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.