The morning I turned 27 we were relocating from an Airbnb in upstate New York to one in Connecticut. After four weeks at an incredible farm, we had two items that still needed to be eaten before we left: a can of lentil soup and some brown rice. Not exactly the ideal birthday breakfast, but all things considered, we had actually timed our month of grocery shopping rather well. We heated up the soup, served it over the rice, washed the dishes, and packed up the car.
When we lived in St. Louis, we had a bad, persistent habit. Despite the undeniable presence of food in the pantry, fridge, and freezer, dinner time would roll around, we’d glance at the kitchen, and declare that there was absolutely nothing to eat in the house. Then we’d either call the local pizza place with the best coupon campaign or we would make our way to our neighborhood’s fast food epicenter exactly 1.7 miles away.
We tried many tactics in our attempts to kick the eating out addiction. Despite shopping checklists, batch food prep, and a healthy dose of self-talk, we’d end each month over budget (and often a bit more overweight). So this sudden willingness to suck it up and eat a lentil/rice birthday breakfast caught our attention. Living this way has allowed previously aspirational habits to more organically emerge—we’re no longer swimming upstream. Here are seven self-discipline-dependent habits that have stood out.
1) Buy Less Stuff
Once we had decided to leave St. Louis, the most daunting chore we faced was whittling down our impressive accumulation of stuff. Every piece of clothing, furniture, and filed paper was sorted, and if it wasn’t headed to Craigslist or Goodwill, we knew we’d be paying to store it for the foreseeable future. The goal quickly became minimalism, which has persisted from the moment we packed up the two-door hatchback for Saskatoon to our present trip. We only travel with the essentials, and after we had hauled our bags in and out of the first three or four Airbnbs, the definition of essentials became even more stringent. We’ve transitioned from two-day shipping junkies to a family with two backpacks, two duffels, and a dry bag of dog food. Perhaps the reason simply buying less stuff has been so easy is the fact that most Airbnbs are packed with amenities. We get to enjoy fully-stocked homes with a delightful rotation of unique and luxurious items without needing to buy, and thus accumulate, any of them.
2) Finish Our Food
In addition to the lentils and rice, we also had a five pound bag of carrots to consume right before we left the Retrograss Farm. Carrot sticks became the vehicle to finish the hummus, then the salad dressing, and the last batch was roasted up for dinner with a little olive oil, salt, and cinnamon. Grocery shopping for Airbnb stays has been a learning curve. We’ve tossed an impulsively bought raw coconut, abandoned a bottle of worcestershire sauce, and five of the six rice cakes we purchased weeks ago are still sitting in the cabinet, unapologetically flavorless. But in comparison to our old habits, our food waste has dropped significantly. We start each week or month with an empty fridge that will need to be empty again before we leave. These parameters have heightened our scrutiny at the store and our awareness of what food is actually in the house. Couple that with our budget dedication, and what we buy almost always gets eaten.
3) Stay on Budget
It probably comes as no surprise that the nightly rates for Airbnbs across the country exceed the cost of rent in the midwest. When we were experimenting with budgets that would make this lifestyle feasible, certain categories received severe cuts. The Home Goods category disappeared, Clothing took a serious hit, and even Odin’s “Alligator and Hotdog” budget (read toy and treat budget) shrunk. However, the motivation to stick to the budget we created skyrocketed when the benefits were so immediate and gratifying. And as we continue to stumble across enticing things to do, our motivation to find ways to trim that fat persits. When we’re in cities, public transportation and good old walking have reigned supreme over Uber, and we’ve almost completely eliminated our fast food habit in order to afford trying more local restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries as special outings.
4) Wash the Dishes
My grandma once told me that her own grandmother washed all the dishes in scalding water, dried and stacked them, and then proceeded to scrub each surface in the kitchen including the floor… after every. single. meal. What self-discipline. This thrice-daily dishwashing routine seemed completely unachievable to me until we arrived at the first of many Airbnb kitchens with a tiny drying rack. Suddenly, keeping up with the kitchen became a necessity. Cleaning up one of these kitchens if they got out of hand would be much more brutal than simply running the dishwasher twice instead of once. Curiously enough, after the dishes are done, the bed is easier to make, the living room easier to straighten, until the entire space is nice and orderly. Once we were in the rhythm of keeping other folks’ Airbnb spaces to consistently tidy, we looked back and wondered by we hadn’t provide ourselves the same courtesy in our old townhouse.
5) Walk the Dog
At our first Airbnb, Odin averaged about four walks a day. Now, granted, we were next to this stunning park with winding walking paths in Canada’s beautiful summer weather. The walks were lovely in and of themselves. But much more importantly, we were determined to keep him worn out. Here was our high-energy, suburban pup who had lived in the same home for two-thirds of his life now being introduced to a new space every seven to ten days. We are so appreciative of Airbnb hosts that allow pets. It’s their generosity that enables us to live the way we do. The commitment to set Odin up for success has led to more walks than ever before. And the symbiotic benefit is that we have consistently moved more, taken breaks from our phones and laptops, and explored each neighborhood we’ve visited, enjoying views like this.
6) Go to the Gym
After living in St. Louis for several years, we joined the local YMCA, and like many new members, January was great, February was mediocre, and by March, we were just having $60 bucks pulled out of our bank account in exchange for one or two workouts. However, the ability to put on the coat and head out to the gym on dark winter evenings has turned a 180. When we stay somewhere for full month, I’ll look to join a local yoga studio or gym with a monthly rate. It’s an immediate way to connect with the community and create a healthy, daily routine. But the active decision to join a new gym each month creates this eternal January effect. The commitment is always fresh enough to get off the couch, into tennis shoes, and out the door.
7) Explore the Area
As we approached our last few days in St. Louis, we started to realize how many of the city’s iconic sites we hadn’t seen despite our combined 12 years as residents. We’d never gone to the Basilica or the Missouri Botanical Garden or the newly renovated park at the base of the Arch. When we were swimming in time, there was always something more pressing than enjoying the city around us. Now, each Airbnb reservation comes with a very concrete end date which creates a sort of urgency to explore and appreciate wherever we happen to find ourselves. When will we be near the public footpaths again in the English countryside? When will we be this close to Cooperstown again? The indefinite someday delay has been replaced by a much more active approach. We look at our calendars and decide when we’ll go on a hike or visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. When we checked into our most recent Airbnb, we settled in and almost immediately started exploring our host’s recommendations. After a great cup of coffee at the brilliantly-named Two Wrasslin’ Cats, we set off to see the Gillette Castle State Park we’d seen advertised miles before we reached town.
Standing above the Connecticut River as the sun started to dip, this Jocko Williams quote came to mind: “Discipline equals freedom.” Over the course of the last six months, we have transformed our lives, and much of this change boils down to our own self-discipline. During moments of frustration or anxiety or exhaustion, it has repeatedly come down to our ability to do what we will want to have done instead of what, in that moment, we want to do. And while it might not be the most celebratory breakfast, lentils are a great source of protein.