2017 is my life-changing year. Of course, my life had changed dramatically the years I got married and had my children (2010, 2014 and 2016, in case you’re wondering), and other years were marked by momentous events, but only 2017 could be defined as life-changing for me.

I loved my former job. I worked for an amazing boss, with people I respected, and in an environment that was intellectually challenging. I was proud of my position, and I worked hard to achieve my success in the nearly 13 years I was with the organization. I broke the six-figure salary ceiling a few years ago, which was major for being a woman in a scientific field in upstate New York. My husband Jason, who works in the same industry but in a technical role, only finally surpassed my salary last year, and we’ve been together 10 years.

My husband and I bought a large, grand home in the country with acreage and a barn, and got busy remodeling, renovating and adding on to the home. Each weekend I would go to stores and come home laden with bag upon bag of items for our beautiful new home. I bought new furniture to fill up the then-empty rooms (which would later be remodeled as we had our children, requiring more purchases of different furniture and decor). I “traded up” my perfectly fine bath towels for designer ones, bought tons of new gadgets for our huge kitchen, and reused very little from our previous home, opting for new colors and decor throughout. I justified the purchases because they were for our new “adult” home, the place where we would raise our kids.

We spent weekends mowing our five acre lawn, cleaning our 2,500+ square foot home, and building a 1,100 square foot deck with pavilion, built-in fire pit, fountains and more (because we love entertaining). This was on top of both of us working full time, commuting between 35-45 minutes one way (both of us–in opposite directions, naturally), and having two little girls under the age of two. We had three dogs, a cat, and ten chickens to care for, and each fall Jason would cut nine cord of wood for heating in our wood boiler over the winter, and I’d harvest the apples from our small orchard (18 trees) and make every preserve known to man.

We loved aspects of it, obviously–but more and more, it felt like our requirements and burdens were increasing, along with our stress levels. As we advanced at work, we sacrificed at home. Our girls were growing so quickly, and my mom, who we paid to come to our house to care for them, would tell me the funny stories of the day–but I wasn’t featured in them.

Around this time, I was watching more and more TED talks about pursuing your dreams, reading about the minimalist movement from Joshua Becker and Courtney Carver, and feeling more unsettled and dissatisfied with the way I was living my own life. I realized that I loved a lot of things about our lives, but not others. I knew that I didn’t want a huge, glamorous life–I wanted to live simply, and provide my girls a stable and loving home. I wanted to tap into my creative side–while I liked how my job sounded to other people, I was never passionate about it, like I was about design and organization.

At this same time, my company was reorganizing, and I was reassigned to someone else. Our management/work styles didn’t match, and work became something I dreaded. The halls around our organization filled with whispers of impending layoffs, and a week after the first sweep, I went to management and offered a voluntary separation. I had decided that my happiness was worth more than $100K, and I was going to pursue my dreams.

 

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Emily Behnke

Formerly a high level professional in a scientific organization, Ms. Behnke now owns and operates an organization and design company focused on living well in small spaces.