Thursday, November 13, 2014

What do you give a minimalist for Christmas?

  • Nothing.
Or, if you really have to get something:
  • A card.
  • Something they tell you they need.
  • Consumables: chocolate, coffee, tea, honey, maple syrup, fruit, wine, whisky, soaps, a locally made specialty, and the like. A friend of mine gave me a tin of olive oil as a housewarming gift - perfect!
  • If they have kid(s), an afternoon of free babysitting with no strings. 
  • Unless they have significant allergies, are terribly picky or discreet foodies: a homecooked meal. 
  • Tickets to the movies, a show, a concert, the local philharmonic, the theater. 
  • Take them out for a day and share with them your favorite things about the places you live. 
  • A donation in their name. There are tons of charities out there who can put your moolah to good use!
  • Introduce them to a new experience: horseback riding, rock climbing (and hey - I know a great guide!), ziplining, rafting, skiing... See what's available in their area and make sure you understand their limitations. 
  • a photobook or scrapbook of holidays past or family memories.

Holiday time doesn't have to be about big spending on lots of material stuff. To me, it's about the memories we have and the new ones we create by spending time together. It's the snow storms we've braved to be together, the excitement of Santa when you're young, homebaked cookies, the moments your family laughs about for years afterwards.

Here's what my family laughs about. Repeatedly, voraciously, and with tears of laughter rolling down our faces...

It was probably 10 years ago. My grandfather was in his early 80s, a little unsteady on his feet, hard of hearing but still kickin'. He was always a pretty quiet man (unless you were talking about The War or Politics). He liked his beer but his doctor had him cutting back for health purposes. Nonetheless, it was the holidays, so he decided to imbibe.

My dad, not realizing the implications, later decided to open a bottle of bourbon. My grandpa appreciated his bourbon (something I've inherited from him!) so he had a shot. Then another, apparently. And maybe another? I'm not sure, because no one was really paying attention until he got up to use the bathroom. He seemed fine, until we hear the terribly loud and unmistakable THUMP of a body falling into...

...the bathtub! And a loud cry for help from my grandfather! The whole family rushes in and he is tumbled over in the tub, feet up in the air, the shower curtain fallen all around him. Fortunately he didn't get a chance to get his pants down because we are all crowding the door frame to see if he's okay! He's chuckling, thankfully, and not really hurt. It takes two of us to get him out of the tub. My aunt runs into the kitchen to tell my grandmother, "Dad fell into the tub!" And her cheeky response, without even blinking an eye (as if she expected this to happen!):

"Damn fool!"

We still laugh about it now, even though both he and my grandmother have been gone for several years.

So, whatever you give for Christmas, never mix bourbon and beer! And cherish your family memories, all of them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


If you still haven't seen it yet, please please please take an hour and watch the movie TINY: A Story About Living Small.

You don't have to be downsizing or living small or tiny to benefit from (or enjoy!) this movie. (Oh yeah, plus the music is great and the scenery gorgeous!) Maybe your heart won't jump as much as mine did, but I found the ideas in this movie remind me to be thoughtful about my life, how I live it and what I surround myself with.

Where did we go wrong? When did we start believing in entitlement and greed over reasonable living and using our excess to take care of one another? What are the ideas behind why we have 4,000 square foot houses in our country and big lawns that we don't use and lots and lots of stuff we don't need or even enjoy? Maybe if we can get back to that moment in history when our values shifted, we can start to repair the damage that's been done to our society by us hording our overabundance.

Fine, those are my big questions. But ideology aside - what's important right here, right now, for me (and, I argue, for you too) is how do I live my life differently? How do I use what I have (not just my possessions but my time, my strengths, my energy) to benefit others? How do I make my life bigger than just me? How do I raise my kids to live like this (and better) too?

I don't have all the answers. I have some ideas for myself. We've given away probably a third of our belongings (and more to come, hopefully!). We've tried to be resourceful in how we build - reusing and repurposing materials wherever we can. We've tried our best to open our home to others to come enjoy the beauty of the mountains and the fresh air of the Adirondacks. We want our home to reflect the peace and awe of the natural lands around us and be a respite from busy lives for friends, family and others. It's our house, but we didn't buy it just for us.

But I know there's more. There are other ways and better ways to do this living small thing!

