We left for our year in Europe with 6 suitcases…

In our quest to design a beautiful life, over the years our family life has transformed – moving from a sprawling estate in the California redwoods to a tiny cottage on the California coast – and now the journey continues as we land in Europe with everything we might need for a year whittled down to fit into 6 suitcases. We had heard of families who shipped their belongings to France, Spain, or Sweden for a year abroad and considered this option. In the end, we opted for the challenge of packing only what we could not live without for one year, and carrying it on the airplane with us. It was a huge challenge and intriguing in the end, to see what each of us chose to bring, in additional to essential clothing, in our precious one and a half suitcases. I brought my trusty nutrabullet (good morning green drink!), stainless steel coffee press, and spiritual books; my husband Sean brought books and his violin; one of my daughters brought treasured gifts from friends and special stuffed animals; and my other daughter brought her beloved Harry Potter books, wand, and roller skates. This process was a lean into minimalism, revealing important priorities for each of us — what brings pleasure, connection, nourishment.

“Living abroad?!”

This phrase had come up over and over in the past few years as Sean and I initially, and then eventually the whole family (including our daughters ages 9 and 12) had been dialoguing about the design of our life. We first talked about living abroad for a period of time many years ago, when our daughters were still quite young. We both were drawn to living internationally and had done so earlier in our lives. I also had been reading books and blogs on simple living and we both felt we needed to consider a change. At the time, we owned a large house and property and it just seemed too overwhelming to us to rent out our house to cover the mortgage, and maintain the property while we were gone for an extended period.

In our search for a sustainable and simpler way of life, we eventually sold our house and land a few years ago and downsized dramatically. This was a difficult time for all of us as we had imagined our lovely estate to be passed down from generation to generation. We had a spent over a decade enjoying a beautiful and grand life at home with sprawling gardens, meditative paths winding through redwoods, all wrapping around an architecturally fascinating house. Our home felt like a sacred sanctuary to us. And yet, in the end, we just could not keep it all up and the stress of trying to was not worth the enormous energy expense. So after 12 years we sold our home and said goodbye to our land, and we cried so many tears. Again, as we prepared to move we talked about living abroad, but at that point we had a huge house and land to clear out, which took many months. Exhausted, we wanted something simpler than a move abroad.

We decided to make a dramatic move at that point and headed out to the California coast to live in a tiny — 672 square foot  — cottage, all 4 of us plus 2 dogs and a cat. The salt of the wild sea wind and the breathtaking beauty of the majestic ocean soothed our souls as we grieved the sale of our home and land. We spent a year out at the coast in our tiny cottage. It was an intimate and cozy year, one filled with solitude, sadness, and simple fun in the sun. This is when our conversation about living abroad got more serious. I began researching Waldorf schools in Europe, as our children have been in Waldorf education since preschool and we felt this would be an important continuity factor in living abroad. We also researched cost of living across various European cities, as well as Visa requirements for US citizens living in various countries. After a year at the coast we felt it was time to move again. While we loved the vibrancy of living by the sea, the 45 minute commute to school and work was exhausting us and not supporting our vision for greater simplicity.

“Is this the year to move abroad?” we asked ourselves. While it was tempting to take the leap at that point, we still were not ready. We needed more information. And so we moved closer to school and work, and into a slightly bigger house where we could all breathe a little easier. We took on a sublet that was to last 1 and 1/2 years, which meant that we knew going into it, we would need to move, again. That’s when it started to feel right to plan for our year abroad once we completed our 1 and 1/2 year rental. We knew we would need to move anyway, we did not own a house, and our research was showing that we could live less expensively in Ireland, France, or Scotland, than we could in Northern California. And so this was our working plan — one that we held very lightly — while we continued to gather information, read for clarity and inspiration, pray for guidance, use intuition, dialogue with family and friends, and trust that eventually we would know if this was the right move for our family. Our guidance kept pointing toward Europe.

And so it seems…

“This IS the year to move abroad?!”