A Normal life?
Five years ago, we lived the “normal middle class” suburban lifestyle. We were newlyweds with flashy rings, living in a two-bedroom apartment, driving two cars, commuting long distances to work and living well beyond our means.
At this time, we were living in Davis, Calif., which is notorious for expensive real estate and a negative vacancy rating (more people than rooms). In reflection, we had a life with too much stuff and stress.
Initially, we resisted the idea of moving into a smaller one-bedroom apartment because we were more concerned about appearances and space for guests than for our financial well-being. Realizing the source of our stress was our financial situation, we decided something needed to change. This “change” began by defining our values and prioritizing our needs over those of potential future guests.
After creating many long pro/con lists, the scaling down process began. We sold one car and moved into a one-bedroom apartment near the train station, the grocery store and downtown amenities. Driving everywhere was still a big part of our lives, but with lower rent we began chipping away at our debt. Our lives began to change for the better.
It wasn’t until last year that we stumbled across Dee Williams’s tiny house, the Small House Movement, and the concept of simple living. After doing a lot of research and making many to-do lists, we decided to move from Davis to mid-town Sacramento. We scaled down even further, to a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment within walking distance to my work. Dee inspired me to go small and start thinking big.
Thinking big required setting goals and decluttering. Slowly we began focusing on the quantity and quality of our belongings.
Downsizing can be stressful, but the benefits are tremendous. Moving to a smaller apartment in the city opened up amazing possibilities. Once we sold our one remaining car, life became even better because we saved money and worked less. It sounds like a cliche, but without the car and the TV we had the time, money and energy to prioritize our health, happiness and life goals.
Below are a few tips that worked for us:
1. Going small. Downscaling to a tiny one-bedroom was a slow process that required a lot of work and many trips to the thrift store. Moving into a 400-square-foot apartment forced us to declutter our lives and seriously question why we needed so much stuff.
2. Divorcing our car. After months of talking about the pros and cons of selling our car, we decided to follow in the footsteps of a Wisconsin graduate student and divorce our car.
3. Becoming debt-free is indescribably liberating. Discovering the concept of simple living helped us become debt free. After giving away the TV and selling our car, we realized how many hidden ownership costs we were paying. We also discovered an amazing book, called “Your Money or Your Life,” that fundamentally changed our relationship with money.
4. Happiness counts. Purging our lives of clutter and debt has not only made us happier, but we have purchased less stuff. Since we started the downsizing process, we feel psychologically “lighter.” Since we eliminated our debt, I know I have options to engage in activities that make me happy. For instance, I’m a lucky person and enjoy my job. But if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to be tied to the position. That is a huge bonus of being debt-free and actually having money in savings.
Downsizing is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I hope our personal story will help you remove clutter from your life, one step at a time.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.
Good luck in your own simple living quest. Above all, pursue happiness and not more stuff.
“Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free.” - Joseph Brackett
Living Small Today. My name is Gregory Johnson. I’ve spent time in castles and lived in homes of 4000 square feet or larger. Yet, today I’m living in a 10′ x 7′ home I named the Mobile Hermitage (photo by MakurJain.com). I assisted Jay Shafer with constructing the home for me back in the summer of 2003. By August that year I moved in. I can’t say I’ve written the book on small living, but I can say I’ve written a book on small living. The title is Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned Living in 140 Squre Feet.
My simple and small journey was prompted by a desire for a more efficient, economical, care-free, and enjoyable life. Along the way, I’ve learned that there is freedom with simplicity, as the old Shaker song suggests. Below are a few impressions that had an influence in the downsizing of my life along the way.
Urbanism and Social Activism. As a college student, in the mid-1980s, with an interest in social activism, I began a study of Urban and Regional Planning with the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) that included travel to several South American countries including Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. I was later able to travel to India, Israel, Spain, Mexico, and Canada, which allowed me greater exposure to learn about housing and urban issues around the world. It seemed to me that urban planning largely influences all other areas of life and wellbeing. So, that became an early interest.
Technology Shrinking Our Lives. There was a global shift in the late 1970s, and as computers became more mainstream, our information possessions increasingly became digital. Music, photos, correspondence, and other documents slowly made their way into computers leaving bare shelves and empty filing cabinets. As one of the early adopters of computers, I became a somewhat of a minimalist at an early age. By the early 1980s, I was already carrying one of the first notebook computers on the market.
Early Impressions. My dreams of small and simple living began at an early age, and were perhaps influenced by the Quaker education I was exposed to for a few years. Later, in the 1970s, as a teenager, I spent many years living in an 18th century log cabin nestled on 17 acres in the rolling hills of Maryland. The home had a hidden room in it that was used for the underground railroad. For vacations, my father would take my brother and I to stay at a cabin in the mountains of the Virginia / West Virginia border. This gave us an opportunity to see the great outdoors and escape from the hustle and bustle of the countryside. At the cabin in Virginia there was no running water and no electricity. The water we fetched on foot by walking down the hill to the spring and filling water buckets. There was a holding tank above the kitchen sink for the water. We didn’t really need electricity in those days (the 1970s) because there were no iPods or notebook computers at that time. I had an ink pen and something called a journal for writing in. Information was stored in books in those days. So, as a teenager, I didn’t miss electricity. The summers spent at the cabin, walking the hills and foraging for beeries were some of the best times during my youth. An alternative to spending time in West Virginia was a trip that we would make to Iowa to ride bicycles across the state on an event called RAGBRAI. While in Iowa, we would always visit our Amish friends in Kalona. I was fascenated by the Amish. From seeing their way of life, and romanticising about the cabin in Virginia, I dreamed that one day I might live a simple, small, off the grid life. With that in mind, I began drawing house plans as an early teenager.