A Contemplation on Moving and Stuff
Ways to Downsize Your Home and Simplify Your Life
By Monika Carless
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
~William Morris, Designer, Poet 1834-1896
For some reason known only to the
gods, our whole family moved house last year: my partner and I, my mother,
my parents-in-law, my brother-in-law and his family, and our two daughters.
I was responsible for sorting, packing, and moving two of those households,
and although not a pack rat by any stretch of the imagination, I have been
overwhelmed by the magnitude of stuff that has sifted through my hands.
My intention was that I would pack
only what we truly needed; the rest would be re-purposed. Trips to the dump
would be avoided at all costs. Right. Our house is not cluttered; I crave
order and clearly defined spaces. If something comes in, something – or two
somethings – have to go out. With the exception of a growing library of
books, I am not a collector. I do not hang on to clothes from my long
elapsed youth, or odds and ends to remind me of my first
kiss/lover/house/yada, yada. Or so the minimalist fantasy has always played
out in my head.
Doggedly, I packed the contents of
our home. Moving day dawned with an unnatural bestowment of rain. Darkness
finally fell on the pride-filled image I had of myself as an organized,
non-material girl. Then, the weeks dragged on as I unpacked, organized into
new closets, and re-packed a new pile of stuff to take to the used goods
store. Then the junk guys came to haul away an assortment of items. Twice.
You know, the kind of stuff that the previous owners think the new owners
will find useful.
“Have we reached a
new plateau in consumerism and hoarding habits? Does it truly take a
household move to gain perspective on how much we own and keep?”
We were consolidating. My mother,
now no longer able to live on her own, was to share our household with us.
We also planned to conserve as much as possible: time (mine, in caring for
my mother’s household), utilities, the money to pay for those utilities, an
extra set of house taxes, household supplies, gasoline for the car, etc.
This was to be communal living at its simplest – the extended family. So the
next four months were spent clearing and packing my mother’s apartment,
moving her to our home and finally dealing with the garage, to where all
things with no immediate use are put. I might mention that my mother is not
a minimalist of any degree.
In reality, I wanted to cry every
day that involved sorting. No, I did cry. At some point I felt physically
incapable of touching one more thing, making one more decision, getting rid
of one more thing, using another garbage bag, even if it was the compostable
kind. My mind was constantly working out the huge volume of goods that we
consume and gather. A trip to the dollar store for tape made me practically
convulse as I contemplated where all that stuff would one day end up. The
garage was really my undoing. I considered arson. All these things that I
had to keep! The tent, the rototiller, the snowshoes, the tarps, the “what
the heck is all this stuff?!” And then my in-laws called to say they needed
help on moving day….
Doing More With Less
Have we reached a new plateau in
consumerism and hoarding habits? Does it truly take a household move to gain
perspective on how much we own and keep? It could be that when our credit
cards groan and we have to re-organize our priorities, we also take note of
the habits we have formed around stuff. Sometimes, society as a whole
realizes that it’s drowning in stuff and the subsequent garbage disposal
issues that follow. Recycling, composting, and re-using are introduced to us
as new programs. It’s been suggested that living with less creates space for
more. More of what? We crave more leisure, more time with our children, more
room in our psyche and spirit, more savings (remember those?).
Living with less is a captivating
way to achieve these needs. Buying less makes room to live more, or even to
be able to buy items that are of higher quality, that last longer and stay
out of the dump for years, or that can be handed down to future generations.
Consider these choices:
Instead of piling up drawers full of
cheap clothing that won’t wear well, purchase one well-made suit that will
last more than one fashion season and that can be combined with other items
to expand your wardrobe. I learned this in grade nine Home Economics class,
and have made good use of it ever since.
Every time you want to purchase
something, ask yourself if you’d rather put that money into the “vacation
with the kids” or the “take myself to the opera” jar? Then, do it!
Give away what you don’t need to
those who do and then make a conscious effort not to buy more of what you’ll
give away a year later. You’ll feel good, someone else will be grateful for
their good fortune, and you’ll discover that lighter feeling that comes with
downsizing. This is not a passing euphoria. Possessions truly do hold the
spirit down. The more we have, the more we have to invest into thinking
about our stuff and what it means to maintain that stuff or replace it.
Sell enough things (possibly the
second car?) and pay off a credit card. Then cancel that card. Think about
all the time you’ll have now that you’re not agonizing over your finances.
Combine two households, decrease
debt, or eliminate it altogether. Pool incomes to purchase less food, less
gas, less utilities, less taxes. It actually costs less in groceries for one
household of three people than if those people lived apart, and there is
less food waste as well. With all these savings, could you now afford to
purchase your energy from a green provider? In our case, it is costing us an
extra dollar per day for an alternative source of gas and electricity, and
supports the building of more wind and solar facilities.
think that 'I don’t need it' is a sentence worth repeating."
