Create a Life You Love

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Why my family is moving to Spain!

I'm Stephanie May Wilson!

I'm an author and podcaster and my specialty is helping women navigate big decisions, life transitions — creating lives they love.

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Create A Life You Love: Comes out on April 30th!

Friends, not too long ago I shared the news that my family and I are officially moving to Granada, Spain (here's the blog post where we announced the big news)!

(This photo is from my third trip to Spain and my first trip to Granada!)


We leave on July 5th (which also happens to be mine and Carl's 10th anniversary!) and I think it’s about time I share the backstory of why we’re going! I actually wrote about it in my brand new book, Create A Life You Love, and wanted to share an excerpt (right here, on the blog) with you today!

So, without further ado, here's the full story of why we're moving to Spain —


Create a Life You Love (Chapter 14, page 202-214)

“As I write this, I’m sitting on the floor of a rental house in a suburb thirty minutes north of Nashville. We live here now, and if you would have told me six months ago that this is how our story would unfold, I would not have believed you.

We’d just moved into our dream house. I never in a thousand years thought I’d give it up so quickly—and I never could have imagined how proud I’d be of us for making that decision.

But let me back up. We’ve lived in Nashville for almost ten years now, and for most of that time, we lived in a lovely little house in a neighborhood we just adored. It was a medium-sized house, not tiny but not huge, and while we weren’t ready to have kids at the time we bought it, we knew exactly which room would be the nursery when the time came. It would be the perfect home for a family of three.

We thought we might want to get something a little bigger before we had our second baby, but we figured that was a long way off.

It was a long, thin house—it looked like a townhome that was just slightly disconnected from its neighbors—and it had a great double front porch, with a front porch downstairs and a balcony right on top of it. The house faced downtown Nashville, and on the fourth of July we could see fireworks in the distance, crackling and popping over the heart of the city. It was in a great neighborhood, one of the best in Nashville, I think. It’s the kind of neighborhood that people are just starting to realize is great. It has great restaurants, breweries, and shops—all walking distance from our house—but because it’s an old industrial area that people only recently began moving into, it flies under the radar compared to other popular Nashville spots. 

We were in that house for four years, and I thought we’d be there much longer—until we found out that we were pregnant with not one baby, but two.

Everything changed when the twins were born. Of course it did. I knew it would, but I was still somehow caught totally unprepared. We’d built such a beautiful life—piece by piece, decision by decision. I was so excited to invite the girls into it. I figured we’d make some space for them in our little house. We decorated our nursery with care and set it up with all the little things we thought two babies could possibly need.

We made room in our schedules too. We prepared to take a month or so off from work over Christmas, figuring we’d be able to slowly start working from home again in the new year. For as much as I’d worried about becoming the default stay at-home parent, we hadn’t put that much effort into lining up childcare. Granted, the girls were born during the height of the pandemic, so Carl and I were both nervous to bring other people around our brand-new babies. We were also both working from home with tons of job flexibility. We figured we’d trade off and work while they napped, and we also knew we’d have a day or two of help each week from Carl’s parents (bless them!). We’ll be able to do it all, we thought. No reason to worry. Boy, were we wrong.

Maybe it’s the fact that there were two of them, or the fact that their health was extra fragile because they were born slightly early. Maybe it’s the fact that we were new parents and had no clue what we were doing, or the fact that we were still in the peak of the pandemic, but our lives and home and schedule were turned so far upside down, they were almost unrecognizable.

First of all, we had seriously underestimated how much stuff the girls were going to need. Overnight, every corner of our house became a baby zone—diaper-changing stations, bottle filling stations, nursing stations, pumping stations. So much for our beautiful nursery. The whole house became the nursery. We were lucky if there was still room for us in it. 

Our schedules were also thrown totally out of whack. Because the girls were underweight, we had to feed them every three hours around the clock for months. And because there were two of them, and because we didn’t know what we were doing, and because they were having a hard time eating, feeding them took a full ninety minutes.

For months, neither Carl nor I got more than ninety minutes of sleep at a time. For months. We were in such survival mode at the beginning, we all but forgot about our jobs. (Thank goodness for our teams who kept things together!) For at least six weeks, neither of us had a clue where our laptops even were, let alone what emails we might need to respond to or work we might need to do. It wasn’t because we had carved out a leisurely season of family leave, either. (Is there such a thing?)

We were so far underwater, we couldn’t have worked even if our jobs depended on it.

