Too Many Expats?

Our friend Denise posed a great question last week in a comment: I would be curious to hear your thoughts about expats, and specifically why you are opposed to a larger expat population where you settle. I attempted to answer the question in a reply to her comment, but realized that the answer required not only more room but quite a bit more thought on my part.

The number and presence of expats we encountered in San Miguel de Allende was a new experience for Brett and me. We have wracked our brains and memories trying to remember any other location we’ve visited where we encountered so many foreign residents. We know that large expat communities exist in cities like Florence, Bordeaux, or Lisbon but we never encountered any Americans or Canadians in any numbers other than on the wine tours we took in Bordeaux (one of my fondest memories there is the young American girl who sat next to us on the tour bus so, she said, she could hear American English spoken. She’d been in Bordeaux for almost a year and missed hearing and speaking English. We included her in our conversation both coming and going on the tour and had a great visit). We’ve visited Japan many, many times but rarely run into other expats during our stays, and certainly not in the concentrations we encountered in San Miguel de Allende. Expats seemed to be present everywhere there, in restaurants, shops, markets, walking down the streets, etc. We ate in restaurants where every customer was an expat or tourist, and the waiters spoke English to everyone. We walked down streets of Centro and other neighborhoods and heard nothing but English spoken. Other than the gardeners and other occasional workers, we heard only English in the condo complex where we stayed. Everyone we met or encountered was nice, and the easy availability of English certainly made our time in SMA easier, but it was a strange experience for us and in the end one of the things that put us off living there in the future.

San Miguel de Allende is not an especially big city although it is expanding and growing. It’s a charming place to visit, full of history, bright colors, colonial architecture, beautiful churches and parks, extensive shopping, and a lively and affordable restaurant scene. The cost of living, compared to the U.S., is enticingly low, but it’s actually one of the most expensive cities in Mexico. Americans have been coming to SMA since the post-WWII years, when GIs came to live in SMA and study art on their GI bill funds and Stirling Dickinson opened the Instituto Allende. The city is now a haven for artists, and after being named the Best City in the World in 2021 by Condé Nast Travel & Leisure, it’s a place tourists, both foreign and local, feel they need to see. So many had sung its praises that we felt we should experience it too. Many visitors, especially retirees, fall in love with the city while they are there and decide to relocate. There are real estate offices all over the place, and building going on everywhere as the city expands to fill the need for housing. Prices are climbing however – currently the median price of a colonial home in Centro has risen to over $500K.

The number of expats and tourists we encountered in SMA reminded us somewhat of our time on Kaua’i and the changes we saw happening. We had the unique experience of living there for around a year while the island was closed to tourists, and then witnessing how quickly things changed as visitors, mainland investors, and wealthy retirees returned when the island opened back up again. The explosion of the island housing market was one of most noticeable changes, with prices rising into the stratosphere as properties were snapped up at inflated prices. Young, local families became completely priced out of the market. Also, once-quiet venues and beaches became filled with visitors who didn’t want anyone, local or otherwise, messing with their “Kaua’i experience.”

Encountering so many American or Canadian expats in SMA, I often thought, Do you know you are changing things here? Like pebbles tossed into a stream, expats cause places to change in ways that might not be immediately recognizable or affect them. While the cost of living might be low for an expat, the prices that locals pay for housing, for food, for other necessities go up, sometimes rapidly. Local water sources and other infrastructure become more strained, and traffic in and out of cities, and in the city centers, becomes crowded and often stop and go. Expats do bring benefits to a city, including charitable efforts, but those benefits can be harder to see or not seen at all until after a long time has passed. We weren’t especially looking for it, but during our time in SMA we didn’t see a whole lot of exchange between expats and the local community other than on the surface. Expats tended to cluster with other expats, although we know it did go deeper than that in some cases.

Will we cause things to change by moving to Mazatlán and becoming expats? Of course. Will there be lots of other expats there? Probably. We look forward to meeting some of them, making friends, and learning from those who have lived there for a while. But we’re also hoping for numbers where expats are not to be found everywhere, every day, in every place we go. Our goal will be to find ways to make a positive impact on our new location, to add to it versus just reaping the benefits, and to get to know our neighbors.

