The Downsizing Dozen: Following Your Feet

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.

In the Bag


Pictured are the contents of my striped summer purse. I have a winter one that houses slightly different circumstances. But if you were to open this purse, you would find another . . . purse. Now, I normally don’t fancy that particular shade of pepto pink, but I was wandering through Target one day, and smiled when I saw the pink pouch with a retro eyeglass pattern. I immediately flashed back to my punk phase in the 80’s sporting pink Keds, an asymmetrical bob, and a vintage mini dress. Thankfully, there are no existing photos.

Inside the pink purse, my wallet lies in hiding. It’s a plain men’s billfold, with the added bonus of a zippered coin pouch. I find that the pink pouch keeps this wallet from getting lost, and helps organize the overflow of loyalty cards, stray pens and rambling breath mints that tend to mill around evasively at the bottom of my big purse.

Then there’s my minimal key chain. Yes, folks, that’s all I’ve got. One car key, one house key, and a little orange Buddha that my husband brought home from a business trip to California years ago. So far, Buddha’s done a great job keeping track of my keys for me. Plus, he’s fun to look at.

And finally, you’ll notice my sunglasses, which are not shaped like any of the frames illustrated on the pink pouch. This is probably the most expensive pair of glasses I’ve ever owned, because of the Coach frames. Trust me, I did not get them for status, but because they were the only ones that fit me.

Okay, you’re next. What’s in YOUR bag?

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!

A New Kind of Reveille

Several mornings a week now, I meet a friend to walk the loop around my new neighborhood, an early stroll through pristine morning potential lined with the ambitious brick homes of another age. I could never afford to live in these tidy Colonial Revival dwellings that once housed the military commanders of an army fort, but I can certainly enjoy their orderly charm from afar, and smell the trimmed rose bushes lined up in professionally landscaped gardens around the parade grounds.

Even though what remains of the historic site is privately owned, you can’t help but pick up on the efficiency of design and careful planning, the straight lines and perfect alignment of buildings. I was never attracted to a life in the military, but I’ve always admired a soldier’s ability to carry his or her entire world in a duffel bag while traversing the globe. I’m developing a new artistic appreciation of the rows of barracks and service buildings where many managed to work, sleep and eat while possessing very little of their own. Ironically, in many cases these structures are being refurbished to store the excesses of modern civilian life.

Back along the promenade, those fancy officers quarters were often connected into early versions of duplexes, attached but facing away from each other for a little privacy inside their broad porches, the spirit of cooperation and teamwork never far from their personal living rooms. During my foray into apartment living, I’d like to think I’m honoring the military’s lessons of efficiency by residing in close quarters for a change, and sharing common ground with my fellow residents.

As long as I don’t have to rise at the crack of dawn and run laps.

The Downsizing Dozen: Giving It All Away


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.

The Short Goodbye

The day we closed on the sale of our house, I heard my footsteps echo off the blank walls for the first time. Eleven years ago we had moved into a fully carpeted residence with five pets and a garage full of construction materials left behind by an overwhelmed seller. During our final walk through, this house has never felt so empty and yet brimming with memory.

We had pulled off the impossible in the two short weeks between listing and selling. An offer came just 24 hours after the For Sale sign was planted in our front yard. We had been prepared for a long haul, the humiliating feedback from picky showings, the games of inspection, but not such a fast response. The only condition–that we be out in fourteen days, handing over the house keys on Friday the 13th and a full moon.

Our next accommodations already chosen, we wouldn’t be bringing much furniture to decorate the 900 square feet of a third-floor apartment with no elevator. There wasn’t much time to distribute a normal suburban household, but we did it. I have the stories (and bruises) to prove it. In the coming weeks, I’ll tell you more about what we did, and what we are still doing, to transition to a lighter, and more enlightened, presence.

On that last morning, while the sun beamed down onto buds of flowers I would never see bloom, the last fingerprints of our existence wiped from the shiny surfaces meant for a new owner, I didn’t have time to reflect on all the life moments shared with this house. There was only a quick exit through an open door, and a new destination down the road.

Perhaps this is the best way.

Dappled Life


I couldn’t let May of 2014 pass by without a hello. The Year of Movement continues in earnest. No fooling this time. Our house is up for sale, new digs secured, possessions jettisoned daily. The burden is lessened hour by hour, and a feeling of lightness is creeping in all the empty corners, filled only by sun and hope. More will be revealed when the chapter is done, and this particular tale concludes. We are in the middle of a plot at present and there could be twists and turns at any moment. There have been a few surprises already.

And for those of you on the fence about taking the leap, daring to risk: do it.

I’ll see you in June. Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits.

