The Downsizing Dozen: Following Your Feet

Autumn
Here in our new home of communal living, exercise options are abundant. There’s a pool and jacuzzi (about to be closed for the winter), fitness center, and even half a basketball court in addition to the local Y and miles of walking trails and bike paths. Combine that with a tiny amount of storage space in the single-car garage where we fully intend to shelter our vehicle, and you can guess which type of equipment was jettisoned first in our move.

A whole host of balls, bats and mitts was sent away to greener playing fields. One football, the only inflated basketball (for the new court, of course) and our beloved wiffle ball set were kept, as well as my husband’s modest bag of golf clubs to see if he can renew or even revive that particular pastime. If not, then they will follow their obsolete brethren to other well-manicured pastures.

But so far, despite all the tempting new choices, walking remains our main form of exercise. An embarrassing number of cool summer days and a cloudless blue beginning to fall have pulled us from our device screens and out the door. We find our feet wandering into local parks and public areas, or strolling to errands we used to complete by auto, as the soles on our sneakers wear down to a satisfying thinness.

Back in the bad old ‘burbs, walks were limited to a close-minded neighborhood orbit, and shoulder-less local roads became too inhospitable to navigate, even in midmorning’s deserted hours when most everyone had gone off to work and school. Our bikes gathered cobwebs full of possessive spiders while rusting in a spacious two-car garage. To tell the truth, we can’t remember when we sold them, it was so long ago.

Perhaps as we put miles of exhaust behind us and treat our environmental elders with respect, ever-green Santa may reward us come December, and we’ll awaken to discover shiny forms of alternative transportation among nature’s gifts, the chrome of our intentions still un-smudged, and brand-new handlebar tassels glittering in fresh, unpolluted air.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, and Make It Stick in August.

The Downsizing Dozen: Make It Stick

Tape, anyone?
As long-suffering followers of this blog have read ad nauseam, I’ve been on the minimalist path for quite some time now, posting one-hit wonders such as Don’t Minimalize Your Bangs, Goodwill Hauling, The Urge to Purge, Hobbling the Hobbies, and my biggest blockbuster to date, What’s In YOUR Garage? Since 2009, I swear to you on my mother’s outdated china pattern that I’ve tried to walk the talk. So, imagine my surprise and shame while packing to move, when I repeatedly pulled out of various drawers and pandora’s boxes an endless assortment of . . . tape.

In shock, I felt moved to document the phenomenon in the photo above. That’s right folks, you counted correctly. There were no less than ten dispensers (couldn’t get them all in the picture) of sticky stuff. For every act of stickiness imaginable, I had all the bases (or folding flaps) covered. And this number doesn’t even include the medical tape I found, or the tower of duck, masking and electrical tape hiding in the garage, but that was to be expected.

No, the big mystery to me was how on earth a family of three had managed to buy and then forget about all that packaging tape. During her formative years, my daughter was (and still is) a very creative child who went through yards of tape to hold her projects together, bind her handmade book pages, fasten her abundant artwork on the walls, and ultimately leave waded on the floor only to be cut out of the hairs of a wandering family cat or dog later.

With all this taping of hers going on, I rarely had enough on hand to wrap the occasional gift much less mend a careless rip, in which case I was stuck with the ugly duck or masking tapes, and if we were out of those, then house caulk or chewing gum often came to mind. With the necessary scotch tape truly invisible to my naked eye, yet another entry to the weekly shopping list was made.

Here’s what I think happened: as the years went by, and my daughter’s appetite for temporary paper creations switched to sketchbooks and computer art, the tape dispensers disappeared into the gaping cavern of her closet, and fell behind the beanie babies and spirograph sets lurking on the back shelf. Our holiday gift wrapping has diminished (maybe that’s why we don’t have as many friends), and even when absolutely necessary, by then I had discovered the wonderful world of gift bags to fit any oddly (or normal) shaped object.

But here’s the big reason why I found so many. You ready for this? The reproductive habits of scotch tape are little known, so it’s my theory that they breed in any dark corner or unattended shopping bag. And in my case, they are known to disappear for years, only to reappear in multitudes. Furthermore, they are not the only office supplies known to do this–rubber bands and paper clips are also likely suspects.

