Do you ever want to run away – even though you’re (allegedly) an adult? I think a lot of us fantasize about a shedding the B.S. of modern life and starting again in a life that’s cheaper, easier and more in tune with who we are.
Betsy and Warren actually did it.
Tell us a bit about yourselves!
I (Betsy) am 45 and Warren is 44, a difference he never lets me forget. We are avid hikers and you can find us walking the hills around our village in Spain every day. A few times a year we pack up the tent and head out for longer hikes around the world. This summer we’ll be in the Pyrenees for 3 months, something we have been looking forward to all winter!
As for work, we are the co-hosts of An Uncluttered Life, a podcast and website for busy people who want to create more time, space, money, and energy in their hectic lives. Learning to let go of what wasn’t working in our lives has allowed us to achieve what does, and we teach other people how to do the same through our podcast, weekly free guides, courses, and books.
What did your lives look like 10 years ago?
Ten years ago we were overweight, overworked, overspent, and on the verge of divorce. We were living in the suburbs of Boston, traveling every week for work, and trying to maintain a home that was too big and expensive for us to manage. We were exhausted, and it showed.
Did you have a specific ‘aha’ moment that led you to reconsider the lives you were leading?
I was flying west for a training session, and Warren was flying back home to Boston after a work trip to California. We met up at the Denver International Airport for the saddest date in history. It was there that we finally admitted we were at rock bottom, totally out of control of what we were doing and not enjoying a minute of it.
I can’t imagine that totally transforming your life is something that happens over night. How long did it take to get from where you were to where you are now?
When we were both back home in Boston, we sat down at the table and asked each other if we wanted to try to make this work. When we both agreed, we then asked what we were going to change to make that happen. Change for us meant letting go because there was absolutely no room to add anything new.
Once we started letting go, doors opened to opportunities we wanted. Within a few months, we moved to Seattle, took jobs that fit better within our lifestyle goals, made new friends, and reconnected with life and each other. And a few years later, when another idea bubbled to the surface to travel the world, we were in a place to make that happen.
After saving and downsizing for 2 years, we left in 2010 with just 2 backpacks and traveled the world for 4 years. In 2014, we bought a house in Spain, and that’s where we live today.
What were the first steps you took?
The first step was making a list of everything that wasn’t working in our lives: long commutes, business travel, no time for each other, nonexistent social life, debt, Boston winters, etc. Making this list felt like losing 10 pounds! And afterward, when we started eliminating those things on our list? We felt more in control than we ever had before.
There was no dream or goal out of reach, because we’d discovered the secret: it isn’t what you add to your life that makes it great; it’s what you take away.
What changes did you make career-wise in order to make this new life possible?
When we left on our travels in 2010, we planned not to work, just to share our journey on the blog until the money ran out! But the blog took off, and people kept asking us questions about our process. How did we do it? How did we do it as a couple, especially.
We started writing e-books, which turned into regular books, which turned into a podcast, which turned into e-courses. The business has grown by reader demand, and as we’ve turned the same focus to our business as we did our life, we’ve been able to create some powerful tools for other people who want to clear away the excess in their lives to achieve something different.
How did the people in your life react to the changes you’ve made?
At first, they were a little doubtful we’d do it, but since we documented it all from the first day on our website, people sort of grew into the idea with us. They had 25 months to watch us save money, downsize, and sell our house, and then they watched as we encountered political coup attempts, erupting volcanoes, storms at sea, and thousands of less dramatic experiences.
People feel like they know us because we’ve been so open sharing our lessons and insights from constant togetherness, growing a business, and adjusting to life in a new country when you don’t know the rules.
We’re still in touch with many of our old friends (some of whom have been to our house in Spain!), and we’re lucky to have made many new friends in the last few years.
These days, you live in a village in Spain. Tell us about that! How did you choose that village? Are you fluent in Spanish?
We came to this village in December 2013 to housesit. We’d just come off a month-long trek in Turkey, and were looking forward to some quiet time, finishing a book, letting the blisters on our feet heal, and generally soaking up relaxing Spanish lifestyle. Falling in love with the village was never in our plans, but it happened.
We’d been considering buying a small place as an investment for about a year, and we’d looked in various countries without any luck. But this place felt perfect, and within a week, we made an offer on a house. We’ve never even rented it out. It feels too much like home to us, even when we’re away.
What does your day-to-day life look like now?
Today you’ll find us walking every morning at sunrise in the hills around our village. This is where we hash out the day’s projects, work through any problems, or plan new adventures. It is a mental and physical reboot for the day. Then we work in our offices until 2, when we either go out to a sunny cafe terrace, or Warren cooks something delicious. Then we do a little admin after lunch before finishing our day with a glass of wine on the rooftop terrace or going out with friends.
The old us would have never imagined this possible. We accomplish more in fewer hours, have less to distract us, and enjoy plenty of time for exercise and socializing.
What are the trade-offs that come with dropping out of the rat race?
We don’t have a movie theater in our small village. And the only kind of food you can buy is of the Spanish variety. When you choose to live a simple life, there are trade-offs. That’s the thing most people resist when making a big change, the idea that they have to give up some things they may like to get what they love. And they stumble over this.
Do you miss anything about your former life?
We miss our friends though we stay in touch over Skype. We also miss Mexican food. God, do we miss Mexican food.
What are three small things ANY of us could do that would make our lives feel a bit free-er and more authentic?
- Create a Stop To-Do list. You are doing a lot of things that don’t fit with your bigger goals, and the sooner you stop doing them, the sooner you’ll get where you want to be. And that is the ultimate freedom!
- Say no. If you say yes to invitations, friendships, favors, and more because you feel guilty or don’t want to be a jerk, then it’s time to stop. Those emotions are the opposite of freedom, and learning to say No to the wrong things allows you to say YES to more of what you love.
- Move your body every day. Exercise and play remind you what freedom feels like, even if you don’t have the level you want every day. Take a 15-minute walk on your lunch break, find an empty conference room and do some yoga stretches midday, or bicycle to work if you live close enough. Those endorphins will carry you through and keep your body in top form to handle your upcoming freedom.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Betsy and Warren! Do you guys have any questions for them?
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about how Betsy and Warren made these big changes happen, check out their latest e-course Clarity Clinic!
P.P.S. If you’d like to move abroad but you have kids and it seems impossible – True Story: I moved my family of 6 from Arkansas to Scotland and How to backpack with a toddler.