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A minimalist life: Aube family trades work stress and possessions for experiences

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“We want to look back on life and say, ‘I can’t believe we did that,’ rather than, ‘I wish we did that.’”  Words to live by if you’re Mandy and Evan Aube.

Those are the words Mandy wrote down last October, after the Aubes sold their house (with its inground pool and double garage), their car and most of their  possessions, and moved into a three-season trailer on the Scugog River. Soon afterward, they and their three-year-old son, Emerson, departed for Costa Rica.

Lindsay family sold their big home and car and most of their stuff. Then the pandemic hit.

Mandy’s burnout at work (she’s an elementary school teacher) had precipitated a re-evaluation of their priorities and set them off on a new course.

Evan explains: “We started having open conversations about what it is that we truly wanted and needed out of life and what we wanted for Emerson.”

What they craved, they decided, was quality time together as a family and memorable experiences. Selling off possessions made both possible.

The minimalist lifestyle felt like a comfortable fit. For the trip they downsized even further, challenging themselves to pack everything they needed for six months into carry-on backpacks.

(In two of their entertaining Aube Family Adventure videos, available on YouTube, they document how that’s possible).

Costa Rica

The Aubes chose to spend a month or two in each of four quite different locations, living like locals and learning some basic Spanish as they went along. Evan, an account manager for a digital marketing agency, could continue to work full-time, remotely, so long as he had a Wi-Fi connection. While Evan put in his workdays, Mandy and Emerson explored their new homes and Mandy planned weekend adventures.

They started in Cabuya, a remote fishing village on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. Fish from local boats and veggies from farmers’ truck helped sustain them. For entertainment, howler monkeys and capuchins and iguanas swung or skittered by. Down by the ocean, Emerson assisted baby sea turtles that had been slow to hatch (an experience featured in another of their YouTube videos).

When they left Cabuya, taking a “puddle-jumper plane” across the peninsula to Monterrey, they donated their extra food, clothing, beach toys and personal items to two local families who’d been particularly welcoming. It was an opportunity to give back, and, says Mandy, “We were grateful we only had our backpacks. It was easier to travel.”

They were in Monterrey at Christmas, and as a Christmas treat rode horseback at the nearby Arenal Volcano.

Next stop was the Caribbean side. “Beautiful and raw.” Mandy adds, “The village was small, with quaint bikes with baskets, and everything was laid back.” They stayed in a beach house a mere 50 metres from the ocean. “The coral reef was stunning.”

From there it was on to Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast. Before leaving they said farewell by taking a sunset catamaran cruise, swimming with dolphins and snorkelling.

The final stop was to have been San Jose for a taste of city life. But while they were driving in from the coast their phones started lighting up with big news. The date was March 14 and with a pandemic surging, Canadians abroad were being urged to contact embassies and get home.

They arrived back on March 16. Two weeks later, the borders shut down.

Lessons Learned

When Evan and Mandy first shared their plans with friends and relatives, they were met with skepticism.

“They thought we were nuts,”  Evan says. But their experiences have validated and reinforced for them the value of a minimalist lifestyle and the importance of work-life balance. Stepping out and exploring the world — and doing all this with three-year-old Emerson — was something they wouldn’t trade for, well, the world.

Clearly Emerson is a very adaptable child who is thriving. Having him along forced his parents to slow down and appreciate what was around them. “He’s three feet lower, taking in everything,” explains Evan. “For him, everything is amazing, whether it’s sea turtles or — his current obsession — sticks with interesting shapes.”

Costa Rica introduced the Aubes to a new culture with healthy values, particularly when it comes to stewardship of the environment. “Most places we stayed used glass, charged for takeout containers, required composting and recycling, and encouraged awareness of human impact on our oceans and wildlife,” says Evan.

They also discovered that even living out of backpacks, they had more than they needed. As Evan observes, “I would take half as many shirts next time.”

What’s Next?

The Aubes are, of course, in a three-season trailer, so after Thanksgiving they’ll be off on their next grand adventure. Southeast Asia is on their list, and Vancouver Island is another possibility.

But with COVID-19 uncertainty, they’re leaning toward a return to Costa Rica, given that it’s been hit less hard by the virus and is a place they know.

What’s certain is that they will be collecting lots of new memories. Mandy wrote down at the outset: “When you decide to collect experiences over things, you’ll never run out of storage space.” Perfect words to live by for a minimalist family.

Jamie is a retired teacher and serves on the Kawartha Lakes Library Board and the City’s Environmental Advisory Committee. For The Lindsay Advocate he has revived the 'Friends & Neighbours' column he once wrote for the Lindsay Post.

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