So what can the unsuspecting suburbanite do when they open the door to a cascade of slippery plastic dispensers with their guillotines of tiny razor teeth? Follow these next steps carefully:

1) You evaluate possible causes of your dirty little secret, vow that you will go to great lengths not to recreate a similar environment ever again, and make that resolution stick.

2) You may be tempted to fling all humiliating signs of tape debauchery into the trashcan, but please take a deep breath, and think of a daycare center, classroom or craft program that would benefit, turning a bad situation into good.

3) Whatever rolls of tape you do keep, for the love of tidiness, I plead with you to store them in a well-lit area, out in plain sight, and NEVER, EVER allow them to wander off in pairs. You, your wallet, and your pets covered in little bald spots will thank you for it.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July.

Tiny Table

DAY 12: ON THE TABLE
DAY 12: ON THE TABLE

We are really enjoying the many benefits of reducing our living space by more than half, however, there is one area that I wish had more square footage. On our tiny balcony, the tiny table holds a tiny flowerpot, two chairs and a concrete garden fairy I carried up two flights of stairs because I was unable to part with her. On a good day, the space will seat two comfortably, and if we perform various gymnastic moves with our appendages, we can even squeeze another tiny chair out there for company.

And while I wouldn’t mind a bigger balcony, or even one of the screened porches included in other units, I can still enjoy my table with a view.

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!

The Downsizing Dozen: Giving It All Away

IMG_1336

This July marks the beginning of a new series on Suburban Satsangs. Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics.

What do you do when you have a houseful of furniture to get rid of, and less than two weeks to do it? You panic.

And then you email photos of all the stuff to be sold to your local consignment mogul, who ignores you. Then you panic again.

As you wait for a reply that never comes, hours tick away and you realize that it’s really too late to contact an estate or auction company, organize your own yard sale or set up that dreaded Craigslist account that you’ve put off forever. You panic some more.

To my great surprise, our house sold so fast, with such a tight deadline to closing, that we were faced with the interesting predicament of either a) taking it all with us b) placing everything in storage or c) piling anything combustible in the front yard for a giant neighborhood weenie roast.

Well, you guessed it, none of those were viable options and here’s why: we were attempting to stuff three adults and a cat (who needs his space) into a 900 square-foot, third floor apartment without an elevator. There was no way we could fit all the furnishings from 2,000 suburban feet of house acreage into that space, much less carry everything up two flights of stairs. Nor did we have any desire to move items that we didn’t need or want twice, once to a storage facility and then later to the nearest auction house or high, windy cliff. And as for the third option, well, the fire station around the corner wouldn’t have been amused by the bonfire and burnt front lawn, much less our buyer.

So back to the initial question of what to do when you have no time to deal with the disposal of home furnishings? You open your doors.

That’s right, you fling the front door open and invite your neighbors in to take what they want. You hop on Facebook and ask all your local friends to come and get items for free, as long as they can haul it away for you, or spread the word on your behalf if they don’t need anything themselves. You lift the garage door and drag stuff that nobody wants out to the curb with a big “free” sign on it.

Here is what we gave away: two sets of living room furniture, a dining table and chairs, computer desks, two dressers, one full-size bed and mattress, numerous side tables, armchairs, lamps and accessories, a 24-foot ladder, the overworked lawnmower and gas can, our well-used Weber grill, an old patio set and yes, even the trash can!

Here is what we gained: pleasure in one more chance to visit with our neighbors and in some cases, get to know them better before we moved; relief that our unwanted stuff was recycled and re-gifted rather than dumped into a landfill; the satisfaction of knowing that our friends were benefitting rather than a dealer or company making a profit off our plight.

This is what I learned:

1) Your stuff isn’t as valuable as you think it is. Antiques certainly aren’t worth as much as they were before the recession. There are too many consumer goods out there and everyone is trying to sell theirs. If you enjoyed the item and it served its purpose, then you got your money’s worth.

