2016, Year in Review

This marks our 4th annual review  

For the last few years we have been writing “year in review” posts and continue to learn a great deal through the process.  For us, this is an annual reminder to stop, look back and consider things moving forward.  Each year it provides the motivation and opportunity to look at the big picture of our lives, remember where we were at this time last year, and then begin setting goals moving forward.

What went well in 2016

We continue have much to be thankful for, and much of our “plan” was very effective in 2016.   We also continue to celebrate our successes along the way.  As such, here are some of the things we think went well in 2016:

Travel Among or at the top of our list of successes this year has to be travel. We traveled even more than we ever have in 2016, 156 days in total away from home.  Almost half of our year spent traveling!   Most of that came in the form of our extended time crafting a dream BC overland adventure that lasted all summer and info fall.

We spent several days each week in vancouver playing beach volleyball with friends and enjoying a very simple life, that just happened to mean living in our sprintervan less than a block away from one of the world’s best urban beaches. IMG_1731 IMG_1197

img_3954 img_3092



When not in town we explored much of BC that we have aways wanted to see but never had the time for.  We took extensive road trips to the Okanagan Wine Country, the Sunshine Coast, Glacier National Park in the states, the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver Island and Cape Scott and several other smaller adventures. 

All in we logged well over 15k miles on the sprinter and had an absolute blast focusing on adventure, exploration and nature as our main driving force. Our campfire time went through the roof this year, which can't be a bad thing in any year, and the memories are as overflowing as the good photos (thank goodness for instagram for giving a place to log/share them all!!)summer-road-trip

img_2403-1-copy-1 img_2242




We also made a few trips to the oregon coast, a trip to california to dropoff E the bus, and quick but magical tropical vacation with friends to tulum early in the year, when we all flew into the Yucatan.  

We would love to see more of that sun filled travel in our future (as well as more extensive travel with friends).  Oddly, right now we mostly expected ourselves to be driving south towards that sunshine, but instead we’re embarking on a snow-filled winter road trip.


Financial Stability/Profit Much of our travel this summer was actually driven by a desire to make and save money…though that admittedly sounds a bit backwards to most.  We finished our projects last year and tapped ourselves out financially, which mean a need to focus on saving and rebuilding a solid/secure foundation financially.  As it turns out, we now make more money when traveling than at home, because others want to rent out our space and it pays better for us to leave and let them stay there instead.

It’s certainly “unconventional” but at least for now, renting out our home and the other spaces we've designed/converted into short term rentals is a large part (the largest) of our financial plan.  Combined with the profit from our zenbox design work,  this summer allowed us to put money back into our accounts, watch those accounts start to grow and start giving ourselves a bit of breathing room.  That breathing room proved that our plan could actually work, even with us out of town and having to pay for someone to manage our places in our absence. 

Knowing that is true is now providing us with even further confidence to keep moving in the direction we have been and to continue our nomadic lifestyle traveling, exploring and adventuring with happiness as our focus rather than money/survival.

Happiness We continue to be happier than we can possibly put into words.  We have crafted the life of our dreams and are loving every single minute of it.  We have now been free of the jobs that we hated (and that were full of stress and unhealthy lifestyles) for over 4.5 years now.  Our confidence in being able to continue that indefinitely is greater than ever before and we are in love with our lives and the direction things are headed. 

We feel fulfilled, energized, and excited for the future.  We still have issues, like everyone - but being happy thankfully is not one of them.

Business Our fledgling business, zenbox design was very, very busy this year.  What started as a handful of projects helping neighbors design small homes rapidly grew to a (seemingly highly sought after) design firm and it has been a blast to learn as we go/grow.  We saw a few projects completed this year, have several more in various phases of the permitting/building process right now, and are also working on very exciting designs for future custom home designs.

zenbox not only continues to have ample (maybe too many) requests from prospective clients, but also got some exciting media coverage throughout the year, including a nod from the New York Times and Making the cover story of one of our favorite local magazines, 1859, Oregon’s Magazine.  We are humbled by those articles and its fair to say nothing quite prepares you for walking through the grocery store and seeing your home on the cover of a magazine!

