Sunday, August 16, 2015

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!).