The number of expats in San Miguel de Allende was uncomfortable for us. While we weren’t looking for some “authentic Mexican” experience while we were there, we were unprepared for the numbers and presence of Americans and Canadians we encountered. We are educating ourselves about Mazatlán now so we know what to expect, where we might want to live, and so forth and educating ourselves to fit into the culture rather than having the culture fit us.

That Didn’t Take Long

Brett told me the other day that he never wants to move again. It’s not that he’s fallen in love with Tennessee, but he said he’s tired of all the packing, unpacking, setting up, etc. that goes with moving. Our last few travel experiences didn’t help his mood: the long plane flights and schedules that were changed without notice, lugging the big suitcases around, driving a big van through all sorts of crazy weather and having to unload it every evening and load it again in the morning, and on and on. At age 72 he said he’s had enough.

While I still enjoy and look forward to traveling, our experiences since we left Hawaii have left their mark on me as well, and I admit to being somewhat relieved to be settled again with our own things, even if many of those things are actually new to us. I honestly did not enjoy the whole moving part of the past few months, but also know that I don’t want to stay in Tennessee for more than two years. I know that means we’re going to have to pack up and move once again.

I’ve promised Brett though that next move will be our last, and that someone else will move us and do all the work. One of the reasons I’m so fierce about saving once again is that if we are not going to do it ourselves, we are going to have to pay someone else to pack our things, load a truck, move our stuff, and unpack at our destination. I’m all done with that part of moving.

We are 100% decided at this point that when we leave Tennessee we will head to Mexico, to the city of Mazatlán on the Pacific coast. We enjoyed our time in San Miguel de Allende, but knew that while we could happily live in Mexico, SMA was not the right place for us for a variety of reasons.

Why did we choose Mazatlán?

  • It’s beach town on the same latitude as Hawaii but with a much, much, much lower cost of living. We can easily afford an oceanside modern condo or apartment, or a house with an ocean view and Pacific breezes as well as a housekeeper (and gardener if needed).
  • We thought the cost of living in San Miguel de Allende was fantastic, but Mazatlán’s COL is even lower. We can live very well there on half of our income. The other half can be used for travel, investment, and saving. And, I can continue to afford to live there if Brett predeceases me.
  • The city has an international airport with direct flights to several American cities (two hours from Phoenix, for example) as well as Mexico City. We can fly from Mazatlán to the U.S. and either up to the northeast to see the girls, or over to Japan. We could afford to visit Japan and the girls every year as well as travel to another destination in the world.
  • Although our health and dental insurance cover us worldwide, good health and dental care are available and extremely affordable in Mazatlán. As we age, we can also afford to hire home health assistance if needed.
  • There is a large expat community in Mazatlán, but not an overwhelmingly large one like there was in San Miguel de Allende. There is a tourist season, with an influx of snowbirds and visitors, but nothing approaching the numbers of SMA or cities further down the coast such as Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco.
  • The city has well-run public transportation, and we would not need a car there (two of our daughters are already interested in purchasing our car from us).
  • Mazatlán’s weather is hot and dry. It can be quite hot during the summer and into the early fall, but the rest of the year is pleasant and warm. There are numerous walking venues, and a long, accessible beach. The city is known for it seafood, shrimp especially.

Will we move all of our stuff to Mazatlán? Yes – it would be an affordable move. We like the stuff we’ve purchased here and if it holds up we plan to keep it.

Mazatlán has everything we want, from an oceanside location to a low cost of living that will allow us to continue to travel while still being settled somewhere. We will get everything we want at a cost we can afford. We’ve got two years to go here in Nashville, but we’re back in savings mode once again so that when the time comes we’ll be ready to make our move!

Brett & Laura Have Left the Building

Saturday evening’s final sunset view

We met our landlord yesterday morning at 8:15, turned over our keys, and were out of our apartment before 9:00 and on our way to breakfast at the Kalaheo Cafe. After breakfast we headed up to Princeville for a very enjoyable (and long overdue) visit with our friends Joy and Les, then headed over to our condo at 3:00 and promptly collapsed. The condo is small, but it’s nice to be sleeping on a real mattress again. We also have enough space and appliances to make our own meals for the rest of our time on Kaua’i.

Last Thursday the apartment’s new tenant asked us if we would move out on Saturday so she could move in a day early, but we told her via the landlord we had paid rent until May 1, and would be staying the night unless she was willing to pay for a hotel room for us (she wasn’t). The apartment was clean as a whistle when we left on Sunday and our entire deposit was returned. Such a difference from our last move-out experience!