Create space in your lifestyle. In a
combined household, can one person now afford to stay home to be a caregiver
to the elderly or the children? Can you take more family vacations as a
result of the savings you’ve incurred by living together? Can you afford to
invest more now into creative pursuits, dreams left on the back burner,
savings for a rainy day.
More people in the household could
mean the personpower to grow more of your own food. We’re not just talking
saving money now!
Searching for a new home to fit our
newly extended family meant keeping our priorities straight. Finances were
not the only consideration. How long would we be “extended” for? Although
none of us wanted to say it out loud, we knew that at some point, we would
not need the granny suite. So we looked for “just big enough,” for now and
later, as each move increases the ecological footprint of the family. How
much would we need to invest into furnishing, upgrading, and landscaping our
new bigger home (landscaping meaning building new food gardens)? The bigger
you buy, the more it costs to outfit and maintain.
I admit that we bought on
a love-at-first-sight basis of the area rather than the actual home. It had
the least bling factor on a street where bling is abundant, but offered much
in lifestyle, being situated adjacent to a huge forest and trail system. It
also came with enough privacy and space (three-quarters of an acre) for
being in an actual neighborhood. So we spent less, bought less pizzazz, but
gained in spades of what means the world to us (pun intended).
I’ve read Living the Good Life
by Scott and Helen Nearing over and over. The subtitle reads: “How to live
sanely and simply in a troubled world.” One of my best takeaways from that
magnificent manifesto is their habit of working half the day and spending
the rest of the day in creative pursuits such as reading, playing music,
talking. This concept has invaded my thoughts and dreams relentlessly. What
a civil way to live: considering all our needs, not just financial. I am not
so much of an idealist that I do not know how difficult it is to live the
simple life without having adequate employment to cover the bills, or to
think that everyone will live off the land or some such romantic foolery.
I’ve tried it, loved it, and know what one gives up to have that dream.
Admittedly, the Nearings lived an
austere life, which they truly enjoyed, but I, alas, do love those beautiful
things that the poet William Morris mentions: things such as colorful
tapestries, books, white linens on the bed (thread count does matter),
candles, art by local artists, and plants with their accompanying clay pots.
Then there are the garden sculptures that I seem to be addicted to. The
stones that made up my garden labyrinth were an extra trip to our new
property…..yes, I moved rocks! My heart skips a beat over handcrafted furniture that I can earmark for this
daughter or that one, and good pots to cook with, heart-shaped stones
gleaned from beaches around the world, pots of divided perennials…the list
goes on and all had to be packed.
"Meditate on the
spending and keeping habits that got you to where you are today. And
ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the task before
So while I crave the simple life, it
has to include these fineries, and my solution to not feeling too badly over
it means buying strictly what I need of those items, and looking for things
that are well made, which usually means waiting for something until I can
afford it. I waited twenty years to re-upholster a chair and couch with
material I coveted. It really did take that long for me to be able to afford
it. The furniture to be re-done was well framed and stayed out of the dump,
although not taking anything to the dump was a delusion quickly abandoned
with this move.
The move has made me truly aware of
everything I purchase. When we moved my in-laws, I screamed “NOOOOO!” every
time something was offered to us to take home because we might very well be
able to use it. “We don’t need it, but thank you” became a constant refrain.
I think that “I don’t need it” is a sentence worth repeating. And by the
way, “useful” and “beautiful” seems like quite a huge category, Mr. Morris.
Can we narrow it down a bit please?
De-cluttering and Moving
Here are a few more tips for
de-cluttering and moving:
Can’t decide what to get rid of?
Try instead the art of keeping what you really love and discarding the
things that don’t fit that category.
Barter items that you don’t want
to keep for services, such as a set of skis you won’t be using for a
couple of massage treatments. (You’ll need these after moving day.)
Start early before your move.
Set a date by which you want to have all un-needed items to be out of
the house, and this should not be on moving week. Start packing the day
you sign the contract to sell. If you have one room to designate as the
“box room,” all the better. Label clearly!
One thing to spend money on in a
move is some good wrapping paper. It will save you much time at the
other end washing dishes and glasses otherwise wrapped in toxic
newsprint. Re-purpose that paper later for art projects or gift wrap.
Scour your local telephone
directory for government or private services that take items otherwise
slated for the dump, or which are environmentally sensitive.
Meditate on the spending and
keeping habits that got you to where you are today. Ask for help if
you’re feeling overwhelmed with the task before you. Just putting it off
until the week of the move might prove to be a recipe for a breakdown.
If you are planning to live as
an extended family, if at all possible, consider adding on to your home
as opposed to moving altogether. It saves on a lot of resources, both
physical and environmental.
Have a packing party. Arrange a
table of goodies to give away for your packers to choose from...like a
garage sale, only easier.
avoid shopping, de-clutter on a regular basis, and never move!
Monika Carless lives in
a small house on the edge of a great wood where she is planning a new
organic garden, and taking up lawn to do so. She hangs her laundry out even
if it is not really done in the neighborhood. She has hardly bought any new