Leaving the big city (New York) for an itty bitty city (Staunton) was an adjustment. Starting a brick-and-mortar business with my husband has taught us many things; one of which is a renewed focus on living simply. This emphasis is both practical and philosophical.
Today I interview Alan of Life’s Too Good.
Alan made a similar move — from London to the English countryside — and in the process greatly simplified his life and started an online consulting business. We talk about how our connection to consumerism has evolved.
I think Alan and I aren’t the only ones thinking differently about work, risk, and security — and taking action on their new perspectives.
- Alan’s reasons for the move & his thoughts behind it
- How to design a better life for you and your family
- How to enjoy having more with less
Money keeps people chained to their jobs rather than venturing out. You intentionally left your job and moved to the countryside. Did you have a lot of money saved before you left London, or, did you downsize your life so it could subsist on a more modest income?
We did have some savings but this didn’t form the basis of our decision to move – mainly because savings are not sustainable so not as much security as people think.
We actually spent a lot of time thinking about this and worked out lots of details financially before moving (particularly as I was giving up a very high salary which is what always stopped me from doing this in the first place). Our original plan was to move to France but first to take one year in the countryside. This ’1 year’ was an experiment to ‘test’ things, one of the main ones being how much our new life would actually cost and how feasible it actually was in reality to rent our old house and count on that to provide us income (e.g. bearing in mind management hassles, maintenance costs, bills etc).
The things we were testing were broadly:
- finances – i.e. can we live without relying on savings, therefore sustainable long-term?
- whether we actually enjoyed the more simple life – i.e. moving to the countryside & a slower pace of life sounds like a good idea but would we actually enjoy it or would the novelty wear off?
- how easily we’d integrate into a new environment – would we make friends / be accepted in our new location?
- how it would work for our [dual nationality] childrens’ education – would the kids continue to get a decent education & would we be able to do the extra work needed to keep their French at a good level?
In the end the costs were not in places we expected and the revenues we made didn’t come from the places expected either (as we had some problems with our rental arrangement – long story).
However, we proved to ourselves that our new lifestyle was one we love and worth fighting for no matter what the financial situation.
Luckily, despite the rental of our old property not going as well as we’d hoped, we ended up making money elsewhere with various fun projects. One of the things we found out is that our new ‘simple’ lifestyle is really inexpensive anyway (plus we have quite modest taste).
Our ‘1 year experiment’ became more permanent for a number of reasons, mainly how welcome we’ve been made to feel, how much we love this life and things that have happened in terms of friends we’ve made and projects we’ve created.
It sounds that downsizing offers you a richer life. What’s been the biggest benefit?
It does. I can’t emphasize that enough.
The ‘trigger’ that clinched it for me and actually caused us to move was a single moment when I looked at my son, 9 years old at the time, and thought to myself ‘It feels like the last time I looked at you, you were 5′.
That’s just how it felt at that moment.
I actually saw my kids every day, had a great job with a good work/life balance working 4 days a week in an environment where most people work late. I got home in time to see my kids before they went to bed and also saw my family every weekend. That still wasn’t enough.
So 3 things really convinced me that it would be a fantastic idea to quit and move:
- That ‘You were 5 last time I looked at you’ moment
- A thought that’s always bugged me about people working to support their families but ironically hardly seeing them, or, if they do, not really being there 100% with them (because if you care about your work, you can’t switch off from it completely when you’re at home) and then finally retiring when it’s too late and their kids have left home. I wanted to really experience my kids growing up and really be part of that – it seemed to me that [the move] would be something I would never regret, even if it was just for 1 year.
- If we never tried it, we’d never know
By far the biggest benefit which is completely in line with what I was looking for, but far beyond what even I imagined it would be is having complete, 100% control of my time. Every single minute I can live life on my own terms.
This has given me freedom to try lots of new things, to spend all of the time I want with my family, to be involved in what they’re doing and also involve them in what I’m doing, to learn every day, to read more, and to have the time and the energy to do so. For example, becoming a better cook and choosing to cook great food at home – to be able to really appreciate that food with friends and family – this actually saves us lots of money too).
So my answer to this question is having more freedom to choose what I want to do with every moment.
I could become very philosophical and go on forever on this point as there’s also another side to it in terms of mindfulness and the things you notice when you have more time…
Compared to your city lifestyle, has your outlook on consumer consumption changed?
That’s an interesting question.
It has changed.
I think many people waste money subconsciously and I have ‘urges’ to do so too.
My attitude has changed – I’ve always preferred wealth to money. Even when I earned lots, I still shopped in charity shops, went to car boot sales, drove a modest car – BUT my attitude has changed in that I am appreciating the important things in life much more consciously these days.