The yard was in full bloom this past week. We’re going to miss the yard most of all, I think.

Besides cleaning the apartment all last week, we took care of some other business:

  • I consolidated my student loans to a Direct Federal Loan. I sort of wish I had done this earlier, but I had been afraid I would have to take on a much higher interest rate. However, it turned out my new interest rate will be just .375% higher than my old rate. Because I will again have a direct loan from the government versus a private lender I will be eligible for maybe some of my loan to be forgiven if rumors of that turn out to be true. President Biden is not going to forgive every student loan out there, or even forgive $50K from everyone’s balance, but an amount may be forgiven based on a sliding scale and/or have the interest reduced, maybe to 0%. We’ll see. Whatever happens, having a direct federal loan is all-around better for me for a variety of reasons than what I was previously locked into, and we have committed ourselves to paying off the balance in less than five years, forgiveness or not.
Our little guy is going to stay little. He’ll maybe only weigh 9-10 pounds when fully grown.
  • We got a puppy! Brett and I have missed owning a dog and decided we were ready for another. Our previous dogs were all rescues, but after much thought and a LOT of research we decided we wanted a puppy this time. We found a reputable breeder located near Nashville that had the breed that we were looking for and we made a deposit on a male Shih-poo (Shih Tzu and toy poodle mix). Shih-poos are smart, affectionate, hypoallergenic (they don’t shed), and are devoted to their owners. They require regular grooming, but only every 2 to 3 months. We’ve named our little guy Kaipo, Hawaiian for beloved boy or sweetest boy. He’s currently eight weeks old, but the breeder is going to continue to provide care until we can pick him up in August as well as make sure he is up to date on vaccinations. Our granddaughter is over the moon as she will be away from their family’s beloved Boston terrier for the next two years, but now will have our little guy for her to play with and help train.

We’re expecting a quiet week coming up; the only big tasks we have left are turning in the modem to our Internet provider, getting our wills witnessed, notarized, and mailed off to our son in Japan, and mailing the inflatable mattress to YaYu. We hope we’ll be able to sit out by the pool this coming, or maybe even go to the beach up here (the condo comes with beach chairs & umbrella) but the weather is expected to be less than ideal all week so that probably won’t happen.

One last look back as we headed out the door.

One week from today we’ll board a plane and leave Kaua’i once again. We didn’t think we’d be coming back when we left in 2018, and yet when the call came for Americans overseas to go home in 2020, Kaua’i was where we headed because it was home. Setting up again was a crazy ride, but with help from some very kind people on the island we found a great apartment and were able to get it furnished. Kaua’i has been a wonderful, safe place to ride out the pandemic, and we’ll always be grateful that for almost a year we were able to experience the island without any tourists to contend with (they are currently visiting in record numbers, even more than pre-pandemic). We plan to come back to Kaua’i once more though, for our 50th anniversary, but for now, it’s time to move on to new adventures!

Boring In a Good Way

We love our rental car!

After two weeks without a car, our upstairs neighbor stopped by on Thursday to ask if he could get anything for us and we asked if he could possibly take us to the airport before 1:00 on Friday so we could pick up our rental car. No problem, he said, and told us to text him when we were ready to go. We sent a text at 12:45 on Friday that we were ready and he replied he’d be down in a moment, but then didn’t show up until 1:30! When we finally got to the airport the wait to get to the rental desk was over two hours long, but because I was checked in with Budget once I got to the agent everything went quickly and smoothly, and a car was waiting for us, a Hyundai Kona (compact SUV), a better grade of car than what we had reserved. Although we were completely exhausted by the time we finally left the airport, we somehow got all our errands finished and were home at 5:30. We finished up our yard sale tasks, made our signs, and then collapsed for the night.

Saturday morning . . .

We had thankfully almost completely set up our yard sale by the end of Thursday, with everything cleaned, sorted, tagged and priced, so the last chores on Friday wouldn’t be overwhelming. Saturday’s sale turned out to be an amazing success, far beyond anything we imagined. We started at 9:00 a.m. and by 2:10 in the afternoon we had only 14 items left (priced at a total of $39), and when the last four people came on Sunday to pick up their things they bought 13 of those leftover items! We ended up cancelling the sale on Sunday, and took the $595 we earned to the bank on Monday. Everyone we met on Saturday was incredibly friendly, we never had to quibble about prices or haggle, and we “talked story” with everyone, one of the things we have enjoyed most about living in Hawai’i.

