I’ve been watching, via his Facebook page, the transition of friend and colleague Mario Garcia from his 5,400 square-foot home in Tampa Bay to 800 square feet of co-op living in Manhattan.
His Facebook posts revealed the nuts and bolts of the move as it unfolded. But he’s just posted an essay on the downsizing that reflects the same panache and insight that’s made him one of the world’s leading designers of publications and digital apps.
He begins his story like this:
Everyday is special after you edit your life and live with the abridged version of yourself.
This is a story just about that, and how I learned that you don’t have to wait until the third act of your life for editing your life. There is renewal, practicality and emancipation.
As a visual journalist/designer, I have spent my career editing pages for publication, and more recently for websites, phone and tablet apps.
Nothing, however, prepared me for what I call the editing of my life. Editing the work of others can’t compare to the exercise of dealing with the roles of space, economy and redundancy in your own life.
In some respects, our move from Tampa Bay to Boston was more modest than Mario’s. We left a house in St. Pete that was less than half the size of Mario’s across the Bay in Tampa, and we’d lived there for only a decade vs. the 30 years Mario and family spent in theirs. We both relocated to pretty posh parts of pretty great cities — Mario to the Upper East Side of Manhattan; Carol and I to Beacon Hill just a block from Boston Common. Continue reading
Appreciating how big a room looks with none of our stuff!
A Year in a Room is all about transitions, and we have a new one to report: Our move from the third floor of Beacon Hill Friends House to the second.
For a variety of reasons, Carol’s doc suggested she figure out a way to sleep in less sweltering temperatures. The BHFH electrical system does not accommodate regular air conditioners — no big deal unless you’ve experienced Boston’s summer heat and humidity. A little Internet research turned up some low-powered A/C possibilities. But the BHFH residency manager, Ben, had a better idea: Move to the second floor, where the ceilings are higher and the temperatures lower. And a room was available.
“Get rid of this thing”
Easier said than done, of course. Halfway down the stairs with a big bookcase, one of the movers we hired had a question for us: “Did you have this thing built in the room? Because there’s no way it’s coming down these stairs.” Continue reading
I sometimes wonder if my love of books could be an addiction of sorts. I can get high just walking into a bookstore. When we downsized from a four bedroom house to a room in this community, books were among the most difficult things for me to let go of – and I did let go of boxes of them. Despite this, books are the major clutter in our room now.
I once met a person who claimed to have read ninety per cent of the books she owned. I never imagined such a thing was possible. I don’t think I’ve read more than 50% of the books I own, but that doesn’t stop me from acquiring more. The Kindle app is not my friend when it comes to this. The ability to download books that don’t take up room on the shelf is sometimes too great a temptation to resist.
And yet, when I think of the experiences books and reading have led me into, I don’t really want to put a negative label on my love of them. As a shy child in an alcoholic family, trips to the library were pure joy. The only cloud was that I couldn’t check out more books than I could carry. Books let me imagine different worlds than the one in which I lived. Continue reading
Thanks to Ellen Hume for referring us to this great bit by George Carlin: “Stuff.”
The comments by Ellen (on Facebook) and others (attached to Carol’s post — Taming the Acquisition Monster) have me thinking about the important role of comments in this journey of ours into the downsized life. I’ll explore that topic in a subsequent post.
But Carlin’s sketch is too good not to share immediately. It’s worth a five-minute Friday afternoon break, even if you watched way back when Carlin first performed it nearly 30 years ago. Carlin died in 2008.
I am not a big shopper. I discovered years ago that retail therapy was not very effective for me. Frequently I order what I need online to avoid having to go to malls. So downsizing and simplifying have not been onerous for me.
There are, however, two places where my acquisition monster comes roaring out. One is books, which I’ll write about in a subsequent post, and the other has to do with travel. If you were to wander around our room you would clearly see that there is something about the art and craft of other cultures that I find irresistibly appealing. I went to Vietnam with the best of intentions, but the struggle was mighty and I didn’t always win.
Artist Hoang Thanh Phong (firstname.lastname@example.org) with his painting Mindfulness (photo used with permission of artist)
I gave myself a pass for some gifts: a couple of cute embroidered dresses for our newest granddaughter, coconut candies and various little things for our house mates, friends and relatives.