The best business related news for us is that it has proven to be a job we can do remotely/ while traveling.  I remember years ago on the road in mexico watching those who could work remotely and make money from the road... and there was no question it appeared to be the “golden egg” in terms of travel. 

It wasn't part of the plan with zenbox (really there was no plan with zenbox), but somehow not only did we happen into a small business, it also seems to not only function while we travel, but promote and work well with our wanderlust.  Huge win!!zenbox_design_ecoadu611img_4738



Doing what scares us We started this process last year and tried to make sure we stuck to our commitment in 2016.  Probably the most terrifying for us this year was in agreeing to be filmed by Houzz TV for a segment about our minimalist lifestyle and garage turned home base.

This film led to the horrific process of having to see/hear own faces and voices on film... but also led to many many interactions with others about the very topics we enjoy the most (namely how to minimize/regain control of your own life, find happiness and live simply/happily).fam


Community This was one of our largest goals for 2016, and while we would love to see this develop we did see a few strides in the course of the last year.  Being on the road for almost half the year led to us meeting and connecting with many other like-minded travelers.  It also meant we could see and connect with many old friends along the way, which we hope to do even more of this year.

We also got requests from several organizations/publication who wanted to share our story, which led to an increase in side conversations about our lifestyle, interest from others and how we might be able to help.  The largest was the Houzz video linked above, but we also shared our story with the crew at The Tiny House Podcast,  Zephan Moses' year or purpose podcast, A radio show from the other Portland and a few other small media events...all of which definitely scared us but also led to community and conversations we love.

Im also proud to say that there wasn't a single email call or text sent to us from anyone with a question, thought or comment about our lifestyle or asking for help with their own that we didn't reply to personally.  We love hearing from and connecting with others, and continue to enjoy helping in whatever small way we can as others look for the confidence or “nudge” needed to chase their dreams, find happiness or passion or simply talk something through.

Health/Activity We owe much of the improvement in this category to our travels, as much of those travels were focused on volleyball…but we also got better and better as the year went on, rock climbing while in town and hiking/backpacking as we got deeper and deeper into the back woods and forests of BC (and Alberta).   

We look forward to picking up where we left off almost immediately in 2017 with our snowboarding journey and more spring/summer travels next year.



Sprintervan This one is almost difficult to put in the positive column as it also features many of the things we still need to work on (stress, deadlines, etc), but the simple fact is that late in 2016 we successfully started and “finished” the process of converting our 4x4 sprinter van into a functioning and comfortable home-on-wheels. 

Our sprinter allowed much of the travel/adventure already discussed in 2016 to happen even as a mostly empty shell, but we are thrilled with the product of our hard work this fall, and are already out living in and using our adventurevan during our winter road trip.img_4647img_5366

Hurdles in 2016, or areas for improvement

As with any year, there were also hurdles for us.  As much as we would rather focus on all the positives, we cant ignore the parts of our lifestyle that we would like to improve.  After all, it’s only from trying to improve upon problems in the past that we have found ourselves reaching more and more goals over the years.

Business We saw a few large hurdles for the business this year (not surprising for rookie small business owners).  The largest, is that we started out the year far too busy, which turned into work and stress…things we swore this company would not become.  Where my business skills clearly do not lie is in saying no or turning people down.

While we enjoy every client that we worked with in 2016, the simple fact is that we took too many of them at once to sustainably manage the company on our own and still enjoy the process.  We have ratcheted well back in terms of the client projects we will take on at one time and have already felt the balance shift back in the right direction!

We also found solutions for several of the largest hurdles during the course of the year.  We outsourced our drafting so that we could focus on design and developing things with our clients.  We also found help in passing plansets through the city permitting process, which quickly proved to be among the most stressful parts of the process for me personally.

Moving forward balance is the big focus for us both in and out of the business.  I enjoy this process so much that it's difficult to even call it "work",  but that also makes it far too easy to slip into old habits of working long hours and attaching stress and deadlines where they don't need to be. 

All good lessons and things to keep in mind if we want this business to continue, much less if we decide it should grow.


Balance True in business…but really, true overall this year.  We found ourselves VERY focused on whatever the main task was at hand.  Made even more evident by our last few months working on the van build, with long 12-15hour days in the shop and almost no time for anything else (which meant almost halting the travel, community and health focuses in the process). 

