Friday, September 23, 2016


It always happens. I know it's going to happen, sometime, somewhere. But it still seems to take me by surprise.

Pushback. Objection. Misunderstanding. Judgment.


It comes up in the best and the worst of circumstances. Family gatherings. Random street conversations. The interweb.

Turns out not everyone is a fan of Living Small.

Maybe it's a full-blown argument. Maybe it's just a twitch in your gut that makes you feel uncomfortable. Or something in between.

I've done some soul-searching, and here's the conclusion I've reached about how I can responsibly and respectfully respond to critics who may not like what I do. And how we can all respond to that family member, friend, random stranger on the street corner who hollers an objection at us, our beliefs, our lives.

1. It's okay if someone doesn't like/agree with/want to live like me. 

We are free here to feel and think as we like.

2. I am not responsible for the way other people feel or think about my life.

This is not heroin. Our Living Small Living Smart lifestyle is a well-thought-out, conscious choice to live in a way that brings us health and happiness.

No one needs to legitimize this for us.

3. My intent - and this blog - is not about telling anyone how to live their life. 

It's about sharing an experience. I started writing because my experience with downsizing and minimalism was so intense and rewarding, and lots of people I talked to were positively responding to the bits and pieces I was sharing in conversation.

My hope is to encourage anyone who chooses to walk down this road, and to remind everyone that there are many ways to live comfortably and happily.

I can't live anyone else's experience, and no one else can live mine.

4. Our lives improved thanks to our downsizing experience. 

Our stress levels went down. Our worries shrunk. Our financial troubles eased. Our time was freed up. 

Our responsibilities were fewer, and opportunities started coming our way. Living small put us in a position to say "YES!" to new jobs, a new community, new friends and new experiences. 

Don't get me wrong, this hasn't made everything perfect. (Nothing does!) But the benefits we got as a couple and as a family from getting rid of our stuff and living in a small house far, far outweighs anything we had when we had bedrooms and space and closets and things to fill them.

If your choice made your life better, rejoice in that! And make it a point to share the good.

5. The things we always assumed we needed we found out we don't actually need. 

So somebody tell me why would we ever go back to clutter our lives with things and space that would just get in our way?

You may have a hard time understanding how you could possibly live without _________. Your blender. A closet full of clothes. Separate bedrooms. A two-car garage.

I'm not going to judge you for holding onto those things. So please don't judge me for letting go of mine.

We all have to make (and we're responsible for) our own decisions.

6. We all need to live intentionally by making conscious choices.

Whether you believe in Living Small or not, the worst thing I can think of for you - for anyone - is to watch you choose a path JUST because you feel someone else (society, advertising, The Joneses, your dad) wants you to.

Our foray into small house living wasn't at the behest or approval or anyone or anything. This shift came from our hearts, from our passion, to be socially responsible and wise stewards of our time, energy, money and things.

I do believe - and my life experience has shown - that good things happen when we make our own informed, healthy decisions.

Live and Let Live - and listen in between.

7. And probably THE most important point... We can all learn from each other, even (especially?) when we disagree. 

This is something I am practicing. To not just hear, but to listen, without jumping to a response, when someone doesn't agree with me. To open my mind to other ways of thinking, to other ways of doing things. To not STAY so stuck in my own patterns. Even when I think I'm "right". To not shut down when that feeling of discomfort crops up. 

We need each other.

With every decision comes a critic.

No matter what kind of lifestyle you choose: a big house, a small house, a tiny house, a van, a tent... there will always be someone out there who thinks you're doing it "wrong". There will always be someone who is doing it better than you. With every decision comes a critic.

So in this age of hotheadedness, brash anti-____ sentiments, mistrust of the "other", let's take a moment to remember to be kind and respectful to people who don't think/feel/believe/live the way we do.

Our world can use all the kindness you can give!

Inspirations for this post include: 

On Being with Parker Palmer

The Minimalists Podcast on Criticism

My mom, who is always nice to everyone

Monday, August 1, 2016

"Our Evil Plan to Steal Photons from the Sun"

May 26, 2016 was a monumental day in my life. Not my birthday. Not my kids' birthdays. Not my anniversary. It was the day we flipped the switch to turn on our brand spankin' new solar panels! My husband calls it [cue Dr. Evil cackle], "Our evil plan to steal photons from the sun"! I call it free green energy for the rest of our lives.

