It’s really funny…

It’s funny the way my mind works.  I come to a conclusion.  Ha!  An answer!  And then I stew.  I analyze.  I ponder.  I try to find grand connections to make my desires more relevant on a larger scale.  Then I start again.

Take “downsizing” for example.  In my head, I have been trying to relate my desire to have fewer possessions and a simpler life to the growing problem of climate change, our culture of excess, and what I can do about it.

So, instead of long-winded essays on the lack of governmental authority or corporate greed, all I’m simply going to say is:

I just want less stuff.  

I want less chaos in my life.  I want to regain a sense of playful exploration without the unnecessary burdens we force on ourselves.  We spend too much time and effort buying and maintaining our possessions.  The times I find that my wife and I are the happiest are when we get away from all that- camping, fishing, travelling, hanging with our kids.

Its going to take work.  Sure.  I am good with that.  I have always been a work hard-play hard kinda guy.

Its going to be a struggle sometimes.  Of course.  I am good with that too.  Life is suffering, right?  But do we need to cause so many headaches for ourselves?

Perhaps living a simpler life also means a less complicated mental life.

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What to do if I don’t shop? as told by an Aussie ex-pat turned Kiwi

I came across a blog last night that is written by this Aussie ex-pat in New Zealand named Lee.  Here is somebody on the other side of the globe- as far from Massachusetts, USA as you can get- and she is struggling with the very same consumerist culture I am.  The stuff, the guilt, the accepted “script” for life, the upsizing…

She comes at it from a different perspective but the questions ring so very true to me as do some of her answers.  If a tiny home, downsizing, pretty good life, minimalist community can be forged across oceans, than perhaps this big ol’ world ain’t quite so big or quite so broken after all.  

The post I am reblogging is just one of quite a few on her page.  It just happens to be the one that ultimately moved me to repost!  Have a look.

What to do if I don’t shop?

Living Lightly

Happiness-Hands1I see the era of the McMansion coming to an end.  You know, those enormous houses that have been springing out of plan books and onto tight lotline cul-de-sacs all across the United States for the past 20 years. Their time of relative popularity is waning because people are tired of spending all their money and time taking care of these houses.  We find ourselves house poor and unable to achieve happiness in our lives.

Today, we see that:

  • Home ownership is dropping
  • Living expenses are continuing to rise
  • The median home cost has nearly doubled in the last 20 years
  • Wages have been stagnant for that same 20 years
  • Average home sizes have almost tripled since 1960
  • Young adults are rightfully skeptical of financial institutions
  • Young people are equally confused about why they need such a big house
  • Trust in our governmental representatives is at an all-time low
  • Oil prices continue to rise (despite the current lull- that will be “corrected” soon)
  • The results of unsustainable personal debt levels are becoming painfully visible
  • and who knows what the weather is doing these days…

There will always be a segment of our population that can afford to live in grand homes with the privilege and comfort that wealth can provide.  However, for those of us who will never be part of that elite community, we are realizing that homes and possessions and heavy financial obligations are an unyielding source of stress that do not guarantee happiness.  Retail therapy has never really helped anybody do anything except fill their closets and storage units with more fabulous shoes, seasonal jackets, sports equipment, and organization systems than we know what to do with.

Perhaps the North Star of this 21st century move toward a more sustainable life is the Tiny House Movement.  I am referring to the folks that are building fully-functional homes on 8’x20′ dual axle trailers.  These are not poorly built mobile-homes but hand-crafted homes built to suit their owners particular needs and comfort that just happen to be mobile! Due to size and weight restrictions (not to mention the need to handle freeway speeds!), these unique structures are constructed to very tight tolerances but still offer the features we expect of “home.”

A great example of one of these homes is the one built by Guillaume and Jenna of Tiny House Giant Journey fame.  Theirs is a customized plan from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company which they are towing around the the US and Canada as they pursue their dream careers in travel journalism.  They are one of the few folks that actually tow their house around like a camper and, because of that, I also see them as accidental evangelists of a simpler and lighter way to live.

When my wife and I met them this past weekend in Milton, Massachusetts, they still expressed some surprise that people would turn out in decent numbers to meet them, listen to their stories, and tour their beautifully crafted home on wheels.  It is remarkable to me that, despite the strong social and economic push toward upgrading and upsizing our lives, there are more and more people that feel like these conditions put unnecessary pressure on our lives that detract from the very quality of life we are striving to improve!

Guillaume and Jenna are inspiring to me partly because, as my family works to decrease our possessions and better manage our obligations, here is a couple that has radically changed their lifestyle to eliminate debt and minimize their monthly expenses while still living a full and rich life.

You know it can be done but understanding the concept and seeing the reality are two different things!

They have made the move to a Tiny House based on their own motivation and needs.  Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about this movement is that it has developed out of a deep desire for freedom and self-reliance.  Every story I read about people like Guillaume and Jenna is unique in that they all come to their decision from a different direction but have found a clear expression of their need to live more simply in these tiny homes.  The deeply American concepts of “Freedom” and “Self-Reliance” have lost much of their power over the last couple decades by those who wished for us to follow along with their version of freedom, by those who want us to need whatever product they’re selling, to be afraid of actually thinking for ourselves.

