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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 30, 2020
Can you fit your entire life into a suitcase and a carry-on? For one Newfoundland woman, this seemingly impossible task is her new norm – Betty Hanlon Favre is a minimalist on the move.
When her husband was offered a job with the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar in 2006, Claude Favre and Betty Hanlon Favre began weighing the pros and cons of moving halfway around the globe. They decided to take the leap.
Prepping for that first big move marked the beginning of Betty’s journey into a minimalist lifestyle.
“Learning to detach from material things has to be the most freeing feeling in the world. To be able to honestly say, ‘I don't miss it, I don't care, it's only stuff, I don't need it,’ is an amazing, almost euphoric feeling,” she said.
Not having to worry about “stuff” gives Betty more free time to spend with people she loves, and doing things she loves. Of course, having a job that keeps the couple constantly moving to various countries all over the world helps them continue their minimalistic lifestyle.
“Owning nothing relieves you of so much worry. I think most people if asked, would say they spend a lot of time stressing about things they own,” she mused.
“Imagine being free of all this, imagine being able to just pick up and go whenever you felt like it without having to worry about the material things you are leaving behind. That's my life now and I love it!”
Betty recalled that first big move. The couple was travelling with two large pieces of luggage, a carry-on, and a backpack.
“This was long before my minimalist days,” Betty said with a laugh.
On their way to Doha, the couple stopped in Melbourne, Australia for a month while Claude worked at the Commonwealth Games, and vacationed in Thailand for two weeks before heading to Qatar.
“Can you imagine landing at a little outdoor airport in Koh Samui, a place where most carry only a backpack, with all that luggage? It was so embarrassing,” she said with a laugh.
After living in Doha for a year, and then Rio de Janeiro for six months, Betty moved home and Claude continued to travel with work. He moved to Russia in 2012 to prep for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Betty officially retired in 2013, splitting much of her time between Canada and Sochi, before moving with Claude to Baku, Azerbaijan for the European Games in 2014. The next year, they moved to South Korea for about three years before the 2018 Winter Olympics. Next was Jakarta, Indonesia, for the Asian Games for six months. After that stint, the pair took some time off to backpack Asia before moving to Beijing in 2019, the same year that Betty officially sold her Newfoundland home.
“I always said it was the home of my heart and I loved being there. But everything outlives its time. My life had changed and I knew that when we retired it wouldn't be in Newfoundland,” she explained.
She headed home to pack up in 2018 before putting the house on the market.
“Once I started, I was amazed at how easy it got and how much relief and happiness it gave me. And I have never once missed one item or regretted my decision.”
She called up family members to take whatever they wanted, donating whatever was left to a thrift store. Now when she visits Newfoundland, she is able to see things she once owned in her family and friends’ homes.
When asked what kind of reaction her family and friends had to her massive purge of materialistic items, she said that few were surprised – Betty has always preferred a simplistic life.
“Many people are happy at home and have no desire to travel extensively, but if you do plan to spend a big chunk of your time travelling in the future, especially for extended periods, it's much easier to do – mentally, physically and often financially – without all the trappings that western society has told us are necessary for us to live happy lives,” she said.
She has held on to a few things, however – four small packing boxes to commemorate her life. The boxes are filled with home movies and photos, mementos from her childhood, some special holiday decorations, and memories of her son Seth’s father, who passed away when Seth was seven.
“Minimalism to me doesn't mean having nothing,” she added.
“Wherever I live has to feel like home to me. I'm pretty resilient but I do have to make the place mine. I find that photos of family and friends do that, maybe small mementos that remind me of someone I love, anything that warms my heart or makes me smile. But I don't get attached to most things. They are temporary. When we leave we will give it all away and start over somewhere else. And the giving is wonderful too.”
When Betty and Claude left South Korea, they hosted a party where no guest could leave without taking an item. They were able to unload towels, bed sheets, dishes, suitcases, and deck furniture, later donating what their friends didn’t need.
“I liken it sometimes to a travelling circus. The beauty of this life is that everyone we know is displaced. They are restarting their lives just like we are,” she said of her friends also working for the Olympics and other Games, who are also constantly moving to follow their work.
“There's no keeping up with the Joneses in our life abroad … None of us knows exactly what the other owns in their home country. The subject rarely comes up and no one cares. It's a lovely way to live.”
For anyone looking to downsize or live a more minimalist lifestyle, Betty’s advice is simple: “Start now to detach, to downsize, to plan, to let go of all the things that are tying you down and holding you back,” she said wisely.
“Once you get started it gets easier. And keep in mind, it's only stuff, let it go!”