Three years ago, Antonia and I decided on a life change. We were living in a house in the idyllic county of Dorset in England. Dorset is a place of outrageously stunning villages with thatched-roofed cottages, rolling hillsides, and spectacular coastline, the sort of place the English Tourist Board might put on the cover of its brochure. It would be many people’s dream to live somewhere like that, and we were living the dream.
But it didn’t feel like a happy dream. We like to be outdoors a lot, and frankly, the weather in England is pretty dreary for six or seven months of the year. Also, we were working in demanding, stressful jobs, just to pay for the mortgage, bills and vacations.
I was working in an out-patient unit. Being a therapist probably might sound quite easy. You might imagine clients turning up on time, ready for their weekly chat with the therapist, it all sounds rather cosy. But the reality of working with people who are often in crisis is not like that at all. It can be seriously demanding, with clients pitching up on the doorstep in all states of distress.
At the same time, Antonia was working in a special unit for children with severe emotional disorders, often working long shifts and anti-social hours. We were taking three or four vacations a year to warm, sunny places, just to keep a feeling of balance in our lives.
We realized we had dug ourselves into a stressful hole. It can happen to anyone. You are so busy day-to-day that you don’t realize that you are digging until one day you look up and suddenly see how deep you have got yourself in. We needed change, and we knew it was up to us to instigate that change. Simply wishing for something better wouldn’t work. We needed to take action.
We started by taking stock of where we were. Our lives were full, and we needed to clear the decks to be able to start making changes. Changing your life becomes more difficult if unnecessary commitments and possessions are weighing you down, and we had got ourselves into that position.
It’s so easy to fill your life with clutter, both physical and mental. It’s easy to overburden yourself with commitments that you don’t need any more, and possessions that are doing nothing for you.
We all need to accept some commitments. But few of them are life-long. And life isn’t about having a house full of miscellaneous stuff. You can have possessions that are like a weight tied around your neck, or alternatively, you can use possessions to facilitate your happiness, and when they have served their purpose, you can let them go and move on. Possessions can be very temporary, like a hire car or a hotel room. You don’t need permanent ownership to get pleasure from them, just a short-term lease on their time.
It was on one of our vacations that we began to take stock. We had returned to Portugal’s sunny Algarve region for a visit. In the past, we had lived there for seven years but hadn’t been back for almost as long. It felt strange going back; I wasn’t sure how I would react. I needn’t have been concerned. It immediately felt like home. On the first night, we decided we wanted to return there to live, if not all the time, then at least during the months that are wet and gloomy in England.
It sounded a great idea. Live in a gorgeous part of England in the summer, and then Portugal the rest of the year. But how could we achieve this? Surely, we would need to be rich to do that? How about our jobs? Surely, we would have to take on even greater financial commitments and the stress that comes with that? How about all our possessions?
We had our goal, but we needed a plan so that The Path would reveal itself.
And it did.
We called it living with a lighter touch.
Rather than take on more expense and commitments to realize our dream of a two-centre lifestyle, we decided to go the opposite way.
We would cut our commitments and outgoings, be able to save money, be happier, stop working so hard, and live a life that really was a dream.
Sounds impossible? We’ve done it. Here’s how.
We looked at our situation. We lived in a family house. But there was only the two of us and the dog. The youngest of our children had left home. In fact, we only regularly used about half the house. We didn’t need all the space. So why were we living there? Why were we working ourselves into the ground to pay for it?
The rest of the house, the half we didn’t use, was only useful as somewhere to keep all our possessions. But why did we have all this stuff? Most of it we didn’t need. I mean, why did we have hundreds of CDs that we had acquired over decades, when we didn’t play them anymore? So, we turned the ones we really liked into MP3s, which we store on a cloud somewhere, and got rid of all the discs.
All the books we never read went as well. We can store hundreds of books on a reading device and then just have a small bookshelf for the ones we really wanted to keep in print format.
Antonia had a lot of items of sentimental value, but she realized that most of them she rarely looked at, so she took photos of them, so she could remind herself of the sentiment, and let the physical objects go.
I went through my wardrobe. About half the clothes in there had been unused for at least a year. I was keeping clothes on the basis that I might wear them one day, but if that day hadn’t come in over a year, it probably was never going to arrive, so half my wardrobe went to charity.
I found it hard to part with my fly-fishing gear. I had a bond with it. But I hadn’t fished in six years. There was no reason to keep it. It was just taking up space in a storage room. So, I closed my eyes and let it go one morning at a car boot sale.
Then the furniture started to go. Why did we have three sets of tables and chairs just for us two? We never watched the television, so we gave it to someone who was grateful for it. Gradually the house started to empty.
Over the next few months, we sold what we could on websites like Gumtree. We were frequent visitors to car boot sales. The local charity shops started to bulge at the seams with all our donated items.
The point of all this was so we could downsize. I had worked out how much all those vacations had been costing us. We had been spending a lot of money, just so we could spend about 30 days of the year in sunny places and recharge ourselves.
I ran a calculator over how much we had been spending and compared it to what we would be spending in our ideal new lifestyle. The figures were amazing.
