Friday, November 20, 2015

The Desire to Acquire






The desire to acquire starts when we’re young. We’re setting up our first apartment, or our first house. We want to put our stamp on it and make it feel like home, so we shop for just the right pieces and decorative items. It doesn’t matter how much or little money we have; whether we’re going wild at a pricey shop or at a thrift store, we regularly buy lots of goodies for our new digs to make it feel like home.

Over the years, we tweak and sometimes redo our environment, which means acquiring more things. Add to this our continual need for clothes, linens, kitchenware and entertainment options, and we’re amassing quite a lot of things.

Should we decide to have children, we’ll find that our desire to acquire increases exponentially, because there are just so many cute little toys, duds and pieces of furniture crying out for a place in our home. And of course, as our kids grow up, their needs change, and we bring into our home anything else they (or we) think they need.

By the time we reach middle age, most of us are afloat in stuff, thanks to that desire to acquire. I said “most of us” because some people are very good at keeping a minimum of stuff in their homes. But they are few and far between. Meanwhile, the rest of us have overflowing basements, attics, garages, and sometimes even rented storage units.

But there is good news. As we age, the desire to acquire begins to subside. It takes a lot more to impress us, and there’s not much out there that we really want anymore. We find that a small quantity of chosen beloved items can make us quite comfortable, especially after we’ve jettisoned the bulk of the belongings that we acquired over the years.

So if you’re awash in stuff, so much that it’s keeping you tied to a house you no longer need, take heart. Once you decide to free yourself of the burden of stuff, you may find that the desire to acquire is just a little impulse you feel occasionally. In its place roars the desire for freedom from clutter, which is all the motivation you need to lift the burden of stuff from your shoulders.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Is Downsizing the American Dream a Bad Thing?



A recent article posted at TheAtlantic.com laments the findings of interviews and surveys that show that an increasing number of Americans, particularly young Americans, are more concerned with hanging on to what they have than moving up in the world, and are also more interested in becoming debt-free.

Clearly this is a reflection of the stagnating economy that we’ve been dealing with for many years now. Young people in particular are overloaded with debt, especially student loan debt, which keeps them tethered to whatever job they might have and limits their ability to buy a car or house.

One thing missing from the article, however, is that many of these young people saw their parents overloaded with stuff, and the debt that comes from buying more stuff than you can afford. They grew up watching their parents buy houses with three-car garages when they only had two cars, just so there was more room to store their stuff. They watched them clean around all their stuff and lose spare rooms to all their stuff. And of course in extreme cases they saw them hoarding stuff.

The real theme I see in this article is that people want freedom. They want to be free of debt, and they don’t want to become loaded down with stuff they have to pay for, for years to come.

They also want affordable housing, but not necessarily impressive housing. Note the survey reference to owning a nice home. In recent years, “nice” meant “bigger and more impressive than your friends’ homes.” Given the survey and interview responses, perhaps “nice” can go back to meaning “affordable and comfortable.”

The sad tone of the article could use a little optimism. The fact is that downsizing your lifestyle can be freeing. Moving to a smaller place means you spend less time caring for your home and more time doing things you’d rather be doing. Moving to a more affordable place means improving your financial bottom line, and maybe even helping you become debt-free.

Yes, it can be painful to go through a downsizing of the American Dream. It sure hurt when my family was forced to go through it. But it only hurts for a little while because the freedom you gain feels so good. Eight years on from our involuntary downsizing, we are thriving, enjoying debt-free life in a small, nice home.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Giving Up Your Furniture When You Downsize





What do you do with your furniture when you downsize your life?

Most likely you’re moving to smaller quarters and you just can’t fit all of your furniture into it. So you’ll have to make some decisions.

We moved from a 5-bedroom two-story house to a 3-bedroom ranch when we downsized. As a result, we gave up a lot of furniture, something you may also have to do.

The downside of this is that you won’t get much for your furniture, even if it’s very high quality, solid wood, leather, etc. Most of today’s young people would rather spend $600 on an iPhone than on a solid oak end table, so the demand for high-quality furniture is not what it once was. But it’s not dead, either, so you should be able to sell your unneeded furniture, though you probably won’t get what you think it’s worth.

