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My journey to living a slow and purposeful life in France

Living a slow and purposeful life in France was always the goal. The idea of sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and reading the masses of books which I have accumulated over the years (and not yet got round to reading) is something which I aspired to long before we started our journey to becoming permanent residents in France.

The problem with my dream is that it was a little idealistic for several reasons:

A bottle of cava on our coffee table in front of the wood burning stove - Living a slow and purposeful life in France
A relaxing pace of life in France was always my goal

Property in France is cheap, but the cost of living is not

It’s wonderful to be able to rent cheaply, buy a home with a small mortgage, or purchase a property outright – gratefully, these are all very achievable goals for a foreigner like me. However, I think it’s important to be reminded that there is a cost to living wherever you lay your hat. Basic expenses still exist even if you do nothing ostentatious. This might include:

  • Taxes
  • Insurances
  • Subsistence (even if you grow a lot of food it’s unlikely you will be fully self-sufficient)
  • Utilities (gas, water, electricity)
  • Repairs
Owning chickens can be a great way to produce your own food

For us, this has meant working – and working legally – including paying our taxes and social charges to ensure that we are contributing to the country and earning our right to stay. Setting our French businesses up to allow us to find customers and clients, and meet the minimum income requirements to be considered self-supporting on our Carte de Sejour application has been a stressful process.

We have been fortunate to have been able to use some of our rudimentary French language skills when organising ourselves, and at one point Graham had to complete a 30+ hour course in French just to be able to register as an artisan (a requirement which has now be annulled). It was pretty much a vertical learning curve in so many respects, but again one that we, now at eighteen months in, we feel that we have a good handle on and can manage without stress.


The right to remain in France

We are in the process of each acquiring our Carte de Sejour (for the most up-to-date information on gaining legal residency post-Brexit I highly recommend checking our the Remain in France Together website). Our fingerprints have been taken at our local préfecture and we are waiting for some kind of news – any kind of news (!!) – that we have been accepted. The Carte is the culmination of years of work to understand the system that we hope to join, so to receive this would really mean a lot to me – a formal recognition of our efforts.

Two large paper folders on the dining table - Living a slow and purposeful life in France
Our finished Carte de Sejour applications

Building my version of a quiet life in France

I found it pretty (naively) surprising that when I moved to France, my life didn’t suddenly just become very calm and tranquil – full of book reading and coffee drinking! My life in the UK had been hectic. I was worn out. The process of selling our Bristol house, closing my businesses and moving our things had depleted my energy to levels I had not known it possible to function with. I think I am still recovering from that exhausting process, just over eighteen months on.

Happily, I can now report that things have become a lot easier – but I do seem to have this habit of finding that life has become calmer, and then adding some chaos to it. I’ll take it to my therapist…!

Coffee and porridge on the table of our rustic French home
A slow breakfast in France

Adopting les animaux de compagnie

Adding pets to our life has been a very rewarding, but sometimes stressful process. Margot – our seven-year-old rescue cocker spaniel – is a wonderful addition to our home, but severely traumatised by her difficult earlier life. Being solely used to breed pedigree puppies, she had no understanding of boundaries, living in a home with people, she had no lead training, was poorly socialised and is chronically anxious. She has been a testing but joyful dog and I would not be without her, but bit by bit these small changes (smaller than moving countries I suppose) have accumulated to give a feeling of life being full, and so the books and films that I long to absorb have felt a little far away.

Margot our rescue cocker spaniel living a slow and purposeful life in France
Margot is the little lion we never knew we needed

If you’ve been following my Instagram posts you will have seen that we recently added a rescue kitten to our home – Percy – and that she too has become an adorable little character – but managing our small (currently) four-room home with three pets has become a bit onerous – so if you should see me somewhere on social media talking about adopting another animal anytime soon – STOP ME! It is lovely to have so many fluffy people in our home, but it does add to a) the cost of living and b) the time it takes before I’m able to have my first coffee of the morning, because of course, everyone has needs (hello chickens…).

Percy has recently joined our frugal family

Learning to say “no”

So the point of this post (I promise, I’m getting there…) is something which comes up again and again in my chats with you all on social media – how we all have to learn to say no to things, and to put boundaries in place to keep ourselves well and allow space to replenish.

I’ve not always felt particularly able to do that given the constraints upon us as a result of Brexit – the minimum income requirement being the biggest. It propelled me into a place of putting a huge amount of energy into my work, and as a result, I wasn’t especially available to anyone for a time, physically or emotionally.

I'm learning how to start living a slow and purposeful life in France
I’m figuring out what it means to me to live slowly in France

Ironically, 2020 was the year in which I decided that I would start living a slow and purposeful life in France. I decided to travel more and visit friends, to take regular time off work and to invest more in my friendships. Of course, thanks to COVID-19 that didn’t happen, and instead 2020 became another year of work being extremely draining. Not because I was throwing myself into it, but rather because of the collective trauma of our societies, it was throwing itself at me.

