Pretending To Be Small

Reading in the cabin of our tiny house, S/V Moonrise There is a ‘small house’ movement afoot in this country. It’s incredible. Creative, brave people, mostly young people who will change this world, are leading the way living purposeful and fulfilling lives as they redefine the ‘American Dream’. You know that dream: the one about home ownership that turns out to be a nightmare for so many. I’m glad I’m alive to see this happen. These are people who are changing the rules that define ‘success’ in our country. Take a look at these sites if you want to get a taste of what is in store for the future of home ownership in this country: TinyHouseBlog.com, Tumbleweedhouses.com, TinyHouseLiving.com, ThisTinyHouse.com.

This is part of a larger movement to live more simply, with less ‘stuff’; like what you have to do when you live on a boat. In a way, it’s literally a counter-culture attitude that is 180 degrees from what constitutes ‘normal’ in our country. These people live in small spaces, with few things to weigh them down. I’ll bet they don’t shop till they drop, either. Sorry, Wall Street. It’s never going to be the way it was before. We all know it. Some of us are just better at saying it out loud than others.

We don’t live in a tiny house. We live in a 3000 square foot rambler built in 1964. It was the definition of the word ‘fixer’ when we moved in 11 years ago.  The only thing tiny about this house is the size of the closets. People just didn’t have the same level of stuff in 1964 that we have now. I’m pretty sure there were no Walmarts or Dollar Stores on every corner back then. If part of our plan is to rent out the house and live on a boat, we have a LOT of stuff that needs dumping first if we don’t want to spend money on some huge, ridiculous storage space. Which we don’t.

To that end, it helps to pretend that we’re going to be living in a tiny house. And this is true in more ways than you think. A boat is basically a tiny, floating house. Also, when we move to our final home, wherever that is, that house is going to be much smaller than this one, although the closets will definitely be larger.  Finally, although we plan to rent our house furnished,  we’ll want to store selected personal possessions in our attic while we’re away.  So we’ll pretend that the attic is a tiny house and that’s all the stuff we can keep.

In preparation for The Great Purging, I’ve been reading Peter Walsh’s book It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff. Apparently this guy has had a TV show on which he helped people de-clutter their lives. Who knew? It’s not a bad book, really. As self-help books go, it has some meat to it. One of his main ideas is to focus on the life you want to lead, not on what he calls ‘the clutter’. And he gets into the emotional holds that ‘stuff’ has on people and how they get stuck in these emotional contracts with their possessions. As a psychotherapist, I can appreciate that. His idea is that every time you are confused about whether you should get rid of something, you should ask yourself whether that object helps you get closer to the vision of the life you want to lead. Pithy stuff. Halfway through the book I could envision myself tossing those old college yearbooks into the Goodwill box. Holy crap, Batman!

So with that in mind, I’ve created a staging area in (where else?) the garage. One corner is for stuff that is leaving this house forever, one way or another. One corner is for stuff that will fit in the tiny house in the attic. It will be packed and labeled. And one corner for stuff that my kids need to make a decision about, unless they want me to make the decision for them (said in the sternest possible ‘mother’ tone).

I enter this Great Purging with fear and loathing, but also with hope. I fear the moment when I will have to release the hold some sentimental item has on me. I loathe the fact that I have to spend all this time and energy sweeping things out of my life in order to create space both emotional and physical. And I hope that all those people who say that this process will give me a profound feeling of freedom and peace are completely correct.  Otherwise, this is really going to suck because we have some cool stuff and we’ve had a lot of it for a long, long time.

6 thoughts on “Pretending To Be Small

  1. I agree that there seems to be a definite trend away from “the material life” …feels like a backlash or reaction to things having gotten so out of hand over recent years (with so much emphasis on acquiring stuff)! Maybe also due to more awareness of our impact on the environment. Saw a cool documentary this week, No Impact Man, about one guy’s effort to highlight how our consumption of goods affects the environment. He has a blog, too:

    http://noimpactman.typepad

    Your downsizing and scaling back efforts are inspiring!

