When I first moved to Portland ten years ago I was in a very different place in my life. I was in the mindset that I needed more—more space, more stuff, a bigger house, a bigger car. We purchased a large house in the most desirable neighborhood in the city with access to the best schools. It was a lovely home but it never felt quite right. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars remodeling and it still felt like there was so much to do. We literally had multiple rooms that we never went into, and finding missing car keys or trying to locate a ringing phone was always an exercise in frustration.
A year ago, while wandering through a house that was too big for my family, filled with things I didn’t care much about, I realized that it was time for a fresh start. We took the leap and reduced our living space by seventy percent and moved into a 1600 square foot house without a garage or a basement. For us it was a huge reset that was stressful and not easy. Ten years of having more space then we needed allowed us to accumulate an astonishing amount of stuff. I am a little ashamed and embarrassed at all the items I donated that we never used even once.
The idea that bigger is better is something that is pretty ingrained into us as Americans and it's a hard habit to break. Abandoning the notion that you need to hang on to things because you might need them someday is an important step in scaling back. Living smaller doesn't have to mean sacrificing style or giving up things that are important to you. It's distilling down to the things that have meaning to you and discarding the rest.
If you are considering downsizing you should ask yourself a few questions about your space. My advice is to start small and take it one area at a time. When we look at the whole scope of what needs to be done we often get frustrated and abandon the project before we even begin. Instead, room by room, take a hard look at things you've been holding onto and ask yourself why you have it. Does it give you pleasure? Does it make you happy? Does it serve a specific purpose? If you can't answer yes to those questions—or can’t remember the last time you used it—it's probably time to let it go.
You know what I’m talking about, all the items crowding your cupboards and cluttering your counters. The little bits of paper, the pens that no longer work, and that broken vacuum cleaner that you never bothered to get repaired. Get rid of all of it. Be ruthless. Donate what you can, gift things to friends—and, yes, just throw some of it away. The impact of having a space that is organized and free of clutter can’t be quantified.
We have been in our new home for six months now and I have to say it was the best decision we've ever made. I have a house that suits my personality and we are finding that living away from the chaos of downtown is actually very pleasant and less stressful. I never have to fight for a parking space or worry about someone rummaging through my garbage cans. It’s quiet here and I’m finding that I like a slightly slower pace to my life. There is such an appeal to only living with the things you love. I find that I appreciate my space so much more, it’s neat, orderly and clean. It doesn’t make me feel anxious or guilty.
The time that we've gained by living in a smaller, easier to maintain house is hard to quantify. I have more time to spend with my family and do the things I love. I don’t need someone to clean my house or take care of my garden. Our expenses have been drastically reduced and now we can direct some of that money into traveling or pursuing hobbies we never had time for.
I found I wasn’t vested in most of the things filling my house. We take the objects around us on a daily basis for granted and rarely take the time to sit and appreciate them. This little journey has allowed me to take a good look at my surroundings and really figure out what matters to me. I didn’t need a bigger house or more space, I just needed to let go of all the things that I had been dragging around with me for years. I feel a clarity and peace that has always alluded me and I find that I can focus on the things that I’m passionate about.
It's taken some time and hard work but I am so much more comfortable, less stressed and happy in our new home. If you are looking to scale back, start small and take it one day at a time, you won't regret it.