Tag Archives: Downsizing

imPermanence: snow melts and tempus fugit

Permanent: n. continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change

Impermanence:  n. an essential element of Buddhism – that everything is changing, inconstant, in flux. Because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering.

The Portland area was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow for most of the week up until Christmas. My grandkids –  Elliott who’s 4 and Alexander who is 7, were beyond thrilled to be able to enjoy a white Christmas with their two super-fun uncles, who are young at heart at 25 and 37.  (Their parents – my daughter and her husband – were not so thrilled to have to drive up here from sunny California in such nasty weather, but they picked the only 12-hour window in a week to make it through!).

The joint was jumpin’ for six days – the boys of all ages seemed more excited by the snow and playing Pokeman (a P post for another day) than the prospect of presents.  Gifts were pretty sparse anyway, giving us the chance to focus more on hanging out together.

Here are my two sons and Alexander, after inserting the snowman’s carrot nose, and clapping a hat on his head:


Starting Christmas night the temperature began rising. The snowman began shrinking. This is how he looked this morning, right after the Californians left for home:


He was only about 15″ high then; a few hours later he’s just a tiny snowball.

And now the house is totally quiet again.  The holiday came and went as fast as the snow, and I feel a lot like our snowman. Quite deflated and a little soggy.

One of our snowed-in activities (which turned out to be much more fun than my older two first thought) was going through the many boxes of their’ memorabilia which I’ve stored in one garage or another since they left for college eons ago.  “Whatever stuff you want to keep,” I said, “is going to henceforth be living with you, so choose wisely.”

Heather had only one box left here, but Ethan had six – packed to the gills. To keep him company I brought out a couple of boxes of my own written memorabilia to sort through. I have to hand it to him; he carefully plowed through a couple of boxes every day, examining each item (mostly artwork, homework, book reports, photos and letters), tossing about half of it, but savoring and repacking the rest.  Already in middle school you could see hints of who he would become – the fascination with edgy design – the originality of his ideas – and his writing skill, which I’d just taken for granted until he began writing for HuffPo last month.

The process was a powerful reminder of how many lives we each have lived through, in what seems like the blink of an eye. Friends, passions, projects… developing, ripening, disappearing. Many forgotten until a picture or letter brings it back.

My own journals and letters are voluminous. I’ve got them going back to college and it will take a long time to sort through them. The triviality of most of my concerns appalls me, but it’s all there – bringing the past temporarily back to life.

If I hadn’t recorded all those experiences they’d otherwise be gone gone gone – melted away like our snowman.

Update 1/4/09: Blogfriend Splodge forwarded this cartoon… too good not to append.


Powell’s in Portland: paradise for book lovers

Powell’s Books: n. a world-famous independent book store in Portland OR, occupying a full city block with a rabbit warren of rooms stuffed with new and used books – plus separate satellite stores for technical books, home and garden, and travel books plus a major online presence. Visitors to Portland MUST go to Powells.

Paradise: n. a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight

Books are among the things I need to winnow out in this down-sizing project. So a couple of days ago I made a pilgrimage to Powells with three boxes of books I hoped they’d want.

The door to the book-buying room is on a very busy corner and it’s not always possible to park close by, so my son met me at the door and hauled the boxes in while I went to park.

He also helped me unload the boxes onto the counter for the buyer to view. This was a mistake, because I had included some children’s books in the collection. Every few books, he’d grab one with a little cry of delight and place it back in the box:

“Oh, The Woodland Folk! I loved that book. You can’t get rid of that!”

“Hey, Wembley’s Egg! Give me that!”

“Wait a minute! Why Cats Paint!”

This is my very manly 25-year-old son talking, not a nine-year-old. Sigh.

Nevertheless Powell’s bought about half of what I brought and gave me a decent amount of money for them. Immediately we got lost in the aisles, and the money would have gotten spent in a trice if we hadn’t had to be someplace else.

We both agreed that a it would be heavenly just to spend the entire day at Powells, getting lost in the stacks and not even noticing.

A friend of mine was telling me that when her son was turning ten, she was looking for a way to avoid throwing a birthday party for a bunch of rowdy boys. She offered him a day’s adventure anywhere, or a concert or movie or theatre experience. He immediately announced he wanted to go to Powell’s and stay as long as he wanted, maybe even all day. Which they did, and she says he still remembers it as his best birthday ever.

Penny-pinching begins at home.

Penny-pinching: v. to spend little, to be frugal (holding pennies so tight they squeek).

“When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other”. – Chinese Proverb

This is why my garden is so precious to me. Every day a I find new “lily.”


Penny-pinching to me is less about spending reductions and more about making do with what I already have. Like reading books that have been mouldering on the shelves for years instead of buying fresh ones. Like resuscitating some ancient scarves to garnish some very ordinary sweaters and tops.   Like figuring out how to alter the shoulders on a couple of ’80s jackets to update their fusty look.

And last night I made a great soup tonight based on some canned veggies whose pull dates passed during the Clinton administration.

