Last spring after an incredibly difficult 2016, we had reached a point with our family where we felt we were overcommitted, undervaluing our relationships, and barely getting by as a family. It seemed everything was taking precedence over what my husband and I felt to be important to our family life, and even though most of those things were good things, it was just far too much. Our relationships were strained.
I remember sitting in my car outside of Target one day after a particularly difficult phone conversation with my husband regarding our family, and I knew we needed a drastic change to get back on track.
I’d been following the adventure of my cousin’s move to a remote island with her family for her husband’s work assignment. I remember thinking that afternoon in the Target parking lot that I just wished I could do the same thing.
I joked around with her that afternoon over text, and one of her comments sent my brain into sudden overdrive. I was telling her how amazing I thought her experience was, and how I wished we could do something like that. Her reply was, “Well, why can’t you?”
Really, why can’t we?
I immediately started thinking. Really, why can’t we? What is actually stopping us?
If anyone had the flexibility to do it, we did. My husband is self-employed, and 95% of his work is done over the internet. My elementary kids attend a parent partnership, so they were used to being home a lot for learning, and so doing traditional homeschooling somewhere else would be no big deal. Our school district offers distance learning, so my high schoolers wouldn’t have problems getting their credits in. We could rent out our house, and we could go on an adventure of a lifetime.
I really only had one concern, and that was…where should we go?
I talked to my husband that night about my crazy idea, and I was so excited that he was totally on board.
Our family is happiest on the beach, so we decided to go somewhere coastal. After doing major research on several different locations and talking with many friends and family members who have traveled extensively outside of the U.S., we decided we liked the idea of being able to drive to our destination so we’d have a vehicle that fit our large family to explore and adventure in. That narrowed our choices down considerably.
We joined several Facebook groups for families who had relocated to other countries from the States. We asked a million questions, researched and researched, and finally settled on the state of Yucatán in Mexico.
We then decided to move to the town of Progreso for safety, lots of space away from the major tourist areas in Mexico, but still in a place close to incredible cultural and archeological opportunities. We wanted to experience living in an area with very little English spoken, and with many things to see and do.
Making it a reality
We spent months ironing out details, especially focusing on safety for our family, and we spoke with many people who had done this same trip before to glean all the advice from them we could. We found a terrific beachfront house on the Gulf Coast through some friends, and we put a deposit down.
The night we did that, I felt equal parts terror and unbelievable excitement. It finally started to feel real.
We announced to our friends and families shortly after that we’d be departing in the fall for a family adventure. Though I know many people thought we were completely nuts, we also had a lot of support and excitement. We had no fears, but just felt very excited and determined to make a solid, safe plan that would meet our family’s needs and give us the adventure we were looking for.
The process of purging and letting go
Immediately after those decisions were made I began the process of consolidating our life. Each day I set a goal to empty out something. I went through every drawer, every closet, every cubby and every storage place.
I’ve always been sort of a minimalist, but with 8 people in our house, we still had collected a lot of unnecessary junk. That process of purging my house of all the things that we didn’t need or use started as an exhausting chore, but soon turned into the most terrific experience for me. I let go of almost everything.
I kept one large tote of memories for each of my children, a mix of things I’d held on to for them and anything they wanted to keep of their own. Everything else we either took a picture of and then donated, or just donated and didn’t look back.
At the end of it all, I had donated SEVENTY-SIX boxes or bags of items from my home. And I couldn’t even tell you where all that stuff had fit!
We kept only 18 small boxes of what we considered important enough to keep, and all our belongings fit in a tiny storage area in our basement. We kept a few pieces of furniture but sold or donated everything else. It was like someone had taken a 100lb load off my shoulders.
Moving to Mexico: The Adventure of a Lifetime Begins
We packed everything we needed for our adventure in 6 large totes and 7 small duffle bags, all which fit in the back of our van, and we headed out on the adventure of a lifetime. Our original intention was to stay for 10 months, but because of visa complications, we were only allowed to stay in the country for 6.
But what an incredible 6 months it was!
There’s no possible way to properly summarize our experiences in one blog post. Our lives are forever changed. But I wanted to briefly touch on 3 of the major lessons I’ve learned in the last 18 months through our adventure.
