For the past year and half, Brian and I have been planning our lives a few months at a time. Since his work has been in the US and mine back in Canada, we've had to do a bit of maneuvering to figure out where and how to live. At times it's strange to have a horizon that's only a few months afield, and this is especially stressful if you're an obsessive planner like I am. With a few adjustments, however, I now believe it's actually possible to move from a life that was once fairly stationary and make peace with one that has more moving parts.
Last month, I was talking to my friend Lisa on Skype and probably sounding a bit stressed when she suggested I consider approaching our lifestyle the same way a business would consider its terms — evaluating, reporting, and making decisions every three months.
"It's like you're living quarterly," she said.
And just like that, my perspective changed. Lisa's suggestion clicked with me, and since our conversation I've felt a lot more calm and methodical and less crazed and anxious when making plans. It also reminded me that I have a partner in all of this, and that we work best as a team. At each juncture when we know its time to make the next round of decisions, we usually grab coffee and tea and sit down on the couch, or go out for drinks and talk things over. Brian routinely rolls his eyes when he sees I've brought pen and paper along for our talk, but you don't have to change all your habits, right?
Today, I thought I'd share a bit about how we've rejigged our life to function in in bursts of a few months at a time.
Before we left Montreal, we ruthlessly purged our apartment. We donated at least 30% of our clothes, sold or gave away most of our furniture, and I even hosted a makeup giveaway party to reduce the massive size of my kit. With the help of some very kind friends, we managed to fit all of our remaining possessions into a 14' moving truck. We felt lighter.
Put it in storage
When we left Montreal, we procured a 12'x6' storage locker in Brian's hometown. Into it, we crammed all our furniture and most of our boxed-up goods. A smaller number of boxes and seasonal possessions went to our parents' basements. After travelling last year, we realized we could cut even more things from our "necessities" list and boxed up a few more things to go in the basements. Thank you, parents. We'll reclaim our stuff as soon as possible!
Seek out sublets
Snacking on the front porch of our summer sublet
The best rental option for living quarterly is (without a doubt) to sublet. In our case, we needed furnished sublets, which are fairly easy to find. In 2013, we lived in three different places, most of which had owners who, like us, were travelling. In between each sublet, we lived with family, visited friends, or stayed in hotels. We returned to our first sublet from last year for a final five months this year, and are now excitedly gearing up for our Toronto summer living quarters, this time a house/cat-sitting arrangement. What we learned through this process is there are lots of other people who travel and live term-to-term, and they're often looking for someone to take over their home (and/or cover their rent) as they're on the road.
Oh I thought this would be a tough one for me, guys. I am not a minimalist. My makeup kit alone... But when you're given a limited space (what could fit in our car) it's shockingly easy to streamline your packing. In our case, we brought only what we would need day-to-day: clothing and outerwear, bedding, toiletries, computers, camera gear, Brian's books and other research materials and my makeup and hair kits. A few other small items, but that's essentially it. It makes moving fairly pain-free. It will probably only take us a few hours to pack next week when we move back!
The simplified kitchen
Spaghetti pomodoro, a simplified kitchen staple!
Ugh, this one actually is tough. Brian and I both love to cook, and were very proud of our lovingly stocked pantry in Montreal. We had a whole cupboard just for spices, for goodness sake. Now, our approach is just the opposite. Our goal each week is pantry zero, like inbox zero but for your food. We try to completely empty our fridge and cupboards (save a few condiments) before we head to the grocery store. This means recipes have be be kept quite simple and planned in advance. Our slow cooker has been a godsend for basic but delicious meals. I've only baked twice in the time we've lived here, which has been a bit sad, but it's better than building up a baking pantry just to have to discard it. The bonus to all this is we've ended up eating a pretty fresh and healthy diet.
A streamlined wardrobe
Notice anything about the clothing above? It's all in grayscale! About 90% of my wardrobe here in Madison is black, white or gray (and sometimes navy). A bit bland, but it's so much easier to live with a tiny wardrobe when nearly everything matches. Two websites have really helped me reconsider the way I pack and shop for clothing. Into Mind's posts about capsule wardrobes have been so great, and the minimalist style of Wide Eyed Legless has been an inspiration. Brian has always been good at building a streamlined wardrobe and packing sensibly so he didn't really have to adjust anything. I do try to learn from him, too!
Of course, it's also important to bring a few non-essential but fun things along. I won't travel without my teapot, a few candles, a small bag of jewellery and a few DVD box sets. These and a few other small items can easily be added to a suitcase and make any short-term rental seem more like home.
It's no secret that I love reading, but books are very heavy and once you read them, they just become dead weight in a sublet situation. The public library has become one of my favourite places in town, as I can stock up on stories without accumulating any more possessions. For books that I might want to re-read or reference, I purchase them on my iPad through iBooks.
The internet is a wonderful thing. After much consideration, we opted not to get a phone plan while here so all my communication with family, friends and clients has been through the wonders of email and Skype/Facetime. To everyone who set up a Skype account just so we could talk, or who sent an email or facebook message just to check in and ask how we're doing out here, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You've made the distance between us seem much shorter.
When it comes right down to it, living abroad is a privilege, as are the new and varied experiences it avails you. When I'm feeling the most homesick, I try to live in the moment and take advantage of the things that are unique to where I'm living. I make an effort to really feel what it's like to be here, and to allow this time to etch itself upon my memory instead of wishing things were easier or simpler or all in one place.