My biggest struggle came when we ate lunch at a terrific restaurant in Hue. Original art adorned the walls. The artist was there and told us about his works, which were very inexpensive. I wanted one so much I could hardly restrain myself. It was a perfect storm of desire – the artwork was deeply spiritual, I loved it, I wanted to support the artist, it was affordable, it would be a great reminder of a trip of a life time. It didn’t help when two of our traveling companions bought several between them. But, we have no more wall space in our room. The last thing we need is a painting. I walked away. I’d be lying, though, if I said I never think about contacting the artist and seeing if the one I loved most is still available. Continue reading
I have a confession to make: We’re not really spending a year in a room. In the eight months we’ve lived at Beacon Hill Friends House we’ve travelled extensively both for work and for pleasure. In fact, I’m writing this post from Hue, Vietnam. I don’t see these trips as an escape from community, but rather a chance to explore community in different ways.
To better understand Vietnam, I am reading Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald. She points out that the Vietnamese and American psyches are different with regard to space. For Americans, space seems less limited and the possibilities for expansion enormous. For the Vietnamese, it is clear that there is very limited space and to take too much of it is to deprive another. As Fitzgerald puts it:
Within the villages as within the nation, the amount of arable land was absolutely inelastic. The population of the village remained stable, and so to accumulate wealth meant to deprive the rest of the community of land, to fatten while one’s neighbor starved. Vietnam is no longer a closed economic system, but the idea remains with the Vietnamese that great wealth is antisocial, not a sign of success but a sign of selfishness.
The ways we share space or make room for one another (or not) color our own happiness as well as the health of our community.
Among the scenes I’ve found most compelling in Vietnam is traffic, as reflected in the accompanying video captured by one of our travel companions, Bob Fox. Continue reading
You know how certain words seem to sum up where you are at any given point in life?
Our lives have tended to swing between a couple: adventure and stability.
Our life at Beacon Hill Friends House feels like an unusual balance of the two, prompting a new word: Enough.
Not only enough adventure and enough stability, but enough of most of the elements that go into each: enough new, enough familiar; enough fun, enough work; enough easy, enough hard.
Not that we’ve got it all worked out. This week finds us still wrestling with a question Carol posed in this space a few months ago: Keep or sell the car? Continue reading
Part of our original downsizing plan was to let go of the car once we got settled in Boston. We haven’t done that yet.
We love the easy access we have to great public transportation. For the most part, we delight in using that. And, for the times when a car could be really helpful, zipcar is readily available. Still, we’re not ready to let the car go yet.
In the heart of Boston a car is not always an advantage. One either finds parking on the street or pays serious money for a dedicated parking place. Sometimes really serious money. We’ve opted for street parking. It can be complicated. The other morning, for instance, Bill got up to move the car by eight AM for the street sweepers. He could only find parking at a meter, which meant I had to move it two hours later. Luckily the street sweepers had finished with our street and I could get a place right in front of our house. Whew! Safe – until we use it for something or the streets get swept again in two weeks.
Is this how I want to spend time? Doesn’t downsizing and simplifying suggest we should give up this car we don’t really need. What about our commitment to a sharing economy? And what about lessening our carbon footprint? Continue reading
As we downsize, I realize that giving up certain things also involves giving up certain roles. At Christmas time we packed up my mother’s dishes (which had been her mother’s) and Bill’s mother’s dishes and took them to Maleita, our oldest daughter. Handing over the dishes as well as moving out of the big house made it clear to me that I wouldn’t be hosting the holiday meals. It’s a role I’ve loved – gathering whatever family and friends were available and enjoying good food and good companionship.
And it’s not just the holiday meals – we loved providing hospitality to people from all over. We were blessed with a house big enough to have people stay. Maybe because my work has often involved intangibles I love the concreteness and sensuality of cooking for people – the colors and scents and tastes, even the feel of stirring a risotto or kneading bread. I love figuring out what people enjoy eating and serving them that. I have to admit to a certain sadness at giving that up. Continue reading
Our room is comforting to me. It feels like home even though we’ve only been in it a little while. There are two large windows overlooking the street with a large tree shading them. Birds sing in the morning. The place is new to us, but there is a comfort in what we kept and brought with us. On the bed is the brightly embroidered bedspread we never intended to buy on our trip to visit our daughter and son-in-law when they were working in India. On the window sill sits a ceramic man who used to stand on a swing until it rotted years ago. It was a present from our friend Judy, who lived near us in three very different places – Detroit, California and Florida. It reminds me that friendships last despite distance.