How My Life Became Simpler When I Moved Abroad
As an Erasmus Mundus postgrad student on mobility, I'd lived in four cities and moved flats six times in two years. I spent my first postgrad year in London, moved up to Glasgow for an internship, and later moved to Bilbao in Spain to finish my thesis dissertation. In between the third and fourth semesters, I lived for a month in Jaca near the Spanish Pyrenees for a part-time summer job.
All this moving, travelling, and uprooting made me seek a simpler lifestyle. Whether accidentally or intentionally, highly mobile individuals and perennial movers like myself can greatly benefit from living a simpler life. It's easy to accumulate unnecessary things over time, and settling in a new place gives you real opportunities to reflect, curate, and make decisions (however difficult) on what actually stays with you and what goes.
Here are some of the ways I was able to simplify my life after moving abroad.
I ditched the car.
Back in my hometown Manila, I drove whenever I could. And I bet if you'd ask any other person from there to choose between driving and commuting, they’d say they’d rather brave the intense traffic jam in the comfort of their own cars than get all sweaty, sticky, and stuck in a long queue for public transport.
If I didn’t move abroad, I’d probably still think the same way. Indeed, ditching the car isn't an easy choice to make for people who find themselves in a place lacking of an efficient public transport system and pedestrian-friendly spaces.
But if your current city or town gives you the option to walk safely, ride the bike, or take public transport, I'd encourage you to seriously consider ditching the car. For one, owning a car can be expensive. I spent almost 80 euros a month for petrol - not to mention the unexpected repairs that sure didn’t come cheap. Another good thing that can come from getting rid of your car altogether is that it lets you stay in shape by engaging in regular physical activity.
Experts say that walking 30 minutes a day helps reduce the chance of developing chronic illnesses. You’ll also probably be less stressed, as you don’t have to deal with traffic jams, annoying stoplights, and finding a parking space.
Living in Bilbao where the climate is pleasant, bike rental’s cheap and pedestrian-friendly spaces abound, I got convinced that I can live a life without a car. And boy, was it liberating!
Fitting everything into a luggage forces you to make decisions.
You know how it goes: when you move abroad, you’ll have to fit all your life in a single luggage (two, if you’re lucky). This was what really forced me to declutter and simplify. Every time I had to move cities, I had to sort through everything I own and just take those that I need and really want.
Moving abroad and being on the move can also make you think more thoughtfully about your purchases. Is it something I can take with me when I move again? And if I can’t, will I be able to make the most of it during my time here?
One of the most important changes I noticed was how I approached fashion and clothes. Before, I used to buy a new item every month. But accumulating clothes would weigh you down when moving flats. I started to ask myself, how many clothes do I really need? After all, I end up mixing and matching the same items.
So I said, screw that. I stuck to items that define my style, layered them, and always opted for versatile pieces. I also always try clothes on before buying so that I can be sure I’m both comfortable and confident wearing them.
My life also became simpler when I became more thoughtful about the souvenirs I buy when I’m travelling. I used to collect ref magnets, but found them way too bulky when I needed to move flats yet again. I’ve discovered that I’d be better off with digital photos and postcards from my travels, which can both be repurposed and occupy little to no physical space. (You can check out my post about creative ways to write and send postcards on your travels.)
Having my own space made decluttering easier.
I’d always lived with my parents back in Manila and shared a room with my sisters. In the end, I had to put up with everybody else’s habits, share space, and come to an agreement (that doesn't always happen) on which things to get rid of.
While moving abroad and having your own place isn’t a guarantee to live clutter-free, you’ll most probably have more control of what gets in and out of your space.
As for me, having my own flat made me more responsible, and gave me the motivation boost to really make it my own. I could choose my room’s colors and the items that would go on my work desk, pick out decor that reflect who I am, and throw away clutter without asking for anybody’s permission.
Even when I started living with my partner, decluttering wasn’t a huge issue. It really helps to be with a person who shares the same aesthetic and attitude as you do when it comes to maintaining a home. It also became a habit of ours to reassess what we’re using and what we aren’t, declutter every so often, and be mindful of what we buy in the future.
Having less stuff allowed more room in my life for creative pursuits.
Getting rid of things I don’t need gave me more time and energy to work on myself and cultivate creative hobbies rather than spend them dealing with all the clutter around me. It’s like your head suddenly clears and opens up a whole new set of creative possibilities.
At the same time, I also see decluttering as a form of art in itself. You categorize, sort, and see which ones go well with what — and all these actually facilitate your creativity. I noticed that when I started to live in an uncluttered space, I became more inspired to design and create.
I look at my DIY minimalist wall art and at my uncluttered work desk, and I feel all the more inspired to keep things the way they are — cozy, uncluttered, homey. Going home had never been so exciting.
Interested in how I managed to move abroad? Check out our step-by-step guide to applying for Erasmus Mundus scholarships in Europe.
When did you realize that you wanted or needed a simpler life? Feel free to leave a comment — I’d love to hear your stories!
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