We, as a people, have become so distracted by the next new and shiny thing, that we have forgotten how fortunate we are to live where we do and however we choose to.  We are so busy wanting that we have lost sight of what we actually have.  We have been looking for that easy fix for so long that we forget that we can take charge of our own lives!

If Living Lightly means divesting ourselves of most of our possessions, paying off our debt, and living in a smaller home that is easy to afford and care for, then do it!  It may mean simplifying the complex schedules our lives run on these days and paying more attention to the people that matter most to us.  It may also mean taking the time to volunteer and help those who are less fortunate than ourselves because giving to others is, paradoxically, as good for us as it is for the recipient of our attentions.

The Tiny House movement is a symbol of how out of balance we have become and offers a one way to help restore a sense of calm and purpose to our lives.  It certainly isn’t the only way to go about it but it addresses one of the key issues we face today.  I believe it also offers us the opportunity to live for something other than constantly maintaining our expensive homes and our untenable lifestyles.  In every blog, article, and book I have read about living lightly, there is one element that people have found in greater abundance after changing their lifestyle- happiness.  They have found a sense of contentment that was missing despite the full closets and full schedules.

It had been sitting right there the whole time.  They just needed to push the crap out of the way and pick it up.

The Trouble With More

give-a-mouse-a-cookie…is that it creates more.  Much like that children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, even a simple action can create a snowball effect that can quickly become something you did not expect.  We read this story to our children when they were young as a way to teach them about making choices and their consequences but is equally appropriate when discussing how we end up with all this stuff.

If a hungry little mouse shows up on your doorstep, you might want to give him a cookie. And if you give him a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk. He’ll want to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache, and then he’ll ask for a pair of scissors to give himself a trim…

My father has always said that once you end up buying a refrigerator, it’s all over.  That was his clear delineation between childhood and adulthood.  Its hard to backpack around Europe when you own a refrigerator.  Equally difficult is bicycle touring or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I am not so sure he was really talking about losing the ability to be footloose and fancy free.  The problem is not really the refrigerator itself, but all the things that owning one implies.  By owning that fridge, you have begun the process of “settling down.”

  • You start collecting all the necessary things it takes to operate a comfortable, modern American household.
  • You buy a mini-van rather than the RoadTrek van you really wanted.
  • Long-term practicality begins to gain prominence and short-term joy is told to just be patient.
  • You become responsible for more than just yourself- maybe its just a partner or perhaps there are children.  Either way, the expectations of others necessarily color your views of what is important.
  • The cross-country bike tour you were planning gets moved to the back burner because you really ought to find a “real job.”

When I was in college, my mother used a pencil to write my address in her contact book because I was single and moved around so frequently.  It was pretty easy to do back then.  I had a duffel bag for my clothes, a few books, a couple boxes, my camping gear, and my bicycle.  That was it.  It would all fit in the back of my 1981 Toyota Tercel liftback (and I could still see out the back!)

The last move I made was when we sold our containershome on Bainbridge Island and moved to Massachusetts.  Everything my family of six owned, except for the items we would be needing while we looked for a new home, went into a 28′ long x 8′ wide x 8′ high shipping container and we packed that thing full to the roof.  One of my good friends, who is apparently a Tetris fanatic, took great joy and care to fit each piece of furniture, each box, each bed frame, into its perfect little spot.  That thing was so well packed that there was not an inch of available space for that load to shift during transit.  Needless to say, when we opened the container to offload our stuff into our new house, everything was EXACTLY where Phil had placed it six months prior.

The biggest consequence of having more is that, once you purchase that refrigerator, your life has changed permanently.  The old life is still visible but it is more like an entry in your diary rather than a living, breathing reality.  There may come a time when you will be able to return to something more closely aligned with those early ideals but the glowing coals of a rich life are a very different heat than the grand inferno of youth.

If the expectation is that you will be able to simply take up where you left off, you are neglecting the reality of how different you really are from that earlier version of your current self.  Try going out to see a band at a bar some night.  I still love live music but find that the scene that used to be so shiny and exciting is less so these days.  Seeing the awkward, flirty games people play with one another is like watching some show on the WB network.  Also, paying $5 for a can of beer seems kind of ridiculous.

We should, instead, pass along a yearning for that fire, that passion for life.  If we can divest ourselves from the habit of constantly needing more, I believe we will be better able to see what truly makes us happy.  If we can teach our children that life isn’t about having the most stuff but living and loving and adventure, we may have given them the tools to see through some of the veils of what we “need” to begin to understand what is truly makes them happy and confident adults.  Infatuations will fade but the things that really resonate with us are part of who we are.  Figure that out, and do it.

To hell with the mouse.

 

Good Architecture and Good Living use Similar Principles

Residential architecture can be very beautiful and complex.  I am a big fan of complex without being busy.  Our lives have depth- depth that a basic drywalled box just can’t properly represent.  Designs that throw lots of ideas and patterns around in a confined space often times come across as busy and over-stuffed.  This article has great examples of well-thought out designs with a clean execution.

The ideas Eric Reinholdt lists in this article are not only a good basis for design, but they are a good basis for a life well-lived as well.

  1. Tell a good story
  2. Take risks
  3. Sweat the details
  4. Simplify
  5. Establish order
  6. Repeat repeat repeat (be consistent)
  7. Break the rules
  8. Engage the senses

You can click the arrows at the lower left corner to flip through the image gallery or click in the image itself to link to the article on Houzz.  Have a look!