Working as a talking therapist going through the same issues as my clients in real-time was a first for me – and I imagine many therapists. But with new, extremely robust boundaries I found that I was able to navigate my way back to a place of calm, and get myself much closer to where I have for so long wanted to be – in the luxurious position of being able to choose whether I read that book, or drink that coffee, or whatever.

Because I choose to, not because I *have* to.


What to do in France under COVID-19 lockdown

A bit of a surreal set of circumstances to find oneself in, but as you may have seen on Instagram I am confined to my French home for fifteen days as part of the French government’s approach to tackling the COVID-19 coronavirus. If you, like me, are wondering what to do in France under COVID-19 lockdown, do read on.

The newly decorated kitchen and office of our French home
The newly decorated kitchen and office of our French home

My husband and I are both fortunate enough to be able to work from home during this period and we have plenty of food, wine (!!) and toilet roll (!!!) thanks to our routine of shopping once a month. Perhaps through frugality – not wanting to spend at shops each week, nor on the not insignificant amount of fuel our very uneconomical car uses to get there and back – we are the original doomsday preppers (which if you haven’t watched on Netflix or elsewhere, I highly recommend, taken with a pinch of salt…)

So I’m sitting here in our newly painted kitchen on day two of this enforced nationwide rest, and looking for ways to spend my day. We had a conversation this morning about how useful it would have been to have had our chickens by now – reader, full disclosure: we don’t yet have them because we have not wanted to get up on the cold, dark mornings to let them out – now, as we keenly monitor our egg supply, we’re regretting not acting sooner.

A smallholding seems like a good idea right now!

This led me onto thinking of what other kinds of smallholding-type activities we could begin during this period, and an obvious one for us was always going to be to have a good go at filling the potager.

What to do in France under COVID-19 lockdown
A few select volumes from my recipe book collection.

Thankfully, I had already bought our seed potatoes for this year and they were sitting unloved in our chaufferie room, so I have released them into their trays for chitting – not that they much need it, some are ready to walk! So a task for me will be getting them into the ground. If you too are looking for some tips on growing some veg to occupy yourself through this unsettling time ça tombe bien because I currently have an article in Living France Magazine April 2020 edition which describes this very thing. If you see it, do let me know what you think of it and my fetching leopard print gardening gloves…

My copy of "Retrouver le goût de la nature. 140 recettes de campagne" which I received for Christmas after falling in love with my library loan.
My copy of “Retrouver le goût de la nature. 140 recettes de campagne” which I received for Christmas after falling in love with my library loan.

What we’re doing indoors

Inside the house, I am thinking it’s time to tackle last year’s glut of pears, apples, peaches and grapes which are patiently waiting in our chaufferie room freezers for me to get a wriggle on. At some point last year I borrowed a beautiful book from our village library called “Retrouver le goût de la nature. 140 recettes de campagne” by Camille Le Foll. It has so many sweet traditional French recipes to try, many of which use foraged items from the abundant French countryside. Plus it’s in French, so a good opportunity to practice your vocabulary. It’s a really tactile book, with a woven cover and various types of paper stock inside, the photography is fantastic. I really could not recommend it more as a gift, or for yourself since we will all be looking for ways to occupy ourselves or our families. I’m very grateful that my husband bought me a copy for Christmas, as I had to give up renewing it at our local library and depriving our neighbours of its loveliness.

The latest copy of Living France magazine April 2020 with my Frugal France column
The latest copy of Living France magazine April 2020 with my Frugal France column

When it comes to what I’ll be doing in France under COVID-19 lockdown, aside from recipe trawling, I’ll be reading my own copy of Living France in the garden – with a gin and tonic before too long I would hazard – and will maybe even venture out with Margot for a government-sanctioned walk using one of my Attestation de déplacement forms (I’ll include a link below in case you too need it). I hope you’re all keeping well and virus-free wherever you are, and if you’re in confinement like us please do share how you’re spending your time in the comments. I feel as though by day eleven I’m going to need some ideas!


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A year on: Reflecting on our decision to move to France

When my husband and I woke up in our corporate-rate hotel room on 24th June 2016 before starting our respective days as mobile IT consultants, we could not have known that this moment in history would set us on an incredible journey. A journey which would mean that a year on, reflecting on our decision to move to France would show us that we have changed our lives to a completely unrecognisable degree.

How I came to love France

I have always been a francophile. I’ve loved France ever since childhood. I visited Brittany with my secondary school when I was about eleven years old, and I just knew that I was supposed to be in this place where the people valued bread as much as I did. My husband, not so much. He did visit France as a child but only fell in love with it (and the bread) on a holiday to Paris early in our relationship. We talked about moving to France one day when the timing was “right”.

A year on: Reflecting on our decision to move to France
Pretty Bristol

The referendum result was a shock. I remember being stood in my pyjamas in that hotel room, watching the result on TV open-mouthed. I was dumbfounded. So was G. I felt a deep sense of sorrow at the result for much wider reasons simply than the knowledge that British people would lose freedom of movement within the EU, but given our hopes to live in France one day, I eventually became acutely aware of the limits this would put on our dream. Still, life carried on for a while. I quit my career of more than a decade in IT with no love lost and transitioned into working self-employed as a talking therapist which I’d been training to do for years.

