Thursday, September 10, 2015

It's Not About Me, Either

So just the other night I was lamenting how much more work I have to do, and this time on my self - not on my possessions.

Already, thankfully, I have something to share. That even though I'm entering into this time where my attention is focusing inward instead of out, it's not about me at all.

In fact, it's about everything else.

It's about getting off of Facebook, shutting down the computer, and reading a good book.

It's about dusting off my guitar case, and then opening it and letting my fingers recall some of the songs I used to love.

It's about going for a family hike after work.

I have done ALL of these things since my last post. And, it feels wonderful: freeing, stimulating and rejuvenating.

This is what downsizing has given me. It's not less stuff, or a smaller house, or an edgy lifestyle, or material for a blog. It's FREEDOM.

I just have to remember not to forget.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It's Not About Stuff Anymore

So... our 21 days is up! Do you want to know what happened - what really happened?

[Ok, good. I was hoping that you would be okay with knowing the real story, and not some made-up, fancy blogpost aimed at getting attention.]

Because, nothing. Nothing happened.

Well, not much.

I mean, yeah, we found that we didn't need a bunch of stuff that we'd stored in the basement. And we found a few things that we did need: the baby's swing, some shoes, paperwork. We haven't gotten rid of all the other stuff, even though our 21 days is up. Though I do have plans to do another yard sale soon.

But I honestly thought this would be a revelatory experience, with more freedom springing up in our lives like fresh bamboo sprouts in a Japanese forest. But really, it was just living our same ol' life, with less stuff.

So I'm starting to get to the place where this whole small house living experiment is not about the stuff anymore. It's not about the house, or the size of our house, or the amount of stuff we have or don't have anymore, or the number of things we have gotten rid of or anything like that. It's starting to be about something much more personal and sensitive and maybe even private.

Because, the whole point of my husband and I choosing to live this way - giving up our belongings, our personal space, our comfortably full-sized home and our comfort zone - has been to enjoy life more. To live better. To be independent. To experience life more fully and feel alive.

And, even after all we've done to get to this place, I don't always feel too much different than I did when I had a full closet of clothes and overstuffed bookshelves.

So I realize that now is the time that I have to start working on - not my stuff, but - me. I've shaken off some of the weights that kept me living with stress and work. And now there's a lot I need to do internally, to address my thoughts, my beliefs, my habits and my behaviors that hold me back and keep me stuck in a place where I'm stressed and dangerously burdened.

I'm reading Everything That Remains by The Minimalists, and tonight I'm struck by something else Joshua writes. It's not heady, but it has my brain in a tizzy. In chapter 8, he writes that, after an intense process of downsizing his belongings, leaving his corporate job, ditching technology and simplifying his life, he gave up his goals.

As soon as I read that, my brain went, "What?!" because I.

This is how I live. It's how I measure myself. It's how I know I'm successful. It's how I got through school. It's how I finish my work every day. It's how I know I'm having a good day. It's PART of me.

I make lists. Even if it's not on paper, it's in my head: what I want to accomplish for the day, for the morning, for the weekend.

I like numbers. I studied math. I like their reliability. I like to quantify things. I like to compare. If 75% of my list is done, I feel much better about myself than I would if only 50% is done.

But it doesn't bring me any real contentment. If anything, it's momentary, and it lasts only long enough for me to make a new list of things to do or tasks to accomplish the next day. There's never any achieving, there's only doing.

So thanks, Joshua. Thanks a lot. Because I have no idea how to do this. I don't have any idea how I could give up this thing, this way of being, that feels so fundamentally part of myself that I don't even know if I have an identity without it. I don't know to function without goals. I've always constantly asked myself what I want to be, where I want to go, what I want to do, this year, next year, the next five years. It's just what I do.

But I realize it's getting in the way. It keeps me from relaxing and having fun with my family, the thing I keep wanting SO very, very goodly. It keeps me from getting on the floor and building blocks with my daughter. It keeps me from tickling my son's tiny big feet. It keeps me from sitting on the deck with my husband staring into the night sky. I might still be doing those things, but I'm not really there. My mind is elsewhere, thinking about the other things I need to accomplish. Even when those things are dishes. Or paperwork. Or web design. Or blogging. Or whatever.

I don't know where this is going to take me. I don't know how much of this journey I'll be able to share. I only know that I have to try and go there.

I think I am going to have to be quite diligent about this. I mean, I think I actually need to focus my attention on this. In comparison, getting rid of our stuff seemed easy. We were moving to a smaller house, so things just had to go; it was a simple matter of volume. It was like trimming my fingernails: it had to get done, and it was a relief.

