What I learned during my visit to Florida

It’s been two months since I got back from southwest FL. It was a fabulous way to spend most of the winter. This has been a dream of mine -  to spend at least a month somewhere, anywhere, down south. I'm only sorry I haven't done this sooner. I learned so much and I can't wait to share!

My husband and I were fortunate to be able to have this opportunity. Having family in the right places doesn’t hurt either!  Who could say no to seven weeks in the sunshine state over spending another dreary, gray winter in the Northeast? But this didn’t happen without lots of planning. From arranging for my staff to cover my pet sitting jobs, to putting money aside so we could afford this time off, to setting goals for what we wanted to accomplish during this time, this wasn't something we did on a whim. Nor was this about a vacation - it was about working toward making some of our dreams come true.

So here's a few things I learned:

1. There is no such thing as too much sunshine! Here in central PA, we get more cloudy days than sunny days. Day after day, week after week, it’s hard to feel happy and energetic when you don’t see blue skies and sunlight. Everyone I spoke to in FL agreed they noticed how much this affected their mental state too.

I could hear it in my voice.

I felt and sounded much happier.

I was more invigorated when I worked, more excited to get outside and move my body, and full of more energy just in general. It made the winter go by so quickly. No more being stuck inside feeling as though the walls were closing in on me. No more waking up sluggish, dragging myself out the door to go to work. I slept better and felt better, in every way.

2. We don’t need as much stuff as we have. My husband’s parents have had a home in southwest FL for over 40 years. So we were fortunate that we didn’t need to find housing. My mother-in-law might disagree though! Showing up with 2 car loads full of stuff, 2 more people and 2 dogs did cramp her style. But she was a good sport about putting up with us sharing her space. She owns a cute little bungalow on the gulf coast, right on the beach. So not only did we get to spend our time in the warmth, we also got to wake up and fall asleep to the sound of the waves lapping on the shore.

In order to not interfere with my mother-in-law’s lifestyle, we mostly kept to one part of the house – our bedroom, adjoining bathroom, and sunroom. Which meant we needed to pack carefully. And leave a lot of stuff behind. It turns out, we probably over packed. I brought a suitcase full of clothes and wore only about half of them. The new rave is coloring and I got a kit for Christmas and brought it down. Never touched it. Jewelry I was sure I’d miss, didn’t need to come.  I read a lot and brought several books knowing I would.

Otherwise, we spent so much time outdoors – walking, scouting locations for photo shoots, networking with other pet business owners, job hunting, spending time with our dogs and watching sunsets. In the evenings we ate dinner with my mother-in-law and watched the news together. Other than that, I didn’t watch any TV and I didn’t miss it. Instead, I read, wrote in my journal, played with my dogs, and worked on my photography business. It was so freeing not having all this stuff.

I felt I lived life more fully those seven weeks than I have since I was a kid.

When I got back home, I wanted to continue to live this way. I went through everything I own and got rid of what I don’t want, need or never use. I purged ½ my wardrobe! I donated books. I recycled magazines. I gave away stuffed animals, scrapbooking materials, party supplies, and so on and so on. It felt good. The more I threw away, the more stuff I wanted to get rid of. My closet is emptier, but I feel as though I have more to wear. My office is cleaner, neater and I feel happier working there.  My house is almost de-cluttered, and so is my brain. I feel lighter, freer, and happier.

It’s amazing how much you accumulate over the years. And how wasteful it is. Money I wish I had now. Fewer hours I could have worked. Instead, I’d rather travel. See the country. Experience the world. Meet people from all walks of life. Take photos of this great beautiful earth of ours. Those are the things that matter to me now.

3. We all need time off just to rest and relax. While I have a job I love, taking care of animals is a 365 day a year job. Even though I do take a vacation – I join my family for our yearly beach week every July – I don’t get enough down time. Which is why I’m working on making the transition from a full-time pet sitter to a pet photographer.

Taking a break is good for our souls.

It gives us a chance to break bad patterns, rejuvenate, and take time to do things we enjoy but don’t do otherwise. While a week or two week vacation is nice, it’s not enough down time to reconnect with our selves. So many of us are busy from the time we wake up until we go to bed. Naps are hard to come by. Even a full night’s sleep is rare. A week at some beautiful resort is enough time just to catch up on some much needed zzz’s before heading home and getting back into the grind. I found that not having to spend my days around pet visits meant I lived more in the moment. I was more productive knowing I didn’t have to watch the time. Even when I watched the sunsets, or took walks, I was more present. It didn’t happen the first day or even the first week. It took some time to break my usual patterns and learn to just be. And when I came home, I was more fully present at work, with friends and family. I was more aware of everything around me. I paid attention to the birds, the clouds, the music I was listening to, my dogs, etc. If I could find a way to keep this balance each and every day, this is how I would live. Because this is living life fully.