2) Luck is on your side. When you can genuinely let go of your attachments, the Universe helps you. Our next door neighbors just happened to hold a yard sale on the very weekend we desperately needed some help. We brought over the dining set, a sofa and matching love seat, and our neighbors added to their summer vacation fund. It was a win-win.

3) Don’t forget charities. As extra insurance in case anything large was left that we couldn’t drop off ourselves, I scheduled a truck pickup with one of the local charities for the day before we sold our house. (I’m happy to report that I was able to cancel the pickup due to lack of stuff.)

4) I was dismayed to learn that no charity accepts gently used mattresses anymore, thanks to the bed bug epidemic. It really is a shame to haul a perfectly good guest mattress to the dump, so if you can find a new home for it through word of mouth, Craigslist or Freecycle, by all means, take that opportunity. At the very least, put it out by the curb on a sunny day. I guarantee someone will take it.

At final count, our belongings were distributed to 10 households. We hope they enjoy them as much as we have, and we look forward to a few carefully chosen furnishings that suit our new home, and benefit rather than burden our lives.

Where You Can Go For The Winter

I’m thinking my cat has the right idea so far this season. At present, he is interred inside his “cat” cave under the bedroom dresser, with some special nip and a mini-fridge full of cow juice. Bring on the blizzards, Old Man Winter.

This cat’s wintertime residence of choice is an antique chest of drawers with attached mirror, made of either curly maple or pine (debated heatedly by my parents) which has a small space under the lowest drawer perfect for hibernation. Not too shabby.

The call came early this year for our feline. He settled in well before Thanksgiving, despite the unseasonably warm temps. Come to think of it, seems like all the animals (yes, that means YOU squirrels) were desperate to find warm accommodations even while Mother Nature was lulling people into complacency with a near perfect Indian summer.

Little did we humans know.

It finally broke thirty the other day as I was writing this, and residents practically danced in the streets (if not for the ice slicks that will be with us until the spring thaw). Since the first of December, a great deal of the country has been plunged into the deep freezer, and according to jittery forecasters there is more cold misery and mess on the way.

Wha? And it was so hot this summer, too. Can’t figure this crazy weather out. But evidently my cat can.

He’s found himself a cheap, efficient micro-studio featuring wall-to-wall lined with fur (since I never vacuum under there) and a good view of the pool/water dish. It even offers a spacious cathedral ceiling every time I pull out the drawer for clean socks (which he doesn’t really appreciate).

My cat has to put up with the neighbors, though. They are noisy, smelly and like to eat in their bed. They have an annoying habit of poking things into his apartment to see if he’s home. And they never seem to leave —  you’d think they were John and Yoko, for crying out loud, except it’s a bed-in for warmth. The peace part is questionable.

The unfortunate fact about our lovely tri-level house is that in the winter, there’s a good 10-degree difference between the upstairs and the downstairs, our lower levels closely resembling arctic tundra.

My husband and I make mad dashes down to the kitchen for sustenance, and we try not to linger. In the higher realm we have everything else necessary for life: shower, toilet and wifi.

Which makes us wonder why we own and care for the rest of our real estate, when a good six months of the year we play John and Yoko (uh-oh, I just blew our covers). Every winter, we become more convinced that we need very little in order to not only survive, but be content, if not downright happy.

Frankly, hibernation looks appealing right now. If I could do a Yogi Bear with a box of jelly donuts and a down comforter for the coming months, would I really miss that much? What do I have to look forward to besides frostbite, a slippery commute and possibly the flu.

Like I said, the cat’s onto something.

Home Impoverishment

My husband and I have lived in our current house for too long. Usually, we sneak out sometime between four to six years, before various basic functions like heat and electricity start to go bad and need replacement.

But we’re getting old, and we don’t move as fast anymore. Our long-range goal is to downsize now that our child-rearing has reached the collegiate level. But before we can sell, we are faced with an ever-growing list of painting, plumbing and other picayune projects.

