Ode to Home Exchanges
Ode To My Home Exchange
by Paula M. Toledo
Montreal winters can be harsh. I suppose this statement is relative. I am a tropical transplant, and like a fish out of water, during the coldest snaps, I feel as though I am an intruder into this northern ecosystem. Usually around January, I am convinced my parent's experiment to move to one of the coldest cities in Canada, has gone incredibly wrong. As beautiful as the city is, and as much as I love living in Canada, my whole being - from my scaly and flaking dry skin to my bleeding cracked fingers - are screaming for me to leave. Romantic daydreams of humidity, the bliss of the tropical dew on my skin, infuse my winter days. And like a lover in a long-distance relationship, I begin coyly planning a reunion.
The dreaming has led me to a website for home exchangers www.homeexchange.com. I have been a member for a few years now. In 2013, when I began planning too late, and wasn't able to secure an exchange, I rented my home out to some locals, packed my bags and rented an apartment in Paris (as a home base to travel with my 5 and 3 year old troupers for three summer months).
This past January, when I logged onto www.homeexchange.com, I was pleasantly surprised by an email from a family of 3 from Barcelona - a young couple with a 4 year old daughter, who had never visited Montreal or Canada. Home exchanging is a bit like dating in that, you are never quite sure if you are going to find your match. And similar to blossoming relationships, fit and timing are paramount to an exchange working.
I am days away from hopping on a plane where I will be travelling to Barcelona (my home exchange family's home) where my children, now 7 and 9 years old, will be spending two weeks. We will be swapping homes and cars. The cost savings has enabled me to extend my trip to Europe and visit family in the French Alps near Grenoble as well as friends who have a vacation home on Pico Island, Azores in Portugal. We will be abroad for 4 weeks in total.
With the first half of the home exchange planning behind me, I am in wonder of all that has taken place both on my end and my home exchange partner's end. On the outset, it seemed like a simple concept, but as we got deeper into our exchange details, it became clear that there is a lot of planning needed for both parties to have a successful stay.
As I dove in head first, I became energized by the learning process for the exchange; how to be a good host, how to re-discover my home, how to live better and simpler as these were all things that I have wanted to improve upon. With eyes wide open, the following is what I have learned.
TOP 5 THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM MY HOME EXCHANGE PLANNING
I learned more about myself in the few months of planning than I have cumulatively over the past decade of my life. Organizing my home for my exchange family and being a good host, has inspired me to de-clutter my home in a way that would make Japanese minimalist and organizing consultant Mari Condo proud. I have attacked deep clutter in every cupboard, drawer, closet, and come across possessions from what seems like lifetimes built upon lifetimes. Each item has brought me down memory lane and has made me reflect upon my life and choices I have made. I have taken stock in the good choices and the not so good choices that will inform my future plans.
I have become more mindful about my living habits. Being a single-mom and sole parent, I wear two hats and it feels like I am constantly chasing time like a contestant in a never-ending game of beat the clock. Trying to accomplish as much with insufficient time inevitably leads to many loose ends and incomplete tasks. Each time I hurriedly stuffed away something, not in its designated area, I convinced myself I was putting my life in order. In reality, it added more work and chaos to my life. This realization will make me think twice about where I put things away.
I learned about the power of community. While organizing my home and getting the guest bedroom (finally) set up, a lot had to happen. At times, it was difficult having only one set of hands. My family and friends and neighbours pitched in to help me organize things, move heavy furniture, deliver a mattress...I couldn't have done it without their help. I realize that while I am a single parent, I am not alone.
I learned community is far-reaching beyond just family and friends. In the end, this experience is not just motivated by cost savings but rather the experience of it all. It has been wonderful getting to know our exchange family, we are sharing an experience and bonding through it. I want to show my children that there are kind people with open-hearts all over the world who are willing to share and open their homes to others.
I fell in love with my home all over again and vowed to live a more simple life collecting experiences and not things. The luxury of living in a beautiful and safe neighbourhood can at times elude me and the thought of leaving and living in an exotic foreign country more appealing. But this home exchange experience has given me new perspectives and reinforced how fortunate I am. It has also offered me the opportunity to create some beautiful experiences and family memories. Collecting memories and not things is a constant work in progress for all of us but one that is so worth the effort.
by Paula Toledo