A Year in Review
Today, Dec 13 marks 1 year since we returned home from living in New Zealand. We lived in that beautiful far away land for about a year and a half. Today I reflect on how we have navigated 2018 based on our experience in New Zealand.
A Quick Summary
We left on October 3, 2016 in a whirlwind of mixed emotions. The decision to move was easy, the detachment process was agonizing. As we dealt with our inner turmoil, we organized our house for renters by donating and trashing 11years of stuff. Our treasured house items were stored in the attic while our personal baggage was packed in 15 suitcases (don’t judge). We quit our jobs, said good bye to our patients and staff members, sold our cars, gave the dog to our nanny, cried with our friends and family, and then the plane took off.
Our arrival in New Zealand was fraught with uncertainty - how do we open a bank account, where do we get furniture, where does one buy spoons, how do you pay for a car, which school will accept the kids, do they practice medicine the same, and on and on. We were alone, anxious, unfamiliar with local customs, and removed from everything we knew. It’s really hard to start a new life from scratch at 43 years old. However, we were introduced to a culture that taught us how to take things one day at a time, no stress, no big to do, just do the first step and the second step will follow. If you don’t know what the first step should be, ask. People will help you without judgement. We accumulated stuff, but only enough stuff to make meals, pack lunches, and live comfortably. No bells and no whistles. Based on the energy around us, we learned to simmer down. We stopped giving everything such importance.
2018 - The House
For 11 years we lived in a giant house with a huge yard and gorgeous pool.
We had lots of stuff: as an example, in NZ we managed to live with 8 forks and 8 plates. In the US we had accumulated 250 forks and 250 plates. This can really clutter the mind and shelves.
We had too much space: living in a NZ 1800 square foot apartment made our American home seem like an expansive wasteland. For over a year, the family was around me when I came home and then all of a sudden upon returning to the US, they all disappeared in various unnecessary living spaces. Spaces I had to clean, organize, and maintain.
We had various teams help us take care of the American Dream: the yard crew, the organic fertilizing company, the gutter guy (surgeon husband not allowed on the roof), the window guy, the cleaning crew, the Christmas lights team (see gutter section), the audio visual team, pest control, the leaf removal company, to name a few. I am exhausted just making this list.
By May of 2018 we were done with all of it. We put the house on the market. It sold in 2 days. The following day, we gave 75% of our furniture to our nephew who is getting married in 2019. Car loads of stuff were donated to Goodwill. We moved into a 1800 square foot apartment down the street with no further plans. My endless list of house helpers was reduced to one - the dog walker.
The kids did not want to move back to the United States, mainly because of the sense of peace that settled over our family that year abroad. Interestingly, while in NZ, no one longed for all the times we were in the car going to sports practice, the clutter of activities that suffocated our calendars, the giant house with all the stuff, or the crabby parental attitudes on most weekdays (ok, they may have brought that up but not as a fond memory). Furthermore, they gained independence. To get to school they rode scooters. To get to friends and sports, they learned to ride the city bus unsupervised. When supplies ran low, they grocery shopped on their own.
John and I detoxified from stress. This was a highly unpleasant and painful experience. But despite arguments and some resentment, we became a team in our new low stress environment. Making dinner became a shared duty, as were the dishes, the kid activities, grocery shopping, and the household needs.
Today, the whole family has continued to share house duties (some with better attitudes than others). We live next to a grocery store and the kids are expected to shop. We all hang out at night in the kitchen while I cook. Activities are kept at a minimum and kids are responsible for finding their transportation to after school activities. The 17yr old drives, the 15yr old has team mates who drive, the 12 yr old rides his bike (yes, daily to school). John and I continue to work on minimizing the “Busy” in our lives.
In anticipation for the move and quitting jobs, I stopped shopping for 3 years. Yes, you read that correctly. No paying cash to stay off the credit card bill radar, no accidental jewelry purchases at Target while buying pencils, nothing. Now I am back! AMEX is celebrating. However, we are not repeating the past. Therefore, for every item of clothing or accessory purchased, one old item has to be removed and donated from the closet. No more adding stuff.
Before we left, our pace of life was at 160 miles an hour and dictated by The American Dream: big house, lots of stuff, epic parties, “very involved” children, overscheduled medical clinics, intense workouts lasting 1-2hrs almost daily. We shopped fast, walked fast, talked fast, our minds were racing, and the stress levels were soaring. And then we arrived in New Zealand. Here the pace of life is at 45 miles an hour. Strangers stop and chat in stores for no reason. No one cares what your house looks like or what outfit you are wearing. Your new haircut is unnoticed, as is your car. It’s amazing, New Zealanders accomplish as much if not more, but they don’t move in a whirlwind of activity. We stuck out like sore thumbs. With time we adapted. It wasn’t easy and it took time, but we slowed down.
Re-entry into the US pace was tough. We didn’t want to move at 160 miles an hour anymore, but the undercurrent of the American culture is strong. The rip tide of opinions and judgement is overpowering. The continuous need to be busy and fit the norm is suffocating. But over the past year we have been rebuilding our life by starting with step one: Arrival. The other steps followed. When we didn’t know how to choose the next steps, we asked for help without worrying about judgement. We are simplifying our life slowly and pushing against the American norm. Despite raised eyebrows and skeptical glances, we are re-vising The Temple Family’s American Dream - less stuff, more family time, less busy, more peace. We are a work in progress. It’s not easy, we are not done, we don’t have it all figured out. But thanks to our time in New Zealand, we have a new sense of purpose and have found happiness in our daily life.