But changing the way I think about my own life, and how I function in it, and how I define my success, is surgery.

Keep me in your thoughts, and please share your thoughts, especially if you are also reading Everything That Remains (as I would highly recommend you do and I don't get paid by anyone to say that). You can email me privately here.

Until I'm able to write again, peace and love. Enjoy the life you have!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The (Un)Packing Party

I posted recently (okay - today, actually) about how we rented out our house on for the first time last week, and I thought I might share a little more about what happened when we did.

Sorry, I'm a little excited about this!

Actually, two happenings converged together in the past week to bring me to this place.

The first: airbnb. So our house is small (as you know) and it has only one closet (as you know) and we still have a lot of stuff (as you know). In order to make our house rentable, we basically spent a day doing some last-minute fixing up (like, I painted the ceiling that's been calling my name for 6 months, and John put up the trim around the bathroom window that needed finishing).

Then we spent another day taking all our personal belongings and shoving them (yes, almost literally shoving) into the basement. All the things that would scream out "THIS HOUSE BELONGS TO SOMEONE ELSE! Someone with KIDS! Someone with PAPERWORK! Someone with TOO MUCH STUFF!" to someone trying to spend a nice, relaxing vacation in the Adirondack park.

When we left, I looked around and thought (or did I say it aloud?), "This is exactly what I'd like our house to look like."


Because I thought that only someone else would get to experience that freedom.

But this brings me to the second happening: a few days later, I'm reading Everything That Remains by Joshua Millburn one night when everyone decided to hit the hay earlier than me. I'm reading about Ryan Nicodemus and his extreme introduction to minimalism. He called it a Packing Party (on page 85, to be exact).

It involved packing every. Single. One of his belongings into moving boxes and stuffing them into one room of his home. Covering his furniture, his tv. As if he was moving. But instead of moving, he had 21 days during which he could take out of the boxes only those things which he truly needed. At the end of 21 days, he had to either sell, donate or trash whatever remained.

Wow! That's a heck of a way to move into minimalism.

So it's late, and my brain is processing this stuff I'm reading, and suddenly I realize: that's US! WE are going to have an (Un)Packing Party.

We already did the hard work - moving all our stuff sitting around, collecting dust, driving me nuts. It's already in the basement (our version of Ryan's moving boxes). And why just bring all of it back upstairs and clutter up our beautiful small house the moment we get back from a relaxing vacation? No, no, I am not going back there!

So I am going to celebrate every time we unpack only the things that we need. Then, I'm going to celebrate even more when we get rid of all the stuff we have that we don't need. The stuff we didn't even know we didn't need because it just kept sitting there.

Our 21 days starts today.

Join me on our journey and find out what we really need - and what we don't!

Don't Forget the Why

So I was just about to write a nice little post last week about our car downsizing experiment, and how we decided to keep two cars, and all the reasons why – where we live (rural, mountainous, with no solid public transportation, far away from THE grocery store) and how we live (running a business, with two small children), etc. We were sorting out what kind of car to buy to replace my little putt-putt. Then we drove back to the Hudson Valley to visit family. And, lo and behold, our other car died, on the day we were supposed to drive home.

It’s been six weeks now. Two (old) cars down, one (new-ish) car up. The one-car experiment continues.

What’s been on my mind lately, though, is more about why we downsize, rather than how or how much.

Because I see (especially in the tiny house movement and the minimalist movement) a push towards decluttering as some strange anti-American Dream competition, where numbering one’s possessions and obsessive downsizing have overpowered the whole purpose behind the origins of the movement. The place that Things once held is now just replaced by the-getting-rid-of-Things.

I work with data, numbers, and statistics on a Monday through Friday basis in my job in data governance. I see how taking a count – a real, numeric, quantitative count – of one’s belongings could be helpful, to set before you everything you have as one lump sum total. It could force you to see each thing individually as you give it a cardinal number. I haven’t done it yet, so I’m only surmising.

What I don’t understand or see value in is the competition (with oneself or with others) to get that number down. Is there a perfect number of Things that we’re all trying to obtain? (If there is, can someone please share?!) If I have 83 possessions, am I happier than my friend who was 87? Or if I have 207 possessions now, am I any better off than I was when I had 208?

And I can attest to the fact that decluttering feels GOOD. Really good. It literally lightens your burdens in life to get rid of things you don’t need. But I see folks for whom decluttering is their new hoarding. It fills their void. It becomes just another addiction to distract from what really is important.

But what IS important? What does freedom from Things mean?