Basically, we discovered that the life we had created wasn’t going to work anymore, and so we were quickly faced with two big decisions: One: Where were we going to live? Two babies, two adults, and two full-time jobs were not going to fit in our little house. And two: Speaking of full-time jobs, now that we knew taking care of the girls was a full-time job in and of itself, who was going to work, who was going to take care of them, and how were we going to make both the schedule and the finances fit?

The answer to the first question felt easier. We always figured we’d buy a bigger house at some point (and it was a viable option with where the housing market was at the time). Our life had expanded so much, so quickly, we figured this was our moment. We could use more space, it would be nice to have a place we could grow into and stay in for a while, and if we found a place in a good school district, we could theoretically stay in our new house for years and years without having to move again. We thought a bigger house was the best way to take care of our little family. We were excited about the prospect, and proud of ourselves for being in a position to be able to make it happen. We’d come a long way! So, we began searching for a bigger house.

The second thing we had to figure out was who was going to work and who was going to take care of the girls. For a while we really thought we could do both—that if we just optimized our schedules enough, worked smart enough, and traded off throughout the day, we’d both be able to work full-time and also take care of our babies with only a little outside help. (At least for a while!)

The first day I tried to go back to work—and by that, I mean do just a tiny bit of work for the first time in months—I was so excited to get back to it. We put the babies down for a nap, Carl went downstairs to take a call with a client, and I went to the bathroom, refilled my coffee, sat down at my computer, and wrote one single paragraph before . . . both babies woke up.

I snuck into their room, hoping I’d be able to quickly coax them back to sleep. I wanted to finish my email (and my cup of coffee before it got cold!). But I quickly discovered that not only were they awake, they both wanted to be picked up and they wanted to be picked up now. There was no way they were going to fall back to sleep. I knew Carl was on an important call and that I needed to at least try to keep the girls somewhat quiet. But picking up and soothing two tiny babies at the same time is remarkably difficult when you only have two arms. So, trying a new tactic, I put the girls on the floor and crouched down over them, wrapping my arms around both of them, shushing them as they wailed, and wailing myself as I counted the minutes until Carl got off of his phone call.

Forty-five minutes later, he sprinted up the stairs and found me and the babies lying on the floor together—all three of us still crying. Yeah . . . this wasn’t going to work. 

I’d spent my whole life believing (or maybe just really hoping) that it was possible to do it all—to have a great career and be a great mom—and I still believe it is. But now I know that it’s not possible without help. Taking care of two babies is more than a full-time job (especially in the early months!), and so we had a choice: either one of us needed to quit our job and focus on the girls full-time, or else we needed to hire someone to help.

But that choice was complicated too, because hiring someone to help us was much easier said than done. It turns out, finding a great babysitter isn’t like ordering a pizza. You don’t just call for help and have it in thirty minutes or less. We started searching, and interviewing, and asking friends of friends. It felt like online dating. I lost count of the number of awkward phone interviews, and how many times we thought we’d found someone we liked but then never heard from them again.

Daycare wasn’t any easier. I called around to try to find space for the girls, only to discover that I should have gotten us on a waiting list the second I found out I was pregnant—and even that would have been too late. It was going to be at least two years before we could get spots. And then there was the question of paying for it. When you’re thinking about having kids, you know it’s going to be expensive, and you know that one of the most challenging expenses will be paying for college eventually. But what I didn’t know to expect was the fact that childcare (even part-time!) was going to cost roughly the same as a year of in-state college tuition—without the eighteen years to save for it ahead of time.  

Finally, we found both an amazing new house and a wonderful nanny, and for the first time, I felt like maybe we were going to be okay. We could both keep working, the girls were being taken care of by someone amazing, and we had enough space in our new house for us all to be there together—Carl doing his work, me doing mine, and our wonderful new nanny taking care of the girls. We loved being able to keep tabs on how the girls were doing throughout the day, lend a hand if they needed something, and go see them for a few minutes every time we had a break between meetings. It really was a total dream—dream house, dream childcare situation that afforded us the time and space to do our dream jobs—until we realized just how much this dream life was going to cost us, and the fact that we might not actually be able to afford both the help and the house we thought we needed. 

We Changed All the Variables and It Still Wasn’t Working 

The dream life we’d built for ourselves was too big. Carl and I each felt like we were trying to take care of two babies and two businesses and a big house while wearing a too-bulky, too-hot ski suit. We were sweating and stressed and overwhelmed—our frantic efforts to maintain our new life ended up robbing us of the very peace, rest, and family connection we’d been looking for when we made all these changes in the first place. We were living the dream we’d worked so hard to build, but feeling totally crushed by it. 