We were in the middle of moving, so we wanted to get rid of things quickly. We put a sofa sleeper on Craig’s List for a few hundred dollars, and it sold fast. We put a loveseat that had seen better days on the curb and a neighbor snatched it up within a few hours. We also had a sale at our storage unit where we sold our kitchen table and chairs, a few dressers and some other pieces of furniture. 

We didn’t make a fortune on our old furniture, but we got it out of our way quickly, which was our primary goal.

The upside to today’s listless furniture market is that you can find some really nice pieces for reasonable prices that will be better suited to your new (smaller) home. After we downsized, we did buy a few new pieces, because we needed smaller-scale furniture.

Our best purchase was a leather loveseat, built like a tank and in pretty good shape, bought from someone who was also downsizing and didn’t want to take it on their cross-country move. It cost us a whopping $200 and fits perfectly in our modestly sized living room, where a sofa would be too large.

The person we bought it from moved to the other side of the country after selling all her furniture, then outfitted her new smaller home with quality wood and leather pieces as well as appliances that she found on Craig’s List. She said it was well worth the money she paid to rent a small truck to carry the larger pieces to her new home.

Of course there’s always IKEA, Big Lots and Target if you prefer cheap, trendy furniture. But if you like quality pieces, a little legwork can get you well-made furniture at a very reasonable cost in just the right scale for your new home.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

"I Was Gonna"



Were there ever three other words that got more people into clutter trouble?

I was gonna learn to paint so I collected all these paintbrushes, paints, books about painting, and canvases I bought on sale that are sitting, covered with dust, in my basement.”

I was gonna start a jewelry making business, so I started collecting tools, stones, books about making jewelry, magazines about making jewelry, and display cases I was going to use at craft sales, all of which are now parked high up in the top of my garage rafters.”

I was gonna start an in-home daycare, so I bought up toys on sale, including big climbing toys that fill a corner of my backyard to this day, but I never did get that business off the ground.”

Sound familiar?

Here's one of my own (many) “I Was Gonna” stories. Years ago, I read a book review in a magazine like Glamour or Mademoiselle (remember that magazine?) for a book about making your own wedding gown. So I special-ordered it.

As it turned out, not long after I got engaged I found my dream gown on a mannequin in a bridal store and it was only $50, so I snapped it up and thus didn’t need the book after all. But I kept it just in case.

A few years later my sister got engaged and I thought I’d make her a wedding gown, but I became so busy with my new baby that I quickly realized that I didn’t have time to take on such a project. But I kept the book so I could make my baby girl’s wedding gown someday.

And I kept that book for 30 years. Finally, during our big purge several years ago, I admitted defeat and donated it to the local Goodwill.

Since then, two daughters have gotten married. One eloped and the other wanted a specific gown that she saw in a bridal shop. So I never would have used the book anyways!

How many things do you have that are “I Was Gonna” items? Things you were gonna do but never did. Have you gotten to the point that you can admit that you’re never gonna do them? That you had good intentions but life got in the way?

It’s OK to admit that, by the way. It happens to everyone. The important thing is what needs to happen after you admit that you’re never gonna use that stuff: 

You let it go.

That’s right, just move it along. Donate it, give it to someone who wants it, or pitch it (especially in the case of very old, dried-up tubes of artists’ paint.)

Let yourself be who you are today, not who you were back in the day or who you intended to become. The space you reclaim will be your reward.


Friday, June 19, 2015

“I Hope My Kids Don’t Do This to Me!”





The estate sale I went to last week was a packed one; it was like a museum of my childhood, complete with ash trays with bean-bag bases, thermal coffee mugs with woven-straw sides, and a large wood stereo system on legs just like you would have found in most of the houses in the neighborhoods of my childhood, back in the 1960s.

But what was most memorable about this sale was that on two separate occasions I heard women say, “I hope my kids don’t do this to me!” as they looked at the displays of two elderly folks’ personal possessions.

My goodness, do they think their kids will keep their houses (and contents) intact after they go to a nursing home, or after they die? Something will have to be done with their things, and it’s extremely likely that their kids will do this to them; what other choice will they have? Do they expect them to keep all of it? We’re talking about a houseful of stuff: tables covered in bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, plates, glasses, linens, tools, you name it.