. . . and Saturday evening.

We sent two more packages to Massachusetts yesterday, filled with winter clothes, boots, and wooden hangers as well as some odd pieces for kitchen organization that we didn’t want to have to buy again in Tennessee. The one item leftover from the yard sale (a lamp) will go to the thrift store tomorrow.

Last year when our neighbors moved out, they filled our building’s 120-gallon and 90-gallon trash cans to overflowing with the leftover food in their house (it took three weeks to dispose of the trash they left behind). We took one Trader Joe’s bag to the trash this past week, and will either use up or recycle everything else.

The apartment is almost completely cleaned and ready for turnover. The weather was rainy and overcast most of last week (and still is mainly), so during one nice stretch Brett cleaned the exterior of all the windows and the screens while I cleaned the interiors. Since we were pretty much stuck indoors, whenever Brett wasn’t reading he had the vacuum cleaner out and was cleaning something or another while I worked on getting the yard sale organized. I was able to get the refrigerator and all of the kitchen cabinets, drawers, and pantry shelves cleaned as I organized for the sale.

Meals have been . . . interesting. We picked up several quick microwave meals on Friday at Target, a package of Asian chicken wrap sandwiches at Costco, and takeout from Panda Express for that evening’s meal along with a luxurious piece of haupia (coconut) cake from a local patisserie for Brett’s birthday. We went back to the deli yesterday and got a couple of big (delicious) sandwiches so I think we’re set for the rest of this week. We’ll pick up a few more things on our way up to the condo on Sunday but we’re mostly set now for food until we leave. Desserts until we depart Kaua’i are some very yummy carrot cupcakes from Costco and some very yummy vegan ice cream we found at Target.

Our hangout these last few days

We now spend most of our free time on our inflatable mattress reading because there’s no place else for us to sit and really nothing much else for us to do, although weather permitting we’re going to go up to Kukuiolono Park and walking the Pavilion loop a few times in the afternoons. I’m getting a manicure and pedicure later this afternoon and am looking forward to that – it’s been too long – and Brett’s getting his last hair cut on Wednesday from his favorite barber. We’ll deep clean the bathroom on Saturday, and otherwise will just have the floors left to mop.

It’s honestly kind of boring, but in a good way.

Beyond Plan Z

We did not see this coming. At all. It was not anywhere on our list of future or possible plans. But . . . life happens. And, family comes first.

As planned, we will be heading to Mexico after YaYu’s graduation, but in early July we will depart San Miguel de Allende for:

Our daughter-in-law works for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and toward the end of last month was offered a two-year posting at the consulate in Nashville. It’s a major promotion for her and, as she says, her “dream job.” However, our son cannot relocate because of his position and the nature of his work in Japan, so they asked if Brett and I would be willing to put our plans on hold and move to Nashville for the next two years as support for M and our granddaughter, K, who will accompany her.

We didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Our grandson, who is now in middle school, will stay in Japan with his dad. They plan to travel to Nashville 2-3 times a year, during our grandson’s school breaks, and our DIL and granddaughter will travel back to Japan at least once a year.

Everything is changing rapidly and plans are being drawn up, reworked, etc. We are being reimbursed by our son for our UK Airbnb deposits and our plane tickets to England. We’re starting the process of choosing and buying a car online to pick up once we arrive in Tennessee, and we’ll again be buying some basic pieces of furniture once we get there as well as other necessities. Instead of London, we’ll be flying from Mexico City to Boston to rent a minivan and pick up our stored things from WenYu to take along to Nashville. We don’t know yet whether we’ll be sharing housing with M and K or getting our own place. M will receive a housing stipend but it’s unknown at this time if she’ll be allowed to use that for shared housing with us or not. There are of course lots and lots of other unknowns as well but details are getting filled in as they come up.

Full-time travel for the Occasional Nomads is off the table for the time being. Following our time in Tennessee, we think we’ll either move to a permanent location in New England or do one last long road trip around the U.S. interspersed with shorter international visits. In the meantime, our priority for the next two years will be to help and support our daughter-in law and granddaughter – travel can wait.