Apex Solar installing our solar panels in May 2016
The whole process was so easy, I seriously can't believe we didn't do it sooner.

I must thank environmentalist Bill McKibben, because it was his talk at Keene Central School last fall that really reminded me that I MUST do something to slow down climate change. And, thanks to our friends Jan and Megan Wellford who shared their experience going solar, and gave us the connection to Apex Solar - a company I can highly recommend.

The Details

From start to finish, our project took about 6 months. It would have taken 6 weeks, but just as Apex was about to schedule our install, the ground froze late last December and that meant we had to wait until the spring.

Apex was absolutely great to work with. Our salesman (John) was knowledgeable and personable. Our project manager (Oren) was on top of the entire process. Our installers were also super nice and really, really good at what they do! The only hiccup we faced in the entire process was one machine that broke down while digging the trench between the panels and our electric box. We had to wait a day for a part to come in.

The Install

For our ground-mount system, the racks went up in half a day, the panels (we have 24!) took a day and the trench took another day (not including the breakdown). Pretty good for full energy independence!

Except for snow removal, our system takes care of itself. I'll report back on this as time goes on if we have any issues. I've talked to a number of friends (and friends of friends) and I have only heard of one couple who had to replace an inverter - but it was over 10 years old, and beyond its expected lifespan.

[Edit: Last night our inverter was not giving a reading. I called Apex, and a tech (Mike) swung by the house today to take a look. By the time he got here, everything was working fine again and Mike determined it was probably due to a brief grid power outage. It turns out they check our system productivity and functioning from the office every day! No worries there.]

So what does it look like? A beautiful piece of industrial artwork

We are set up with 24 panels in a (mostly) unused portion of our driveway which will produce an estimated 7,000 kwH of power every year. Sweet mother of god, that's a huge system, right?! Yeah, it kinda is! Because we planned a few changes in the near future - electric heat and a clothes dryer - it's sized at 109% of our expected usage These are two luxuries we've decided to go with after much discussion. (More on those changes to come.)

With such a sizable system, we have created a new landmark in the Town of Keene! Need to find our house? Look for the solar panels!

Grid Tie

Being grid tied has its advantages:

  • we sell to our electric company any excess power we produce.
  • if you've ever looked at getting a mortgage on an off-grid home, you probably know that most banks won't finance you. In the off chance that we ever want to sell our home, being grid tied can give our buyer more options. For the time being. I hope someday banks see the value in investing in off-grid homes.
and disadvantages:

  • we still have to pay a monthly fee to the utility company to have an electric meter. I only wish NYSEG uses our $15/month to invest in green energy! 
  • when grid power goes out, our power goes out. 
That last bit is kind of a bummer, but we hope to one day mitigate that disadvantage by installing a Tesla home battery, the coolest new thing out there in energy conservation.

The Dough

I was always worried that we could never afford to go solar. I had always heard of the thousands of dollars it costs and it always sounded beyond my reach. But here's how I found out it was something we could afford to do:
  • Our monthly utility bill would not increase. Instead of paying the utility company, we pay off our loan.
  • The value of our property goes up by about the cost of the system, so we recoup the full system cost even if we sell our home tomorrow. 
  • Our down payment was only $1,000.
  • Between the grants offered to us and the Federal and State tax credits we will receive, our system will be at least 50-60% paid for! Right now the grants offered to us through NYSERDA were double what they had been in previous years, and it's there as long as funds remain available. Lucky us! 
When I ran the numbers, from every aspect, it always came out that a solar installation was something we couldn't afford NOT to do! 

AND... The Best Part

Apex Solar did ALL the paperwork! (Now you know how much I love paperwork!)

The Bottom Line

Without hesitation, and at the risk of sounding like a radio commercial, I implore you: If you have $1,000 and a house, GO SOLAR!

And tell Apex Solar I say, "Thank you!".

P.S. If you decide to go solar with Apex and want to support the LSLS blog, please mention my name! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


"What if I never accomplish anything else in my life?"

This is the question that's been ruminating in my head over the past week.