I wanted to tell these women that there is only one way to be sure your kids don’t do this to you, and that’s to go through it yourself while you’re still alive and kicking. Make the tough decisions now so your kids will never have to put all of your things on display for strangers to pick through someday.

As the late Percy Ross used to say, “He who gives while he lives knows where it goes.” Keep only your most favorite and necessary possessions, give the next best items to people you love, and sell or donate the rest. You’ll relieve your kids of a huge burden someday, and you’ll never have to spin in your grave because your home is the site of an estate sale.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Six Reasons Why a Family Might Want a Tiny House





Many of the commenters on this article are questioning why a family would want to live in a tiny house. I can think of several reasons why; they all hinge on the fact that doing so would not be on a whim, but because it makes the most financial sense for a family that’s trying to stay afloat financially in an environment where many jobs are disappearing:


  • Children need stability. If you have to keep moving to find work, it will be stressful on your children. But if you can take your house with you, as you can with a tiny house, they’ll always be able to sleep in their own beds at night.
  • Living in a tiny house may be too much togetherness for some, but it beats having one parent with a job living in one state while the rest of the family lives in another. This is an increasingly common scenario and means kids only see one parent on the weekends. But a tiny house can be moved near the parent’s job so that the kids see both parents on a daily basis.
  • Financially strapped families looking to lower their expenses dramatically (to get in balance with lower incomes) find that their expenses are slashed by moving into a tiny house. No more five-figure property taxes, no more high utility bills, no more expensive home maintenance; it makes a huge difference on your bottom line.
  • A tiny house can be parked on land owned by relatives or friends; if the family pays a little rent for use of the land, they’ll provide extra income for the landowner. If the family can’t pay rent due to job loss, the landowner can help out the family by letting them live on his/her property until they find work again.
  • As rent prices go up (an ongoing trend), a family with a declining income must struggle to keep a roof over their heads. But the family that buys a tiny home will never have that problem.
  • The young couple that wants to start a family but can’t afford a mortgage will find that investing $30,000 in a tiny house (less if they do the work themselves) allows them to get started on raising a family when they want to, instead of waiting who-knows-how-long until they can afford a house.


Some commenters ask why the family doesn’t just buy a used R.V. Yes, used R.V.s can be cheaper, but a well-built tiny house will last far longer than an old R.V. that likely has (or will soon develop) a leaky roof, mildew, or cracked water or waste tanks.

Many of the commenters seem to think that moving to a tiny house is something a family would do for the novelty. But a tiny house is a great alternative for anyone who is struggling with unemployment, underemployment or a dying business. It can dramatically reduce shelter expenses until the breadwinner(s) can get back on their feet again. And it sure beats maxing out your credit cards so the whole family can eat on a regular basis!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What I Buy at Estate Sales





As I said last time, if I buy something at an estate sale, I have to get rid of something else when I get home. This “one-in, one-out” policy is the key to staying on top of clutter once you’ve gone through everything and kept only what you really love or need.

So what kind of things do I buy at estate sales?

First off, I buy linens and towels. Not just any linens and towels, however. What I like are new or almost new items. Many of today’s seniors used to set things aside “for company.” So while their everyday towels and sheets may look like they’ve had many years of use, their “for company” items are like new, and often are new, sometimes with price tags still attached.

Just this weekend at a nearby estate sale, I found a lovely dishtowel with a design that screamed “1960s,” hot pink with roses on it. It was like new. Its quality was so far beyond the dish towels sold in stores today that I couldn’t leave it there, so I bought it for a dollar. Then I pitched an old and faded dish towel when I got home so that there would be room in the drawer for my new find.

The quality of today’s new linens and towels are just not up to the standards of the mid-20th century. Even luxurious plush towels quickly degrade within a year or two of washing and drying. But the old goods just last and last.

Another reason I buy things at estate sales is that I can find things there that I can’t find in the stores anymore. A while back I bought a very sturdy eggbeater, much like this one. It’s perfect when I need to beat something quickly and don’t want to take the time to dig out my hand mixer. Good luck trying to find one at your local Target!


