Doing Without – Less is More

We’ve been living a significantly downsized lifestyle (compared to our previous one) for almost two months. Naturally, friends and relatives have been curious about how we’re handling this. The most common questions include:

  • Has it been hard?
  • Are there things you wish you still had?
  • Are you finding it liberating?
  • Is it life changing?

There have been days when I feel that the answer to all these questions is, “Yes”, and times when the answer is, “No, not really.” I’m happy to say that the answer to, “Have you regretted this?” has always been “No.”

Here are more detailed answers to those questions.

Has it been hard?

By and large, it hasn’t. Definitely not as hard as I thought it would be.

The hardest change was giving up the house. Our house was perfect. It was in a great location in a great neighborhood. We had done a major remodel and the house and the yard were custom-tailored to suit our personality and lifestyle. The house reflected who we were.

On top of that, we’d lived there for twenty-six years so leaving home definitely represented the biggest lifestyle change.

I had expected that moving out and giving up all the little things that were “just so” would be hard. But it wasn’t. Maybe it’s because we’d been planning this for over a year so we had time to process the change. Mostly, I think it was because of the way we said goodbye to the house. Our real estate agent convinced us to move out of the house a month before it went to market so they could completely stage it. We’d visit every few days to pick up mail and each time the house would feel a little less “us.” Boring beige walls?  Definitely not us. Uninteresting, passive art that encourages your eye to focus on the room rather than the art?  Absolutely not us. Are-you-kidding-me white furniture?  No one on either side of the family. The result was that letting go happened in stages and by the time the house was ready for the cameras it had turned into a cool house, but not our home. By the way, in case you’re interested, here’s the commercial:  

Since the beginning of February we’ve been living in a furnished 2 bedroom apartment. While it’s about a third the size of our house it really hasn’t felt small. (Except for the couch.) In fact, since we’re using the second bedroom as our garage we’re essentially living in a one-bedroom.

Apartment living has been a bit of an adjustment (apparently, raising a toddler requires a lot of Row, Row, Row Your Boat). And we always seem to be on the hunt for quarters because laundry is expensive. The biggest challenges seem to be related to peeing. I really miss not having a dog door for Brighton – especially when it’s raining. And having only one bathroom is very unfortunate when we arrive home from a long drive.

Are there things you wish you still had?

The first time I started cooking oatmeal post-downsizing I was really grumpy that the perfect pot for oatmeal was long gone. (I think I know who which household has it.) I ended up using an oversized pot. Amazingly, it still tasted like oatmeal. I’ve cooked oatmeal a few more times since then. Same result.

When we go to friends’ houses we’ll see things we used to own – furniture, art, kitchen stuff, etc. I sometimes have a momentary, “Oh, I still really like that. I miss having it.” Except that only happens for a moment and only when I’m looking at that object. So maybe it’s not really a sense of “missing” as it is remembering that those items once gave me pleasure. The rest of the time, I completely forget about those objects and don’t feel that I’m lacking them. Except maybe that pot.

Are you finding it liberating?

It is nice not to worry about house maintenance stuff  (cleaning the gutters and all those nagging little repairs you’ll get around to some day). And it’s weird to drive by places like Home Depot, whose aisles were always sirens calling, and now I think, “Eh.”

The one way that I’ve found this liberating has to do with choices. I used to be very particular about clothing. (Remember those 14 pairs of jeans?) I hadn’t realized it but I had these weird, subtle, unconscious rules about what clothing I’d wear. In addition to your usual, “When I wear these slacks, I always wear one of these shirts,” I apparently also had unconscious rules about accessories.  And another layer of rules related to weather/temperature. Who knew my clothing neurons were so evolved?

In the first few weeks after downsizing, I’d start to get dressed, realize that one of these rules was about to be broken, get undressed and start all over. Several times I caught myself deciding that because I no longer had shoes at the same level of dressiness as the slacks I was planning to wear that I couldn’t wear those slacks. It finally occurred to me that I’d probably invented these rules because I had way more clothes than I needed. My restricted wardrobe has caused me to let go of these encumbering rules and as a result I spend a lot less time deciding what I’m going to wear. If it’s clean, the colors and patterns don’t clash, then I’m pretty  good to go. I still do a bit of, “This is appropriate with that” but I spend so much less time and energy worrying about clothing choices.

Is it life changing?

I’m surprised at how little I miss TV. The apartment has a TV but we haven’t had it on more than a total of 30 minutes the entire time we’ve been here. We weren’t huge TV watchers, but we did have a small set of shows we’d Tivo and watch together (Game of Thrones, Good Wife, Modern Family)  and then several shows only I would watch: Walking Dead, American Horror Story, 3-4 Marvel shows, (you get the theme). Somehow, moving to this apartment, TV just didn’t warrant our time. Instead, we read a lot more. I haven’t quite given up the small screen, though. Some nights I use Netflix to stream an episode of Z Nation or iZombie but that’s only a 40 minute investment.

TV’s a good example of how having less stuff pays dividends in terms of more time. There’s certainly a lot less time spent choosing.  And there’s a lot less time spent cleaning and tidying possessions.

Ultimately, I think it’s a lot like water rationing – something we Californians are pretty familiar with. Some things are easy lifestyle changes to adopt while some things are harder. It’s easy to train yourself to turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth or you’re shaving.  It’s no hardship at all. Some things are slightly harder, like rethinking how you wash dishes or maximizing loads of laundry. You have to plan and work at them a bit, but it’s not really a big deal. And then some things, like taking very short showers, are much harder. These changes initially suck but before you know it, it just what you do. It’s the new normal.

The next step: Another relatively radical downsizing, to only those belongings that will fit on our bikes. For the next few years, that’s all we plan to have access to. Gulp.

One thought on “Doing Without – Less is More

  1. Tony,
    Loved your post. Am sending good thoughts to you and Joy and Brighton.
    I’m sure you’re slammed with stuff, very busy.
    But, wanted to see if you can help with the picture/slide show project before you head off.

    Best wishes,


    Note my new email address
    Please update your records


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