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Shrink Wrap

Have houseboat, will travel.

So now that I’ve moved across country again, I’m sifting through stacks of boxes, most of them filled with paper – letters, photos, books, clippings and articles – and I’ve come to the realization that it’s out of control. I’d like to think I’m not a bona fide hoarder. But the argument could be made.

I trace the beginning of this to sometime after the birth of my first child, when, like so many first-time parents, I shot a lot of photos. A lot. And this was back in the days before digital cameras, so the piles of prints and negatives grew at an alarming rate.

Now that my kids have grown and moved out into the world, I’m left with these boxes of images of the little people they used to be. I also have their report cards, certificates, drawings, letters, etc. etc. I did winnow the piles before we moved. But not enough.

As another season of irrational consumption unfolds in our complacent nation, I find myself thinking perhaps this will be the year I try to be more creative and less acquisitive. I’m dreaming of a small Christmas.

In truth, we’ve been on a down-sizing arch for several years now, starting when we left the wide open spaces of rural Virginia and headed for urban Seattle, where tiny bungalows and cottages abound. The charm and practicality of making do with less is that it makes life simpler. With less to clean, less to maintain, less to heat and cool, there’s more time for the simple pleasures of life.

For me, that means gardening, and I’m downsizing there as well. There was a time when I thought I could manage ten acres of wild and wooly nature. Nature soon set me straight on that idea. Now my goals are more modest. A tiny backyard with a few flower beds, perhaps some beans and a contented cat, and I’ll be a happy camper.

The trend toward downsizing is catching on in these economically challenging times. A recent article in The Washington Post took note of the “tiny house” movement, which has been gaining popularity in the last ten or fifteen years. Most of these petite charmers come in under 200 square feet. I’ve seen bathrooms bigger than that in some of the more grotesque MacMansions blighting once-open spaces outside the Beltway.

Lovely old homes have their place in the architectural landscape. But the rash of blimped-out super-sized dwellings that have become standard in so many areas in the last twenty years has produced vast tracts of unwalkable “neighborhoods” where life without a car is unthinkable, and where there’s more empty space inside the houses than outside them.

In his landmark book 1973 book Small is Beautiful British economist E. F. Schumacher wrote:

“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”

Schumacher’s wisdom inspired many of the environmental projects that have helped to raise awareness of our dependence on Earth’s natural resources. Our willingness to make changes in our own lives remains a critical part of the mission.

No one ever said it would be easy. Just thinking about it makes me tired, I’ll admit. But at least now that I have a much smaller house to clean, I have a little more energy to put to better uses.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have the discipline to whittle my stuff down to the point where it can fit in 200 square feet. But at least I’m trying to lighten the load for the next move, wherever it may take me.

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