I’m in the middle of reading Everything That Remains by The Minimalists  Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. (P.S. I think this is a great read, no matter where on the minimalist continuum you are.) Millburn writes, “Ultimately, the purpose of embracing minimalism has to do with the benefits we each experience once we’re on the other side of decluttering. Hence, removing the clutter is not the end result; it is merely the first step…. It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable.”

And: “When I got rid of the majority of my possessions, I was forced to confront my darker side, compelled to ask questions I wasn’t prepared for: When did I give so much meaning to material possessions? What is truly important in life? … Who is the person I want to become? How will I define my own success?”

These are the tougher questions that everyone on a downsizing journey runs into eventually and has to answer. For themselves.

I’ll tell you one of my answers.

This week, I’m writing from a beautiful big house in coastal Maine. We rented it on on a last-minute whim, sharing a vacation week with my in-laws. Because I work remotely, I can work from anywhere, so I figured why not work from coastal Maine?*

We also thought, why leave an empty house behind? So we took the leap, ran around and made some last-minute fixes, and rented out our home on airbnb. (My fingers are crossed for a good first review!)

This is one of our goals, something that has value in our lives: to be mobile, unattached to mortgage/responsibility/Things, ready and able to travel and see the world around us. It’s not like we don’t want roots. It’s more like we want to be like seaweed, with strong roots in the ocean floor below us but the ability to wander around with the waves. Because we chose a small mortgage and we live in an area where people vacation frequently, we can rent our house for a few days, cover our mortgage, and travel somewhere new without going into debt for the experience. 

This is what having fewer things, and small house living, is giving me.

For now.

Life is fluid, right? It’s good to check back in now and again because what I’m doing right now might not work for me, for my family, in five years. Or two years. Or whenever. I try to stay sensitive to the shifts in our lives and revisit what we want and how to get there as necessary.  

If you’re on a path of downsizing or sorting out what things you want to own that add value to your life, keep the end goal in mind: to add value, as you define it. 

Even if you define it from a porch swing on a summer night in Maine. 

*Though, through a series of poor circumstances, I ended up taking the week off. My husband had a (thankfully) brief hospital visit at the beginning of the week and we weren’t even sure we’d be able to make the trip. But it was his birthday, and he wanted to be by the coast (isn’t the ocean relaxing?) and I wanted him to be happy, and he said he felt up to it, so we cautiously set off from our home 6 (or was it 10?) hours away. Basically, I looked for every hospital in between there and here just in case something went wrong. Seriously, I don’t make this stuff up. Anyone with or married to someone with Crohn’s Disease probably understands. There’s some type of balance we have to strike between being safe (like, at home in a comfortable place, or near a hospital) and living life (like, going on this trip!). 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

One Household, One Car

If you've never watched the movie Office Space, stop whatever you're doing. Right now.

Get yourself some popcorn, grab some "flare" and get on Netflix.

Because somebody had A Case of the Mondays this week: my husband and I.

This week he was scheduled to work about 5 hours away from home for a few days. He lovingly offered to take our daughter to the grocery store with him to stock up our shelves for me while he's gone. So coming home, with a trunk full of groceries and in a stretch of road with spotty cell service, my car died on him.

It died a hard, potentially permanent death, too: timing belt. Ugh. Perfect timing!
Who taught this kid how to drive?!
So, with two of the three car rental agencies out of inventory and the third having been shut down last month, we made a decision. Though we didn't have much of a choice, we decided to try living without.

I grew up in a rural area, about five miles from the nearest store (thank goodness for Stewart's!) and about 20 minutes from town. That's not too much different from where we live now. And when I was a kid, having a car meant things, like freedom and independence and opportunity. To me, it always has.

So this week I am home in our small house with two kids, no husband and no car. I do have help. Wonderful friends are driving my daughter to daycare this week. My mom will be visiting to help out next week and will give us a lift to meet up with my husband. When he's around, he lets me drive his car. But this is definitely a situation that, a few years ago, would have caused me some undeniable feelings of claustrophobia and anxiety.

But today, it's an experiment.

And while we try out this new lifestyle, a whole bunch of questions are coming up for me. What do I need?

What do I really need?

Do I really need my own car? Do I feel like I should be entitled to have a car? Do I have entitlement issues? What is the best way to spend our money? What is the best choice for our family? Will I feel more free or more caged by not having a car? How did our society buy into the idea that every person should have their own car? Or, more importantly, why?

Lots of people I know live without a car, or only one car in their families. I know it can be done and done happily.

The question I have to answer is: Can I do it?

I'll run this experiment for the next few weeks and let you know if downsizing on autos is the way to go, or if it will have me flagging down the next bus to the car dealer!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Dream of Italy

Almost three years ago, on the way home from the hospital with my daughter, we got a phone call that would impact our choice to live minimally as a family.