If I were sealed into my home I could probably keep myself fed, dressed and amused for a long long time, just with the stuff I’ve got on shelves and in cupboards, boxes and closets.

Surely one way to down-size is by simple attrition – just the way they do in the corporate world. After you’ve bought your lily, here are some other penny-pinching ideas to try:


Poor me: from posh to pauper

Poor: adj. characterized by poverty, lacking an adequate supply, exciting pity

Posh: adj. typical of or intended for the upper classes

Pauper: n. a person with little or no money, a person destitute of means except such as are derived from charity

I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. And really, I don’t because I have so so much for which to be grateful.


In the space of a few months my situation has gone from middle class comfortable to precarious. If I didn’t know that there are millions of others like me out there, I’d be totally freaked out. With each plunge of the markets (stock and housing) I watch my life savings flutter away into the skies like the autumn leaves I just raked on Re-wind.

I always knew that some day I’d need to move into smaller digs. At times, when the yard work or home upkeep seems overwhelming, I actually look forward to living in a tiny place.  But like so many, I envisioned that time to be years in the future.

Now it appears that time is upon me.

The question is: how do I get from where I am today – in this comfy house full of family treasures (including my mother’s baby grand piano and antique dining table, boxes of photos, framed art) – to the small digs I can afford?

It’s one thing to downsize when you can get a decent price for the stuff you must jettison in the process.  It’s something else when you have to unload valuable things at a big loss (like my house – my biggest investment!).  In another five or ten years my kids might live in large or permanent enough spaces to take these precious family heirlooms, but the stuff can’t wait.  That hurts.

All the kids will be here for Christmas, so maybe they’ll have some good ideas about my down-sizing plan. Or maybe I’ll just have Santa bring me a sugar daddy.

Progress: is it necessary?

Progress:n. a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal), gradual betterment.

America’s culture is all about progress — New! Improved! Bigger! (Smaller!) Smarter! Stronger! Thinner! Faster! Wealthier!

We compare the past to the present and expect progress to have happened. We compare the present to the future (even the beginning of the day to the end of it), and hope that we will soon be farther along than we are now.

But is this realistic? Are we playing in a giant pyramid scheme bound for collapse?

Certainly More! is not working for us these days. The more of us there are on this fragile planet and the more stuff we have the faster we use up nature’s resources. We have trouble facing the fact that life is a cycle: birth, growth, decline, death. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Focusing on birth and growth is so much more rewarding than thinking about the decline and death part.

In an economic downturn and a climate crisis – both of which are global in scope, can we re-program our progress mindset and begin valuing stasis? Or even contraction?

I’m not optimistic. As much as I’d like to live fully in the moment, not striving for a better later, my own personal history points to problems.

For example, when I was a stay-at-home mom with two little kids, my life looked like this: shop, cook, eat, wash dishes, shop, cook, etc. Repeat.  Clean house, bathe kids and do laundry, then family dirties up house and selves, clean house, bathe kids and do laundry. Repeat.

At the end of the day I fell into bed feeling like I had done NOTHING. That is, I had made no forward or onward movement and could see no betterment of our condition.  Only if I did something new that had a longer arc of life before decline set in would I feel satisfied. Sewing new curtains, planting a shrub, or completing a writing assignment – now those efforts indicated progress.

I often wonder if cave woman had these same frustrations or if she chopped wood and carried water, putting one foot in front of the other – simply grateful that nobody in her family had been eaten by a saber-tooth tiger that day.

Regardless of how cave woman dealt with the notion of progress, it’s clear I need to re-tool my attitude. Since my retirement savings have been slashed by half, I will heretofore define progress as Less! Smaller! Fewer! Cheaper!

Right now the sun is shining, there is a tree in flaming reds across the street lighting up the sky, and I’m going out to rake leaves. For today, that will be enough.


Piles of possessions: George Carlin on “Stuff”

Inspire yourself to clear clutter with a comedy act from the late great George Carlin. Watch his routine on “Stuff” and see yourself reflected.

I love this line:”A house is just a cover for your piles of stuff !”

Powells Books: Portland’s pride

Visitors to Portland with the teeniest smidge of intellectual curiosity must make a pilgrimage to Powells Books – a behemoth store that takes up a full city block but feels like a rabbit warren of intimate spaces instead of the vast space it really is.

Aside from being able to find almost any book on almost any subject, they also BUY books. What a great service to the community (and a profit center for them, most decidedly).

So I loaded up my car with FIVE boxes of books culled from the eight bookcases in my house and hauled them in to sell this afternoon. They took half of them and gave me $120 cash (could have had more if I’d taken store credit…). As far as I am concerned it’s a win-win situation.

Now I’ve got to go over the remainders to see which to try to sell on Half.com and which to donate to Friends of the Library for their annual sale.

the Pull of Place

While I love getting away, seeing new sights, meeting new people, I am firmly anchored at home. Home is where my heart is. Home is where I center and rejuvenate myself.

