Learning to Live With Less Again: Part 1

Ever glance over at your table and see all the useless items that seem to appear, stay there for days, and then get dusty? Nightmare fuel.

For years my partner and I were living out of small backpacks. Not those huge ones you see backpackers squeeze and push into overhead cabin bins—but the kind you take to college.

The only thing that made it tolerable was living in hotels. It sounds glamorous, and for some things, it is (who wants to clean their apartment?). But it does come with its own sacrifices. Personal trinkets aren’t going to fit in a cabin bag, so they have to go. And that blanket you like to keep for cold winters? Gotta leave that behind.

A few months ago, I wrote about creating “my work happy place”. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but looking back on it, it was a significant mistake. Apart from my neck complaining a little less, it was one of the worst places to be productive.

A work happy place that ended up not being so happy after all.

It felt like an event going up and working at the desk. When you're striving for work-life balance it's tough to seperate the two and for us, having a physical barrier didn't work.

After 6 months, I went from happily carrying around a small backpack to lugging around a large suitcase. 6 months after that, I went back to a small backpack. So what happened, and why'd it go so wrong?

The Worry of a Temporary Life

This pandemic has been tough on all of us. My partner and I were used to travelling around and spending a few weeks in a hotel each time. It was crushing when we couldn't do that anymore.

Back in early March, we were worried about the situation but we were told to calm down. A few weeks later, we were kicked out of the hotel and had to scrape together a plan. What options did we really have? Should we stay in Europe or go to Asia, where the countries were more prepared after previous epidemics?

It was a weird time. Nobody had a clue about the virus and how it spread. We boarded a plane without a mask on, heading to Singapore. We knew we probably shouldn't touch our faces, but that was all the advice we'd been given.

After a month or so of watching things go from bad to worse in Europe, things started getting concerning in Singapore. Temperature checks were more frequent, a lockdown was imminent, and we were worried about all flights drying up around the world.

Then we got kicked out of our second hotel. We knew time wasn't on our side. It was becoming clear this pandemic was going to last longer than we thought.

The temporary living was becoming an issue, and we were wasting swathes of time panicking. We needed a stable base. Being British with Brexit on the horizon—we also needed to decide about our future.

Settling Down for the Future

If the pandemic had never happened, we would've happily jumped on trains, planes, and in Uber's without much thought. We were used to living in the moment and only planning a week or so in advance.

With the world crumbling around us, it was becoming more and more difficult to sustain this life. Countries were starting to only accept repatriation flights and banning visitors. The walls of the world we're going up, but we had no idea where we'd be trapped.

We knew the country needed to have good LGBTQ+ rights. Unfortunately, that dropped quite a few countries off the list right away, which is super disappointing 😐

With our Brexit future on our minds, we decided to stick with Europe and the EU. We wanted to get residency before it became a total bureaucratic mess. It did anyway, but maybe I'll write a story about that another time 😬

After looking into each country, we settled on Portugal. It has pretty much everything you'd want as a remote worker—sun, sea, and great food. The internet is excellent, and it's an up-and-coming place which means the cost of living is pretty great.

So off we flew via London to our new home.

Arriving in London on our way to Portugal.

Filling the Emotional Void

When we arrived in Portugal, we naturally started living in hotels. After all these years of travel, why wouldn't we? The trouble was—they were terrible.

With a lockdown and most of the staff furloughed, it was tough for the hotels to manage their limited team numbers. Rooms were left dirty and unclean, service was non-existent. It felt like we were trying to keep a lifestyle alive that just wasn't going to work anymore.

We bought a car just so we could hop around hotels in Portugal and try them all out—hoping that eventually we'd find one that was doing ok. We didn't.

And so, in the Summer of 2020, we went and signed a lease for an apartment in Lisbon. That's when the IKEA trips happened.

I'll take it all please 💁

Obviously, when you move into an apartment, you don't want it to be empty. And after 3 years of travelling with a backpack, even the thought of having fancy utensils seemed euphoric. We wanted to outlive the hobbies we thought we'd so desperately missed.

So we brought some essentials. And that turned into less essential necessities. Which turned into things to make our life easier like a KitchenAid, a robot vacuum (which, to be fair, was excellent, and I totally recommend it), and the best coffee equipment.

Our life started to be less about living in the moment and more about living with things. We became materialistic, which was something we'd avoided for years. It made us miserable.

Learning to Let Go

Needless to say, the apartment dream didn't last very long. Almost as soon as we'd filled up our apartment with stuff, we found it overwhelming.

My partner's cooking was the most fantastic food I'd ever eaten, but it took a long time to make. We'd brought little cork placemats to match the hotels we stayed in, but they got dirty, and we got tired. We even roasted our own coffee but found it took a whole afternoon to set up the roaster, cook it, and then clean everything again.

Amazing food but a terrible lifestyle.

Running a software business as big as HelpDocs alongside every single chore was exhausting and just wasn't sustainable. Something had to give, and in the end, it was the apartment.

We needed to go back to living in hotels. We needed our old lifestyle back—but it needed to happen gradually.

I hope you enjoyed part one of this story! There's a lot to dig into next time about how we adjusted back into hotels without letting everything go right away 🥲

I'll be posting part 2 of the story in a few weeks—make sure to subscribe to our monthly newsletter so you don't miss it 😊