It was an invitation for my husband to work with Mike + Doug Starn for two months on their Big Bambu project in Rome, Italy. With a three day old in the backseat, my husband and I knew if there was any time that we could make this work, it was then! When the baby was two months old, we packed a suitcase of tiny clothes, diapers and a toy and headed off to live in my mother country.

The good thing about Rome and Romans is that they loooove babies. And when I say "love", I mean random strangers will cross the street just to oogle over a little one. To hold their hands, touch their faces, ask for names and ages, and, if you're up for it, even hold your little one and take them back across the street to show their friends! I know some parents might be appalled, and honestly it did surprise me the first time it happened, but after I got used to this different way of living I decided it was simply AMAZING. Not only could I get a much needed break from holding my daughter (you know the concept of the fourth trimester?), but she was socialized, introduced to the Italian language AND we met many wonderful people we never would have otherwise:
Copyright 2010 Beth A. Mackey
(Okay, okay, I know he's not Italian! But apparently he knows that "when in Rome...")

Anyway, here we were 4,000 miles (for the rest of the world, that's 7,000 km) away from home with a two month old baby and a suitcase of "stuff" in a hotel room for two months. (Sounds like the start of a new Vacation spin-off!) It probably could have been a disaster - and we did have language barriers, diaper blow-outs, and some breastfeeding challenges on our tour of the Vatican Museum - but I have to tell you it was basically The Best Time I'd Ever Had.

Partly because the way we lived in the Eternal City was minimalism at its best - and pretty much perfect. Since Rome is full of real neighborhoods with local markets within walking distance, we didn't need a car, a big refrigerator or a lot of packaged, preserved food. We ate fresh and healthy food, got exercise, and met the local people in our amazing neighborhood of Testaccio. With a bed, a desk, two closets, and a kitchenette, our hotel room became our first experiment as a family in small house living. 

Except for needing to buy a sweater while we were there, the suitcase of clothing we brought was completely adequate. In fact, I brought some articles of clothing I never ended up wearing - so I learned to pack lighter on subsequent trips. Even though she grew through a size by the time we left, I had more than enough for my daughter, too. Maybe a washing machine would have been helpful, but we managed just fine without it and didn't miss the space or the stuff we had left at home. 

This was our first of several times travelling as a family, but so far it's been our longest stay away from home. Every time we travel, we absorb our experience and it changes us in some way. I brought home from Rome the understanding that everything I need to raise a child could fit in a suitcase. 

As I settle into life with our four week old son, I seem to be reliving the time when my daughter was the same age and feel like I should be preparing for some epic trip. I find myself reminiscing about the streets we would wander down, the historic sights we would pass by, the friends we made, the feeling of living in such a family-centered city. I miss trying to sputter out some broken and improperly conjugated Italian. 

I think I'll get my son a passport. Tomorrow. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Change of Clothes

It's 4 am. I'm 40 weeks 5 days pregnant and wide awake. What better time to grab a bowl of cereal and write!

Nights like these often lend themselves to soul searching for me. I pull out my journal and write to clear my mind or just for something to do with myself while my body moves back into sleep mode. Tonight, I wrote a bit and then reread some pieces I had written over the past year. It's been quite a journey!

Last June, we celebrated the one year anniversary of having purchased our small house. Two years is coming up soon - exciting! What I wrote about most a year ago was how intent I was on designing a fully functional closet system for our bedroom. It was to be built into the attic wall (the loft space of our house doesn't fully cover the footprint so we have unused space under the rafters next to our loft. It's currently closed off but that didn't stop me from dreaming!) and consisted of clothes bars and drawers and pull-out shelves and hooks and a perfect space for each pair of shoes. Like those closets I see in the Ikea catalog that are so bloody organized, I'm pretty sure that the owner either doesn't work because he's too busy keeping his closet organized, or he actually lives at his girlfriend's place.

 What I realized tonight is that I was trying to design a system around my present situation, instead of trying to change. I was trying to take all the stuff I had and fit it into this perfectly categorized world where all those things had a place.

Probably because change is hard.

 I used to think that I was terribly horrible at dealing with change - and, I suppose, sometimes I still am. But I am - and you are, too - more adaptable than I had ever thought. Look over your last year and see what you think.

I didn't get my perfectly categorized wardrobe (or world). Fortunately. We ended up buying a captain's bed that I'm moderately happy with. I pared my wardrobe down to about 6 of everything and then rolled my clothing so it all fit in the drawers. I have a box of clothes for summer, a box for winter, and a box of maternity clothes all stashed in the basement. Way more than I would like, but being in the middle of a "significant figure transition" means I have to hang onto clothing I might not normally keep around.