I'd love to hear ways you have come up with to live small, whether for you that means physically downsizing your belongings or your home, or living with less or sharing more, or ways you've developed that keep you from expanding unnecessarily. I encourage you to share one thing you did today that helped you live small.

Maybe you'll be inspired while watching Tiny!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why We Live Small

I found this post today and I felt it really gets to the point of some of the deeper reasons we decided to downsize. It's not just about living with less. We traded our space for more freedom over the long run: fewer financial constraints, fewer responsibilities and fewer ties to a home we have to spend time, money and energy keeping up.

And who doesn't love the idea of retiring 10 years early?!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Significance of Chocolate Chip Cookies

No matter what the size of your house, there is one thing you should never, ever be without: ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.

In the midst of moving and settling into a new area - ours rural and relatively quiet - baking chocolate chip cookies has been my way of making this our home. If there isn't already, there should be a scientific study of the effect of warm, homemade cookies on the brain. Warmth, comfort, peace. Yum. I said I wanted to cook more when life got smaller, so I've held to my word!

Turns out, I also crave baked goods when I'm pregnant. Yup, we're duplicating! Smaller house, bigger family. We found out 5 days before we moved! All I can say is this: thank goodness babies are born small! (And we're only having one!)

As I write my own, I've been looking for and reading up on stories of families who raise kids in small houses. A woman I know raised 5 kids in 900 square feet (what!). Remind me to ask her more about how she did it. My great aunt Nancy raised four kids in the 1950s in about the same space. If you have a story, please share in the comments or link to your own blog post below.

We have some ideas already. We don't have a ton of toys. Playing outside with nature's toys - dirt, sticks, rocks, leaves - is a highlight of our daughter's day. She's always wanted to do what we do anyway, so when we're cooking or baking, she gets a spoon and a bowl. When my husband is working on the house, she gets out her toy hammer and "helps".

We didn't invest in a ton of baby gear. A sleeping space (co-sleeper, then crib), a walker, a Bumbo seat, and lots of social interaction worked for us. A carrier for walks and hikes was a life saver - more useful than a stroller when you live in the mountains! (Though we currently have two of those and have to decide which one to keep.)

A few years ago I would have never considered sleeping in the same space as my kids. I had the mindset that we are all entitled to our own room/private space. My view is slowly changing, partially out of necessity but also because it seems that it's too easy to hide in your own space physically and emotionally, and (in general) Americans don't socially interact enough to be humanly healthy. And, there are studies showing long-term benefits to social sleeping. We've got a method down for our daughter, but two kids is going to be interesting! We'll see how it goes, or if one of us ends up on the couch now and again!

And now for the most important part of this post...

My recipe for chocolate chip cookies - modified from the Joy of Cooking revised paperback edition:
Preheat oven to 375F.
1/2 c butter

1/4 c brown sugar

Beat in
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla

Slowly add
1 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda

Mix well, Add
1 c chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli 60% cocoa)
1/2 c pecans
1 c oatmeal
1/4 c shredded coconut

Bake 10 min. on a baking stone or greased cookie sheet.

Happy baking = happy home!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Socks, Pharmaceuticals and Rock n Roll

It's been almost a month. We made it! No one moved out, including the cat. Pull out that bottle of wine and celebrate with us tonight!

While you're living it up on that Montepulciano, read on and use your wine-fueled creativity to help me solve a few dilemmas that have come up in our downsizing process.

I found a surprise when I was sorting through my lumpy piles of clothing that represented half of what I used to have. I have over 30 pairs of socks. Seriously! There were so many I lost the ambition to count them all. Do you know anyone who needs 30 pairs of socks?!

I did a little research, and you can actually recycle old or unwanted socks. I like to be inventive, but I'm not good enough to take old socks and make a scarf that anyone would want to put around their neck! Nice Laundry  sells pretty sweet looking recycled socks and will accept old socks for recycling. BLACKSOCKS has a similar program.

I parted with some socks that my grandmother had given me. Actually, she gave me a gift card and I picked them out myself. But they were still from her. They were stretched out and bare in the heels and I hardly ever wore them anymore. But they were from her. It's tough to realize that, someday, I might not have any thing that will connect me to her. Things are slowly wearing out, breaking, and losing their purpose. It's important for me to remember our connection goes way, way, way beyond the thing.

