By Paul Sheldon
A post about moving and downsizing may seem mundane to Transition Town Media readers of Inner Transitions, but our recent move to Media has been a mindful testimony of my attempt to transition to living a simpler life. The move itself was not at all simple. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Folks might suppose that this was because of the psychological/sentimental aspects of moving from the home where I had lived with my family for more than half my life. But that was not the case. I eagerly anticipated the move as an opportunity for downsizing and simpler living. There were two major challenges – deciding what to keep, and the physical effort of moving. We rented a truck and van and moved ourselves — one lesson learned is to hire a moving company months in advance if you will be moving at a popular time.
My goal was for the move to be an experience of freeing, not of giving up. There would be much less stuff to mind and care for, and greater opportunity for growth and new experiences. I’m hardly one to encourage frequent wiping of the slate and starting afresh. I have been well-blessed during much of my life. I appreciate my memories of the past and what I have learned from them. But there is a tendency for many of us, particularly as we live longer lives, to become too attached to the past and to accumulate too much “stuff” and unnecessary baggage. Eventually, dealing with all this stuff and baggage becomes so much work that it results in a loss of freedom. My response was not to withdraw from the hum and bustle of independent living by entering into a more settled/predictable setting (e.g., senior community). I wanted to live in a busy and diverse community, but in a simpler manner so that less time would be required for daily maintenance.
Don’t think that I came to this conclusion suddenly or easily. It took a number of years for this to become clear to me. Fran’s goal, while quite similar, differed in some aspects, and so both of us had to make adjustments, sometimes not easily. But that’s part of marriage, and that’s a different story.
Finally, when you begin to pray for harmless fire, you know it’s time to get to work, make plans, and do something about ridding yourself of too much stuff. Making the change will likely be a huge amount of work, but it will be worth the effort. Pray for strength, health, composure and wisdom, not harmless fire.
Some explanation may be helpful regarding what is meant by less stuff and a simpler life. Regarding stuff, I now have less than half the clothing I had a year ago, less than half the books, and much less of memory items (e.g., I rid myself of a fleet of three small boats, a vintage motorcycle, and my collections of old electronics and electric toy trains). Regarding a simpler life style, we now live in a sixteen-foot-wide row house in Media. Maintenance should be much less of a concern — there is much less to maintain. The bus stops almost at our front door, the train to center city is two blocks south, and the Media trolley is two blocks north. There is a fresh produce stand across the street, and we are in walking distance of Trader Joe’s. The store will serve as our pantry. We are members of an organic community farm (Hillside Farm) little more than a mile away, where we go weekly for our fresh vegetables. All the facilities of a thriving town are in walking distance of us (e.g., library, court house, theater, etc). We are conveniently located for folks to drop in (do you remember when that used to be common?). We have a narrow but deep backyard that can support a garden, chicken coop and bee hives. Almost across the street from our back yard is a public park, and there are others in walking distance. We expect that this will be community living the way it was intended to be.
p.s. I recognize that I still have much more stuff than anyone actually needs for basic daily living. At the moment, I am at the right point for my comfort and activity level. I will see how way opens* in the future. My iconic image is a picture I took of myself on a solo backpacking trip a few years ago, carrying all that I needed on my back. It is very freeing.
*way opens…a Quakerism for when a certain action is felt to be necessary, but no clear path to accomplishing the task is yet known.