As I wait for our son to arrive, change is imminent. I have ideas, but sometimes I just can't fathom what the future will actually look like and prepare myself for it. We have the co-sleeper set up. We have a changing table. We have clothes, love and lots of diapers. Mise en place: everything is in its place, even in our small house.

The things we'll need can't be purchased at Baby Depot: sleep, support, quiet, patience, sunshine, friends, family. Did I mention sleep?

Ah, here it is: the first avian twitterings of the morning light and the smallest of brightenings over the mountain I'm looking out at. Just in time for me to finish up and head back to bed.

Change happens every day, but we don't always recognize it because it happened yesterday, too. Instead of trying to cram our overly busy lives and our overflowing abundance into what we have now, here's to embracing change!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Downsizing in Double-time

What happens when you take a basement, full of the remnants of a year of downsizing; a pregnant mamma; and a closing date two days away? 

I'll tell you, because I just did it: I call it downsizing in double-time!

Thanks to my amazing realtor, my top-notch lawyer, and an interested buyer, we sold our "big" house. Within a week. And closed within 10 weeks. A whirlwind shift in our lives, for sure! 

The only "hitch" really was finding out this past Monday morning that our closing date was Wednesday afternoon! All that stuff that we hadn't known what to do with, hadn't had time or energy to decide on, or hadn't been ready to part with, was in the basement of a house soon to be transferred over in deed and title to the lucky buyer. Only, now we HAD to do something with it all - and fast! 

College notes. Text books. Journals. More books. Baby clothes. Tools. And just stuff. Oodles of stuff. It was all small stuff, and it all added up to a lot. 

I made rapid fire decisions, one after another after another. Chuck this, recycle that, donate this. Why did I keep those twist ties that cluttered up my tool box? Who could use a modem? Did I really need my 15 year old notes on C++? We filled a garbage can, a recycling bin, and the back of the CRV with donations (twice). After about 12 hours, it was finally done. 

In all the hustle, I found something amazing: my husband's phone number. Of course I know his phone number! I mean, the piece of paper he gave me when we first exchanged numbers over 12 years ago. I had it stashed away in a journal, and I just so happened to open right to the page where it was carefully taped for remembrance. I felt that same flutter in my heart from the moment of exchange, thinking that this super nice guy, so kind and caring and intriguing, might be interested in me. And then feeling overwhelmingly thankful that he still is. (And yes, I cried. Meanwhile, he was sitting on the other side of the room laughing over drawings of Captain Stupid Pants or something that he made in middle school. And that's what I love about him!)

And, I just realized I might have left it in the pocket of my jeans that he put it in the wash tonight for me. Well, I suppose that just brings home the impermanence of material things! Enjoy the moment, and then let it go to make room for new experiences, new memories, new happiness. 

My 10 year tenure as a landlord has come to a close. All the stress of being responsible for my tenants' happiness, a two-family home, and all the mounds of bills and maintenance issues, is released. I am free to spend more time with my family, and I'm going to need it - our baby boy is due in two weeks!

In the midst of the chaos this week, I found a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that reads, "Happiness means feeling you are on the right path every moment. You don't need to arrive at the end of the path in order to be happy." 

Whether you are on a downsizing journey or another life adventure of different proportions, may you find contentment in knowing you are on the right path for you, right here, right now, like I have felt as all these many decisions have come together to bring me to today. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Parenting in a Small Space

[You can also find my guest blog post of this article on Hudson Valley Parent Magazine, an amazing parenting publication in print and online. I'll be writing an article for the June print issue, so be sure to pick it up!]

We used to be "normal". You know, a 1200 square foot, 2-bedroom apartment in a city, with closets and things sitting in them that we didn't use. For a family of three, this seemed just about right.

Then we started off on an adventure.

When we first called the seller to inquire about the small house we now own, he warned us: "This isn't really a full-time living space. It's pretty small for two people, but - perfect for a vacation home!" (Little did he know, we were actually a family of three!) But we liked it, so we bought it anyway.

Our daughter was about 10 months old when we closed. No way could we even think about fitting her stuff, our stuff, and ourselves into this place! It was okay, though. We weren't going to live here. We would rent it out, share it with family and friends, and enjoy our own vacations here once in awhile.

Then, thanks to a friend's post on Facebook, I stumbled across the tiny house movement. I found cute story-book houses and blog posts telling the chronicles of brave souls giving away their possessions and living with less, all to live in infinitesimally small spaces. Maybe it would be possible for us...