Ahem. Sorry. Got sentimental again. Moving on. And please recycle your socks!

Grandmothers, or just about everybody, tend to have lots and lots of prescriptions. With my husband having Crohn's Disease and a slew of naturopathic remedies acquired and tested over the years, we ran into a lot of fun when we went through the bathroom closets. I ended up with an entire basket of pill bottles to dump somewhere safe... the toilet? Ugh! Isn't our water supply contaminated enough?! The garbage? Same problem... There's not a ton of information out there on this but I was able to bring our outdated medications to a secure drop-box at our local police department. My husband scraped all the personal information off the labels, leaving the medication information in case it was needed for proper disposal. If you are downsizing and find unwanted prescriptions, please please PLEASE dispose of them properly!

Okay, public service announcement over!

So the other dilemma I've run into - and haven't been able to solve completely yet - is all the wonderful, artsy, weird, music I have on CD. Music from college, music from before college, music from pre-iPod era. What in God's green earth do I DO with all this stuff?

I found Pandora when it first came out and I've hardly looked back since. I don't know if I've listened to an album in its entirety all year. Sad. I love music, but between work, my daughter, my husband, and the business, I barely have time to catch the news each day. I get a respite when I drive back to my hometown. It's a 3 hour drive and I can listen to anything I want! Fugazi. Hank Williams. Brainwash Projects. Wilco.

So, for the moment, my CDs sit in a box downstairs in the basement, along with our DVDs that we can't seem to part with but hardly ever watch. Ugh. A downsizing fail.

But at least we're not in the 8 track era anymore...

There's always something to be thankful for!

Happy Monday everyone!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Downside to Downsizing

Not much happens from start to finish instantaneously. There was a distinct moment when the universe was born, but we didn't go from stardust to smartphones at the snap of a finger.

We've been here in Keene, in our beautifully small house, for almost two weeks. I am happy to say that I can sit on the couch and find the dishes without a lot of hassle.

The rest is a work in progress.

It turns out we have too many:
- coffee mugs,
- blankets,
and too much artwork to fit in this house.

Among many other things. (We've already collected 5 bags of stuff I just donated.)

The artwork we can store and rotate. The coffee mugs are just going to have to go. The blankets I'm not sure about.... If we have another winter of -25F we might need them!

By the way, for anyone downsizing or just streamlining belongings, find stackable coffee cups. Why in the world does anyone in their right mind make a set of coffee cups that do not stack nicely without tipping over, falling out of the cabinet onto your head and ending up as a pile of ugly mosaic tiles? And thank you, Ikea, for raising the bar!

I was discouraged at first. This is not the vision I have for our small house. This is not exactly what I've been working so hard for the past year to accomplish. I can't find my stuff, I'm tripping over boxes, and the house is pretty much a mess of stuff and nowhere to put it away. And these are the things I complain about most in my life - clutter, disorganization, and missing a goal.

So I remember process. Dialectic. The struggle between two opposing ideas: our last home, and this new one.

It looks like it's going to be a struggle for some time. Please, everyone (and especially those of you who come to visit!) be patient with us and our home and enjoy this crazy downsizing process with us. And some days you might have to help us enjoy it too!

Regardless of where we are in this continuum, we will always have good tea, a warm fire and our lives to share.
Real life in a small house

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Look at What We've Started

Our downsizing journey began with a lot more than just wanting to live with less.

My husband and I don't always have the same ideas. We're not the kind of couple that finishes each other's sentences (because, when we do, we're usually wrong. We did it once and I still remember that moment!). We think differently, we look at the world differently, we have distinctly different personalities and we don't always see eye-to-eye.

But one thing we did agree on, long before we got married, was what we wanted to do with our life together. And we both want to run a bed and breakfast. I thought, "Some day..." and he thought, "Why not now?" So, when we got engaged, we started looking for a suitable house.

All our talk about running our own business helped my husband explore the idea of running his own business as a rock and ice climbing guide. He's guided for over 7 years and really finds himself in the work. He loves the Adirondacks and he really wants to share the wildness of this wilderness that he loves SO much, we packed up and moved here.

So, last week, in the middle of our downsizing exercise and in the middle of packing for our move, we launched John Mackey Climbing (now Tamarack Mountain Guiding, Inc.). If you get a moment, check it out and let me know what you think.

