Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Retired Minimalist...What is that?

Facing our retirement head on and looking toward a simpler future, we sold our New York home of 30 years and downsized to a much smaller residence. We now live on a lake in Connecticut in a 500 square foot cottage that has a 200 square foot guest cottage behind it, surrounded by forests.  In our cottage we have what we need.

Guest Cottage

While making this decision I followed a blog called Home Free Adventures telling the story of a couple who sold their California home of many years, put their furniture into storage and became world travelers, choosing to have no permanent residence. Instead, they live months at a time in various places throughout Europe and other selected regions of the world, carrying their clothes on their back and keeping money in their pockets while writing about their experience.

They are minimalists of a different sort than we, but still minimalists.

What we have in common, is that their choice of minimalist life style places little value on owning things and more value on experiencing things.

What attracted me to follow their blog is the exciting possibility of  traveling to new places, and visiting interesting sites, making new friends, having adventures and continuing to keep ones' passport alive and usefully active. 

I do love to travel.  Our professions took us overseas for almost three decades and we constantly traveled. In addition to traveling all over the world for work, were were also stationed and lived for almost a decade in South and Western Asia. Two of our three children were born in Asia.

You might say that we are "traveled out".

Even when we returned to the United States and moved to New York,  I practically lived out of a suitcase.  In my 30's, 40's and 50's, our clientele were all over the world and as part of my job, I traveled to meet with them in very interesting locations, urban and rural.  Also as part of my job I visited the Great Wall of China, the home of Gandhi in Mumbai, the castles of Europe, the pyramids of Egypt, the beautiful caves of Petra and the mountains of Afghanistan, the slums of many countries and the war zones of others.  I cherish all that I learned in this process.  It was a great job.

Between the two of us, my husband and I were absent from the home almost 6 months per year. Our children stayed home while the two of us took turns rotating in and out, one of us traveling and the other staying with the children. Our entire family culture centered around world maps and story telling about our various adventures.

Our travel hours were longer than some people's work weeks.  We really did not want to be traveling quite that much, again, as part of our retirement.

One thing we knew for certain, in our retirement, we wanted a light footprint.  We did not want to worry about frozen pipes, broken furnaces, mowed lawns and snow-covered driveways. We also did not want to keep clutter, thousands of old books, shoes just in case we might need to wear them in some future year, outgrown suits, old sweaters and the like.  We also have a bit of hippy blood in us and because of this, our son-in-law says we belong in Portland, Oregon,that it would fit out life style well. We like to ride bikes, hike, keep small herbal gardens, cook our own food and constantly work to minimize our use of water, electricity and oil.

As you know, there are many different kinds of minimalists.   Part of the fun of retiring for us is redefining what a minimalist is.  Being a minimalist with a family is different from that of an older couple.  We need much less, now.

Some of our neighbors are minimalists of a different type, keeping a grand home with very little in it. For example, nearby is a retired physician and well-known artist/photographer, who keeps a minimalist home up here in Litchfield County, Connecticut that makes our little cabin, by comparison, look cluttered.  Thus, the idea of minimalism needs to be made operational to our needs.

After considerable debate, and partly through serendipity and because we want to be near our three children and their families, here is what we have chosen to do to keep our traveling skills in order and yet to stay put and be with our families:  we reside in three major locations that maximizes the time we will spend with our adult children and our grandchildren:  the Caribbean; the East Coast and the West Coast of the United States.  Operationally, we divide our time between our beach home in the Bahamas, our little cottage in Connecticut and our recently acquired condo in Oregon.

We will see what we will see.  Our adventure officially began in early 2013.

What are the problems associated with this new lifestyle?  Probably one of the biggest problems we have is remembering where the spatula is.  I am grateful that at least we have limited it to one of three possible locations:  the spatula is most likely on top of the counter in a jar in the Bahamas; in the drawer to the left of the stove in Connecticut; or it is hanging on a magnet in Oregon.

One happy result of all this downsizing is that we see a whole lot more of our children and grandchildren, and in a more casual and every-day way.  What a pleasure to have one of our children stop in for a cup of coffee without a six hour plane ride.   In addition, we only own 1/18th of a furnace as part of our condo, for which we are very grateful. We are  making new friends and discovering new places to visit, within a reasonably circumscribed area.  We no longer worry about frozen pipes or broken pilot lights on the furnace, nor do we care if it is snowing.

When we travel we do not take much with us because we keep what we need at each of the three selected locations.

We divided up our New York clothing, shoes, important cookbooks and other goods to put in one of three places and gave away the rest of our furniture and odds and ends to Goodwill, a nearby consignment shop or local recycling station.

It feels so good every time we remove something from our place and give something away.

Our goal is to have one of what we need, placed strategically where it ought to be.

Let's see how it goes.


  1. Mary, I absolutely love everything about what you and Joe are doing with your lives. You inspire me to continue my effort to get rid of stuff so we can focus on what is really important. Your blog is a real treasure, too, and I always look forward to the next entry. Thanks!

    1. Hi Anne, Good to hear from you. Thanks so much for your kind words about the blog. As for our attempts to downsize, getting rid of stuff is actually a lot of fun and sharing the experience with friends only makes it more enjoyable.

  2. Good to hear from your Mary. You with hippy origins? Surely not.

    WRT the spatula our suggestion is to emulate past minimalists (the flagellants and carry it with you on a hand crafted thong round your neck! Might cause a few issuews with airport security but c├ęst la vie!


  3. Hi there, Martin. Your suggestion resonates. I have another friend who said he would know that I had gone off the deep end when I showed up wearing a big red hat like one of those ladies in the Red Hat Society Your suggestion is so much better, entirely original and perfectly appropriate for those who join the "Downsizing-Multiple Residence Society".

    Sorry that I can't chat longer, but am in a rush to order my new hand crafted thong to go with my metal spatula.

  4. Great Mary, very wise and wholesome decisions you have made in this new chapter of your lives. Congratulations to you and Joe. You are a great writer Mary (you have always been). I will make it short just in case I cannot post it and disappears in cyberspace. A big hug and love you and miss you my dear friend. Cristina

    1. Hi Cristina, Hugs to you also and thanks for your reply. Come visit us at the lake. It has been a while since we got you up here.

  5. Great ! This time my posting worked. Your cottage at the lake is looking as beautiful as ever ... brings many beautiful memories shared there. in the past. You and Joe are excellent hosts. So we will keep an eye on that guest cottage that looks very cozy. It was great talking to you today and catching up somewhat with our lives. Much love and blessings as always from Chile. Cristina

  6. Love reading the journal of your retired life! Sounds like you have been and are leading a wonderful, happy and very productive life. Must say, I am not at all surprised as it was very evident in high school that you were someone special!! Looking forward to more posts and pictures of your life!! Thanks for posting!! Mary Nye Phillips

    1. Thanks, Mary. Very good to hear from you. Thank you for your very kind and encouraging words.

  7. Hello cousin Mary, this is your cousin Therese. I am reading a Baldacci book that mentioned the origin of Lebanon, one thing led to another, and I am now reading your blog. I am struck by the resemblance of your cottage to a long ago cottage on Torch Lake. I was just telling my husband about the wonderful time we had at Torch the summer when you and Joe backpacked around Michigan. Love to you!

    1. Theresa, What a wonderful surprise! Thanks so much for your commentary. Would love to find out more about how you are doing. Separately from this, will try to contact you. We are about to head back to our little cottage in the woods after spending the winter on an island in the Bahamas. I should write at least one blog about where we are, before heading back. Love to you and your family as well!

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