Finally, the prices at an estate sale can’t be beat. I often find hardcover books for a quarter. I read them, then donate them to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. If you need a plate to put a cake on for your family reunion or church picnic, a 50-cent china plate from an estate sale makes the perfect display, and you won’t be concerned if the plate is accidentally broken, or if someone takes it home by mistake, after the event.
                                
I’ve always felt that going to an estate sale is like going on a treasure hunt: you never know what kind of treasure you’ll see. You just have to have some rules about what you can take home, and follow those rules!



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Joy (and Danger) of Estate Sales





Once we got rid of more than half of our belongings when we downsized, I figured going to estate sales would now be out of the question for me. Otherwise, how would I handle the temptation of more stuff?

I’ve been going to estate sales for years. I used to live down the road from a very wealthy town where people lived in beautiful old houses on acreage. Those were truly estates! By going to the estate sales, I could go inside these lovely old houses, appreciate their architecture and decorating, and sometimes pick up a few goodies as well.

Now that I’m committed to not bringing home more stuff unless I get rid of an equal amount simultaneously (so that I never overstuff a home with clutter again), I’ve been surprised to discover that going to an estate sale can actually encourage me to stick to my guns.

How can this be? Well, now when I go into a house where an estate sale is taking place (as I did the other day), and I see table after table covered with old glassware and plates, countless knick-knacks, faded costume jewelry and worn linens, I think with gratitude that I’m glad this mess isn’t mine, and that I didn’t have to deal with it. It’s a good reminder of the quantity of stuff we went through when we downsized, and how glad I am to have that behind me.

Of course, my stuff was newer than most of what I see in estate sales. But it’s the sheer quantity of stuff spread all over someone’s home that is a good visual reminder of how much stuff a house can hold if you don’t stay on top of things.

So going to estate sales actually helps me keep on top of my own clutter. But there are other benefits as well. Since I no longer live near that wealthy area, the houses I go into now aren’t palatial or architecturally significant. But their contents often include things I remember from my childhood, so it’s almost like going into a museum of my youth.

For instance, at the sale I went to the other day, I saw an ashtray with a gold-colored metal top and a red-plaid bean-bag bottom, just like one I remember from my grandpa’s house. Seeing it took me back to Sunday afternoons visiting my grandparents, where the women chatted in the kitchen while Grandpa and my uncles sat around the tiny black-and-white television set, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes as they cheered on the Sox. All those important people in my life have been gone for years, but what a nice memory of them that ashtray brought back to me.

That’s why, as long as I can keep to my pledge not to bring home anything unless I get rid of something else, I will keep going to estate sales.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Channeling My Inner 12-Year-Old



Thanks to a years-long economic downturn, many of us have lost our livelihoods and must pare down our belongings and find a more affordable way of life.

It’s called downsizing your life, and it’s not easy. For me, one of the most challenging aspects was figuring out who I was and what I was going to need in my new downsized life.

It had been so long since I was free to do what I wanted, yet I couldn’t do anything expensive. I wouldn’t be able to afford to take up skiing in Aspen. I couldn’t become one of those people who go on three cruises a year. And I certainly wasn’t going to be able to open up a cute little gift shop in a tourist town; who’s got the money for that kind of overhead?

That said, those of us who tend to be frugal have always known that you don’t need much money to have fun. That belief is what finally helped me discover which few items of my oversized lifetime accumulation of stuff should be kept, and which needed to go.

In the end, what I figured out was that I still love to do the things I loved to do when I was 12. And since I, like most 12-year-olds back then, had very little money, the things I enjoyed cost little or nothing.

Why 12? For me, by age 12 I already knew my own mind but had not yet been distracted by boys (age 14+), the pressure to get good grades (ages 14-21), career success (age 21 +) and motherhood (age 25 +).

At 12, I read voraciously, often to escape the boredom of the classroom. I read books from the public library, so there was no money involved.

At 12, I learned to sew. Whenever I visited the small Southern town where my grandma lived, I stopped by the local fabric shop and picked up a bag of remnants for 25 cents. This kept my little sisters in doll clothes and me in sewing projects. Cheap fun!

At 12, I loved music. My little black transistor radio brought me great joy, as did my record player and a growing collection of record albums.

