possibility to pick up and go if future travel opportunities arise. Those are worth much more to me than belongings.