I can’t remember when it was exactly, but I think it must have been early 2017 when we started to have doubts that Theresa May was going to secure a deal with the EU leaders. We became worried that if we didn’t get to France soon, we wouldn’t be able to go at all.

I should say now – I am a very impulsive person, and this is somewhat dangerously supported by an innate belief that I can do anything (within reason) if I just try hard enough (thanks Mum and Dad!).

A year on: Reflecting on our decision to move to France
Our Bristol home

G and I decided that we would move to France. We had been taking numerous short breaks to the Cote d’Azur for a few years, and naively thought it was an option. Of course, dear reader, it was not. One only has to have an ounce of sense to realise that somewhere so adored by thousands of tourists each year would also fetch a hefty price-tag if one were so inclined to make it their home. We worked out we could just about afford a studio with a balcony somewhere near-ish the sea. With my beloved cats and a growing interest in gardening fuelled by a modicum of success growing things in our respectably sized garden in Bristol, this was not going to cut the mustard, no matter how lovely the beaches of Nice were.

Where to live?

We decided to start researching location options – it needed to be somewhere which had decent connections to the west country in the UK so that we could still visit our family, and they, us – and crucially it needed to be cheap. My husband had tired of the corporate rubbish he’d been putting up with for decades, and so he was happy with the prospect of changing vocation for something completely different. I was faced with closing two successful businesses that after a few years of incredibly hard work, were enjoying a modicum of success. The bottom line was, whilst we knew that we would have the proceeds of our house sale in Bristol, it was heavily mortgaged. Plus we had no idea how we would make money in France. But remember that – perhaps borderline pathological – impulsivity I mentioned? It could not be quelled.

The Cote d’Azur was beyond our budget

So, we decided to choose an adventure – even though the risk of failure was high. Minimising the spend on the place we would live seemed a sensible option, after all, we bargained that if we couldn’t find work, we’d have time on our hands to renovate it (I’m just taking a moment here to laugh out loud and cast an eye around this undecorated office…). Never underestimate the abilities of a unique blend of millennial and IT graduate to do some sterling internet research – so within a week, we had narrowed down the area upon which we would focus our house hunting to the Limousin.

The Limousin is quite like Devon, where I am from. There’s a lot of green. Things are often green because there’s a lot of water falling out of the sky, so I kind of knew what to expect in our new area. But I could not have known just how difficult and exhilarating this past year would be in terms of adjusting to a whole new country’s culture and language.

Our one-day bedroom overlooking all the green stuff

The task of being an immigrant

This blog is full of my writing about specific events, shopping opportunities, how to save euros with informed spending – and it also talks honestly about how hard moving to another country is. We are now immigrants, and from my previous place of privilege as a person who spoke the language of the country I lived in as my native tongue, I did not appreciate how incredibly hard it is to integrate into a country where you haven’t the faintest clue what banal things people on the street or in the post office are saying to you. If you meet someone in your home country working in a job that requires them to speak a second language, I implore you to take the time to watch in awe as that person’s brain works 50% faster than yours at any given moment, because the task of in-the-moment translation is HARD.

We started French lessons within a fortnight of moving here, and I already had an okay amount of French from Alliance Française classes in Bristol and Exeter, as well as a solid A* at GCSE (I talk less about how I dropped out of A-Level at college… ahem). If you’re moving to another country and looking for a top tip – this is the one – learn the language of the culture you are joining. It will help with EVERYTHING. Yes, it costs money and potentially your ego, but it is priceless to be able to connect with others when you are so far from the places, people and things you knew before.

Our mini-moon in Bordeaux involved LOTS of wine, bien sûr

We took two viewing trips to find our house. We probably only saw a dozen houses total. If you read our story in French Property News magazine earlier this year then you’ll know all about our cancelled flights and the mad dash across the country to view the places we had deemed to have potential. The fact that I’m sitting in the house we should never have viewed since we missed the appointment and the French agent decided to show us around on a Sunday (!!!) only solidifies for me that this place is the right one for us.

Final reflections

I suppose I’m writing this post as a response to those who have contacted me since the most recent election in the UK, those who are scared that they too might miss out on living their own adventure. I’m very conscious that my husband and I were lucky that his children are adults and that we don’t have any, so we didn’t have to make heart-wrenching decisions to divide families where people were still growing up, but we did move away from people that we love very much. We left behind family and friends, careers and businesses, and a property in an affluent city. We withdrew every asset we had in the UK and gambled on France. We are still gambling on France. I can’t say it has been easy, it unequivocably has not been. But I don’t regret it. And I do feel as though I am really living, not just existing. Not dreaming of “one day” when the timing is right. It never will be. I’m proud to say that I live here for many reasons, and one of them is knowing the courageous journey that we (and so many people that we meet here) went on to begin this chapter of our lives.

Plus, being this impulsive, it’s certainly never dull.

Margot, our French rescue dog

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