When we learned we were going to be relocating to London, we knew we were going to have to pare back our belongings and get used to a somewhat different lifestyle.
London is huge, things are expensive, and the city is extremely dense. There just isn’t space for all the “stuff” we have in America. My husband and I made the decision that instead of living in the outskirts of London, we wanted to be in the city for at least a couple years to get a real feel for things.
I wasn’t sure what this experience would be like—having not long ago moved out of urban D.C. so we could have more space—but this material detox has been both eye-opening and refreshing.
Instead of getting sucked into the “bigger is better” camp that is so prevalent in the U.S.—we’ve been enjoying the freedoms that come with having less.
I’ve learned three important lessons about simplicity:
1. Simplifying your life is incredibly freeing. Probably the biggest change in our lifestyle is that we no longer have a car—and I love it! In D.C. I found myself constantly carting kids around and filling up my tank on a weekly basis. Here, we walk everywhere. (Or at least I do, the kids prefer the wagon—which, by the way, is apparently very rare here and gets lots of attention.)
School is four blocks away. Parks are less than 10 minutes away. There is a “high street” (the British equivalent of a “Main Street”) in our neighborhood, also just 10 minutes away. And for about $1.50 per week, you can get groceries delivered to your kitchen.
We also don’t have a clothes dryer. While at first I thought there is no way I could manage without one, it’s actually become a grounding routine to hang the laundry outside (on a nice day, that is—and yes, there have been many times when we have forgotten about the clothes, and it’s started to rain).
It is a great feeling to not have to depend on a car or clothes dryer, not to mention reducing our impact on the environment.
2. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Storage space and closets are next to nil, which means that there is nowhere to hide your “stuff.” This definitely has curbed my shopping habit, and it has made me question, “Where am I going to put that?” before buying anything. While I confess I used to be addicted to online shopping in the U.S. (just look in my kids dressers—full of clothes they rarely wear, but I got a thrill out of getting on sale), now when I want to get that bargain high, I go to charity shops and buy less than I can count on one hand. Having less space has allowed me to realize how much extra “stuff” I have, and how much I don’t really need.
3. Things don’t buy happiness. The biggest lesson is that all the extra “stuff” we used to have actually had very little impact on our happiness. In fact, sometimes it felt like a burden. Sure it was nice having a large yard in D.C.—but it’s great not to have to spend hours on a Saturday mowing it! And the silver lining in things being more expensive here, is that it keeps me from falling into the trap of buying just to buy.
Endless consuming in the U.S. is easy because everything is available and it’s cheap. Here, consuming has to be much more deliberate—and that’s been a good thing. It’s allowed us to refocus our time and resources on what really matters—being together, creating memories and having new experiences in a different country—which is why we took this journey in the first place.
Next year we will probably get a car, and in a few years move into a home with more space. I’m probably going to get that combo washer and dryer at some point too. But for now, I’m learning some important lessons on the value in having less, buying less and living more simply. And that is incredibly freeing.
Author: Cameron Laurent
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Hernán Piñera