One night Carl and I were standing in the kitchen, looking at our budget and wondering how in the world we were going to make it all work.

With a new house, childcare bills that cost the same as a new house, and other variables we hadn’t even known to expect, our expenses had skyrocketed, and our income wasn’t able to keep pace. Now instead of living comfortably within our means, we were scrambling to make enough to support our life— and we were coming up short.

We talked again about what it would be like for one of us to stay home with the girls. If we were able to cut childcare out of the equation, would that make the math work? The answer was no. We would lose more in that equation than we’d save. The numbers still didn’t add up. The fixed elements in our picture were our jobs and our home. (And our family, of course! They were a given). We’d already made significant changes to the variables in our lifestyle—we’d cut out all the extras and thrown overboard everything that wasn’t nailed down. Our fixed elements were all that was left.

Finally, Carl spoke the words that felt like our only option. “One or both of us needs to get a different job, Steph.”

He was right. If we were going to keep our life as it was, we had to make more money to support it. We had to make a change. And Carl was suggesting that we change one of our fixed elements: our work.

Now, for some people, this would totally make sense. Say, for example, that you don’t love your job. It’s okay, but it’s not your dream job by any means. If that were the case, the idea of having to make a change in your career might feel scary but also somehow freeing—an idea you hadn’t considered, but now you can’t believe you didn’t think of it sooner. That was not the case for us. 

If we changed jobs, Carl would have to give up his stake as an owner and partner in the company he’d been working for years to build. He’d have to stop working with people he enjoyed and respected—and severely disrupt their lives in the process. If he walked away from his work now, it would be like building half a house and then abandoning it. You’d never get to see it completed, you’d never get to see it become the thing you always knew it could be, and you’d never get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

My little business, on the other hand, is the character in this story that I’ve loved the longest. My business predates Carl, my girls, and any place we’ve called home. For me, my business isn’t just a paycheck; it was my first baby. It’s the reason I jump out of bed in the morning—I can’t wait to dive in. It’s the thing I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about—not because I’m stressed, but because I love thinking about it and I have a thousand and one ideas. My business isn’t just a job; it’s the work I feel I’m meant to do in the world. So my work was not something I was willing to just walk away from.

As I stared back at Carl, considering his words—“We need to get different jobs, Steph”—I knew that our home wasn’t the fixed element I wanted to protect. Our work was.

So we turned to our other fixed element: our home. Should we move? Could we move? The idea was such a radical left turn, we couldn’t believe we were considering it. We loved this house. It was our dream house! It felt like we had finally just gotten settled. We bought this house so we could stay in it for a long time. We couldn’t possibly leave it . . . or could we? As we talked about it, we realized our home wasn’t quite as fixed as we thought it was. 

For some people, their home may truly be nonnegotiable. Maybe you live on the absolute perfect block in the perfect city in a home that you want to be your home until your kids grow up and go to college. Or maybe you live in your childhood home, a house your grandpa built, or next door to your parents. None of those things are true for us. Our home is new to us. It fits us, it’s beautiful, we love it, and we could stay there forever. But I don’t know that we will. Even if it’s our forever home, I don’t know that forever needs to start now.

And that brings us to today. We spent so much time and effort building a beautiful life in a beautiful home, and now we’re dismantling it all. We put our dream house up for rent, and in the process realized we could make more money for our house if we rented it furnished.

So instead of packing up our lives and bringing all our belongings with us, we left most of our things behind. We packed up our beds and the girls’ toys, along with the mementos we love the most and the random furniture pieces we love the least (we left all the pretty stuff for our renters!), and we rented a house for ourselves thirty minutes north of Nashville.

Our dream house looks exactly as we left it, as we created it for our family, but now a different family lives in it, and we live in a house that, while it’s perfectly fine, doesn’t look much like us. Our new house is smaller and, blessedly, less expensive. And best of all, it’s close to Carl’s parents. We’re also just down the street from Annie and Quinn’s new preschool, and their grandparents live right in between the school and our house. Carl’s parents can pick the girls up from school, or we can stop by their house as we’re walking home. I hadn’t known to dream up this version of our lives, but I’m so glad we got creative enough to discover a different way of living. 

While I feel sad about letting go of the previous version of our lives—whether just for a season or maybe even forever—the possibilities this change opens up for us are so exciting.

For years, I dreamed about bigger and better—collecting, curating, decorating, and finding bigger and bigger spaces to call home. But now I’m dreaming about life with less—less to carry, less to worry about, less to keep up with, less to pay for. Lightening our load has left me with more room in my mind, in my heart, on my to-do list, and in my soul.