It started after a two-day stretch of sunshine in the merry, merry month of May. I was working outside on the deck while my husband hung out with the kids in the yard. Blue skies lapped the top of the mountains, the trees beginning to bud and give off that bright chartreuse of new spring leaves. I sipped my tea and breathed in the wonders of the beautiful day.

Then it just popped into my head: What if I never accomplish anything else?

What if I just enjoy each day, like today? What if I take my time to breathe in the sunshine, or the rain? What if I work, watch my kids grow up, play with them after work, make dinner, relax, repeat?

What if I never finish my Masters? What if I never get a promotion? What if I don't get us out of debt ahead of schedule? What if I don't organize my paperwork, or clean the house to a sparkle, or keep up with all the laundry, or finish all these things things THINGS I have to do?

It's not about being lazy. It's not about lacking ambition. It's not about never getting anything done.

It's about ceasing to strive for perfection. It's about relaxing my grip and letting go. It's a little bit about living RIGHT NOW. With whatever is going on RIGHT HERE. It's about letting myself be free, and not feeling bad about it.

We've been in our small house for almost a year and a half, and it's irked me almost every day that my life still seems so full of clutter - stuff clutter (yeah sure, it's there) but also thought clutter and time clutter. I still feel scattered, too busy, missing the moments of my children's fleeting childhood.

We downsized our stuff, but we're still working on downsizing our life. Making time for the things that matter means ignoring the things that don't. My biggest problem in the downsizing arena now is feeling comfortable with my life - feeling valuable - even if I never accomplish anything else. I'm a do-er, I'm "task-oriented" so this is not easy for me.

I practiced this past weekend. We made no plans other than hanging out with some friends at their lakehouse, enjoying the sunshine, a random trip to the store to pick up some gardening things. We had fun. I had fun! There wasn't any stress, because there was nothing to do except relax.

This is essentially what I imagine when I think about being retired, and I have decided that I just don't want to wait until then to start enjoying my life.

Friday, February 19, 2016

What v. Who

It's 8 o'clock Friday night. Kids are in bed, and I'm ready to reeeeelax. Couch. Netflix. Snacks. Tea. You know, that kinda thing.

Wait, is that the baby crying?

I quietly ascend the stairs, hoping with each step that my trip is in vain and sleep will come without my assistance.

Not to be. My daughter sees my shadow as a sign to start talking.

"Mom, I thought my hands were dead."

"What? You thought your hands were what?" I think she said, "dead". I have no idea what to do with her three-year-old thoughts sometimes.

"I thought my hands were dead."

"Did you wake up your brother?" I try to ask without judgment, though I have my suspicions based on the fact that he was fully passed out when my husband and I left the sleeping loft only minutes before.

The Children (Photo by Donna O'Mara)


"Why were you out of bed?"

"I WASn't, Mom!" As one of our friends calls it, a threenager.

"Well, how did you wake him up?" I'm more curious now than anything.

"Probably by clapping."

"Clapping? Why were you clapping?" Again, trying to keep my tone calm and bedtime-like.

"I thought my hands were dead so I was clapping them together."

Oh, my love. My sweet, sweet, darling girl. Your hands are definitely not dead.

"Ok. Your hands aren't dead. But if you're ever worried and you need to check, just shake them like this, instead of clapping." I shake my hands frantically in the dark air like I am trying to get a stuck booger off them and I don't care where it lands.

I hope she can see me. Then again, maybe she could just close her eyes and go to sleep...

I pick up the baby, whose cries have escalated since I came into the room and didn't pick him up within microseconds.

And, within microseconds, he is calm and resting again. I nurse him, and while he's eating the sounds machine turns off. That means it's been 46 minutes since I started putting them to sleep.

That used to drive me NUTS. If bedtime took a minute longer than I thought it should, my ire was up and  almost inconsolable. I had stuff to do, and things to attend to.

This is why I spent the last few years discarding a lot of the What in my life, so I had more time and space and energy for the Who.

The lack of What in my life means we live in this small house, and we don't have thick doors on big rooms for our own purlieus where babies can sleep in peace from the interesting drowsy thoughts of their big sisters. It means I can't watch Netflix when the baby is still awake. This is the truth of a small house.

