Bartlett couple purge for adventure as 'digital nomads'

Some people started the New Year with a resolution to change one thing in their lives. Phyllis and Jerry Campagna ended 2021 by getting rid of almost all their stuff to focus on their NGA - Next Great Adventure.

They sold their beloved townhouse, with the Jacuzzi and sauna, and gave away or sold all the furniture they had thoughtfully acquired during their 21 years in Bartlett. They donated or sold nearly all of their possessions.

"And don't forget my poker table," Jerry says. "I had a man cave."

Had is the appropriate word.

"There's a journey in there," Phyllis says of their purge. "Possessions possess us."

"Amen," Jerry says.

Married for 25 years, the couple didn't just move to a smaller place - they hit the road in their car.

They joined TrustedHouse and already have taken care of homes in McHenry and Lake counties in exchange for living rent-free, gone to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to visit relatives, and are back in Lake County. Sometimes they take care of pets in the home.

He likes to say that they are "digital nomads," while she uses the term "happily homeless."

"There's a very big difference between saying you are going to downsize and becoming a digital nomad," Jerry says.

"We knew we wanted to move. We didn't know we wanted to let go of everything," Phyllis says.

Last year brought many changes for the Campagnas. Jerry, who was given an honorary degree from Harper College in 2004, made good on a promise to earn his bachelor's degree in 2021 from National Louis University. Phyllis, who defended her doctoral thesis in person just before the pandemic hit in 2020, earned her doctorate in business coaching from Middlesex University in London.

Phyllis, who says she can now call herself "Dr. Phil with a Y," has owned and operated Excelsis Performance Strategies since 1989.

Jerry, a former publisher of the Daily Herald Media Group's Reflejos, has a lifetime of experience in public relations and marketing and is president of The MOST Inc. leadership and organizational development firm.

Together, they have clients they help navigate the world of business, with Phyllis doing business coaching, and Jerry working more with teams.

The pandemic momentarily changed the way they conducted business, but, as they help their clients to do, they adapted.

"We could not have done this without COVID," Jerry says, noting how he and Phyllis embraced Zoom interactions and digital storage in a world without physical storage.

"I can no longer carry around all these notebooks of all my clients," says Phyllis, who stores those notes online now. "COVID once again created a shift we didn't anticipate."

But they adapted, and they are planning to start a blog to monitor their travels. Those interested can reach Jerry at

"Just look at what's happened to our world. We are expanding our problem-solving," says Jerry, who no longer does annual plans. "I do 90-day plans now."

In her first marriage long ago, Phyllis traveled by van for a year.

"I grew up in a blue-collar home," says Phyllis, the oldest of five kids in their Villa Park house. "For reasons I don't know, I always had massive curiosity about the world and wanted to see what was out there."

Vacations by hotel are not what they want.

"You can't live locally in a hotel. We want to live locally," Phyllis says. "It's expanding our emotional base."

Living in other people's homes leads to discoveries.

"You are going to use what you've got in the space you live," says Jerry, who discovered a flight attendant they were housesitting for used Maldon sea salt. "I'm 60 years old and I'll never have another salt."

Getting rid of possessions had a plus side.

"We had no idea housesitting is a global phenomenon," Phyllis says. "It led to all this letting go. The giving creates a great deal of gratitude. Gratitude is maybe the best emotion in the world."

The people in Bourbonnais who bought Phyllis' gorgeous cherry wood desk are so happy, they promise to send her photos when they set it up.

"I decorate for every holiday," Phyllis says, and the people who now own her collection tell her, "I can't believe you were so generous." Same with the unused makeup that went to a woman in need. "I have a job where I have to dress up and I don't have the money," the woman told her. "I can't tell you what this means to me."

The hundreds of letters from friends she had kept for decades got returned. "All these different people got boxes of letters they saw their young selves in," Phyllis says.

"It carries the energy of what it meant to you," Jerry says of the personal items he relinquished.

"I'm a 'Star Wars' fanatic. I have a life-size Yoda," Jerry says of the limited-edition item he once displayed proudly. He found a man in Aurora who was renovating his basement into a "Star Wars" hangout during the pandemic.

"This is the man my stuff belongs to. There was so much joy," Jerry says.

They got rid of thousands of books, except a few they need for work. All the trophies, plaques and awards now exist only in photographs.

"Does it bring me joy? Does it fit in my backpack?" Jerry says. "You find out, I don't need all this stuff."

They kept some jewelry, one set of dishes, a couple of paintings and Phyllis' collection of 400 Christmas movies, the oldest from 1908. "We bought a couple of shelves and put them up in a family member's garage," Phyllis says.

"We do miss our neighbors. We have fantastic neighbors. But we haven't lost those relationships," she says.

Jerry says taking a step without exactly knowing where it will lead is "falling forward."

"Living with uncertainty is a certainty. I trust me enough to know I'll work it out." Phyllis says, adding, "When we stop having fun, we'll buy a home."

Selling their home in Bartlett, and purging themselves of furniture and other possessions, Phyllis and Jerry Campagna say they are “digital nomads” living for the Next Great Adventure. Courtesy of Campagna Family
Hitting the road after selling or giving away nearly all their possessions, Phyllis and Jerry Campagna say they are living for the Next Great Adventure, such as this visit with the Transformer statue of Optimus Prime in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Courtesy of Campagna Family
One of the joys of living “happily homeless” is that former Bartlett residents Phyllis and Jerry Campagna get to visit grandkids, including Abby and Caden. Courtesy of Campagna Family
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