For a long time, I was of the traveling tribe, longing to experience life in vastly different corners of our world. As soon as I was old enough to escape my childhood town and fend for myself, I tried life on for size in San Francisco, Chamonix, Auckland, London, and Hong Kong, settling down close to home soil a decade later to start a family in Copenhagen.
I never carried much with me. Life in transit did not allow for extra luggage, so I constantly cleaned out, gave away, resold, or just avoided accumulating in the first place. Though volatile financially, life in a suitcase did teach me how to rely on myself. I thought—perhaps arrogantly—that my ability to fend for myself and metamorphose into what the situation demanded of me would keep me safe. I had started over numerous times; I could always roll up my sleeves and do it again, anywhere, in any job. It also taught me that life was not lived in dazzling metropolises or in valleys lodged between the majestic Alps. Life, as it happened, was always lived inside my mind. This vision followed me into proper adulthood and comforted me even after signing a mortgage with my husband, birthing two children, and growing comfortable in a decent job.
Years into my settled life, I found that I was floating toward a destination I had not consciously picked but aspired to nevertheless, spurred on by the very a ‘Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses’ mentality I had thought myself above. My mind became trapped and I lost myself in it, lost myself in my thoughts, in my surroundings, in expectations, in work, in being a proper adult, and a mother. My energy, dangerously low at times, was split over too many tasks, my sense of self too fleeting, my desire to please and produce all too present. Over time, my body slowly caved in. After years of more or less subtle attempts, it finally spoke to me in a way I could not possibly ignore; it hijacked my head and my ability to think quickly and clearly. I broke down. Being weak and dependent was not a feeling I wanted to embrace, but there was truth in vulnerability. Once I had shed one layer of able-ness, I moved a little closer to the core of who I was, and yet a little closer to the people around me.
As I drifted further away from the life I thought real and connected to, slowly letting go of what was right and proper, I opened myself up to new ways of being. If I lost everything material, who was I? Could I start all over again, now that I was a married mother-of-two, responsible for safeguarding two budding girls? Finally, could I create a life built on a foundation that I truly believed in? A life where there was time for reflection, for care, for deep and meaningful conversation, a life that allowed time for idleness and discovery. A life less focused on stuff and targets and more on the present, the most important gift I would ever receive but that often passed me by.
Slowly clawing myself out of the prison that held me captive was a journey that demanded more endurance, conviction, and determination than any of my geographical travels. It required that I dove all the way to the bottom of the pond and emerged with new but ancient knowledge that was always inside of me but hidden underneath layers and layers of societal labels. It required that I grew nails so I could dig with more focus and defend against intruders. It required a determination to live differently and grow our savings account month after month with no goal other than a desire for more financial freedom in the future. It required that we give up on the universal dream of owning an enviable home and instead started planning to convert our city apartment into lodgings further out in the countryside; a humble home that we would have to create to make cosy and functioning but that would allow us as a tiny mortgage and, above all, time.
And in the midst of all this frugality, I found joy again. I found myself enjoying cooking dinner at home every night and tackling the subsequent cleanup, I liked browsing through the second hand stores for clothes, I grew to love our pre-owned, tiny little family car (but I love our bikes better). I even found happiness in our ‘staycations’, cherishing the extra family time stemming from not having to haul ourselves through airport security and back again.
Having less to spend also forced me back into real, authentic interactions with my surrounding humans again, as opposed to running past them on my way to more important destinations. Being vulnerable and dependent split me wide open and acts of kindness from my fellow humans have never affected me more. They made me feel like we really are floating together, perhaps not physically bound to each other but close enough to throw one another the odd life jacket.
Weakness led me to discover a more authentic life, and for me, minimalism was the life jacket that kept my head above water and carried me to the other shore. From now on, I will wear no labels but my skin.