223 days. That was how many days it has been since we decided to do something. For longer than that we knew the status quo wasn’t working for us, but it has been over 200 days ago since we decided we were going to do something about it. That’s the first step, you know? The first step, and the scariest, is always deciding to make a change. Then hesitantly, but with certainty you make that first trembling shuffle forward. It’s now been almost two months since we left behind the familiar in favor of adventure, since we cast off The American Dream in favor of truly living the dream. 56 days ago we said goodbye to the seemingly normal and hello to new things. As we create a new normal I’m able to look back and see the enormity of what we were able to do in such a short time.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
My dear aunt. More like a mother since my own had passed away, my aunt looked at me with loving concern as she questioned my emotions. Back in September we had just completed the first, big purge yard sale. I had cheaply sold knick knacks I had carted around the country, carefully packing them, for the past twenty years. I had let them go quickly and emotionlessly, and now that my home sat much emptier than it had the week before I contemplated her question. Was I okay? I wasn’t sure what bothered me more, the fact that I had sold most of my life in a weekend’s time, or the fact that I didn’t much care that I had. As I looked inside myself I realized I was more than okay; I was fine and dandy. I didn’t quite understand it, but somehow I had easily and efficiently parted with a large array of personal, albeit materialistic possessions. The weirdest part was how light and airy I felt. It was like a weight had been lifted. Stuff! All this stuff I had carefully packed in boxes, unpacked, dusted, and told the children not to touch was gone. The boxes and boxes of children’s clothing? Gone. Wine glasses and china I never used? Gone. It was all gone, but so was some of the anxiety I had been carrying for years.
A friend who had decided to follow our lead and start traveling the country with her family in an RV had recently mentioned to me how surprised she was at how easy everything seemed to be coming together.
“Launching into this lifestyle is actually quite easy,” I answered. “It’s the mental hurdles that are the hard part.”
And that was true. Forty years of life had told me I needed a big house with a picket fence, that I needed the yard, the dog, the family car, and a nice vacation once a year. What I didn’t realize was that life could be one lived so well that you didn’t need to take a vacation from it. I thought an excellent credit score was to be my pursuit so that I could obtain all the things that made life more enjoyable. Yet every year I spent watching my babies grow quickly, I realized all the frills were not necessary. We had all we needed in one another. The rest of it just distracted you from the important people in your life.
But the worst of it was the stress! The stress I created! The time constraints, the schedules, the to-do lists. The bills, the frills, and the window dressing. It was suffocating. Why did we work so hard just to pay bills and die? What happened to enjoying life to the fullest everyday with the people you cared about?
It turns out the hardest part was letting go of the familiar. A caged animal when set free will be hesitant to leave the constraints of its familiar surroundings. Even though freedom lies directly ahead there’s fear. Fear of the unknown. At least in captivity everything is comfortable and the same. I’m reminded of the Israelites who fled from Egypt. At one point they wanted to return to slavery rather than trust God to take them somewhere new. Trusting God for something new can be scary.
Even as I watched my furniture be swiftly taken out of our house it wasn’t that hard. I won’t lie; it was emotional, but it wasn’t near as difficult as I had assumed. Even whittling down my closet of shoes wasn’t terrible. As I looked at the empty rooms and bare floors it wasn’t so much the fact that all our things were gone physically. It was the idea mentally that we had nothing. Somewhere inside me had been built an ideal that the things I obtained in life held merit, that they were what made us successful and full. So as I realized we had given it all up, that we had given away our clothes (other than a small suitcase full), that we had sold the car and the minivan, that our home was going to be lived in by someone else, it hit me that now all we had was one another. Our businesses were gone, our jobs gone, and all the many things we had filled in the spaces with; it was all gone. All we had was one another and the desire to be together. Turns out that’s all we needed.
So the hardest part of deciding to take on a fulltime family, traveling lifestyle isn’t giving up all your stuff and your house. It’s not even leaving a familiar job, community, and extended family support system (although that is hard). It’s not the homeschooling or removing your children from their local activities and friends. The hardest part is realizing mentally that all the comforts and materialistic things aren’t what life is all about. It’s the journey from knowing that, but then actually deciding to walk in that. It’s the decision to buck the status quo, be different, and do what makes you happy, not what the world promotes as making you happy. We’re currently fifteen minutes from Disney World, but Disney World isn’t the happiest place on earth. Wherever you are with the people you love, that’s the happiest place on earth. Happiness isn’t found in the clothes on your back, within the walls of a house, or in your bank account. It’s found in the smile of your child, the way your spouse gazes lovingly at you across the room, and on your ability to find joy in any and all circumstances through Jesus. If a busy life is a distraction from God’s joy the hardest part may just be realizing that and letting go of the distractions.
Was it hard to let go of everything for my family’s sake? Surprisingly no. It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done, the best thing I never realized I needed all along, and the most eye-opening experience of all times. If you’re ever brave enough to take that first step, you’ll look back later and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.