It’s been such a good feeling that we’re ready to downsize even further. We’re asking questions like, “How much lighter could life feel if we went a little bit smaller, or a lot smaller? How much stuff do we actually need?” We’re looking around at the possessions we’ve accumulated over the years, and while some of them are treasures I wouldn’t dream of saying goodbye to, others are just baggage— things I’m tired of carrying around and would be happy to let go of now that I realize that’s an option.

By renting out our house, we’re able to bring in some additional income, a welcome relief in a season of life that is still so expensive. Also, in renting out our house—even if just for a season—we’re able to ask and answer the questions “Where do we want to live?” and “What could this next season of life look like?” in a whole new way. 

What If We Moved to Spain? 

“What if we moved to Spain for a year?” I asked in a conversation with Carl one day. I threw the question out almost as a joke. (Too soon?) We were in the thick of playing Tetris with our work, childcare, budget, and schedules, and each scenario seemed more frustratingly not-quite-right than the last. So far, the options we’d been playing with for how to make it all work were variations of different muted blues, and the option I’d just thrown out was a bright lemon yellow. 

I love Spain. Have I mentioned that? Some of the best, most pivotal moments of my life have happened in Spain. It’s sacred ground for me, the place where my soul both rests and comes alive in a way it doesn’t anywhere else. I love the Spanish culture, and I love the Spanish language. I started learning Spanish when I was just ten years old, and it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to speak such good Spanish, I can pass for a local. (My Spanish is good, but I have a long way to go!) I’ve also always wanted my kids to speak Spanish, and I’ve been dreaming about living in Spain with my family for years. But I felt like it was probably a far-fetched dream, at least until our kids were older. Most people don’t move to a new country with twin toddlers, and probably for good reason.

But to my total surprise, Carl was actually into the idea. And the more we talked about it, the more research we did, the more we realized that it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. This time, it wasn’t a dream that was out of budget and out of reach. It was actually very much within reach—a logistical challenge, sure, but definitely doable—and it was a unique solution to many of the problems we were facing. It was also within budget.

At the moment, our cost of living living and working in Spain is less than it is in the US, so it would be a way for us to significantly lower our cost of living, as well as give the girls a chance to learn a second language—a priceless opportunity!

Maybe lemon yellow is our color after all? 

I’ve spent so many years striving for more, thinking that bigger was better in so many ways. For one, I thought our family would be better off in a bigger house. But along the way, I forgot to ask why: What’s the point? Why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve, and is this the only way to do it? Who told me it had to be this way, and is there any other way to live our lives—a way that might fit me and my family even better? I think there is, and at least for the next year, that looks like picking up our family and trying out life somewhere else for a while.  

Both of our family’s moves, first out of the city and then out of the country, will require us to live with less. We’re living in smaller spaces, and we’ll have sold or put into storage most of our stuff. But I’m excited for a season of less because it will give us space for so much more—more freedom and flexibility, more breathing room—in our finances, our schedules, and our souls. 

It does feel a little bit weird to be dismantling our dream life. And I know that what we build next might look significantly less impressive to someone peeking into our lives from the outside. Renting a little place well outside the city doesn’t look as good on paper as owning a big place right in the heart of it. And taking our toddlers across the ocean to rent an even smaller place in a country where we don’t know anybody might look to some like we’re making a gigantic mistake. (“Kids need stability. Is that a good idea? Is it safe? And will they even remember your time there? Shouldn’t you wait until they’re older?”)

But I know, and I’m constantly reminding myself, that we’re the ones who get to decide, and I’m so proud of us for doing just that. With a generous helping of both authority and creativity, we’ve chosen this adventure for this next season of our lives, and I cannot wait. 

_____________________________________________

Friends, I am so excited to bring you on this adventure. If you haven't joined my newsletter already, make sure you do (here's the link)! That's where I'll be sharing Spain updates as well as right here on the blog.

And if you enjoyed reading this excerpt from the book, but want to start from beginning, you can grab your copy of Create a Life You Love by following this link!

In your corner always,

Steph


P.S. This photo is from the very first time I ever went to Spain — I was a sophomore in high school!

I got to travel around and see a bunch of different cities with other students from my high school, and then I spent a week living with a host family! I was in a town called Huelva.

I lived with a mother and daughter and they dressed me up in an outfit that women traditionally wear during the Feria de Abril! (Which, I got to go to a few years later in Sevilla in college!)

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  1. Such an interesting read and a great reminder that creating a life we love is a work in progress — it shifts and changes with our life seasons, and that’s OK. Thank you for sharing!

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