But the one thing I didn't find much about were families living in tiny and small houses. Individuals, absolutely. Couples, sure. But with kids? Not so much. We decided to move here full time, and I just figured that we'd have to figure it out on our own.

Since then, I've found a number of notable families that have shared their experience living small. The numbers are growing of families diving into small house living. There are definite joys: less to clean, less to buy, less to pay for, smaller mortgages and utility bills. But parenting in a small space comes with some challenges too.

Wait - parenting is always a challenge and a joy (and, sometimes, both simultaneously)! For us, we're making it happen in a small house with an open floor plan, where just about everything gets shared, all the time. Living space? Shared. Play space? Shared. Sleeping space? Shared.

Headaches? Sometimes, they're shared, too!

Probably the hardest part of living in a small space is handling a two year old's temper tantrum. She needs a break, and I need a break, but we can't get away from each other!

We understand the power of going outside. The fresh air, the change of scenery, the temperature change, all provide a good opportunity to take a breath. During an outburst, it calms us down. But we live in the mountains, so this is not always a viable solution. When it's 10 below or raining (both of which happen frequently!), we make a point to look out the window and find something outside to focus on: a bird, the weather, the wind, a leaf.

Since we're constantly sharing space, I find it sometimes difficult to impart healthy separation to my daughter. She is always in my sight and I'm always in hers.

On the other hand, my daughter plays where I can see her, and we always get to be a part of each other's lives. When she squeals over a re-discovered book she hasn't read in months, I'm right there to share in her joy. When I'm working on a project, she gets involved. When she's about to draw on the wall with a marker, I know. In reality, her independence is stronger because I'm not worried about her getting into trouble in another room. She can explore with freedom.

I've always been a very independent person. Having a child was a huge shift for me, and I really do need my down time to recharge. So when living in a small space gets too much for me, I ask for help. My husband is great about responding to my needs, and he'll take her out so I can breath. Even a few minutes is sometimes enough.

Yes, we sleep in the same space: we have a sleeping loft, where one side is hers and the other is ours. Until we bought this house, I never considered that there might be any way of living other than each kid having their own bedroom, with a door, and toys and books, and a closet full of clothes, and space. When my daughter was an infant, I remember feeling so very relieved when we finally moved her to her own bedroom in our last house. Freedom! And it was great, at the time.

Now, I treasure the fact that I can hear her breathing when I wake up in the night. In the morning, I see her sleepy eyes and her amazing little smile first thing. I'm literally right there if she needs anything.

Believe it or not, she still has enough space to practice her dance moves on the carpet before she hops into bed for the night.

This seems to keep coming up in my conversations with friends and family: Where do you go to be alone? The truth is, nowhere. I can try the bathroom, but any parent knows no toddler is going to let that happen!

Where do you have private conversations? We wait until bedtime, or go outside. Or, we spell things. It makes a two minute conversation last ten, but right now it works. I've heard pig latin works well too, and we might have until middle school before she figures that out!

Where will your kids get private space? Honestly, I'm not sure. My daughter has a reading nook with her books and a miniature rocking chair of her very own. She loves to hang out there, and it seems to make her happy. And there's no way on earth that I can fit in that rocking chair, so that space is all hers!

If one of us really needs to escape the shared environment, our sleeping loft provides some private space during the daytime Sleeping lofts: for more than just naps!

For now, our kids are small (one is two and a half, the other in utero) so living in a small space works for us. We know that, as our kids grow up and start playing in the school band, they'll probably need more space. And so will we!

We'll cross that bridge - and buy that house - when we come to it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Getting What You Want (Is Not Always What You Think You Want)

When my husband and I were looking for a house, we made a list.

I believe there is power in writing things down. It's not magic exactly, but something happens when we take our thoughts and our ideas and bring them from the ethereal into the tangible world, where they can be read and re-read and where we can decide if they make sense or not. And others can potentially see them, and maybe even get behind them too.

I thought the best way we could assure that we get exactly what we're looking for was to write down our ideas about what we both wanted, make sure we were on the same page, and then know what to look for in a house. To focus our energies on the real deal instead of wasting time on things that didn't fit our list.

Our plan at the time was to fix up an old house as a bed and breakfast, so our list went something like this:
- 4 to 5 bedrooms
- 3 to 4 bathrooms
- a mud room
- a laundry room
- a library

You know, something that (after a little work - or a lot) would look like this:

That was about 6 years ago, but I was thinking about it recently and came to a new and revelatory understanding about this list.

