When Less Is Truly More

We’re Americans. We were raised to shop ‘til we drop. Remember when we would buy a new car every year. We got over that idea a long time ago. We see things, we want them, we buy them. Or we used to. Recent circumstances in the economy have shown us, however, that a revised point of view is needed. Americans have shut their wallets and left their credit cards home for the last year. November 2009 was the 14th straight drop in credit card borrowings, the worst decline since 1943. So collectively we are getting the message and taking action.

If we don’t need all that “stuff,” we don’t need as much space in which to keep it. When you are young and have a growing family, you constantly think in terms of more space and more things. But when you get old and walking becomes difficult, a tiny comfortable room that requires few footsteps to move from one end to the other becomes a blessing.
I live in New York City where space is at a premium. We squish ourselves into less space than our suburban peers to avoid commuting. When our kids grow up and, we hope, move out; we often stay put when we should “rightsize” our living quarters to something smaller. We have far more space than we need but it is comfortable and moving is horrendous. So, we don’t budge.   
If the recent economic crash has caused you to rethink everything in your budget, then occupancy costs should be at the top of your list to reconsider. A smaller space not only costs less. It means less to clean, to heat and cool, and to maintain. When the stairs become hard to negotiate safely, it also might mean living on one floor with someone else responsible to cut the grass, clean the gutters and shovel the walk.
OOOOh, you grimace, but what will I do with all my stuff? And then comes the sad realization that whatever you spent years saving to buy or paying off on credit cards is now worth a fraction of what it cost you to buy it. To quote a friend: “They may be antiques when you buy them but they are used furniture when you go to sell them.” And, the prices you will get for them reflect that if you don’t have to pay people to take them away..
We spend years accumulating the things that become the detritus of our lives. If we don’t dispose of them ourselves, then our kids will have to do it for us after we sign out.
I am living this right now. My kids are long since grown and on their own. There were rooms in my apartment I never went into from one week to the next. It was also expensive to be there: big electric bill, big taxes and big common charges for space I no longer needed. I have recently downsized to half the space, a far more appropriate apartment for me as a single person. It is light and cheerful. I’m gardening in a NE corner with floor to ceiling windows and my plants are as happy here as I am.
Even so, I am still struggling with “deaccessioning” because I now have one tenth the closet space. The lack of storage space is pushing me along in my task. If I lived in a suburban location I would have a yard sale and be done with it but it’s hard to pull that off in Manhattan.  Some stuff will be sold at auction this spring and other things will go on Ebay or Craig’s List if my kids ever find the time to help me with that.
I am shredding up boxes of old papers I no longer need lest they fall into the hands of identity thieves. Even the IRS doesn’t want to see stuff more than 7 years old unless it pertains to something you still own like documents or records of capital improvements to your home that affect your cost basis when you go to sell it. Ever so slowly I progress. Disposing of a box a day is a good goal. If only I really did that. Photographs are the hardest as you see your life pass in review or remember those who are no longer with us. My books are my friends and I still want them around me but a large number went to the thrift shop just the same.  
I started 2010 with a diet plan not just for my body but for all my belongings, too. I am not waiting for spring cleaning. I’m doing it now. Come spring, I will be cleaning my boat. I’m a sailor and for the last 20 years I have spent my summer weekends on a 36’ sloop that is 12’ wide. I love it.  Small, compact and cozy. Everything has its place and for safe sailing it must be stowed neatly. So I know the value of this task.  Everyone assures me that when I am done I will feel this incredible lightness of being.  I have already learned that Less is Truly More! Now I want to convince you, too.