1. Needs vs. Actual Needs.
There are two parts to this for me. I can’t even say needs vs wants anymore because I feel that we as humans have convinced ourselves that the majority of our “wants” are really truly “needs”. But I personally feel that is a huge mistake. I believe now that many of the things we see as “needs” (belongings) are just another distraction in life away from the things that are truly important.
The process of deciding what to keep forced me to physically touch every item that we’d accumulated over 18 years of marriage and assess what it was really doing for our family.
- Do we truly need it?
- How often is it used?
- Is the item just getting moved from place to place and creating more work for me, as I have to find places for these things that are actually not necessary?
As the mom, I am constantly putting away and rearranging stuff that other people get out. Since being back, I can’t even explain how much more time I have. Time to spend with my kids doing the things I want to do with them instead of cleaning up all day long. I will never let stuff accumulate and come before my family again.
The other part of Needs vs. Actual Needs comes from living in a place where the families we grew to know and love had very little in comparison to the life we live in America, but they were still so incredibly content.
I will always be grateful that my kids spent 6 months seeing how happily others lived without all the extras that we in a first world country feel are necessary to even our basic survival. My kids very quickly stopped saying things like “I need that pair of shoes” or “I need that new toy”. They recognized that they didn’t honestly NEED anything.
The kids they spent a lot of time with were totally content with an old peeling basketball in a dirt driveway without a hoop and they still managed to have hours of fun. They played outdoors for days on end and were incredibly content.
Our experience in the Yucatán was that relationships are paramount, and family always comes first. To see that in person was so inspiring. I have come to know without a doubt that the holes we have in our hearts (that we generally fill temporarily with “needs”) are not present when there is love and quality time with the people you care for to fill them first.
2. Your location has nothing to do with your bad habits.
We had a long list of things we felt we needed to change about our family interactions and habits while in Mexico. We naively blamed those problems on us just being too busy and overwhelmed with our life back home, and for some reason, we were surprised to find out that they just followed us on our journey.
Not only that, but by stripping away the busy facade of our lives, our bad habits were much more obvious to not only ourselves but to each other.
We didn’t come back perfect, with a family that never argues and always takes fantastic care of each other. The truth is, our imperfections still require a lot of time and effort to not slip back into.
But we did take advantage of the time we were there to recognize a lot of our individual faults, and we’ve tried hard to take steps to find solutions to those so our family can take better care of each other, even when life gets busy.
3. There is truly nothing more important than my family.
I know that sounds so cliche. But I truly think the biggest lesson I came away with is that there are very few things that should take precedence over time with my husband and children.
These moments we have together are so fleeting, and if the things we’re committing to in aren’t truly serving our family relationships, then we’ve decided that we need to seriously consider if they should be given any priority in our lives at all.
Life is short. Family is everything. I know this time I have with my children in my home will pass in a blink, and I intend to take full advantage of every moment that I possibly can.
It meant conquering some fears and stretching our family a little, but it was absolutely worth it.
Although I wouldn’t trade the experience of living with my family in Mexico this last year for anything, I’ve realized since being home that I could have learned all those things right here if I had only known better how to go about it, and if I’d had a little more courage to do what my heart already knew to be best for us.
So be brave, step outside your comfort zones, and take some chances. The payoff is worth it.
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” -J. A. Shedd.
April Stanfield is the ringmaster of the circus that is the Stanfield family. She and her husband Elijah have 6 children ages 3-17, and reside in Richland, WA. She enjoys photography, sewing, a pint of ice cream shared with a friend over a long talk, is a home renovation enthusiast, and is already scheming about her next adventure with her family. She journaled her family’s Yucatan adventure on Instagram @goingbacktous.
This post is part of a series on International Living. Read the other posts in the series:
Being Here Has Opened Up the World to Us. Jessica Templeton on living in Germany and Travelling Europe
10 Things I Learned Living in a Developing Country. Reflections on living on the Caribbean Island of Antigua
Five Ways Running Helped Me Transition During an International Move. Rebekah Orton on how a familiar running habit helped her feel comfortable in a life that was so different than she could have ever imagined in Vienna, Austria.
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