Any new business is a labor of love. We love the Adirondacks and climbing so much that we gave up half our stuff, a third of our space, and all of our closets to make this work. This is where our downsizing vision began: as a means to a much more wonderful end.

I'm watching the clouds rush by in the gusting winds the weather forecasts accurately predicted. I saw the mountain tops shrouded all day long, but I still knew they were there. I could draw their peaks in the air for you if you asked. They're never gone for too long. They were here yesterday:


and they'll be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Downsizing.

So today is the day. Truck is rented. (Some) boxes are packed. The move begins!

We had another yard sale on Sunday. Except for two or three big items, everything was $1 or less. We gave out free coffee to anyone who made a purchase. More than 70 items that gathered dust in our house or got a quick glance once in a while went to live with someone else. May their next life be more productive!

My goal for this move is for each of us to have 5 boxes: 5 boxes for my husband, 5 boxes for me, 5 boxes for the living room, 5 for the kitchen... I'm a math nerd, so quantifying ideas is really important for me. And 5 sounded like a good number! And maybe it would all fit in a 10 foot truck...

We're not done packing yet, but we'll end up with 10 boxes for the kitchen, 3 for the bathroom, 5 for my daughter, 3 for me, my husband hasn't packed any of his stuff, and 6 for the living room. It still seems like an awful, terrible, gigantic amount of stuff. Blah.

I don't know where it's all going to fit when we get there! I had been feeling a little guilty about making such a big deal about us downsizing. I mean, we get 900 square feet! That's not a tiny house. That's not 300 or 200 or 84 square feet. But as far as possessions go, we have to live like we're in a tiny house, thanks to our house having only one closet (that is not yet built). It's like tiny house + enough open space for all three of us to do yoga at the same time.

It seems like - and I was trying to avoid this, but oh well - we are going to get all this stuff into the new house and then figure out what fits, what we really, really need and what we can live without. We will go through the downsizing process yet once more. At least once.

Ugh. I'm in a mood to get settled in, not go through this questioning process again. But - what is "settled"? It's rigid and done and boring. It's finding comfort in a place or a thing, when really we should be finding our home with each other and with our selves.

So, good-bye, house that has been my first real home as an adult. Good-bye for now, Kingston. Good-bye for now to my wonderful, supportive, fun, intelligent and interesting friends who have all made living in this city a blast! Now that we have downsized, you can all fit for a visit in our small house.

Well, maybe not all at once.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

So Just So You Know

This is what downsizing looks like in process...

It doesn't look very productive and it sure does make a mess!

I'm reminded of the synchronicity, the dialectic in the universe between Order and Chaos. As much as I would like it, I can't have order without chaos. Sometimes I find what I'm looking for in the midst of this mess.

Over the past few years, I've been learning to live this way in large part thanks to my husband's job. He works with Mike + Doug Starn and Big Bambu travelling around the world to build these amazing art sculptures out of bamboo and cord. (In fact, you'll see him on the landing page of their website! Handsome devil.) Their art showcases the connection between order and chaos, Yuval Saar says it much better than I do, summarizing the Starn brothers:
"...[the sculpture] takes its form from the dynamics that develop in the course of the construction process, embodying the tension between order and chaos." Haaretz article

I have gotten to travel with the building crew and watch the birth and creation of these incredible artworks. It generally starts with a simple structure of two or three poles strategically placed in a neat configuration, and then - kapow! - within a day or two, poles are everywhere in an explosion of bamboo. And then, with each passing day, I see the shape of the piece come forth and fill in and become itself.

This is how life happens. A calculated flow between simplicity and complexity.

As I write this, I'm surrounded by chaos. Not just the mess in the living room (and the bedrooms and the kitchen), but my husband is cooking breakfast and chatting with me and my daughter is next to me learning to wash dishes.

It's okay. This is my life. The chaos is necessary, and I'm just going to let it be. The order will come.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Letting Go

I've been putting off my post on this subject for awhile, but I just can't any longer. It's time.

I doubt my experience is unique or unusual. In fact, this is exactly why I have to write about it. Because it's something we all have to do at one point in our lives or another. Or many.

I'm admittedly very bad about letting go. I've had a hard time letting go of expectations, of emotions, of situations, of people. You name it, I hold onto it. It's something I've spent the last few years working on, and some days I'm better at it and other days I'm just not.