At 12, I loved to ride my bike all over town. It provided an escape from my family and the most freedom I would know until I learned to drive a few years later.

At 12, I had a garden. I grew bachelor buttons and potatoes and green beans. I still remember the taste of fresh buttered potatoes straight from the garden….mmmm!

Once I rediscovered these joys at the age of 50+, it became much easier to decide what to keep. I kept my very favorite books, my long-forgotten sewing supplies and our gardening tools. And I bought a nice high-quality Trek bicycle.

Everything else had to go, including the rest of the books. (We had accumulated hundreds over the years). Now I live with only my most favorite items, and they’re being used all the time.

Thanks to technology, many of my favorite things take up little space and cost little if anything. Books that aren’t in our public library can be stored on my Kindle. Going to YouTube lets me hear entire albums. Pandora offers a great variety of music whenever I want it.

So now I can enjoy my favorite activities with low clutter and at little or no cost; I call that the joy of downsizing!

If you’re overwhelmed by years of accumulated stuff and need to downsize your life, take some time to go back to your youth. What did you like when you were 12? How did you spend your time outside of the classroom? What did you enjoy doing before you were distracted by adult responsibilities? I’ll bet you’ll find some clues there.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What Should You Keep? Well, Who Are You Now?



Like so many of our contemporaries, we were forced to downsize because of a big financial reversal: my husband’s industry shifted overseas, and he was left without a livelihood, not to mention his vocation of over 30 years.

At the same time, I was facing an empty nest. Even though I’ve been a writer for years, my primary occupation was full-time mom of a large family. By the time we downsized, some of our kids had already moved out on their own, and the others were approaching that age.

So both my husband and I were faced with the thought, “Who am I now?” Aside from the philosophical side of that question was the very real issue of which of our things should we get rid of and which of our things should we keep because we might need/want them in the future. When you no longer know who you are, everything looks like something you might need down the road.

This partially explains why we didn’t get rid of hardly anything before we moved (the first of three moves in four years), and why we kept two storage units full of stuff before we finally settled in the little house we now call home.

I don’t recommend doing what we did. It was a big pain, as you can imagine. But we just didn’t know where we would end up or what we would be doing.

It took quite a bit of time before either of us began getting an idea of what we wanted to keep and what we could give up. Speaking only for myself, I found that as time passed and I stopped seeing myself primarily as Mom, I began to see myself as Claire again. Part of that process involved tapping into my desires regarding what I wanted to do.

I’m not talking about careers here. I can’t write 16 hours a day anyways. I’m talking about how I wanted to spend my time. It had been so many years since I had the luxury of choosing how to spend my time that I was almost paralyzed by the freedom for a while. And even when I did do something I wanted to do, I felt guilty about spending time on myself like that.

But I’m getting over it :) Since then, I’ve identified some areas of interest, things that I really enjoy doing, and as a result I was able to keep items I would need and pass along items that I no longer needed.

This may sound obvious, but when you’re faced with literally hundreds of cubic feet of stuff accumulated over a busy three or four decades, you either have to pitch it all at once or come up with a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sentimental (and frugal) people like me can’t just toss it all in dumpsters, no matter how much we wish we could. We need some guidelines in order to begin the sorting routine.

Once I figured out what I wanted to do, I had my guidelines. Next time, I’ll share how that process happened for me.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Tiny House Living




I recently discovered a new book about tiny houses that’s packed with photos and interesting information from people who live in tiny houses; some of them even built their own tiny houses.

Now, while I don’t think a tiny house is for me (we use our basement almost every day for our work and our hobbies), I can see how well the concept works for some people. In the new book Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building & Living Well in Less than400 Square Feet, author Ryan Mitchell shares the stories of a variety of tiny house residents.

My favorite is that of Kathy, a retiree whose son began building her a tiny house without her knowledge (“He knew if he told her ahead of time it would be a much harder sell, so he waited until it was almost done to show her.”) Kathy now lives in the tiny house with her husband, and has found that the tiny house has made some big positive changes in her life:


She can do all that she needs to do in her home, without a mortgage and with very low bills. Her power bill tops out at $25 a month and water is about $12—not because she uses that much, but because that’s the minimum charge to keep the service on….Since she is retired, it is very important to keep her living expenses low and it means that she can do much more, like visit her grandchildren more, go out to eat with her friends more, focus on her hobbies and simply not have to worry about the bills as much…..For the first time she has had the money and the time to visit her grandson for his birthday….


