My first place in Mexico will always have a special place in my heart.
Minimalism the Key to Living in Two Countries
Living in two countries is something I always thought you had to be fairly wealthy to do. The few people I knew who did it are quite well off. They keep entire second homes in Mexico that they leave empty for months at a time. They didn’t worry about air fares.
With time I learned that with a simpler, more minimalist lifestyle, I could lead basically the same expat life, one remarkably similar to theirs, for a fraction of the cost. In fact, I could make it cost less to live in two countries than living in one.
As a "soltera" in Mexico (single women in Spanish, a single man being a soltero), it was particularly crucial to develop a streamlined system if I was going to be going back and forth between Mexico and Denver. No one would be backing me up with, "You've got that passport, right?" Even with a small apartment in the States, there're plenty to do when you're orchestrating part-time expat life.
Middle age is already a perfect time to simplify your life. For most of us, life conditions have changed substantially, even though people often resist registering that fact. A lot of articles aimed at my generation discuss how to decide what to give up, and whether you should. The trend seems to be simplification even if you don't spend half your life in another country.
If you are divorced, maintaining all you might have maintained as a couple drastically cuts into the time you need to rebuild your life. I have seen divorced friends enslaved by the world they built as a married person. They are unable to let go of the familiar even though the work to maintain it has effectively doubled. Others keep huge houses after the children have long gone when the only reason they bought it in the first place was for the school system.
I've read that a rich existence means your life, rather than lifestyle, should be complicated. I'm going to interpret that as expect people in your life to be complicated and make sure you don't spend every week-end cleaning out the roof gutters and running errands. When I began shucking off many of my possessions, first after a divorce and then as I made the transition to living in Mexico, I came across this story.
A man went to visit an influential rabbi’s home for a few days. He was shocked by the paucity of belongings and by how simple the rabbi's home was.
When the visitor expressed his surprise, the rabbi said to the visitor “But you yourself only have a small suitcase with you.” The visitor said yes, but that it wasn’t his home, “I’ll only be here a little while,” he told the rabbi. The rabbi said “Me too.”
Numerous studies indicate people are happier when they invest in experiences rather than things. Millennials have absorbed the lesson. Consumer goods manufacturers note with dismay their different buying patterns, their doing rather than having.
Eventually things, big houses, expensive cars, recreational toys, electronics, clothing and objects d’art have to be packed, cleaned, maintained, carried and worried over. Not that having things is bad, but whether you live in two countries or one, if you hear yourself saying no to spending time with the people you care about because you have to clean the garage, it’s time to take a look at whether you own your things or they own you.
In our work lives we had to learn about prioritizing and discarding non-essential activities in order to be better at our jobs. We either learned how to be efficient or our bosses sent us to workshops and conferences that taught us. One exercise I remember from one such productivity class is to take the tasks you have to do and give each task a 1,2 or 3 ranking. Then throw away the threes. You can apply that to possessions too.
Nothing forces this issue of prioritizing and paring down to the ones, twos and threes like living in two countries. When you have to put things into storage twice a year, you see them differently. How many times do you want to pack and move that pair of roller-blades you haven't used in 15 years? (Another idea from a couple I know is to take pictures of what's in the box if the item triggers a sweet memory).
For me, the most radical decision I made in order to simplify my life enough to live in two countries was getting rid of my car. If you live in a city with Lyft, Uber and maybe a little public transportation, you absolutely don’t want to worry about owning a car if you live most the year in another country.
In addition to being chauffeured around by some really fascinating people, not having a car means I don’t have to worry about parking tickets, parking places downtown, car maintenance or having all the tags and permits. Not having a car has simplified my life substantially.
Not only did I save a lot of money and simplify my life, participating in the sharing economy is more fun. Exploring it has made me feel part of a movement. These frequent exchanges with everyone from app developers to med students connect me to a larger and younger world.
Having a smaller (but well-loved) place has given me the freedom to come and go to Mexico with only a few days preparation. Even worst case scenarios of renting my place out while I am in Mexico raise hardly a blip on the fret-o-meter. Security is not an issue like it would be leaving a larger home behind. The smaller my U.S. place, the lighter the weight around my neck.
Remember that living in two countries doesn't mean you have to (a nod here to Tom Petty) live like a refugee. I still come home to certain things I love. What I choose to leave behind in each country symbolizes which side of my personality dominates while I'm there.
In Denver, I come home to a few pieces of art that have special meaning and my shearling coat. In Mexico, it’s a boogie board and a creme brulee torch. Different possessions, different worlds.
On top of the more simple life you will have to carve out if you plan on living in two countries, once you in Mexico life is more simple because you desire less. You're absorbing a little bit more of a less materialist culture each passing day.
You won’t realize just how relentlessly you are being sold to in America until you live in Mexico a while and then go back to the U.S. We have become completely numb to the bombardment. After even six months in Mexico, you will be hyper- sensitive by how incessant the sales messaging is when you come back home. You'll notice it while on hold on the phone, when you're charged for add-ons, and when you are held hostage by a screen while pumping gas.
"You can’t take it with you" certainly applies to being a part-time expat. I use a little of the extra money I save by being more generous; treating people, hosting things, helping people out a little more.
It's a great feeling to go back to exhibiting some of the generosity I remember having in my twenties and I felt I could still afford in my 40's. In the years since generousity had become a trait I see less and less of in both myself and others.
Living in two countries as a single person simplifies your life, and through that simplicity enriches it, paring your life down to what matters.
A Tiny Life provides resources for tiny homes and simpler living.
Before you go, best to examine your relationship with your stuff - Ventanas Mexico
A songwriter who has basically written the soundtracks of our lives under the radar and keeps his life simple, the story of Max Martin by DiWeek-End - a great read on simplicity and art.
Next up - Living in the so- called "tourist zones" don't mean you sacrifice the feeling of being in Mexico, especially since the tourists happen to be, uh, Mexican.
Most recent post: Mexico may be the place to find your true purpose in life.
Hi, I'm Kerry Baker and a partner with Ventanas Mexico and the author of the "The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," and "If Only I Had a Place," for the aspiring expat renting in Mexico. Don't be an expat who doesn't speak any Spanish! Use the guide to link directly to the best tools and features on the web, the jewels that Google doesn't want you to know about.
The Interactive Guide is an interactive tool combining the best of internet based tools into lesson plans for all levels. Conversational Spanish takes time. Get started before you move to Mexico! Study from your e-reader or tablet (I love my Acer Aspire. It's lightweight and slim for travel)
"If Only I Had a Place," is your guide for renting luxuriously for less in Mexico. More than a how-to book, it walks you through how where you rent determines your infrastructure as an expat. Book includes a listing of rental concierges.