Chelsea’s blog, Frolic!, was one of the first that I ever read. Her approachable and beautiful space is unique on the internet and a visual feast where the feast is hearty and simple with a fresh spray of flowers to brighten the mood. In June of last year, Chelsea announced that after fourteen years of living in Portland, Oregon, she was headed to Europe. Seemingly just like that, she sold off her possessions, secured her first stop across the pond, and set off for a grand adventure. For a year, Chelsea traveled throughout Europe and she’s recently settled into a new home in Lisbon, Portugal. This fall, I had the chance to ask Chelsea about her new lifestyle, her relationship to stuff, and how she’ll go about making a new home for herself in Lisbon.
Erin: In writing about your decision to leave Portland you wrote, “There is more than one way to live and I’d like to try this new way out for a while.” What kind of life were you in search of when you left Portland?
Chelsea: It wasn’t quite clear but I knew it was out of the framework of working 70 hours a week to maybe afford to live and eat and enjoy the rest of life that doesn’t involve working. It seems like the majority of us are trapped in this lifestyle and as a small business owner, I was burned out. I know that to most people working to afford a house and food is called being a grown up, but I don’t really think this is the only way to live. I was itching to simplify.
For years, I’d wanted to work on organic farms in Europe, though it seemed a dream of a 20-something. Thirty-seven seemed a bit old for a farmstay, but I knew I needed a change. I needed to be away from the computer and closer to the dirt, even if it meant stepping out on a limb. It gets harder to leave your comfort zone the older you get, I’ve found.
I found this website called, Workaway. I thought it was brilliant. Basically you work 4-5 hours a day in exchange for room and board. You get to live with farmers, and experience their work and culture in the most hands-on way possible. Everything in life comes with trade-offs, and this lifestyle comes with one too, but it was something new and I wanted something new. I set up a farm stay in France for one month, got a one way ticket to Europe for $200, and left the rest of the trip unplanned. I sold everything and after a mini breakdown at the airport, went on my way.Erin: Did you find what you were looking for?
Chelsea: I found a wonderful way of life for a while. It was tough to give up having my own space and my own schedule but I found so much satisfaction in living in the countryside and digging in the dirt. When you live in the country you don’t need or want to spend money or buy things and nobody cares what job you work or what your accomplishments are. The simplest things bring joy: walking, cooking, digging up your food from the garden, enjoying a sunset, taking care of living things. It’s a really beautiful way of life and I have zero regrets! I came out with more focus and an idea of what I wanted from life.
I found out that when everything (family, community, possessions, home) is stripped away from me, there are some things that remain very important. I need: connection, family, community, photography, flowers, gardening, cooking. So this is the goal moving forward: focus on these things that make me happy!Erin: As a prop stylist by trade, I imagine that your relationship to worldly possessions is unique. On one hand, I imagine you have special appreciation for lovely, beautiful things. On the other, perhaps, you feel more detached from them because props are not particularly imbued with meaning?
Chelsea: When you spend your day driving around town in a cargo van buying $1000’s of dollars worth of props from Anthropologie and West Elm for photo shoots, those products start to mean very little. I am very detached (possibly to the extreme) from possessions! There are very few stores I walk into and find myself ooh-ing and aww-ing. As a prop stylist, after a while, you’ve seen it all. What’s really special are the one-off pieces, the heirlooms, the perfectly weathered linens, or the family postcard with old script that tells just the right story. Erin: This will be a recurring question in this series, and I’m curious to hear your take on it: When you packed up your Portland apartment how did you decide what to save and what to sell? Were there things you had trouble parting with? Did you keep anything at all in storage?
Chelsea: No, I don’t believe in storage units. That said, I did keep two boxes with family. In those boxes are special heirlooms, family photos, and letters and a few special handmade ceramic pieces I picked up on travels or just especially loved. What was fun is that before I left, I had a big tag sale with some friends, and lots of blog readers and close friends showed up and took away props and special things. Now I see those things at my friends houses or showing up on Instagram and it makes me smile! I love it!Erin: During your year abroad, you moved fairly frequently—going from farm stay to farm stay and country to country—what was it like to be moving so frequently? Did you ever experience a sense of being unmoored?
Chelsea: I tried to stay in each place at least a month, if not longer. I call it slow travel. I really enjoyed being on the move and experiencing so much change! Toward the end, I started to long for my own home and to stay in one place. I always drag my feet with change. I complain about it, but once it happens I get very energized and excited by each new place. I noticed this pattern about myself on the road, too.Erin: You recently settled into a new apartment in Lisbon, Portugal. Why Lisbon? Does living outside the US feel integral to your new mode of life?
Chelsea: In the end it was really a no brainer! I was in a bit of a dark place before I landed in Lisbon, and what I found was one of the most healing experiences of my life and some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. Lisbon is by the sea, it’s very affordable compared to the USA, and the people are the most real and down to earth of anywhere I’ve traveled. Also:, Sunshine!! Being an expat is overall the most natural thing in the world for me (that doesn’t mean that it’s without its challenges, of course!). The decision is something I’ve never felt more sure about!
Erin: Having sold so many of your belongings—and coming off of traveling with just a backpack for a year—what do you think your approach to homemaking in Lisbon will be?
Chelsea: I am looking forward to collecting things and making a home. I brought some special artwork from friends and family photos and I’ll collect old furniture and build my home slowly, as I’ve always done. I don’t think that traveling changed my approach to homemaking too much. I’ve always been quite a minimalist, but I think I’ll be even more comfortable with that now. I don’t feel the pressure to make a perfectly “done” home, as perhaps I did a few years ago. I am more happy in haphazard, bohemian, imperfect spaces. In fact, I love them more than the alternative. I lived in and visited a lot of spaces in Europe that were quite “undone” but incredibly cozy, and I think I now prefer that to something perfectly curated or coiffed!Erin: Did your year spent traveling change your relationship to making a space to call home?
Chelsea: I do love beautiful things and I find myself in not quite the opposite state of mind as before I left, but a little more in defense of possessions. I think carefully and slowly about what I collect. Collecting handmade or meaningful objects can be really wonderful and these things can bring joy to your life. And it can be done in a very resourceful way. There’s something very invigorating about making do with what you have—a thrift store table cloth, a special ceramic platter you splurged on at a market. Flowers foraged from a local park can be beautiful and special!
Erin: What kind of advice would you give to people hoping to make a similarly drastic change in their day-to-day life?
Chelsea: Imagine your life without everything you know—your job, your home, your community. What becomes essential to you when everything is stripped away? Focus on it! And if a possession really does bring something beautiful and special to your life (or offer a bit of therapy in a trying time), keep it!
+To read more about Chelsea’s take on simplicity, head to her blog, Frolic!
+For a dose of Portuguese sunshine, follow her instagram account.
The Simple Matters Series is inspired in part by curiosity piqued while writing my book of the same title. I wanted to know what simple matters were for other folks. And why simplicity mattered to them in the first place. My own story comes out on January 12, 2016. It’s available for pre-order right this way.
All photos from Frolic!, courtesy of Chelsea Fuss.