28 Boxes

As each day passes and puts us closer to our departure, Brett and I find ourselves living more and more minimally. We’re cooking with one saucepan, one large saute pan, and four small sheet pans these days. We watch TV on my laptop. Our remaining furniture is due to leave the apartment next week and after it goes we’ll be sitting on resin Adirondack chairs and sleeping on an inflatable mattress, at least until the chairs (hopefully) sell at our yard sale. After that all we’ll have is the mattress.

You know what? We’re fine, and living with so little has proved to be much less of a challenge than imagined. In fact, it hasn’t really been a challenge at all. It’s instead been liberating and felt like a great weight is being lifted from our shoulders.

Our daughters took many of our things back home with them at the end of last year, but we’ve otherwise had no trouble letting things go and have not regretted nor missed anything we’ve sold, including items that we’ve owned for near 40 years.

We’re sort of surprised by how much we’re enjoying having less especially since we’ve always been people “with stuff.” We know it’s soon going to seem like we’re camping, but these last few weeks with just a minimal amount of furniture, a few dishes, a tiny amount cookware and utensils, and so forth has been eye opening. And, it’s also been enough. It turns out we need very, very little to live a good life, far less than we imagined.

Life in our apartment the past two years has shown us how small a space we need to be comfortable. We’ve also figured out in the past few months how few things we need in a small space as well as what’s important to us and what isn’t. We’ve completely changed our minds about what we’ll need once we finally get ready to settle down again.

When Brett left the navy in 1992, we moved 12,500 pounds of household goods from Japan. Over the years we began to slowly downsize, and when we moved to Hawai’i in 2014 we brought just 4,500 pounds with us, more than enough for our family. When we left to travel full time in 2018, just 1800 pounds of household goods went into storage. And now, after over 44 years together, everything Brett and I want to keep from our life together fits into 28 boxes, and weighs less than 300 pounds. Our plan was to to keep just 60 things but I think we ended up with 65, only because we had extra room in the last box we packed.

Will we acquire more? Of course – when we finally stop moving around we will need to buy and/or replace furniture, major appliances, and other necessary household items. However, we’re never again going to need or want as much as we have in the past. The simple life caught us and we couldn’t be happier or more satisfied.

The 2021 Highlight Reel

The past year was not the most exciting year we’ve ever spent for a variety of reasons. Brett and I practically turned into full-time hermits and stuck close to home, only heading out of our apartment for walks at the park or a few other hikes, a few trips to the beach, or shopping trips and a very occasional meal out. Our daughters’ visit was the first and only time we had others in our apartment all year, and we didn’t visit anyone else either.

I really didn’t realized how tightened down we’d become and how little we did until I went through this past year’s blog posts. I am so grateful we moved up our travel plans because I don’t think we could have survived another year of pretty much standing still.

Lots of important things did get accomplished however:

  • Health: Brett and continued to lose weight; segued to a vegetarian/vegan diet; and walked/hiked over 1,000 miles. We got our COVID vaccines and boosters; Brett finally got his wonky parathyroid gland removed, and I had an endoscopy and confirmation of a small hiatal hernia. Regular skin checks were done and we are up to date with our dental visits.
  • Travel: Plans for future travel went through several permutations, starting with walking tours in the UK and then Japan followed by short visits to some other places if possible. We then got caught up in the idea of permanent moves to first Portugal and then France, and finally ended up with a decision return to full-time travel. An itinerary was made, our Kaua’i departure date moved forward from 2023 to 2022, and Airbnb reservations were made in Strasbourg, Oxford, and Edinburgh. We have tickets to get us over to Paris in May of next year following YaYu’s graduation from college and are getting ready now to hit the road again.
  • Downsizing: We decided to once again sell almost everything before departing Hawaii, and started the downsizing process with the sale of my KitchenAid mixer in June. We sold something (or more than one thing) at least once a month, and the Etsy shop I opened to sell my hashioki collection and a few other Japanese vintage goods proved to be more successful than I imagined. All of our son’s and daughters’ things we’d been keeping were sorted and sent back to the mainland or Japan, either with them or through the mail, and Brett and I began the process of packing up the few things we will be keeping to be mailed to our daughter WenYu’s home for storage.
  • Savings: We made our last deposit into YaYu’s college savings this month. Through regular deposits, downsizing sales, the Etsy shop, the change/$1 bill bag, and other savings hustles we put away over $11,000 into our travel savings, more than enough to make our initial reservations and purchase our flight to Paris.
  • Family & friends: We had a lovely reunion with our niece and her family when they visited Kaua’i in June, and also were able to get together with another friend visiting the island the same month. While we greatly missed being able to see our grandkids, son, and daughter-in-law this past year, they sent loads of photos and we kept up through messaging and calls. The highlight of the year was having our three daughters together with us for 10 days for the Christmas holiday, and we made the most of our time together. I remain grateful for all the friends I’ve met and made through the blog, and your comments and interaction.