If we downsized and had a smaller place as our summer home in England, we would lose the mortgage. Then we could rent an apartment on the Algarve coast of Portugal for eight months of the year, which would cost less than the vacations had been costing us.
We would no longer need vacations, as we would be living in a sunny place. At the same time, we would feel the relief of having fewer commitments, be less stressed and happier. And our wonderful new lifestyle would actually cost us less than our stressful lifestyle had been.
There was just one snag. We would still need income while we were in Portugal - we would still need to work. But we didn’t want to put ourselves in the situation that we were working all hours in Portugal, find ourselves back under pressure, and lose the benefits of having a good lifestyle.
But I believe that if The Path you are on is the right one for you, solutions will appear. There are always going to be obstructions in your way, but on the correct Path, getting past these will feel like opening doors, not like breaking through brick walls, it will flow. As long as you continue to take action, you will reach your goal.
When my first book became a success, I realized the potential of using my professional training in another way. I now had an alternative to being employed. I could publish some more of my writing. I could also build a small caseload of private clients, and see them via Skype when a face-to-face meeting wasn’t practical. In short, I could free myself up from the need to be in one location all the time.
As for Antonia’s work, she found a job which is ideal for her at an English-speaking school in Portugal. In order that she wouldn’t have the daily grind of commuting, we found an apartment in a seaside town 10 minutes from her work, with sea view, beach, and palm trees included. Then, during the school’s summer break, we could enjoy the summer in England.
We transformed our lives by taking Daily Actions over a period of time until eventually we found ourselves at the end of our Path and living our dream. No mysticism, no so-called Law of Attraction, no walking across hot coals on motivational training courses. We had simply harnessed the compounding power of action leading to an outcome, repeatedly, over time.
The first time we moved to Portugal, which was back in 2003, we arrived in two cars, which were packed to the roof with stuff we thought was essential. Then we had a container of more things we thought we couldn’t leave behind delivered from England. As it turned out, most of the stuff we had delivered at great expense wasn’t of much use at all. We had just moved a load of clutter across Europe.
The second time we moved to Portugal, in 2018, we had learned from our previous experience and it was different. We had set ourselves the target of moving in one car, and we wouldn’t get anything delivered. It sounds far too little, moving to a different country, with just a few bags in the car. But we had become really ruthless at working out what we really needed. What would be the point in bringing lots of kitchen equipment, for instance, when there would be equipment in the new place we would be renting? So, we just took clothes, work items like laptops, and a few personal items. There was even room for my golf clubs. We moved country in one saloon car.
Back in England, we now have a mortgage-free loft apartment to return to when we choose. The location is wonderful, with stunning views over the West Country. A management company looks after the building maintenance. The bills are low. We can just lock up and leave for as long as we like, whenever it suits us.
So, we are now in Portugal, and plan to return to our home in England to enjoy next summer and catch up with family and friends.
Living life with a lighter touch has become fundamental to our view of the world. It means that we are not stressed. We have what we need to keep us happy and discard things when they no longer serve us.
This could mean discarding physical things like clothes or books that can go to a charity shop, where they can serve someone else. It could mean discarding our current apartment in Portugal, if we decide we want to live somewhere else - which will be a simple matter, as we don’t own it - and then someone else will have the opportunity to enjoy it.
It means not holding on to ideas that no longer serve us. It means having the flexibility to make our lives a rolling creation. Maybe after next summer in England, we will come back to Portugal. But maybe we will go to live for a while in Spain or Italy or Florida.
We don’t need to think about that now. Our next Path will reveal itself if we continue to take Daily Action and live in accordance with our beliefs and values. Action always leads to an outcome.
We have that freedom now. By downsizing on what we don’t need, we have a bigger life.
So, could living life with a lighter touch benefit you? True, you might not want to move around as we do, you might be happy living where you are. But are you weighed down by ideas, commitments and possessions that no longer serve you? Do you get stressed-out working all hours just to pay the bills so you can keep working? Is changing your life for the better so difficult because you don’t have the mental or physical space to work with? Do you spend your time doing things that you think you should do, rather than what you desire?
There are some commitments we make that we want to be permanent, such as to the people we love. These commitments are a joy, not a burden. But commitments to paying for things that don’t serve you any more, or to ideas you don’t believe in any more, are just clutter in your life.
You can take the first step to living with a lighter touch right now, today.
Have a look around you. What can you see that no longer serves you? What can you let go of? It may be a physical thing. It may be an attitude that keeps causing you problems. It may be a habit.
Let go of something now. When you let go of physical or mental clutter, you make space for something better. You make space for a little magic to come into your life.
Update: It's been two years since I wrote what you have just read. It all worked out. We are splitting our time between two beautiful places. I am currently in Portugal writing my next book. But the big joy of living with a lighter touch is that you can keep refreshing your life easily. Although we are currently living the dream we had, we are now creating our next dream. It's an exciting way to live.
If you want to find out more about having a Path and the philosophy behind this piece, take a look at "Change Your Life Today"