January 18, 2011

Around the time that we gave up buying in 2009, Channing and I realized our four-bedroom townhouse was not just too big for two people, it was downright burdensome. It turns out downsizing and decluttering go hand in hand with such experiments. When you opt not to buy anything new, you end up reevaluating the worth of what you already have.

The burdensome house had been built in 1968, making it a charming remnant of early Reston. On our initial walk-through, we had been wooed by the built-in bookshelves, wood floors, his and hers offices, and space for a garden out back. What we didn’t factor in when we signed the lease was the time it takes to clean 2,300 square feet (some corners of which had been accumulating dust for forty years) and to maintain a front and backyard (however modest). We were childless and in our twenties. We had better things to do than clean house and attempt to conquer unruly weeds.

Of course, we didn’t get around to house hunting until a year or so after the first round of not buying anything ended, and even then we were looking primarily at three-bedroom townhouses. We wanted to downsize but were afraid to give up the space we had become accustomed to. That we even bothered to look at the two-bedroom condo we eventually leased was kind of a fluke. Channing had tacked it on the list of properties to check out solely because I had lived in the neighborhood before and he thought it would be fun to visit old haunts. And so, thanks to a kitchen full of three-year-old appliances, new carpets, and some pretty lake views, we opted to cut our square footage in half.

In the month leading up to the big move, we started to Freecycle like crazy. To date we have unloaded an entire apartment’s worth of furniture, including 1 full-size bed and mattress, 2 dressers, 2 or 3 bookshelves, 1 comfy chair, 2 desks, 1 armoire, 1 blue couch, 1 TV, 4 kitchen stools, and 1 dining room table with 4 chairs. Once I realized the kitchen had been designed for aesthetics and not functionality or storage, I gave away our second set of dishes, a set of glasses, several mugs, a tea kettle, and a fondue pot. We made four sizable material donations to charity, including seven boxes of books. We gave our entire combined CD collection to my dad (after putting most of the music in our shared iTunes library). We recycled our DVD cases and put the discs in the folders that had once housed those CDs. We generally streamlined our lives.

Still, now six months into our lease, we are not living like paupers. We could not even be considered minimalists. We each have our own bathroom (plus a half bath for guests). We have overflowing bookshelves in the living room, kitchen, and dining room. I have countless sweaters in my closet. Between us we have one desktop computer, a laptop, two iPads, and three iPods. We get (and enjoy) HBO. According to the Center for Sustainable Economy, if everyone in the world lived the way we do, we would need 4.62 earths. (You can calculate your ecological footprint here.)

Yet, with this one move we have reduced our utilities expenses by more than 60% and our household’s carbon emissions by about 42%. (To estimate our carbon emissions, I used EPA’s carbon calculator.) Environmentally speaking, it seems we have made a good choice.

Channing and I agree that the pros of this move far outweigh the cons. It would be nice to have a guest room again, and Channing occasionally misses his office (aka man cave). But we do not miss the old neighborhood or any of that old stuff, and we have plans to continue downshifting and decluttering over the course of the year. We are rethinking our subscriptions to the Washington Post and various magazines. Channing is anxious to donate more books to the library. We are reevaluating our affinity for premium cable programming. And, much to my mother’s chagrin, I’m even considering selling my car. Given the right set of circumstances and enough motivation, we may become minimalists yet.


One Response to “Downsizing”

  1. Mary Bellamy Says:

    We’ve now given up Washington Post delivery twice. I cancelled it, Fred asked me to resubscribe, after awhile he agreed, we don’t need it and I cancelled it again. We buy it once a week (the “Sunday” edition that is in the stores on Saturdays) and do not miss all of those plastic bags it used to be wrapped in.

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