All the rooms need facelifts to fix their late 90’s color schemes, and don’t even get me started on the remaining carpet. (Most of the downstairs rug has been replaced with semi-wood-looking laminate courtesy of my interior-decorating cat. If he doesn’t like the decor, he pees on it).

The furnace and air-conditioner still work, but are enjoying the twilight of their years, I’ve been told by concerned HVAC specialists. Our hot water heater, on the other hand, sounds like a popcorn machine and the ancient garbage disposal looks like the gaping pit of refuse hell. Throw in flickering lights, ominous chewing sounds in the crawl space and the world’s ugliest ceiling fans, and you can see why we can be caught drooling over those ads for downtown luxury condos with a complete staff at one’s beck and call.

It also hurts to think that we will not see a return for all these “improvements” in the current housing market. Our fear is that the house will need to be perfect just to get a passing glance, and believe me, it is not at the moment. (Why is the cat stalking the fireplace?)

Here is the crux of the matter: Does it make sense to pour money into fixing up houses for other people to buy, and put up with the barely acceptable ourselves for years? Am I not good enough to enjoy a “garden tub” of my own?

It seems like I’ve been sitting in half a cup of water since I was a kid. My dream is to live somewhere, someday, with a decent bathing fixture. Maybe I don’t even need a house — just the tub stuck out in front of a scenic vista like a certain commercial shown repeatedly during men’s golf tournaments.

(Please forgive my brief bathing reverie here.)

Anyway, the fantasy tub will not fit in my current house, so I’ll have to settle for a working shower head and drain. At least I’m clean as I fight the accumulations of hard water stains and calcium deposits. The new muted colors, imitation granite counters, fresh carpeting and depersonalized decor will help to attract the serious buyer, I’m sure. (Don’t all the home staging shows promise that?)

In the meantime, we can stop eating out. Or buying so many groceries for that matter. And who needs gifts for the holidays?

That tub with a view is looking better and better.

Going Too Far

Letting Go #18

Is it possible to go too far with this letting go stuff? Here I sit on a Thursday at 2 in the afternoon, still in my pajamas. I figure I have a right to do this, since it is my day off, but…. In some ways I have let myself go, maybe for the better, maybe not. I no longer care about the latest fashions–they just get in the way when I’m searching for books, or reveal too much when I bend down to answer a question from a library patron. Stylish duds are either too cold or too hot, or make me want to pull up, pull down or pick at them constantly. I’ve given up contact lenses because they are too much trouble, and stall on the purchase of new glasses with unlined bifocals because I don’t want to spend a fortune. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of minutia that I’m missing all around me because I can’t see (although in my house that may be a good thing). My philosophy right now is to get rid of the object rather than dust it–unless it’s breathing, of course.

And then there is my fascination with the hows and whys of material accumulation. I have become obsessed with the show Hoarders on the A&E cable network. I watch with horror in that “have to smell the milk gone bad after you told me not to” kind of way every week, as the poor wretches in ever-worsening situations try to plow a path out of the addiction there for all to see–and smell. I sympathize with the relatives who try to reason with their kin and sort through the mess while wondering if a sudden life event will set off their OCD hoarding genes. I, too, wonder if there but for the grace. . . well, you know.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’m a big fan of Dan Price, whose book Radical Simplicity describes a life spent in extreme downsizing. Yep, if downsizing was a sport, he would be one of its all-stars. During the past twenty years or so, Dan has gone from a regular house, to a rented room, a tipi, a shack, a hole in the ground, and various forms of lean-to, shanty and tent. Until finally, he found himself shivering in the wilderness in nothing but a sleeping bag. At that point, he wondered just how far he would take this minimalist vision of his. Would he wind up completely naked and living like the animals? Fortunately, he found his stopping point, and currently lives in a hobbit hole in his beloved meadow in Eastern Oregon.

I know that I am perfectly capable of taking things to the point of absurdity. Luckily, I have a very practical spouse and child, who periodically have to save me from myself. Occasionally, they must remind me to put on some clothes however unstylish, take out the trash, get real about my goal of living with only two boxes of possessions–oh, and stop smelling the bad milk.