So many Baby Boomers don’t have big pensions waiting for them and were unable to save up much for retirement; a tiny house might be one answer to living successfully in retirement on only Social Security and some modest savings. If that sounds like you or someone you know, you should check out this book!

In the story about Kathy, she says that her friends with large houses are beginning to wish they had smaller homes to care for and more free time like Kathy does. But she says something holds them back:


It’s because they don’t know what to do with all their stuff that they spent their whole lives trying to pay for. They are so inclined to having stuff that it’s scary for them to think of paring down.


To Kathy’s friends, I say “Downsize, people, downsize! Lose the clutter and gain your freedom!”

One more thing: in most tiny houses, the sleeping area is always up in a loft. Who wants to risk falling down that tiny loft ladder in the middle of the night when they need a bathroom? But Kathy’s tiny house has a futon in the living area that turns into a bed, so she doesn’t climb up into a loft to sleep. Smart!


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Falling Off the Decluttering Wagon



I was so good when we first moved into our little house. I never let anything pile up on the counters. No more library books stacked on the floor next to the sofa. No more boxes labelled “Miscellaneous” parked in dark corners.

But over time, my old habits began to return. I had been putting Christmas presents that needed to be wrapped on the bed in the spare room; before long, other odds and ends that had no specific parking spot ended up there, and the bed became the parking spot for too many things. It was so easy to just set something there instead of making the effort to find a place for it.

Meanwhile, the closets began to get more crowded. I hadn’t taken the time to pitch something after buying its replacement. Repeat that a few times and pretty soon the lovely feeling of spaciousness in my little closets disappeared.

Then there was the garage. Last year we replaced almost all of our home’s windows with lovely new energy-efficient windows. But the old windows would make a terrific greenhouse in the back yard, so as they were removed from the house, we stacked them in the garage, where we forgot about them until winter came and we wanted to get the cars in the garage.

Combine these incidents with a few others too similar to mention here, and our little house began to feel snug. That’s when I realized I had fallen off the decluttering wagon. The feeling of panic that resulted was similar to the one you get when you can’t zip your pants after the holidays. Yikes!

I did not like that feeling, so it didn’t take me long to become motivated to declutter again. I spent some time going through our clothes, made a stack of items that we no longer needed, and put them in bags in the trunk of my car. I cleared off the bed in the spare room, finding places for everything (and getting rid of a few old things to make space for those new things). The old things were also sent to the car. Then I immediately took them to the local thrift shop and donated them.

Meanwhile, my husband and I discussed the windows and the likelihood that he would have time to make a greenhouse this year (answer: very unlikely) and decided to put them up for free on Craig’s List. They were gone by evening, and both cars made it into the garage. No more scraping off ice and snow before we could go anywhere!

I’m relieved to be back to our uncluttered state, but it kind of alarms me that I fell off the wagon after we worked so hard and got rid of so much stuff when we downsized. It just goes to show that vigilance is key; stay on top of your stuff if you don’t want to fall off the wagon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Surviving a Financial Reversal



I called a friend today to wish her a happy birthday and found her in a funk. She said it wasn’t so much her age that was bothering her (today she reached the big round number that’s exactly halfway between zero and 100), but that she never dreamed that she would be where she is at this point in her life.

You see, like so many of us, she lost her job several years ago. She had weathered unemployment before; it was common in her industry, and she’d always found another job quickly. But that last job she lost turned out to be her last full-time job in her industry; despite applying for work everywhere and networking whenever possible, she hasn’t found a full-time job that pays anywhere near what she used to make. As a result, she’s been through foreclosure and bankruptcy, and has lived in a series of rental houses and townhouses while trying to make enough money from side jobs to stay afloat and keep her two growing children in food and clothing (she’s a single mom).

