This article comes to us courtesy of InternationalLiving.com, the world's leading authority on how to live, work, invest, travel, and retire better overseas.
I arrived in Rio in 2008 with just two suitcases and a backpack. While I've accumulated a few things since, I still own very little. Interestingly, I don't miss my old stuff.
And I had a lot of stuff. My home was perhaps less cluttered than many American homes with electronics, knickknacks, and the latest must-have gadgets from The Home Shopping Network. Still, I was a single guy with a three-bedroom home, and an SUV parked in the garage. I had stuff.
After making my decision to go expat, I had to divest myself of most of these possessions. It wasn't an easy process. The real estate market in south Florida had tanked, and selling my home took time and concessions. Furniture and household items fetched much less than I'd paid for them. I also found it difficult emotionally to part with some items, notably books and photographs.
Above I used the word divest. If you consult the dictionary you'll find it means "to strip or deprive." But another, more positive, definition is "to be rid of or to be free from." That became my mantra. I focused on freeing myself from things. My father liked to say, "At some point, you stop owning things, and they start owning you." Trite perhaps, but true.
In the end, I gave away many possessions to friends and charity. I stored a few boxes of books and memories at my mother's home. After the months-long process, I felt a bit at sea, but also oddly relieved and ready to move forward.
Upon arriving in Brazil, I commenced upon a second and simpler life. I quickly immersed myself in teaching English, exercising, studying Portuguese, and building a new circle of friends. I did not miss my old life, or my old stuff.
You may find it difficult to imagine downsizing as I did. But there are many positives to downsizing.
Perhaps topping the list are savings in money and time. Imagine no longer owning a car: No monthly payments. No insurance, gasoline, oil changes, routine maintenance, new tires, or washes and waxes. No sitting for hours at the dealership after receiving a recall notice.
Today I let the taxi or bus driver deal with the traffic while I read, chat, doze, or simply let my mind wander. I never hunt for a place to park, or worry if my car will be safe where I left it. Parking and speeding tickets are a distant memory. I no longer own a home. No mortgage, insurance, homeowner's association dues, or property taxes. I will never cut another lawn, trim another hedge, or clean another gutter (except when I visit my mother). I don't worry about storms, floods, or hurricanes anymore.
Instead, each month I pay my rent, which includes the utilities. Done. And if I decide to relocate for any reason (which from time to time I do), it's a simple matter to pack up the suitcases and go.
Can you even imagine such a life? No? Then try this exercise... considering just your vehicles and your home, jot down how much money you spend on them. Don't forget to add the periodic expenses. Now do the same for the time you devote to each. You'll find the lists lengthen as you keep thinking of additional items.
Imagine that instead you had one, smaller payment each month for rent, and a budgeted amount for buses and taxis. Now ask yourself: What would you do with the additional money, and the additional time?
If you are like me, and most expats I know, you'd devote a greater percentage of your budget to yourself. You'd devote more time to socializing and pursuing hobbies. You could learn the local language, dive into the local music scene, rediscover the joys of slow food, play volleyball or practice yoga...
Likely you'd find more of your day spent in simple conversation. Just sharing a table and a beer with expats from other backgrounds can be enjoyable--and educational. There are a lot of interesting folks scattered about.
Other benefits of downsizing ensue. With fewer obligations, you may find greater peace of mind. With time to exercise, to eat slowly and well, and simply to relax, you may see your physical and mental health improve. My blood pressure decreased after a few months in Brazil, and I no longer take medication.
With more time to devote to long-postponed interests, you might find yourself to be a more animated, more positive -- and perhaps more interesting -- person than you ever imagined. More the person you'd like to be.
So, envision yourself in a downsized, simpler life anywhere around the globe, enjoying a freer, more pared-down life. Freeing yourself from material possessions can also free you from the responsibility -- financial or other -- inherent in them, sparing more time and money to be spent on you and you alone. As I have found, this can ultimately lead to a more fulfilling expat experience. As architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, "Less is more."