Guest Contributors

Living Big In a Small and Simple Way

Living in a country that is in constant and big change is an amazing place to be and equally amazing to witness. There is a steady rhythm of construction and building here in China, really everywhere across the country there isn’t a place untouched by growth and construction. I was chatting with another ex-pat and he said something interesting, something akin to, “What an amazing time to live here of all places, with such great change and building and growth. This small city we live in will be new and unrecognizable this same time next year.” This caused me to think about the changes that will occur in each of us personally, which made me reflect on all the changes I’ve lived through back home in my country and the changes I’ve chosen to make. His comment caused me to reflect on the idea that if we are committed and disciplined, we too, are nearly new and unrecognizable after a year as well.

I know, like you, that change is a certainty. Since beginning this journey, this new life (this what I would call the 5th stage in my life), holy cow I’ve seen and experienced a hell of a lot of change. Well quite nearly every single thing in my life is different than what it was when I began in the fall of 2007. And equally the life I live isn’t the life I’d imagined, mostly it is more interesting. Since becoming single again some 13 years ago now, I have seen this and felt this great change several times. I started a new life as a single mother to two girls relocating and literally beginning a new life. I lived through the economic downturn of that time when the housing market burst and the great change that brought to the San Francisco Bay Area and into my work and life. I lived during and with many events that have impacted my life and those around me from the empowering and important social focuses in #MeToo movement to Black Lives Matter and the progress with the LGBTQ community around the world, to experiencing natural disasters and the numerous hurricanes that hit the US. Then to the more personal matters closer to home and my oldest daughter moving to live with her father just before her 16th birthday and to my youngest daughter planning, financing, and taking herself on a backpacking journey through Europe during the refugee crisis there. And then to my leaving a job, downsizing and moving to China of all things! Wow, change happens all the time around us and to us. Some things we choose to change and other times, often times we have to simply go with the flow of change. For me no matter the difficulty of change, the circumstances or the processes, mostly change is always for the better.

My conversation today highlighted my recent thinking and planning for what’s next for me in this second half of my life. I’ve written before how the isolation of the epidemic here caused me deep introspection and the look-see at what I am currently doing and what is missing and what I want more of. Lately I’ve come to recognize that I want to plan on returning home to the US in the next few years to be back in my homeland and nearer to my daughters. This realization has me thinking about what that might look like for me.

I’ve learned during my time here in China that I can live simply and in small spaces with just what I need. I’ve learned to shop more frequently for food stuffs since refrigeration in my flats has been just a wee bit bigger than dorm sized. I’ve learned to go more au naturale since my Caucasian skin and hair are different than the natives here. I’ve learned that mostly I like these things I’ve learned, and I want to take them even further in the next stage of my life.

I’ve been thinking about where and how to live when I return home. This has taken me to considering my values and how they are displayed in the how and where I live, in other words walking my talk. I’ve begun researching how to live even more simply and authentically. I’ve been measuring my sincere interest and whether I have the discipline to commit to living this lifestyle when I return home. I like things, nice things, but I realize I only need a few of these quality things to live well, and that I can still live well in a simple and smaller way.

I’m thinking tiny house or floating home with off-grid elements that help to further limit my carbon footprint. Yeah, I know, so different from how many of us have lived our lives. Even as a single parent following my separation and divorce, I lived in at least the second most expensive area in the country. Though my homes were cottage sized, and I rented, I paid a premium to live in an area with great schools, high paying jobs, and a comfortable and pleasant lifestyle. In my research I am learning I can live a comfortable and pleasant life, in style and in a small fashion.

Making this change, it’s for all the good reasons one can imagine, this musing on living small and simply and well. Altruistically it is good for our environment and our communities. Living smaller uses less of everything. The amenities for a self-sufficient home on wheels or on the water can be quite nice and can use nature to power a home (solar and wind), and technology and innovation has answers for all personal waste. Living smaller and with less is a commitment to being present and not holding on to things that aren’t required, because you don’t have the space and every bit of space is precious. I really am finding this way of being, and living, very attractive and freeing in every way.

There are also the cost savings that come with living a simpler life in a smaller space that are obvious. Smaller spaces, as in tiny houses or floating homes, cost less money to acquire and they require less to heat and cool them. Smaller spaces accommodate smaller appliances which require less to operate them. Besides the good altruistic benefits that aid the environment, saving bucks is always a good thing. Moving further into the second half of life, I don’t want a mortgage. I know no matter where I live, I will need to maintain ‘it’, but a monthly payment plus interest for the next 20 or 30 years seems daunting and actually causes me to feel anxious (getting real here).

While I am researching and learning and deciding on what’s next, I am witnessing a global community of like-minded people that recognize and feel the same way that I do about the environment, doing the best for the whole community, mostly just about living better and well and in the present moment more simply and on a small scale. People are living this pared down life in a myriad of ways, all over the place: in tiny home communities, on the road with home in tow, on the waterways moored or setting sail, so to speak. Really there are no limits to how to live more simply (a sort of odd dichotomy of words I know). There also seems to be great support and information sharing, a sort of giving back and paying-it-forward all at the same time with these communities. It is also interesting that this living smaller is happening all over the world with singles, families and retirees. It’s a global movement of sorts committed to getting back to basics and to things that really matter.

I’m not sure yet what my future home will look like. Will it be a floating home on the water? A tiny house on a trailer behind a truck or on a foundation somewhere? I don’t know yet. I do know and I have a good feeling the changes I will go through in this process of learning and then beginning to do, will bring me closer to living more simply, with greater meaning and more awareness, and to a place that will allow me to do work that makes me happy and fulfilled. So, yeah, my friend is spot on about the incredible change we will witness in this next year, or two, or three…

Susan Bradley is an American living and working as an English Teacher in Taizhou, Zhejiang, China.

Explore Related