Our house ended up being less than 900 square feet, an open floor plan with one sleeping loft and one bathroom. No distinguished library, no mud room, no laundry room. Or, at least, that's what one might see if you looked at the tax rolls.

But, in reality, we asked for 4 to 5 bedroom; we got beds for 5. We asked for 3 to 4 bathrooms; we got a bathroom that fits 3 people at a time (yes, we've all been in there together! With a potty training toddler, it's inevitable!). We asked for a mud room; we have a space near the door to hang our coats and dry our boots. We asked for a laundry room; we have a washer and a place to do our laundry. We asked for a library; we got a beautiful bookshelf made out of reclaimed lumber, hung over our couch where we can comfortably read. We wanted a bed and breakfast; we got a post and beam shed we plan to convert into a rustic guest house.

We made a list and thought we knew what that meant. Life brought us exactly what we asked for - it just didn't look like what we expected it to.

Sometimes, success is all in your perspective.

"It's not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities." - Kristin Armstrong

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Financial Dieting

In my last post, I briefly mentioned my desire to get out of debt. To me, living small means more than just living in a small house. It also means spending small. And that runs in my genes! The women in my family have made this our family motto: Numquam pretium persolvere - "Never pay full price"!

When I would come home from a shopping trip, my husband John and I used to play this game (okay, I used to make him play this game!). I would hold up the item, and John had to guess how much I paid. A sweater in April with a red clearance tag? "$15?" "Nope!" "$8?" "Nope! $6.95!" (After awhile, he got smart and started seriously underbidding, like $2 for anything... but we all know that's not how you play the game!)

I also get seriously excited when I see our accounts making money. Last year we switched our investments and retirement savings from a "big box" company to a small, family-run investment advisory in Goshen, NY (10-15 Associates - whom I highly recommend). I had no idea just how much more we could be growing our assets with a good advisor! And my experience is you don't have to have a ton of capital to start, but you do have to start.

My point is, I'm passionate about being financially free.

I think I'm on my way. Our old house - also, my biggest debt - is on the market. We didn't plan to get out of debt this way, but... well, here we are! (You can read more about that shift in my last blog post.)

I'm not an economist or a financial advisor by any means, but I see financial freedom as a balance between saving more and spending less. To me, it's like losing weight. There are lots of ways to do it, but it basically comes down to either exercising more or eating less. And I'm ready to lose some financial weight!

Before I expound upon some highly developed financial plan that's probably already out there, let me point you to this blog post I found that hit close to home for me, with practical methods in just a few words. Check out The Minimalists post on Financial Freedom. I love a lot of the things these dudes have to share, and there's nothing like a little inspiration on a Tuesday night (or anytime)!

And when you're done reading, let me know what you think. What works for you? What doesn't? What tools have you used to increase your financial independence? What's the most money you ever saved on something: in a day or a week or a lifetime? What weighs you down? And, most importantly, what lifts you up?

Thanks for reading, and may we all find more financial freedom this week.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Moving (on)

There are things in life that I've expected to be certain or unchanging - maybe not "forever", but for a lot longer than they have turned out to be.

I'm getting a little tiny bit better at rolling with the punches. Well, at least in my own opinion. On good days. When the sun's out.

When I bought our "big" house 10 years ago, my plan was to stay there. I wasn't married at the time, but I imagined raising my family there, watching my kids play in the back yard. It's a two-family home, so the thought occurred to me that there was enough space to share with family members as we all grew older. Or, we could bring the home back to its original glory as a turn-of-the-century single family home for us to enjoy all together.

My husband (first boyfriend, then fiance) and I lived in 700 square feet there for about six years. When our family expanded, so did our space when we moved into the larger of the two apartments at 1,300 square feet. We lived there for two and a half years before our plans took us out of the area and into the small house we have now.

When we finally moved here (I swear - for the last time!), my plan was to be a landlord from afar. After all, I have almost 10 years' experience now, a budget, and a bit of gumption. I found a respectable, professional, employed tenant to take over our apartment with her self-imposed one-year lease. I could rest easy for a little while.    

Yes yes yes, I know - I hear you laughing already!

You can tell it didn't turn out that way. Within two weeks, I'm getting calls asking for changes to the terms of her lease, a tangle of unhappiness over situations that have no relation at all to me, the house or anything that I have control over.

But instead of shaking my fist at the sky, shouting, "WHY is this happening to me?!" (which I admittedly wanted to do for about 30 seconds), I began to ask the question: What does this mean for me?

It didn't take me but a few minutes of introspection to figure out that it means another step in the letting go process. And this time, it means letting go of the house. The place that I had called home for an entire decade, loved with my heart and my pocketbook, and hadn't planned on giving up. Another (big) step in our downsizing process.