Since my ex and I separated six years ago, my home has been a 3,000 square foot house on a one-third acre lot framed by trees and nestled into a gentle slope overlooking a lake. In feng shui, this fortuitous placement is called “the belly of the dragon.”

Even though I’m just a couple of miles from downtown, and pretty close to my neighbors, it’s quiet and private. Out of every window I see something lovely.

This is the most wonderful home I’ve ever had – and people who visit are immediately enchanted by it as well. Not because it’s grand – because it is anything but (built from a plan-book in 1972). But it’s cozy, colorful and quirky.

So why did a single woman of modest means buy a house this big?

Three reasons: it was cheap (needed a lot of work), the setting was fabulous, and it was the only house I could find within my budget that had a dining room big enough for my grandmother’s dining table, and a living room large enough for my mother’s Steinway baby grand (which I’m keeping for my still-peripatetic son, 24).

The fourth reason: ohmigod the yard! All the previous owners were skillful gardeners who left behind shrubs, native plants, sheets of color from spring bulbs, rock walls, five prolific blueberry bushes, a grape arbor and an asparagus bed! A chestnut tree on the southwest corner to keep the house cool in the summer, and a couple of towering black walnut trees in my neighbor’s yard that framed my view to the northwest.

I refinanced and plowed a lot of money into remodeling. And more into simplifying the yard. If the economy and housing market hadn’t plunged, the investment might have been wise. But now the moths in my purse are looking hungry.

Walking around the yard this spring, I’m seeing not just beauty but bondage. The yard work is unending. And it’s more work than a single woman of my age wants to do.

I need to make some serious changes. My options as I see it: find a new mate (someone who loves to garden or has enough money to pay a gardener); write a best-seller and become rich enough myself to afford the gardener or; down-size.

At the moment the first two options are in the realm of fiction. That leaves me with down-sizing.

It’s so easy to be blithe about down-sizing when it’s my feng shui clients’ stuff. But the shoe is now on MY foot and it hurts. Yesterday I sat in the yard and wept just thinking about letting go of this place.

It took me months to find my home – and now I’ll be fighting the growing horde of down-sizers who are also seeking a smaller, charming home within walking distance to shops and public transportation.

I hope I can maintain some shred of equanimity during this process. For sure I’ll be a better consultant after I’ve done it myself.

Pumping Gas – preposterous!

Astro, a 9-year-old dalmation waits for his owner to fuel up in Eugene, OR.

I fueled up today too. At Costco. $70.37 – first time ever over $70/tank. I swear it was just a month ago that I first topped $60/tank. Costco is at least 20 cents cheaper than the Shell station. However, the lines were ridiculously long and if my time were MONEY, which it is, I might more productively spent the $2.80 I saved doing something else.

There’s no question it’s past time for me to downsize my car. OK. It’s a 1998 Toyota Sienna. Truly the best vehicle I’ve ever owned. 118k miles and NO problems besides a dead battery. Fully paid for. A known and trusty quantity.

To buy another smaller car -even if it were used, and I was able to trade straight across price-wise (unlikely), I’d be paying at least $800 in sales tax for the other car. Plus mini-vans are not exactly hot sellers these days, and decent small or hybrid cars are scarce and/or spendy.

What I really should do is get a horse. He can eat my weeds, and I can ride him for short-haul errands, only using the Sienna for longer trips.

That or a motor scooter. (I live at the bottom of a long steep hill… daunting on a bicycle).

Plenitude: its dark underbelly

Plenitude: abundance, copiousness; the condition of being full, complete. From Latin: plenus = full.

Whenever you’re feeling cranky, mingy and stingy, like you just don’t have ENOUGH (enough whatever – money, love, time), the pop psychology wisdom is to open your heart to the gifts you already have and to feel gratitude for the bounty in your life.

And I do that. I feel grateful for the abundance in my life most of the time.
I am satisfied and want not.


Right now I’m clear that plenitude is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, I’ve got too much of a good thing. Too much of MANY good things. Too big a house. Too big a (beautiful) garden. Too many books. Too many interests. Too many commitments. (You can never have too many friends.) My life is plenus to the max.

If I were still married* and had a partner with whom to share the physical space and the physical chores, that would help. But I’d still have the rest of it – with the addition of the company and requirements of my partner – resulting in a net wash.

I was reading a book on feng shui recently in which the author suggested that if you wanted something new in your life (new career, partner, social circle, home) you have to go beyond ordinary clutter clearing. You have to create a VACUUM. Only when there’s a nice hole will something rush in to fill it.

I feel certain that if I got rid of half my stuff and found a place half this size with little or no yard, other opportunities would appear. And if I’d complete my divorce and stop being friends with my ex, a new romance might appear…

But all these things are WORK. It’s so much easier to complain about plenitude.

*True confession: I’ve been legally separated from DH since 2002, living happily apart all this time, but we’re still not divorced – we were each busy and it didn’t seem pressing to finalize it. I now see the foolishness of my ways.