Where I have always had fairly modest taste and not needed fancy cars, expensive clothes or other luxuries to enjoy myself,
now we actively remove everything that is excess from our lives because it gives us so much more time and space to enjoy the things that are really important – and that is awesome.
We spend more time with friends and less time watching TV, we spend more time making things and less time buying things, we spend more time outdoors etc.
The attitudes of people around us are very different too. Some of our neighbours have never left the village we live in. People’s priorities here seem quite different; there is more sense of community. I also find people more trusting and more trustworthy particularly when it comes to charging and paying for goods and services. Someone quoted me for some work on our cottage recently and rather than trying to negotiate a better price out of him I asked him if he didn’t want to charge a little more as I thought he was doing himself a dis-service with the price he offered me.
I think it’s the same with a lot of things. People buy things without thinking too much if they really need them.
In the end I think you should buy less but be prepared to invest in quality when it comes to the things that are really important to you – and I’m not just talking about products, services, or education. I mean time too — which is more precious than money in my book.
Buy Less. Use Less. Waste Less.
It’s waste we need to cut down on, not expenditure – and if you really think about it, people waste a LOT (of money, time & resources).
Tell me what you’ve discovered making the move and starting your business.
We’ve ended up with a business that focuses on lifestyle design consultancy (‘Get Better results In Your Life and Your Business’).
My site, lifestoogood.net is still mostly a blog with free articles, but I also now have a ‘Services’ section via which I sell 1-2-1 consulting, coaching and e-courses. I protect my time and stick strictly to 3 clients at any given time. This has worked really well so far on many levels not least preventing me from getting ‘sucked into’ work.
Another discovery and rewarding aspect of the business is the lifestyle design aspect. I didn’t realize that we have effectively created a blueprint, or a number of mini-blueprints, for life-change. Everybody’s situation is different and the worst thing that people can do is take a look at someone and try and repeat what they’ve done out of context, but there are lots of aspects of what we’ve done that have actually inspired people. People kept asking me questions and that led me to discover that there was more method to our madness than I’d actually realized
Yeah, we entertain similar questions nearly every weekend from visitors and weekenders from the Washington, D.C. area. Many say they’d love to do something else. Of course, some are inclined to tell us what we should be doing with our business, ha!
What untapped opportunities exist in rural places/very small cities?
That’s a tough question to answer.
… because it depends so much on what you mean by opportunities.
For example, if you mean opportunities to build communities and local business – loads of opportunities. We are involved in our local community via a group called ‘Celebrating Cromford’.
We organised a ‘give and take’ day locally with the help of some local organisations. My wife is currently trying to promote local business via an initiative called ‘Totally Locally’ (something we heard about and wanted to bring to Cromford).
If you mean what opportunities exist financially, then I’d say that the difference in rural places/very small cities has to connect to community. Small businesses have to help each other. The impact of a few customers is obviously much greater in these places than in big cities and you’d be surprised what influence just a few people can have (both positive and negative, hopefully the former).
So I’d say that the major untapped opportunity is simply to get involved.
How has your attitude about life changed since you left London?
I’ve always thought life is short.
Now I think that more than ever. I’m enjoying life more than before though even that’s not as straight forward as it sounds. It took me a long time to actually give myself ‘permission’ for this. For at least 6 months I felt uneasy about something but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it – the nearest thing I can describe is ‘guilt’ – like I’m cheating because I’m simply enjoying life with my family. I suppose that’s normal after 15 years of a fast-paced career.
I’ve learned how to make better use of my time.
I’ve probably become (even) more philosophical.
I’ve been able to explore my interests and learn lots of things I would never have had the time for – all whilst being flexible enough to fit these to my own schedule and accommodate events such as school plays, games of golf, days off, meals with friends, changing what I want to work on day-to-day.
Based on your experience, what’s the one piece of advice you’d recommend someone considering a major life reboot — moving, downsizing, or starting a business?
Yes, I’m going to give 3 pieces of advice which are as much food for thought as advice:
- Life is too precious and short. Time is the most precious thing we have – the good news is that we are all paid the same amount – and it’s up to us what we do with those 24 hours, which we decide at every moment.
- Live within your means – we are lead to believe that we should ‘have’ certain things and that debt is normal and a normal way to go about getting these things. Debt is not normal. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
- Live in the present as much as you can. I’m not 100% Zen to the extent that I think you should spend all of your time in the present, I think some planning for (and looking forward to) the future is a good thing, as is some time looking back on fond memories, but it’s a complete waste of time (see point 1). If you spend too much time worrying about the past or the future then you’re not living.
Thanks, Alan. I think both of us have seen life “from the other side” and have learned that living simply and building a business and life that suits you can be so rewarding.