I've written a bit already about letting go of my stuff as my family goes through this downsizing process. Let me tell you, that's actually been the easy part. When it comes down to it, it's the people we are leaving in this move that make me want to stay.

But before I go into my little place of sorrow and grief and joy and memories with all the wonderful friends we have in this area, I want to put my life in perspective.

I've been preparing for this move, this change, for quite some time. Our plans have materialized over the past year and solidified in the last few months. I have time to go through my things and choose what I keep, what I give away, what I treasure. I get to choose where I live and how.

I've been thinking about people who do not have this advantage. People who have to pack up their homes on short notice. People who don't get to choose where they live. People who have to leave behind their treasures, their homes, their families.

I started by thinking about the dust bowl migrants of the 1930s. Many were forced to leave behind their established homes and bring with them only what they could carry. They moved to new places where they weren't always welcomed and didn't feel at home. They faced hardships, troubles and persecution that I've only read about.

Then I was reminded of some of the regrettable horrors in the modern world. Peter Ford works on Christian-Muslim relations in Lebanon and spoke in my area yesterday. He mentioned two of his students whose families were forced out of their towns by Syrian rebels. After the rebels took over, the government bombed the town in an effort to reclaim the area. The families returned to nothing: their homes were demolished, their possessions destroyed, their town forever changed.

There are so, so many people around the world in awful situations like these. Their choice of life and home and belongings is ripped from their grasp.

Keeping this in mind, I can cherish my friends, my family, the house I'm leaving, the belongings I'm selling and giving away and hold them all in highest esteem. I can be brave enough to open my heart to a new house, fewer things, a new town, and new friends.

I can learn to let go.

The big question is, what can I do to help those who are in horrible situations? I can give financially to relief organizations in war-torn countries like Syria. I can send school supplies or medical supplies when they are collected.

But I can also start here and now, every day, by showing kindness to my immigrant neighbors. I can smile at and accept those who think, worship or dress differently than I do. It's not "Go big or go home". I don't have to donate a million dollars or quit my day job. It's the "little" things that can also make a difference.

If you have something to let go, take a deep breath and go ahead. And then show a little kindness to those around you who may not be so fortunate.

Here's to letting go!

Friday, August 29, 2014

I Went to the Woods

For me, one of the treasures of small living is that it forces me to go outdoors.

Not everyone likes being outside. But anyone who knows me knows that I love it! If I could live outside, I would.

Because I find my self in the woods. It's the one place where I always feel like I am home. It's hard to put words to these feelings that arise in my heart when I go for a walk in the woods. It's like I know everything is right, even if just for that moment, and that I have a place - right here, right now, in the forest. Nothing else matters except the smell of the leaves, the chirping of the crickets, the sounds of my feet crunching on the trail. My stress floats away and my mind is free to think, to explore, to be creative. I think this is the true meaning of recreation.

I've also realized that having an outdoor space is a huge benefit to living in a small or a tiny house. We have a 900 square foot house and a 500 square foot deck

on 0.4 acres of our "own" within 6 million acres of state park.

When the weather is clear, I can do some of my work outside on the deck. My daughter can run around and enjoy the sunshine. (It also makes going inside for a nap not so bad when you've been outside all morning!) No matter how much time or money we spend renovating our house, no one wants to be inside when the sun rays glisten through the railing!

No matter what size house you choose to live in, don't forget to take advantage of the vast expanses of space we have in our forests and our parks. There are so many places you can go to enjoy the outdoors, and it doesn't have to be a big planned event or make you spend a lot of money. Even if you just go for a walk down your street in the morning, revel in whatever bit of nature you find.

This is what it's all about.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Determining the Value of Things

Now for some of the nitty gritty on my downsizing process.

Someone asked me today, "How do you decide what is valuable to you?"

I can't answer that question for you. I can share what I've learned in all of these months and months of sorting through my stuff and deciding what to keep and why.

I've learned that things have different types of values. Some are aesthetic, some are sentimental, some are utilitarian. For instance, I have seven or eight scarves. Two were my grandmother's (sentimental); I don't particularly care for the fabric and color (aesthetic) in one and I rarely wear it (utilitarian) but I'm having a hard time parting with it because it was my grandmother's.

It's easy for me to say to myself, "Hey - it's only one scarf! Doesn't take up much space." Which is a really easy way to avoid deciding what is important to my life.