But now, sitting on the edge of my daughter's bed, I take the opportunity to clasp my daughter's hand, to watch the baby's sweet little sleepy face, to rest for a moment instead of rushing off to whatever it was I used to rush off to. It was so important, I can't even remember what it used to be.

They both fall asleep, hard. There's even a little bit of snoring. I lay him down and cover her up. Sweet peace, at last! 

I slip downstairs thankful for the shift in my life that brought me less stuff, smaller house, and more connected to my (amazing) family.

And, Netflix. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

One Year, Many Changes

Well, we've done it! On December 30, we celebrated one year in our small house!

A lot has happened in the last year...
- we moved (obviously).
- we sold our old house.
- we started a business.
- we had a baby (#2)!
- we made so, so many wonderful new friends and started to get involved in our community.
- we made it through the holidays - without needing to build an addition!
With a small house, a woodstove and two kids, we opted for an outdoor Christmas tree.
We've continued to sort through our belongings and simplify what we have. I just brought three bags of "stuff" to the local thrift store last Saturday and sent a huge box to (also a new favorite place for buying used clothes!). We still find things in the house that have closed the final chapter of their utility in our lives.

In the new year, we're not doing any specific moratoriums on buying new things or spending money on ourselves, but we did make one decision recently that's greatly transforming my life and what we have. 

Goodbye Credit, Hello Cash

We made the leap to go credit card-free, and instead use good, old, cold, hard cash. 

Well, mostly. 

Which means I'm slowly letting go and changing the way I handle day-to-day money. 

It also means I still have our three credit cards and one store card (yup, the one with the big red bull's-eye). I still have them because...
1. We have two small kids. Pumping gas without a credit card means waking up sleeping babies, unbuckling two car seats (god I HATE car seat buckles!) a 15 minute trip into the store to pay cash, 15 minutes of explaining why we can't buy 6 bags of M&M's, saying "No!" to ice cream, feeling like a horrible mom for saying "No!" to everything when I JUST WANT TO GET GAS!, crying (you figure out who!), rebuckling two car seats... anyway, you get the idea.

2. I worked HARD for those credit cards!
Okay, actually I didn't. Actually, one was sent to me pre-approved when I was 19, had just gotten fired from my job (YES, I actually got fired ONCE from a job. And that boss was at best an #$)%*$ on a good day so good riddance!), was in college, had no money, and practically peed my pants when they actually sent me a card with a credit limit higher than my cumulative GPA times 2,250! Which just goes to show you that credit card companies are NOT your friends. They're more like the mean kid who pretends to be your friend just so he can slap a "kick me" note on your back. Yeah, kick me, and then make me pay forty times over for a toy I could have saved for and probably don't need. Anyway.

3. I keep them because, well, what happens if I lose my main card, or somebody steals it? What would I do?! (and actually, while travelling in foreign countries it does come in handy to have a backup). And the third one lets me get cash back at checkouts. I use this about once a year on a weird holiday when I forgot the bank is closed and I don't feel like paying $3 to use the ATM.

4. I like getting cash back rewards. Free! Money!

5. Also, I have a hard time letting go. Whatever.

But okay, the gist of it is that we sat down and figured out a budget. A real, realistic budget of how much we actually need to spend on what we actually need. And a few joys here and there.

It wasn't too hard to do (did I mention I like Excel spreadsheets?), but the first draft didn't include a lot of things. Like, firewood. How could I forget that?! I guess I'm still getting accustomed to some things in our new North Country life!

I also had to budget down to the dollar for everything, because really that's the only way a cash-based lifestyle can really work. Every little thing has to be accounted for. After a few conversations and revisions, I think we've got it pretty close. So, every week, we take out of the bank what we need for all our various expenses, stick the moolah in their respective envelopes, and when it's gone, it's gone.

We started in December, which, even if you don't spend a lot on the holidays, I would NOT recommend. We would have been much better off starting in a month where we get three bi-weekly paychecks instead of the regular two, because we had to pay out for last month's credit card bill AND pay all our current monthly expenses all at once. It was a little tough but I think we made it past the hump. We're six weeks in, everyone's been fed, clothed, cared for, loved, and provided for. The only ones who aren't happy might be my credit card companies!

Well, that's one of our new adventures in 2016, with a few more to come (soon)! I hope you had a very minimalist Christmas and wish you all a happy, healthy, smart new year!