Tomorrow I turn 37. And while the past few weeks been insanely full packing up our home, selling anything we don’t need, putting anything we’d like in backpacks for the next year, then hanging out with friends, I’m still hoping to practice my annual ritual to celebrate another year of life: chill.

My favorite birthday activities include reading with a hefty cup of coffee by my side, watching my kids play, getting some alone time to journal, and going on a date with my favorite boy to celebrate, gin and tonic in hand.

I’ve learned so much this past year. I’ve been stretched mentally and emotionally more the past twelve months than I have since we moved overseas seven years ago.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about life.

1. Living simply isn’t just about having less stuff. It’s also about consuming less.

It’s easy to think that because music mp3 files, digital movie downloads on iTunes, podcasts, blogs, and ebooks don’t technically take up any physical space, it’s perfectly fine to consume as much as possible. You’re not adding more visual clutter or wasting natural resources, so why not?

I’ll tell why not: because when you’re bent on consuming anything presented to you, it dilutes the great stuff you really want to enjoy. It makes the life-changing harder to find. The ‘just okay’ waters down the truly great, making what you need indistinguishable from something that might be wonderful for someone else, but not for you.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

It also clutters the mind and emotions, leaving you as stressed as when you fill your house with needless stuff. I’m learning to be selective with what I consume, even in digital form.

• Read more: Beauty in what remains

2. I really, truly, honestly don’t need much stuff.

I’ve believed this for over seven years now, of course, when I first started this website. But I love it when I’m reminded of this truth. As we declutter and pack for our global trip, we still take boxes to the thrift store.

I’m stoked to live out of backpacks for this next year, all five of us. (Update: Turns out, it was fantastic.)

5 simple, valuable life lessons

• Read more: The thrift store can be your nearly-free storage unit

3. Going gray is a big deal… to lots of other people.

I’ve been fine about my hair going gray for a long time now—it’s a natural part of life, it has its own sort of beauty, and it’s really not a big deal. But several months after telling you all I’m going to let it grow out, and I still get comments.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

A few of you have even said you sense the start of a small cultural revolution here, reminding women that IT’S OKAY to go gray. It’s seen as wise on men… why must it be seen as haggard on women?

• Read more: On going gray in my thirties

4. Your late thirties is not too late to completely change your mind.

I won’t go into details because they don’t really matter. But I’ve long held on to some beliefs that were shaken out of my hands this year, and I’m happy to be free from them. I’ve assumed these ideas as part of my upbringing’s subcultural context, but this past year, I stopped to analyze whether I really did believe them.

Turns out, I didn’t. And I feel lighter, no longer gripping onto them as black-and-white truth.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

• Read more: The More You Know, The More You Don’t Know

5. It’s fantastic to know how you’re wired.

Okay, so I already knew this, but this past year I really challenged things I assumed was true about myself. I read, talked to other people, observed my own thought processes and behavior, and ended this year much more self-aware than in years past.

Once you understand your core wiring, it’s lightyears easier to make choices that are best for you and your family. What’s more—you don’t have to apologize for them. How and when you work, what you say “no” to, why you do what you do, how you educate your kids, who you spend your time with, how you cultivate your marriage… There’s no one universally right way to do any of that stuff. But there’s a right way that’s best for you.

There is so much freedom there. And to not apologize for embracing it… That’s a people-pleaser’s milestone. It’s been big for me.

5 simple, valuable life lessons

All these point to deeper peace, a lightness I’ve never felt, and fuel for living well. I’m thankful for the bends in the road this past year because they’ve steered me farther down the right path.