Although we stuck close to home this past year we still accomplished quite a bit and moved a great deal closer to reaching our goals for next year. As busy as we’ve been recently, things will be picking up after the new year, and we know our remaining time on the island will be moving along at a quicker-than-expected pace.

So, it’s goodbye to 2021 with fondness and gratitude, and it’s on to the new year with hope for all it promises to bring.

Adventures in Downsizing

How soon is too soon to start when you want to get rid of everything? That’s the question we’re struggling with these days. Is it too early now to start letting things go, or should we wait until next year or even right before we plan to go? Are there things we can live without now versus waiting until next year or right before we leave? Are we ready to embrace real minimalism?

We’ve sold a few things already that have been sitting around unused and taking up space, and that the girls have said they don’t want. A small TV, a lightbox, a lampshade, a Le Creuset baking pan, and my stand mixer have all found new owners. I put our three Japanese hibachis up for sale a couple of weeks ago, more to see if there was any interest, but while I got a lot of views there have were no takers, even after I lowered the price. So, they’re going to be listed at my Etsy shop instead and we’ll see how they do there.

It isn’t easy to figure out what to do with other items we’d like to sell. Would they sell better as an individual item through Buy & Sell, or on Etsy, or at a garage sale? Is the item something I’m willing to ship or would the cost of that outweigh what we can get for the item?

Pricing will the biggest issue we face, especially living in Hawaii. Postage back to the mainland is quite expensive, and could push the price of several items up too high. We have to accept for some items that we will never receive their true value, and will can only hope to get what we paid for them. For example, our beautiful big hibachi table will have to go for thousands less than it’s worth – we’ve seen similar sized hibachis selling online for over $4000, but I know we’ll be very fortunate to get $600 for it here, as well as the custom stand, glass top, and antique plate inside. That’s still more than we paid for everything, but we can’t take it with us and shipping it would be more expensive and more of a pain than would be worthwhile. I will be happy though if someone else is happy about getting it. I can always tell when someone is thrilled to have gotten an item and that makes it easier to let go of.

I’m grateful for the time we have to figure this out. Selling everything is going to be a bigger task than I initially imagined, but if we’re smart, time will be our friend. We were shocked by how much stuff our neighbors still had right before they moved, where they ended up having to hire a truck to haul away what didn’t sell. Our goal is to end up with no more items than will fit into the trunk of our car to go to the resale store when it’s time to go.

Imagining the Next Downsize

Only some of these things will be kept the next time around.

The other day I took two houseplants that weren’t doing so well and set them out on our front porch (where they almost instantly revived). With the plants gone, I was able to move a few things around in our living room which somehow managed to give it a fresher, more uncluttered and open look. I was surprised that the removal of only two items and a few other small changes facilitated such a big change in how the otherwise small room feels. Less had created more.

Brett and I are already starting to think about what we’ll ship back to the U.S. when we leave Kaua’i in a couple of years, and what we can let go of this time. Last time we sent back around 1,500 pounds for storage; we hoping for around 500 pounds this time. We already know we’ll be able to let go of more now, a reminder that downsizing and decluttering remain a process, not a one-time-and-you’re-done task. We know that was unbearable to let go of before can become bearable over time, and maybe even desired, and that we have a very different sense these days of what we want to live with than we did when we set off back in 2018.

While I think I already do a good job of not accumulating things, I came across an article the other day for decluttering or downsizing a room that I wish I had thought of or known about earlier, an idea which I plan to use mentally over the next couple of years as the actual process would be impossible given our current space. The exercise requires removing absolutely everything out of a room you want to declutter, from furniture to pictures to tchotchkes. Everything. When the room is completely cleared out, it’s deep cleaned it from top to bottom (and repainted if needed or desired).

The room should then sit empty for at least three days, but longer if possible while careful thought is given to the desired result for the room. After that, items should be slowly brought back into the room, maybe over a period of days, until the imagined result is reached. After that, everything else can go. The happy result should be a decluttered room with less needed than one initially imagined.

