Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 220: Living beneath ones means

In my quest to pare down, use up and donate all my stuff, I came across this article, Living Frugal: But Will It Make You Happy.

In the article, we read of Tammy Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, who whittle down their two-bedroom apartment, two cars and house full of stuff down to a 400-square foot studio with a kitchen, four plates, three pairs of shoes and two pots and a few other personal items. They say they are happier and they are delightfully debt-free.

These are my people.

Tammy Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, in their pared-down, 
400-square-foot apartment in Portland, Ore. (Leah Nash for The New York Times)

In recent times, Santa Monica reopened the mall. It was a giant overhaul and now it sports a slew of fancy schmancy shops. People in the community are frothing at the mouth to spend their coinage at the mall. They don't care about the 40 minute wait for parking or the 100-person deep lineup. They want to buy stuff at the new mall because it's new.


Then they moan to their friends about how they need more cash and how stressed they are about the credit card debt that doesn't seem to go down. Or how they hate their jobs but can't leave because they live paycheck to paycheck.

It's like when we eat lots of donuts and wonder why we can't lose a pound. Must be a slow metabolism.

Yeah... that must be it.

Now that I'm considering the possibility of moving on from my apartment, which is my biggest monthly expense by far, I look around it and get panicked. There is so much stuff. And I'm not even a shopper. I can't stand shopping. Ask my sisters. When we go shopping, I'm sitting on the park benches outside the stores with the old men whose wives are shopping inside with my sisters. I'm not a person who likes to collect a lot. But, what am I to do with the toaster, the flower pots, the binders of papers, the books, socks, towels and sheets? Or the crock pot and winter coats and bikinis? Or about the other 1,000 or so items in my place?

It's all a bit much.

And you  know why I have all that stuff? Because I thought it would make me happy. It just makes me have to work longer to afford my space and all the stuff in that space, which makes me miserable.

Mrs Strobel agrees. “The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” she says. “I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”

You got that right sister.

The article also sites that studies show that spending money on experiences rather than things produces longer-lasting satisfaction. Basically, bring on the European vacation and forgo the new curtains. 

Now I'm not saying that stuff doesn't matter. Last night I quite enjoyed laying on my couch with my fresh-cut flowers nearby, flipping through a magazine. I had candles flickering, the fireplace crackling. Life was lovely last night because of the stuff I surround myself with.

(Unrelated: Don't like ending sentences with "with." Ack! I did it again.)

Still, I think I can pare down all my stuff. Deconstruct my little apartment layer by layer until I get it down to one suitcase.
Dun Laoghaire train station, Dublin, 2009.
I was on my way to Paris.
This was a good day.

I leave you with a little inspiration from the ├╝ber awesome Eddie Vedder in his song Society.
"When you want more than you have
You think you need...
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
Because when you have more than you think
You need more space"
Hell, let's just go for the whole enchilada. This is great coffee break video from YouTube's boardergirl20.


  1. Oh Into the Wild...what a wonderful tale.

    It really is sad and fascinating how many people in this country are so in debt because they look for joy in *new* material things. Our landfills would be a lot emptier if people would knock that the hell off.

  2. I'm also not a fan of ending sentences using "with". Whenever I'm watching a show and one of the characters says, "Wanna come with?" I just wanna jump through the screen, shake them and yell, "MEEEE!"

    The Townsend household is working on our "reduce, reuse and recycle" this weekend. Yard sale on Saturday!

  3. We've slowly been clearing out our stuff. Definitely easier when living single than with a family! Even so, we've been releasing all kinds of wonderful things that we're happy to release to bless someone else. And somehow this big house STILL doesn't seem big enough for all the stuff we have.

    By the way, do you need a blender?

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  5. I LOVE this topic. You know I think there's some kind of law of nature that says that the space you have will inevitably, eventually fill up with a corresponding amount of stuff. Well maybe that's painfully obvious. But a big problem I think is that folks just have too much space. This is one of the advantages of (tiny) condo living (as I'm sure the Strobel/Smiths found, too): I have little living space and almost no storage, the stuff just has no place to go -- and so a lot of it that I did have is just gone. Phew. It WEIGHS on you... it truly does.

    According to the New York Times, "by 2008 the typical American house had grown to 2,519 square feet — over twice the size of the 963-square-foot ones of 1950."

    Holy cow. And just think about this: the typical suburban house has a living room AND a family room. "Oh yes, we have a room where we spend time as a family -- and a room where we really LIVE". This more than anything to me is a sign that we as a culture have lost our minds. People, it's time to shut this experiment down. We're done here.

    I've looked at articles in home decorating mags on "designing for small spaces" -- then they profile someone living alone in a 900 square foot apartment.


    Someday they'll unearth the ruins, and scientists will formulate theories, or try to. If they can ever finish sifting through the giant mountains of stuff.


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