I grew up in Long Beach, California. It’s a quiet little DMZ between LA and OC. My whole neighborhood for miles around was strawberry fields back in the 50’s and one night got whipped up into a sea of cheap, little houses with three bedrooms and one bathroom and hardwood floors and no AC.
I figured everyone lived in a 1200 square foot house. That’s all I saw.
Then back in 1994 I moved to Austin, Texas.
Great move. Great city. Got here just in time for the Internet and realized that for the same money as my little Long Beach house, I could buy something much newer on a big lot on a green belt with a creek and 3,000 huge square feet.
A guest bathroom?
And big rooms with no furniture.
We started buying stuff and raising kids and our possessions grew. Then we wanted a pool and bought another house in the neighborhood with a view and that wonderful pool and now we’re up to 4200 sq ft and had lot of parties and loved it and I was always fixing toilets and the kids grew up and moved out and…
Then there were two people in a giant, very typical Austin Sorta Tuscan McMansion with Yard Guys and Pool Guys and Cleaning People and Plumbers and Sprinkler Guys and on and on and on.
But let’ backtrack a while.
Around 1997 I left my agency job in Austin and freelanced. Pretty soon I had clients. Then I had more clients. Then I had too many clients so I started hiring people and we all worked out of my house and we said, it’s time for an office.
But generally, offices suck and the idea of leasing one sucked even more.
So we started looking for something unique to buy. We looked at houseboats, little offices, commercial spaces and eventually came across a little cabin on Lake Travis. It was 1200 square feet on two acres of land on the back of a cove.
We drove down the long gravel driveway, winding through a seriously creepy, dense forest of oaks and cedars and saw the house. We never even looked inside when we knew we were going to buy it and it was going to be The Ad Ranch.
And it was for a dozen years. The Mid-Century cabin is mostly big windows looking down on trees and water where time sorta stands still. We ran a great little agency there, had a lot of very happy clients, won awards and kept kayaks under the deck and fishing poles in the shed. If the fish were jumping, we’d go catch a couple.
Eventually I sold the agency and got a real job and leased out the lake cabin for a bunch of years.
And now we rewind back to the present, or at least a few months ago present.
The Big House was beginning to be a pain so we think…
Could we sell off everything and move into the old office?
It’s one big room. It’s all windows and trees and critters and deer and tarantulas and birds and fish.
And almost no closets.
And no garage.
And no real bedroom, just a bit of an alcove tucked away behind a giant fireplace.
Get rid of 16 rooms of furniture plus a couple attics and a three car garage with an entire nation’s worth of stuff?
In the immortal words of Steve Evans, “You gotta move to have fun…”
So we did. We started shedding a lot of earthly belongings and learning some interesting lessons.
- Nobody wants your stuff. That couch you spent $2500 on a few years back and yeah, the cats scratched it up a bit but it’s big and heavy and comfy and you can’t give the damn thing away on Craigslist. FREE Couch… “How long is it?” (Its in the ad), “What’s it made of?” (Couch, it’s made of pure couch).
- All that valuable stuff isn’t. Those chairs your grandmother left you? That buffet from the 30’s? That collection of whatever you got fascinated with? Nada. It’ not really worth anything. Nobody cares. Give it away and be done with it.
- Speaking of collections. Don’t. You don’t need that crap Don’t start. Either you’ll give it away or your kids will.
- Steve was right. “You gotta move to have fun.” Moving is a HUGE pain but once you live in a new place with a lot less clutter, you’ll be happier. I guarantee it.
- Years ago I was camping up in the mountains for almost a week with no cell coverage. As I was driving down into civilization, my phone lit up with messages… “Is your house OK?” “Did it burn?” Turns out there was a big wildfire in my hood and a dozen houses burned to the ground. My first realization was that my only possessions left could the backpack and tent I had in the car and I was kinda OK with that. If everything you own vanishes at once, you’re free.
So now I’ll pay off that submarine line.
One bathroom. One toilet. One closet. One tiny food pantry. Very few cabinets in the open kitchen. No garage. Tiny storage shed on the side of the house. Big windows, half the house is windows. Everything else is trees.
The closet is tiny. And on the other side of a wall is an storage space with a door outside with a tiny washing machine and hot water heater.
We measured the cubic feet we’d gain moving the hot water heater outside and tearing out the wall.
Let that sink in.
Spend a lot of money to move a hot water heater because it had 24 cubic feet of storage in it’s depths.
Then spend a lot of money at Container Store. Measurements of doors, wall space, buy little hanging container thingies, buy a long credenza and I get half and she gets half. Side tables or coffee table? Must have storage inside. Will that fit under the bed?
Kitchen, that bowl is too big, give it away. Every drawer has to be organized. Smaller fridge. The oven was built in 1958 and no giant turkeys.
Costco run for massive amounts of anything?
I’ve lived for extended time on boat, cars, vans and out of backpacks.
It tends to teach the art if being deliberate.
You take on possessions deliberately.
You do little things deliberately. Working on a boat engine? lay your tools out in a safe place that won’t let them drop into a hole. Do things slowly, thoughtfully, have a bowl to hold the nuts and bolts. Think it through and don’t rush.
And when you go from way too much space to very little, you find yourself becoming much more thoughtful about everything.
Grocery shopping? Skip the potatoes in the plastic package. It’s stupid to begin with and you have to haul the weeks trash uphill on a hundred yards of gravel road. Pick up the mail out on the road? Sift through it there and the junk goes straight into the recycle bin.
See a shirt you like and it’s on sale? You qualify… “Do I like it, or do I love it and cannot exist without it because I’ll have to get rid of a shirt to make room.”
I see any shiny new object that I must possess? Don’t really need it and if I brought it home, I’d have to put the cat out when I bring it in the house.
That Kitchen Drawer that everyone on earth has full of junk? Now it’s organized. Hang a shallow cabinet by the door with hook for keys and bins for change, pens, flashlights, sunglasses, ear plugs and more. Figure out a place for everything and when you need a tape measure to squeeze in a small cabinet, you know right where to go.
So is all this a big epiphany to many? I don’t know. We’ve all moved into tiny apartments, travelled, moved into dorms etc. So we’ve all lived deliberately and efficiently and thought things threw.
For me, it was an epiphany because I’d always moved into bigger spaces. When you live in big spaces you don’t need to be deliberate and efficient. You can leave things around, put it in a closet or attic or garage and not think about it and probably lose it, until you move.
A lot of our friends tell me they wish they could lose most of their possessions. Our possessions are like junk food. They’ve become so easy to acquire. Stuff is everywhere and cheap. Efficient manufacturing and cheap offshore labor makes things easy to buy. And Amazon drops it at your house the next day (and leaves you another damned box to deal with…)
I admit, it’s scary to push the eject button and live the submarine life, but it’s worth it. Get rid of your crap. There are holy men that walk around India naked, no possessions at all and people feed them. I read about a 75 year old guy who sold everything and just hikes the big trails. He was down to around 8 pounds of possessions. He had a great line about living so deliberately… “Every time I lose a possession, I give up a fear.”
Live deliberately. Choose your possessions deliberately. And when you move, just make sure you know where you packed that really expensive Japanese kitchen knife because we have no idea where it is and apparently a fair amount of the joy in my life was generated by easily slicing through very ripe tomatoes.