While we’re unable to do the empty room thing now, Brett and I will instead imagine a future empty space, and think carefully about how we’d like our room(s) to look. Our days on the road taught us that we prefer small, uncluttered spaces with a few thoughtful touches. What we’ll be asking ourselves going forward what pieces that we have now will be useful? What pieces will bring us joy?

We know that some things aren’t going to make the cut this next time, but it’s going to take time for us to figure it all out. For now we’ll appreciate, enjoy, and use what we have, but always with that empty room in the back of our minds.

Time to Break Out a New Spreadsheet

Before Brett officially retired in 2013, we decided we had a great opportunity to relocate to a warmer, sunnier climate. We wanted to escape the dreary, damp winters and head for someplace with a warmer, sunnier climate. But where should we go?

We started our search by determining the things that would be important to us in a new location and eventually came up with eight criteria we would use to evaluate different places:

  1. Good year-round weather
  2. Cost of living
  3. Schools
  4. Proximity to the ocean and/or mountains
  5. Nearby military facilities
  6. Proximity to Japan,
  7. Tax benefits for retirees
  8. A strong, vibrant Asian community

After determining these criteria, we then came up with places that we thought might include those things or at least some of them. Hawaii was added to our list as a joke because we knew we would never be able to live in Hawaii but it sounded fun. The next step was ranking the criteria, figuring out the things that were most important to us. We came up with the order above. Finally, we began researching different locations, taking notes and checking off which areas met which criteria. Some places were eliminated more quickly than others.

We were very, very surprised to discover that Hawaii met eight of our nine criteria. The only problematic one was the state’s high cost of living, but we eventually decided if everything else fit we could somehow figure out how to live within our means there. We talked about changes we could make (i.e. renting versus buying), ready everything we could find about living on a budget, how to shop, etc. and made it work for us. We’ve never regretted our decision to come here.

However, with the cost of living on Kaua’i rising rapidly these days we are thinking about whether it would make more sense to relocate back to the mainland. The cost of housing on Kaua’i is rising to a level that will make it close to unaffordable for us to stay. Most of our children have ended up settling back east on the mainland. Flights to Japan from Honolulu take as long as they did from Portland, and fares are often higher from here to there. Now is the time to consider whether we should leave or stay.

It’s time for us to come up with a new spreadsheet once again, and evaluate our choices. Brett and I sat down together week before last and came up with a new list of what’s important to us. We haven’t ranked this list yet, but think it’s a good basic one that covers our needs and wants at this stage of our lives. In no particular order, these are the eight things we want/need to consider: 

  • Proximity to family: As we age, and our daughters get closer to having their own families, we would like to live closer to them. Our children would like to have us closer to them as well.
  • Cost of living: Will the cost of food, transportation, and everything else in a new location fit into our budget and leave something left over for other things we want to do (i.e. travel)?
  • Cost of housing: Is there quality housing in the area that fits within our budget?
  • Tax benefits for retirees: Is Social Security taxed? Would Brett’s military retirement be taxed?
  • Weather: Is the area prone to big weather events like hurricanes, flooding? After living in Hawaii can we deal with dreary weather once again, or things like snow and other effect of brutal winter weather? Do we want to?
  • Proximity to the ocean and mountains: Is it possible to find this combination again?
  • Travel & cultural opportunities: Are there things for us to see and explore in the area? Is there a major airport nearby for overseas travel?
  • Healthcare availability: Is there a nearby hospital and otherwise good medical availability in the area?
  • Nearby military facilities: Is there a military base nearby, mainly for things like ID card renewal and possible commissary/exchange shopping?

While we now have a list, we still need to come up with areas that might work with these criteria. We know that no place needs to be a perfect fit, but it should meet at least half of what’s on our list. Before coming up with a list of locations, we still need to rank the criteria, add others to the list, if necessary, and then begin researching and seeing what might be a good fit. 

We already know that Kaua’i is barely going to meet half of these criteria, but it carries something that no place else does: our hearts. No matter how great another location turns out to be, no matter how many criteria it matches, going up against our love for this island will not be an easy task. But, getting started now on a possible move is something that needs to be done, so it’s time once again to create a new spreadsheet so we have time to get it figured out to make the best choice for all the right reasons.