Downsizing as edit: Creating the “abridged version of yourself”

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.

Screenshot 2015-02-04 13.13.25His 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

Time for a re-set: A new year, a new room

Appreciating how big a room looks with none of our stuff!

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"

“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

Books – My Friends or My Addiction

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.

pile of booksI 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

Speaking of stuff: George Carlin said it well

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.

Taming the acquisition monster

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 with painting

Artist Hoang Thanh Phong (ricepaperart@yahoo.com) 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

Making room for one another

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.

imageTo 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

Why good enough is just right

Screen shot 2014-02-03 at 11.57.14 AM

screengrab: nytimes.com

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