Monday, April 28, 2014


Our old house mid-downsizing.
St. Helena, CA

In 2008, Chip and I started to seriously "downsize," not as a philosophical exercise but as an extreme sport. We were moving from a 1400-square-foot house (shown on the right) onto a 300-square-foot sailboat. Job number one was to get rid of all our stuff.

It was a daunting task, and in preparation, we had started several years earlier by stopping the escalation (although you can't tell from that photo).

We stopped buying stuff. I'm not talking about food and basic necessities. I'm talking about the scarf hanger at IKEA, the decorative pillow at Target, the grill tool set at Home Depot. We're all inundated everywhere, all the time with things to buy, stuff that by its very existence makes us wonder how we ever lived without it.

But it is possible to get off the treadmill -- and to stay off. Now, after four years of sailing, we are furnishing our small 512-square-foot cottage in wine country, and we want to own just enough. Staying out of the escalation game requires constant diligence, but when we do need to buy something it has to meet certain criteria.

1. I need it.

Boy, that's the basic lesson here, and when I learned to tell the difference between 'need' and 'want,' it revolutionized my buying habits. Keeping a running list of things I actually need helps me stay focused. The hard part is, in the heat of the Target aisle, not letting desire convince me that a 'want' is really a 'need.' That's when I step away...

2. It called me back.

I employ my own waiting period as if I am buying a gun. I leave the store for a cooling off period to see if the item really sticks in my head. Impulse is when emotion overrides judgment, and by walking away, I completely disengage the emotion and therefore the impulse. After I've left the store, I almost never remember what it was that seemed so urgent.

3. It is well made.

Do a quick inspection. Is the fabric high quality? Is the workmanship solid? Does it get good reviews? The marketplace is flooded with inferior products that are practically disposable. It's called planned obsolescence, and we try to avoid the replacement trap. It's not a good deal if it falls apart next month. We do research before we buy and inspect items thoroughly before pulling out the cash.

4. I would pay full price for it.

Sale items are so tempting. It's only $5.99, marked down from $29.99! But would I want it at the full price? If not, it's probably not worth $5.99. Seriously, it's not a bargain unless it meets all the criteria -- and being inexpensive doesn't make me need it, remember it or raise its quality. And, it's even harder when someone offers me something for free, but the same rules apply. However, if it does meet all the criteria and it's on sale or free? Score.

5. It is fantastic.

Okay, if the item has made it over the first four hurdles, this is the deciding factor -- and one that has saved me hundreds of dollars. Chip and I made up this rule for clothing, but we now apply it to many things. Our closets and drawers were full of clothes that fit but didn't inspire us enough to wear them. #fail Now, we don't even try it on unless, oh my, it's amazing. And remember those dishes we bought for our cottage? They met the first four criteria -- and they're fantastic.

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. --Socrates

Today, I am grateful for: California sunshine, which meets all five criteria.

MORE ABOUT: downsizing | living small

1 comment:

  1. Recently we started the process of finding a more cost effective place to live in California and tap in to all the equity value we had accumulated living in the San Francisco area. Found a great community about 2 hours away called Rancho Murieta.

    Highly recommend it to Californians who want to stay in California but increase their quality of life.