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Balancing the Big and the Small

Submitted by Bethany on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 10:00

I want to get a little philosophical with you today, so bear with me. Over the past year of travel and living nomadically I have learned a lot about myself, what I want out of life, and what I feel called to do in this life. There have been a lot of ups and downs, plenty of uncertainty, and not a small amount of fickleness on my part (I tend to change my mind fairly often when it comes to things like what I want for dinner tonight let alone what I want out of the rest of my life.) But I think this week I finally had a breakthrough, and, helpfully, it all has to do with what our blog title is all about!

What do I mean by the "big" and the "small"?

We have a sidebar about it and Joel wrote a post of his own about it once, but essentially what we mean is this - the big and the small is about appreciating all the joys and experiences in life, both big and small. The small things in life might be things like having an organized kitchen with all the things you need, having your place filled with decorations that are meaningful or special to you, and comforting routines or traditions that rhythmically mark your years. The big things are more likely to be new experiences that take you out of your comfort zone, a life event that completely shakes things up (getting married, having a child, a new job, moving, etc.) or, the big we chose - traveling the world. (Side note: small does not mean insignificant, both big and small things can be really significant in life.)

My life before had too much small. 

I first found myself feeling dissatisfied and restless in the summer of 2016. We had just bought and moved into our first home, we were both working jobs we thought we would be at until retirement, and suddenly, my life stretched out before me in a series of endless routine, where nothing exciting would ever happen. We didn't have a lot of vacation time to travel the way we wanted and I just felt stuck. I couldn't name it then, but suddenly this week I realized that this is what was wrong for me then - my life was all about the small and the big seemed too unattainable. So I blew up our small (yet very comfortable life) in favor of this very big adventure of traveling the world full time. (It took us 2 years to work up to actually leaving.)

And yet, I find myself feeling dissatisfied and restless again.

I almost hesitate to admit this here because I know I am living a life of incredible privilege right now. Just this calendar year we have lived in England, France, back home with friends and family in the States, traveled London and Italy, lived in Bulgaria, visited Thailand, and now we are living in Australia. I am so grateful for the opportunities and adventures we have had. And yet. Now I find myself longing for more of the small again. 

My life now has too much big.

The problem is, we swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. Currently, our life is almost all about the big. We go to new countries, ones we might never visit again in our lifetimes, so we feel the pressure to do all the things. But doing all the things is expensive, and exhausting, and sometimes I just want to sit at home and watch movies all day. I think this "travel fatigue" first really hit me in Bulgaria, and it's why I  barely left our apartment for the first half of our time there. After spending the spring and summer gallivanting all over the Midwest, London, and Italy all I wanted was to sit and enjoy the small comforts of home - a cup of tea when I want one, a bathroom always available, being able to truly rest. I zeroed in on the small in Bulgaria and I really had to push myself to get back to experiencing the big (though I am so glad I did - we'll likely never go to Bulgaria again and it was amazing.)

But also, the small we do have isn't really ours.

What makes the small things in life really special is that they are different for each person - you might have a favorite mug, a favorite place to sit in the living room (like Sheldon's spot), a side of the bed you prefer, that perfect blanket and pillow. Whatever the small things are that bring you joy in life, chances are, a lot of them are unique to you (remember, small does not mean insignificant). When we travel and live in other people's homes, we have the small comforts of home, but that small isn't our small. And when you are living in someone else's home there is always an amount of underlying stress, no matter how welcoming the hosts. We are still always somewhat worried about breaking a dish or spilling something on the couch, or God forbid, something happening to one of the pets we care for. So even when we want to settle in and enjoy some small things, it's not the same as being able to do so in our own space. 

I need to find the right balance for me.

So, my big breakthrough this week? I need to find the right balance between the big and the small for me. (Joel made this breakthrough a while ago, it took me a while to catch up, haha.) I don't want to go back to the life I had before, but I don't want to keep living the way we have for the past year, either. I've shared that I have been offered a job in ministry in the UK that will last for five years, and I'm hoping that once we are there and settle in that we will be able to find the right balance of big and small for us. We'll have our own space again so we'll be able to bring in the small comforts that make a home a home for us. I don't even care what our housing situation will look like - I've learned over the past year I can make almost anywhere work as long as I can make it my own - and I'll finally be able to do that. Give me some fairy lights, scented candles, and a well-stocked and well-organized kitchen and I will be a happy camper. And when we feel the need for some big in our lives? We'll visit the castle down the road or hop on a short and inexpensive flight to some major city in Europe. We'll have the time and the money to keep exploring the world the way we want to, but now with a home base. 

What makes the right balance isn't the same for everyone.

Perhaps the most important point I want to make is that what makes the right balance between the big and the small things in life is going to be different for everyone - and that's okay. Some people really want all the big in life - I follow a lot of travel people on Instagram who are on the move even more often than we are, who have goals of seeing every single country in the world or whatever and sometimes I get exhausted just watching them. Then I remember, all that big is great for them, it's just not right for me. And that's okay. I feel like our (American, at least) culture right now really pushes the big things in life - moving up in your career, being ambitious, having goals to strive for, constantly reaching and pushing for more (*cough*RachelHollis*cough*) and while that's great for some people, it isn't for everyone. There is nothing wrong with finding all your joy in the small things - in the routine of kid's soccer games and church every Sunday and spaghetti for dinner on the same night every week. The point is you have to find what works for you. 

I'm 33 and I'm just starting to figure out my balance.

I'm still figuring out the right balance for me and I likely will be for a long time - I have no illusions that everything will magically fall into place when we settle down for a while in the UK. However, I feel like now that my eyes are open to this need for balance - now that I can articulate what the big and the small both are for me and what level of each is important to me - I'm more likely to get there. Before, I would feel dissatisfaction but I didn't know how to name what exactly I was dissatisfied with - now, when I get that feeling again, I'll be able to identify what is wrong (too much or too little of one or the other) and therefore the fix will be that much easier to find. 

If you've read this far, thank you for indulging me, and let's chat!

What do you think about our concept of the big and the small? Do you have the right balance of both in your life? Do you find yourself longing for more of one or the other? What are some ways you cultivate big or small things in your life? I'd love to hear from you! 

XOXO, Bethany 







Your thoughts?

First off, it's important to note that missing something small or routine can become a BIG problem. Like if you're allergic to some food, experiencing someone else's small can take you into the emergency room. So it's important to note that small isn't insignificant. It is routine. It's comfort. The Big is all about taking you out of your comfort zone.

So, for me, some of the small things that I miss:

  • Having the TV the 'right' distance from the seating. A certain size and quality of TV dictates the distance you need to sit from the screen. I like this distance! Why are TVs so far away?! And where's my surround sound?! 
  • Futons. I don't know why, but I find sleeping on a futon once in a while incredibly relaxing. Maybe a nap once a week or a full night every month or so. Boy do I miss sleeping on a futon.
  • Shaths. Yeah, it's a made up word, like 'brunch'. It's a shower/bath. The water falling on me whilst I relax in a tub full of hot water... it's the best. Here we always have showers or baths, but rarely the two together. Makes me sad. 

I'm sure there's more, but those are probably the small things I miss most. Talk about first world problems! But we all have those little comforts that we surround ourselves with... and when they're gone, it's hard to fill up those missing spots with something else.