    Chere

  2. I’ve heard of that guy and seen his blog. He’s pretty extreme. I wouldn’t get too excited about how much we’ve ‘downsized’ yet, although we did take an entire car load to Goodwill yesterday. Maybe it’s just that it hasn’t made much of a dent yet.

  3. I have recently undergone a huge downsize, from a 5 bedroom house that was fully furnished and decorated to the nines – down to what I can pack into two large duffle bags, two large rubber maids, and one smaller duffle (all grooming products in that one – I wish I could get rid of it but can’t seem to). I still have 70 (yes SEVENTY) boxes in a friends crawlspace that I really can’t remember what is in all of them as they’ve been down there for coming up 3 years. I know all of my kitchen stuff is in there – some of which I really miss like my Regal pots and pans and my Kitchen Aid can opener (manual but wicked good). There are some books I thought I couldn’t part with but now I have a Kindle, they’ll be going. This spring I plan to haul them all out, go through them, reduce to just a few boxes (I hope, I hope) and then put the stuff I really can’t part with and can’t use right now back into the crawl space.

    Partly all this was born of necessity – I work in the film industry and it just died here for about two years – but once I got started purging, I couldn’t stop. I have gone from owning 80+ pairs of shoes down to 10 (and that includes the flip flops). I have gone from a stuffed full sized double closet (with an organizer) down to a 2′ closet rail (I admit, that is just half my wardrobe – the winter one at present. My summer one is in 4 of those bags you roll to compress and get all of the air out – AMAZING invention. All of my winter clothes, except the 3 coats I have, fit into the same 4 bags. One day I plan on having NO winter clothes to speak of because I don’t want to live where it’s cold ANY MORE!!).

    Anyhow… all that to say… if I can do it, YOU can do it. I was terribly attached to my possessions – especially the decor stuff as I am very sensitive to my esthetics. Now I live in a furnished bach suite in a basement of a friend’s house. I have no furniture of my own. Yet I look around at what is mine and I STILL feel like I have too much stuff!!

    Be careful – purging is addictive!!

  4. Oh my goodness, you ARE an expert! I’m amazed at the idea of doing all that, especially as it sounds as though you had to do it on a much tighter time schedule than we do. What a nice friend to allow you to store things so you can make some decisions later.
    Our biggest issue is knowing that we still have to live in the house for a few more years, and it would feel very wierd to live in it with no furnishings, or nice dishes, etc. I got out the good china for tomorrow’s meal. I was considering whether I wanted to keep that or not.
    I have managed to get rid of a LOT of clothes. I get irritated by having to care for clothes and they are not really that important to me, although I do want to look nice. I need for them to be easy to care for – pretty much wash and wear with the occasional ironing. And I like natural fabrics. We have a very small closet in the bedroom of this 1964 house, and we share it, so I don’t have much closet space anyhow. It kind of forces the issue of ‘too many clothes’. I got rid of the chest of drawers and now use matching baskets on a book case. I like it much better and seem to put my clothes away in a more timely way. Might do a post about that later, with photos.

  5. Just catching up on your old blog entries. This is getting kind of freaky. One of my favorite books that had to be left behind was Tiny Tiny Houses. We also follow the Tiny Houses blogs and, if we ever build something on land someday, that is the direction we plan to go.

    -Steve

    • This reassessment of conspicuous consumption and a desire to simplify our lives seems to be in the zeitgeist now. Certainly there have always been communities and individuals that have been proponents of living smaller but it does feel like the larger culture is embracing these trends.

      Interestingly I get the feeling that the intimacy and power of the internet has made this possible. Live where you want, learn what you want and connect with who ever you want. It has made the world seem a lot smaller and really broken down barriers of class, wealth and even space.

      I am probably not the first person to find it ironic that one of the most complex technologies created is a contributor to our efforts towards simplification.

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