Sustainable architect Sarah Susanka changed the “McMansion” craze with her first book, The Not So Big House. Right now, while working on this smaller house, I’m listening on audio to Sarah’s latest work, The Not So Big Life. She writes, “There’s an assumption in our culture that if a little of something is good, then more of the same must certainly be better.” She asks, “How much is enough?” We’re taught that a bigger home must be better. Sarah teaches that it’s quality, not quantity, and not stuff that brings meaning to our lives.
Last summer, when circumstances necessitated selling my old house and moving to an apartment, I suddenly realized just how much stuff we really had. Six bedrooms needed to be reduced down to two. It was ordinary, run-of-the-mill stuff, but still useful. More than half had to go within a few weeks’ time.
The process of thinning out started slowly and then sped to roller-coaster speed as moving day approached. The easy decisions were things like the extra white dresser left by a student boarder. The hard things were the bins of labeled baby clothes, cleaned and folded, ready and waiting. There were smaller things like the bag of hangers from cleaning out eight closets that seemed wasteful to just throw in a landfill. A few resources helped get it done:
–Freecycle – Changing the world, one gift at a time. This is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers. Membership is free.
-Hospital Thrift Shops – Many community hospitals and larger medical centers run thrift shops, where proceeds help fund patient programs.
–Vietnam Vets of America Donations– A driver will pick up the donation, provide a tax receipt and pickups can usually be scheduled within 24 hours.
–Rotary International – A nonprofit group of local clubs around the world, some of which collect donations for charity.
The silver lining to those hectic weeks was finding homes for all the stuff we didn’t need. The front porch became a gathering place for friends and strangers picking up items. It was a much-needed and necessary rite of passage for saying goodbye. Life does get simpler by living smaller.