Deciding for each item I have which of these values trumps the other has been tricky. I have asked myself a few questions when I have trouble deciding whether or not to keep an item:

1. Have I used it in the past year? If not, does that mean I won't use it in the next year?

2. What would I do without this thing? In other words, could I replace this thing's use with another thing I already have?

3. Where did this thing come from? Did someone I care about give this to me? Does the thing or its purchase remind me of some special event? Can I remember that person, place or event without having this thing?

4. What items do I want to pass down to be cherished by my daughter and by her family and by their families?

5. Could someone else get more use out of this item than I have gotten?

I don't really need two sets of steak knives or fifteen pot holders. I don't need five pairs of sandals. My daughter doesn't need 15 pairs of pants. I don't need that board game my husband hates playing. But these are the easy questions.

Do I need the dressers that I chose out of my grandmother's estate after she passed away?

Do I need this tiny cat figurine that my best friend in high school gave me for my 17th birthday that I just found in a box I haven't opened in 5 years?

Do I need that scarf?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Doubt and Deliberation

I had a moment of doubt today. Wondering if this all isn't a little too crazy!

It comes any time we choose a path with determination and purpose, doesn't it? It could be dedicating yourself to school, to a big project at work, to a relationship, or - for me right now - to living in a small house and getting rid of (most of) my stuff.

Within the next month, our lives are going to change dramatically. This dream we've been working toward over the past year and a half is about to happen! We will be vacating our Kingston apartment for a few months while we rent it out. Before that can happen, my husband and a friend will be replacing our roof. Then, just as soon as we move to the small Adirondack house, we're renting it out for five days. Except, it's not finished! Within one month, we're going from two houses to none for a moment.

Oh, and on top of all this, my husband is starting a new business - next week!

I can't say it's not a wild ride.

When I take a breath and then another (and another), I am reminded that I am doing this with purpose. I didn't decide to do this willy nilly. "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately." [Except, unlike Thoreau, my mom isn't around to do my laundry. (Sorry, transcendentalists! I had to say it.)]

Obstacles like these - stress, major change, making many difficult decisions - give me a chance to review my own character and dig into some tough questions of my self. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What am I capable of? I like to think that it's far more than what I've accomplished so far.

But let's be honest - this is a little crazy. And I don't think it would be as much fun if it wasn't!

Stay tuned for more on my wild ride!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Less really is more

When I was little, my mom (hi Mom!) had a cookbook: The More-With-Less Cookbook. As a kid, that was a little confusing. How can you make more with less?? Thank you, Mom, for introducing me to the concept of living small and simply at a young age.

Now I'm living it. Or, trying to.

Here's what I plan on doing with less:

  • relaxing more
  • spending more time with friends
  • travelling more
  • hiking more
  • cooking more
When I have less, I have:
  • less to pick up
  • less to worry about
  • less to clean
  • less to buy
  • less laundry to do
  • less to consume my energy
  • less complicated decisions to make
You can't imagine how excited I am to live with less! I look forward to looking at our mess and setting aside half an hour (not two or three hours) to clean up. And then spending the rest of the time out hiking in the mountains or in the yard enjoying the flowers and the sunshine (or, for most of the year, the snow! We have a wonderfully long winter here). 

As far as our human experience tells us, we only have a finite time to live and enjoy this life. I've always had a strong push to make the most of my time, and living smaller is helping me do that. We bought our house in the mountains not only for ourselves but with a deep desire to share it with friends and family. The Adirondacks are amazingly refreshing and beautiful! It's part of our goal to get everyone we know up here to experience this pleasure. By sizing down our stuff and fitting into this house, we'll have more time to bring more joy into our lives and into the lives of others. 

 What would you do more of with less? 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Yard Sale

We had a yard sale a few weeks ago. A whole year of setting aside our belongings had contributed to a significant pile in each room of our house. They were eyesores for sure but acted as a persistent reminder of our intentional plans.

All in all, it was a good day. I hope these items are finding usefulness in others' lives. We sold enough of our belongings to pay half our mortgage for the month. We gave the leftovers away to random passersby in need and then donated the rest to local charities. I thought we'd done pretty well. But when I walked inside our house that night, it seemed to me like we hadn't gotten rid of anything at all!

