The Root: Learning to live with less
October 22, 2013
How has it happened that the size of the average American home has gone from the roughly 900-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home of the 1950s to a roughly 2,000-square-foot home with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, eat-in kitchen, a dining room, an exercise room, a "great" room, a TV room, at least a two- but more often a three-car-garage, a pool and yard and a big entry hall to greet guests. Phew!
Who has time to maintain all this space to entertain guests? This did not happen because of need for more room; the average family size dropped from four in the 1950s to 2.5 today.
The monthly financial burden of maintaining larger homes has more than doubled, and in a lot of cases tripled, since the 1950s.
Currently, many homeowners are spending more than half their monthly income in order to have larger houses.
We are spending more time and money commuting to better paying jobs outside of our hometowns to be able to afford it all. Some people even resort to hiring a housekeeper, a lawn service and pool cleaner just to maintain what they possess. We are giving up our free time, energy and money for what?
Having larger homes also means we have more space to fill with things we don't really need.
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This is all part of the American consumerism myth that bigger is better — but is it better?
It was suggested to me that the best way to edit down to the bare essentials is to pack items up from around my home into boxes and don't label them with the contents. Store the boxes for one year, and if we don't miss anything, then donate the boxes without opening them.
If we can't remember what is inside, the idea is we will never miss it. Presumably it would be much easier to keep our life free of possessions if it becomes a habit not to hang onto things in the first place.
If it sounds daunting or scary to begin downsizing, try taking it one room at a time. Once one room is clear of excess, it can be a place of inspiration and calm to inspire the rest of the family to join in — tackling one room at a time, including the garage and, ultimately, the yard.
Keep in mind the following:
— Quality over quantity — this applies to food, too!
— Hold on to only what you love, not just like.
— If you haven't used it or worn it in a year, you probably never will.
— There is little use for two of anything.
— Keep it if you would buy it again if something happened to it.
— What you keep should support who you are right now, not the person you were five years ago.
I vow never to have to organize a garage sale again!
Kevin Cotter is managing partner for New Earth Market in Yuba City, http://www.newearthmarket.com/.
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