One of her comments to me was that she never dreamed she would no longer own a house at 50. I understood completely. I turned 50 the year after my husband had to close down his business and we were forced to sell our family home to stay afloat financially. We didn’t know where to go; we just had to find some place cheaper than our hometown. So we moved to a lovely vacation town four hours away, rented a house near the beach, and began to research what we would do next. That’s how I spent my 50th birthday, far from most of our family and friends, living in a rented house with no idea of where we would go next.

One of the things I shared with my friend is that we’re not alone. Many, many people are casualties of the economic disaster of the past eight years. And while some may have asked for trouble by buying houses they couldn’t really afford or spending all their home equity on vacations and clothes, others, like my husband and I, were debt-free but lost our income through no fault of our own.

Just recently I met a woman whose healthcare-related family business was wiped out as a result of the Affordable Care Act. She and her husband had to sell the gorgeous historic country home they had so painstakingly renovated years earlier and move to a tiny ranch in the closest town. Like my friend and I, she knows what it’s like to lose your home and belongings because of financial reversal.

That said, it does no good to wallow in our misery, even when we meet others in a similar situation (misery does love company, you know). After an initial grieving period, it’s important to move on. No, you didn’t expect this to happen, or to be where you are at this point in time. But stuff happens. And of course, it could be worse. If you and your family are healthy, you’re fortunate indeed.

To recover from a big financial reversal that changes your life, you have to look for the silver lining. I was inspired to write my downsizing eBook after realizing all the good that came out of being forced to sell or donate more than half of our belongings in order to fit into the little ranch house we finally ended up in after being forced to sell our family home.

For years I had been mentally overwhelmed by a basement, garage and house filled with the clutter created by a large family and two home businesses, but never found enough time to deal with all that stuff. Our three moves in four years forced us to do so. As a result we now live with far fewer belongings, yet we’re surrounded by our most valued and useful items without being burdened by clutter.

Better yet, we no longer have the specter of financial ruin hanging over our head. Our income may be much smaller than it was ten years ago, but so are our expenses. What a relief to have reached a point where life seems more manageable!

And as we face our senior years (something my friend is surely doing today), we realize that living with less stuff and less expenses is something that will make life easier as we age. As a bonus, we can already spend more time doing things we like to do because we spend so much less time on the care of a big house and yard. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that time is becoming more precious the older I get.

So my advice for my friend, corny as is sounds, is to make lemonade when life gives you lemons. Instead of lamenting what you once had, or where you thought you would be by now, accept reality and move on. Make the changes you need to make and enjoy the benefits that come with them. Why waste energy thinking about what might have (should have) been when you can be using your energy to enjoy life now? There are good things about your current situation, but you’re going to have to make the effort to find them…..and celebrate them.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Why Procrastinators Should Live in Small Houses



I’m a procrastinator.

I’ve been one all my life. It’s a habit I’ve been unable to break, no matter how hard I try.

On a related note, I’m also guilty of excessive optimism. I see things I want to read or make, and I buy them and set them aside for “someday.” My optimism is seen in my belief that I will ever get to the book or project. Usually, I can’t find time for it, or by the time I do, it’s not as appealing as it was when I bought it however many years before.

When we downsized, I had to wave the white flag and admit defeat by giving up many unread books and unfinished (often unstarted projects). It was hard to admit that I’d blown it, and in a few cases, it was painful to let go of something I still wanted to read or make. But I’ve forgotten most of what I had to give up at that time, so it’s not that big of a deal.

That said, I’m still an optimistic procrastinator, and I still see things I want to read or make. But I don’t buy most of them, simply because I don’t have the room to store them until I get to them.

You see, when we lived in a big house, there were oodles of parking places for these items I thought I was going to need someday. They sat in those spaces collecting dust until I was finally forced to get rid of them when we had to give up the big house and downsize.

Now we live in a very small house, and there’s not a lot of room to store anything. I still buy things that I plan on reading or making, but not very often because there are few places to put them when I get home. As a matter of fact, I’m getting ready to go through everything again to see what else I can give up. Then I’m going to read or make what’s left (and very soon, because this small house won’t let me hang onto everything like I used to). Now I read something and then give it away, or make something and give it as a gift. Should I decide to keep something I’ve read or made, I’ll have to get rid of something else to make room for it.

That’s why I think small houses are the perfect homes for procrastinators. They force us to use things or lose them.