Boxing With Baggage

9 AM and you’d think they were bringing aboard the last of their worldly possessions for passage to the New World. From back of the plane with the rest of economy-class steerage, I can observe the cramming and pummeling of each not-so-tiny bag.

There are desperate tussles at the gate as overly optimistic travelers have woefully underestimated the size of their carry-ons, tearful goodbyes to monstrosities that have no business riding shotgun, and frantic dashes to be the first to reach unclaimed territories in the overheads.

It’s been a while since I’ve flown anywhere, well before full body scans and pat downs that get too darn close to second base. When I last traveled, folks weren’t charged for checked luggage. And yes, as you might expect I had baby dinosaurs eating out of my hand at the terminal’s stone-age petting zoo.

I’m no innocent, though. I dutifully watched all those sound bites of violated passengers on the nightly news and listened to my husband complain about his last business flight when they searched his HAIR. (What’s up with that?)

However, I am unprepared for the amount of physical violence inflicted upon various personal belongings as people stuff their contraband under seats and between wheeled blocks of steel, or completely crush any unwittingly soft item suspected of too much wiggle room.

This is where I thank my lucky stars that I’ve only brought along a little duffle bag borrowed from my spouse, free swag from an ancient sports event displaying the powerful hieroglyphics of corporate-sponsored world domination. But, hey, you can’t beat the price.

No doubt meant for a quick trip to the gym for spinning class and high tea, my little bag offers plenty of room to take on a minimalist’s wardrobe of tees and shorts to last three days of sun, sand and tan, plus a library paperback and enough UV block to slather on post-burn. I wear the same outfit both flying days, but who’s there to notice besides the familiar guy next to me in the same clothes he wore on the first day, too.

Okay, so granted we are heading for a three-day weekend event at the beach where clothing is optional (although required on my part to prevent blinding). But I am so delighted with my one bag that I’d be willing to beat my skivvies on a rock in the nearest drainage ditch than slow myself down on longer trips with enough luggage to make me feel like a pack mule.

After flashbacks of cattle chutes on the family farm, my turn’s next — a fast stroll down the aisle, taking care not to sideswipe the territorial businessmen in first class, ignoring the shrinking outer space of the overhead compartments and worries over which way the wheels need to face. I slide into my window seat, duffle neatly tucked under the seat. Turn off the phone, pull out the paperback, and I’m ready to stare at the scenic vista of an MD-80 wing with a little too much rust on the flaps for my liking.

About a week later, everyone is finally packed in like fully booked sardines, having disobeyed all instructions of what to do with their appendages, electronics and tray tables. Overheated children are kicking up a roar louder than the engines when the first of many overhead bins bursts open like coffins of the undead in a cheap horror flick. Frustrated flight attendants scramble to stop the avalanche before they have to start their luggage Jenga game all over again.

And this is just the first connecting flight.

Almost enough to tempt a skinflint minimalist like me to cough up the cash for a Bloody Mary.

Here’s to friendlier skies.

Just Give Me Two Cans and a Very Long String

I know they’re in there, lurking with the hopelessly inadequate flash drives, mocking me by their very existence. They lie in technological purgatory, charging cords tangled, obsolete in their intended purpose, too important to abandon because of what THEY might know.

In the wrong kindergartner’s hands, why they could crack under pressure and spill the beans about my interactions with the world: doctor, dentist and the kind of liquor store I frequent, calls furtively made, received and ignored, rendezvous plotted in the morse code of texting, indiscreet ring tones loaded and then hastily regretted, the most elementary of digital games played very, very badly.

Yes, they are my wanton cell phones, those bastard children given up for brighter and shinier models with a qwerty sense of humor and a higher intelligence (which I apparently need since it took me over an hour to figure out how to wipe out my dark secrets and slip the SIM card away from an old dinosaur of a Tracfone.)

Evidently it is far easier to find the clandestine recycling drop-off than to make a cell phone forget.

Call me later.

2012 or Bust

You have no idea how many shots it took to catch this.

I got nothing. No top 10 lists, no best of show, no majestic summations, and most of all, no desperate resolutions.

It could be that we’re all waiting for the big show, a grand finale, some final word. Perhaps we’re hoping for an apocalypse of reason that will transform us into sane beings who push compassion rather than punishment.

Maybe we will come to our senses about the state of our house, and trade the cloak of conquest for humble coveralls of care. There are rumblings all over this world for change. Are we listening?

When the end times knock, will we be caught in the eternal exchange lines, still unhappy with the fit of our lot in life? Or found napping in the complicated coffers of the conglomerate dragons, seduced by sweet promises of greed beyond all hope.

But this is no fairytale, for even in the land of suburbia unsettling winds are winding along the manicured driveways and multi-level decks of our complacency.

I have a feeling it’s going to be a wild ride. But one that I signed up for.

I’ll see you in a new time, my friend.