I continue to learn about myself that it’s far too easy for me to get hyper focused, to set almost impossible goals or timelines and then have no path out of the corner I've backed myself into other than hyper-focus on that goal and add stress along the way. 

I'd love to continue down the path of finding balance between all of the things I love pursuing (though there are almost too many of them for that to be an easy task), to keep the stress away from all of them and to keep them all in the positive category rather than the negative.

Travel further abroad More, more, more!  As successful as our year of travel/adventures was, we continue to be excited for more.  Our current travel plans will remain van life focused primarily because it allows karma to be with us and is affordable.  That however, hasn't stopped us from beginning to feel the drive for travel further abroad.

We often have friends discussing the option of travel to far away places and we certainly don't want to always have to say no and simply enjoy the postcards/slideshows from home afterword.  We are glad to see our finances start to recenter, but also know that we have a long way to go if we want to be able to say yes to these exciting trips/adventures on a moments notice without breaking the bank as a result.

Yes, we realize this means a bit of having our cake and eating it too.  The desire to live free of jobs and still somehow have the funds to take exotic/tropical vacations with friends seems like too much to ask for…but what’s the use of writing a list of goals if you cant allow yourself to dream about (and try to find a way to achieve) what you really want.

IMG_7390 (1)

Art and Creativity This year was all about travel and client projects (and the large sprinter conversion project).  What we didn't do much of this year was create or make art simply for the art of doing so, or for gifts for others.  The last few months we were in the shop long hours and days finishing the sprinter and watched closely as those around us conceived of, crafted and wrapped presents for others. 

Watching them made us realize exactly how much we missed that process and we look forward to finding opportunities for creativity in the coming year.  I did start a collaboration with a neighbor as we started designing/crafting a teapot…but sadly our van build took over and we had to leave town before i got to focus on/finish my hands on part of the process.  That will obviously be one of those first few projects upon our return to portland in the spring.

Writing I seriously dropped the ball in this category this year…  I dove into things like instagram, that allowed me to feed off my enjoyment of taking photos and sharing events and moments with others… but the blog and my goal to write on a deeper level seemed to take a serious hit at the same time. 

Maybe its because I've come more to terms with our lifestyle and have less that needs “working through” via the writing process.  Maybe its because I question whether anyone is reading or whether the writing even matters…but regardless of end usage, I still seem to take something away from the writing process and wish I was doing it more regularly rather than simply jotting down notes about a “trip report” in the blog to accompany our photos.



E, the bus Now that we have moved on to living and traveling in the sprinter van, we need to sell the bus.  We have kind of thrown out there that we would be willing to sell the bus to the right buyer…someone who is looking to take an adventure of their own or for whom the bus can deliver the type of fun, adventure and soul-finding that it did for us…  but in reality, we just need to sell the bus.

Sell the bus to whoever needs or wants it and at whatever price is fair for similar buses on the market.  Our emotional attachment keeps us from truly listing the bus on the normal markets (ebay, the samba, craigslist, etc) and we need to early in the year “rip off the bandaid” and formally list our beloved bus for sale on the open market.

Synopsis All in…we are very pleased with what this year brought us and the goals we accomplished along the way.  The things we wish we had more of (social outings, entertaining, time with friends, etc were often tradeoffs for fun and exciting adventures, which makes it difficult to fault our decisions during the course of the year.

We want next year to be a continuation of this one.  To see more travel and adventure, more healthy and happy living and more meeting/sharing with other who have similar goals.  We feel as though we have put our life on a trajectory to take us where we want to be and are excited not only for every day along the path but also for the eventual “arrival” at the destination.

Thanks in large part to discussions like the ones that led to this post we continue to focus on what we want, what makes us happy and what we want to change as our journey continues…and more than anything we continue to be thrilled to not only have each other to share in that journey, but also a large, amazing network of friends, travelers and loved ones to share it with as well.IMG_1797


Thanks, as always to Chris and the Art of Nonconformity for originally giving us the idea and inspiration for an #AnnualReview.  His process continues to be  learning experience, and the crowd of people he attracts continue to impress and inspire us!