The house represented a type of security for me. What if this small house living business, away from our established friendships, away from our family, doesn't work? What if my husband's business doesn't take off? What if we don't like each other after being in such a small space? No worries - we always have the old house to go back to, the familiarity of our old neighborhood, the comfort of our favorite coffee shop, our (comparatively) immense amounts of space.

The other side of these revelations was that I had been limiting myself by thinking, "What will we do if we need to move back here and we don't have this house?" Which is another way of saying: no new experience could be better than the one I've already had.

Right. So the truth is, I wasn't jumping into our new life with both feet. I was dabbing my toes in the water all the time pretending I was swimming. And now, it was becoming clear that I needed to dive in and get my hair wet.

So now, instead of kicking back in our small home, I'm in real estate mode: we are selling our house.

This will be the first letting go decision in our downsizing process that I really don't have a lot of control over. All the other decisions on what to keep and what to give away were mine to make and mine to execute. I completed the process every time we had a yard sale or dropped off a bag at Goodwill.

Now, I have to put my self out there, put my house out there, and hope and ask and advertise for someone to come and help me downsize my life. My process is now intricately connected with someone else's goals, finances, and life situation.

One of my downsizing/simplifying goals has been to get out of debt. I always figured that just meant putting extra money towards our mortgage every month until it was paid off. I had no idea it would mean selling the house. Insert forehead slap here. In retrospect now, it makes way too much sense!

So that's what's happening in our downsizing process today. And I am fully certain that I am completely uncertain what tomorrow will bring! No matter what, I'm going to do my best to roll with it and learn.

Peace and happiness to you all! May downsizing bring you more joy, more freedom, and more closeness with those you love and who love you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ebbs and Flows

So, no - I did not fall off the face of the earth. But we have had quite an adventure over the past several months and had to put our downsizing/moving work on hold for just a bit. Things don't always (or, more honestly, rarely) happen as I plan them!

As you know, we moved to our small house in the middle of September. I, of course, had grand ideas of neatness and minimalism and fitting everything in. And, as you also know, that didn't happen. We moved our boxes to the edges of the rooms and just kept on living.

Then, all at once, we got a few calls - a change in tenant situation, a new job, a broken down car - that ended up bringing us back to the apartment we'd just deliberately and intentionally left, except now it was devoid of just about everything save a few pieces of now very useful furniture - a bed, a kitchen table and chairs, a futon. We brought back some blankets and pillows, a pot, a pan, and got some plastic silverware and paper plates from the dollar store. It was all just enough to get by.

We ended up staying there from the middle of October through the end of 2014. Our downsizing stopped, and instead we were now living a truly minimalist life, without the attachments to our things. And I have to tell you, it worked out just fine! My husband and I both agree that, after getting rid of about half our stuff, we honestly don't miss any of it at all. I have two regrets though: I mistakenly sold one DVD that I kinda wish I'd kept (because, no, I can't watch it on youtube or netflix) and I wish I'd gotten rid of more.

We  f i n a l l y  got back to living in our small house December 30th to celebrate the new year in more than one way. We packed some stuff from our apartment into the basement, because we weren't able to make every single stay-or-go decision yet. We sent a bunch of it on to Goodwill. We packed the rest in our cars and made our way north. We're here, it's official, it's permanent (well, as permanent as anything can be) and things are moving!

John incorporated his rock and ice climbing business at the end of the year, so one of the main reasons for us being located here is now officially happening. I'm supposed to be working on his website right now, so maybe by the end of the week you'll be able to find him as Tamarack Mountain Guiding, Inc.

The best news to give you today is that our closet is nearing completion! Floor to ceiling, six shelves on one side, five shelves on the other. You can't imagine how excited I am to be able to put things away. It will be another round of asking questions, ascertaining the value of what we've brought with us, and filling bags (and bags and bags, hopefully) with things to give away. And then finally finding a nice, clean, organized spot for the things we have decided we actually NEED.

Here's one last thought to share with you today. 2014 was an absolute whirlwind for me. I spent a lot of time trying to sort through the mire of not only our things but also of my lifestyle. I had a lot of decisions to make, then sometimes remake. I faced what felt like infinite changes - some easy to make, but many stressful and a few difficult and stretching. I feel like 2015 will be teeming with new opportunities, new ideas, new ways of living, and lots and lots of changes that will bring many good things into our lives. I hope that sharing our downsizing process and what has worked for us will help bring many good things into your life this year, too! 

I know we're already 13 days in, but - HAPPY NEW YEAR!