That clearly told me something important that I already knew - we have way too much stuff! We're now on round two of our purge. I'll write more about this process later.

What's striking me now is how I refer to these things as "belongings". How significant these things are in my life! Without thinking, I extract value from the things I own and assign it to myself. I treat my things as an extension of my self. Is this a natural way of looking at my place in the world or a construct that modern society has me thinking is necessary to my being, to my worth?

I can't begin to tell you how much I really don't like advertising being as prevalent as it is. I thought that I could escape it by not subscribing to cable TV. That worked in the 90s. As marketing has carpet bombed the internet, it's impossible for me to escape it now. I appreciate a company's desire to let the public know about their products. What I don't like is the pressure it puts on me to live a certain way (with lots of stuff) or be a certain type of person (with lots of stuff).

We now have a new rule in our house. We will only purchase something if it is either 1 - consumable or 2 - a replacement for something worn out or broken that we absolutely need. We can still get that bottle of wine for Friday night dinner with friends, but for the most part we've put a freeze on expanding our possessions.

That's funny - the other word I use for my stuff is "possessions". I wonder though, do I possess them, or do they possess me?

Today this whole process has been a little overwhelming, honestly. I'm not sure where to start, and I can't even come up with a plan or a priority list. And my car needs work and our roof is leaking. So I guess it's no surprise that I'm not getting a lot done. Maybe I just need a break today, and my energy will return tomorrow.

In the meantime, I need to figure out which of my six purple tee shirts will make it to the "keep" pile.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Start of an Adventure

If anything has caught my attention recently and resonated with my consciousness in such perfect tune, it's the tiny house movement. 

A few months ago, I had never heard the term "tiny house" and I had certainly never imagined living in less than 200 square feet except to go camping. But very quickly I was drawn in - and not just by the amazing pictures of cute, storybook structures with a purpose for everything and everything in its place. I was drawn to the philosophy of the movement. 

I've always believed in the idea of being purposeful with life: with money, with belongings, with my job, with the people I spend time with. I feel that, for the most part, I've done a pretty good job of being a good steward of my time, money and resources. But the tiny house movement is helping me take this to a completely new level. 

It all started about a year and a half ago, in March 2013. Actually, it started long before that, when someone asked my husband (then boyfriend) and me what we really wanted for our future. Despite having been together for several years, it was a surprise that we both always dreamed of running a bed and breakfast. I always thought it would be a great retirement job, and he went to culinary school and wanted to escape the disconnect between cook and patrons. Perfect! We eventually got engaged and immediately started looking for a house. 

We made a list. I believe in the importance of actualizing your dreams by putting them to paper. It had to have 4+ bedrooms, 3+ baths, a mud room, a laundry room, two living areas, a gear room (we're climbers), an office space (I work from home), a deck, a nice yard, and a great location. No problem, I figured! The right house will come along at the right time and we'll just keep saving until it does. I made a financial chart of closing costs, mortgages and maintenance costs so we would know exactly how much house we could afford with the money we had in the bank. 

Fast forward a few years. We got married in 2010 and started travelling with my husband's job (Big Bambu). In between trips, we got pregnant and had a beautiful little girl in 2012. We were still saving and dreaming and house hunting, but life was happening much faster than we had ever imagined. 

Now it's March 2013.I'm a new mom, my husband is working every weekend (he's also an ice climbing guide) and I miss the mountains. When it's cold out, no matter how many layers of warmth and blankets you pile on her, a six month old can only stay out for so long! In between breastfeeding and working and changing diapers, my house hunting turns up two cute cabins on ADK By Owner, both in a good location and both within our budget. But not at all what we were planning. 

And the talk begins: maybe we should rethink our plans, maybe we're thinking too big, maybe we should start small, see if this idea will work before we jump into a second mortgage and the subsequent divorce. Gotta love my husband, he says we should go take a look. And we did, and we fell in love. 

It's a 900 square foot house: 650 square feet of living space, a 125 square foot sleeping loft and 125 square foot of unfinished basement. Post and beam, with a great view of the mountains (we're IN them!), right in the epicenter of a climber's dream. A small house, not a tiny house, and certainly a far cry from a typical bed and breakfast. 

With absolutely no closets. Not. A. One. 

This blog is my journey to downsize our regularly sized American lives into this perfect little house in the Adirondack mountains.