I am so excited! I have a guest this week. With a good sense of humor, and filled with information, Alan Jarrett has put together an article that will have you thinking not only about your home size, but everything you own. Without further ado:
Are You Ready To Go From 2000 Square Feet To 200?
Recently I was asked to write for a couple starting an amazing adventure of homesteading in an unincorporated area of Iowa, beginning on a completely barren piece of property. They had a travel trailer they adapted for the start of their odyssey, which eventually, through scavenging materials from demolishing old homes and buildings, were able to build a structure to help protect them and their trailer from the bitter Iowa cold.
Their determination is to document the experience on video and blog, for others who may be holding back for lack of knowledge, and perhaps their lack of belief that they can do it.
Determined to build everything, from a garage with an apartment to live in, to eventually building their home from lumber made from trees on their lot using a chainsaw mill to cut the wood. One of their projects was building a deck for their spa, which is one of the first things they completed.
Their experience is part of a movement that challenges traditional ideas about what is the American Dream. Homes have gotten bigger, more elaborate, fully furnished, with lots of space that is not always efficiently used. Enter Tiny Homes!
In case you are unaware of Tiny Homes or Tiny Houses, there are over 50 million links on Google along with images and stories. I have to admit it is amazing what you can do with next to what most might consider the same amount of space for a walk-in closet.
An average size would be 100 to 120 square feet, with larger homes still under 300 square feet. Incredible plans account for using every inch of space, providing everything a couple would need, including being mobile. It boggles the mind what you can live with, but not until the decision is made to, in Nike’s words, “just do it.”
This of course is just part of what people are doing, as we have become infatuated with space, things, and accomplishments that don’t necessarily enrich lives, especially when relationships suffer as a consequence.
Consumerism has come to dominate most lives, while sacrificing what materialism can never buy. Minimalism offers health, financial peace, less stress, so much more yet it is as individual as those who opt for this lifestyle.
Looking back 60 years in the United States, new houses were small and bare when delivered to new owners. About the only thing included were light fixtures in the ceilings, but owners had to supply light bulbs. There were no decorations, the landscaping was bare earth, some even opted to paint their homes to keep costs down (In the 60s, government housing was painted to keep costs down.)
Today, it seems a new home owner is not satisfied unless they can have it all now. A mindset that in reality is one of fear, that the so called “American Dream” might not become their reality. If carefully examined, what appeared to be a dream turns into a financial trap for most, loading them with a huge debt and an expensive lifestyle to support that will not support any drastic complications.
Enter 2007 and the economic downturn, and millions of the American Dreams turned into the worst sort of nightmare, as millions of homes went into foreclosure. Bankruptcies overloaded the courts and the American populace was in turmoil. Why? Simply because caution had been thrown to the winds over decades, as credit had become too easy, and the hunger to have it all now overloaded common sense.
While some may measure the minimalist example as extreme, there is a great deal to be said for living within ones means, which minimalists consider form the outset.
Some of the goals for those pursuing this lifestyle are simple.
• Discover peace
• Reclaim time
• Be in the moment
• Pursue passions
• Discover missions
• Know real freedom
• Be more creative
• Consume less
• Personal growth
• Discover life’s purpose
• Shed excess
• Service to others
As early as 1899 there was awareness of “consumerism,” as it applied to the new middle class that was beginning to emerge. It was seen as a new way of life that was being encouraged globally. It’s interesting to note how as an economic definition the reference about economic policies was placing emphasis on consumption.
However there is an obvious switch when it came to political definition, where it was turned into something entirely different, promoting the idea it was to “protect” consumer interests.
Times in my past recall living in a two bedroom house on a small farm. There were three sisters, me, Mom and Dad. It’s pretty obvious there was no separate bedroom for me. So Dad converted a tool shed attached to a garage for my bedroom.
It was barely big enough for a bed, a closet Dad framed out, and I had a cartable to put things on, and a gas heater for those cold winter nights.
I was 10 years old and had just gotten a morning paper route. Deliveries had to be made by 6 AM, so that meant getting up early, making my way on my bike to satisfy 60 customers 7 days a week. Being outside I could go out any time I wanted, to do whatever came to my mind to do before delivering papers. That usually led to some sort of mischief, but that’s another story.
Point here is I had no fancy bedroom and I was fine with that. No posters on the wall. I barely had two windows, and a radio Dad had built into the plywood wall. No games, no T.V., it was barely a room for sleeping.
Our house was made up of the two bedrooms, a miniature living room, and an eat-in. Can you imagine getting any bathroom time when all four of us were trying to get ready at the same time for school? The point being sure we were crowded, but we didn’t think it was so bad.
We had 10 acres to roam around in right on the edge of town, a river on three sides that provided entertainment during the Spring rains when it overflowed, a woods for me to roam in. Plenty of dead trees to use for wood to create bonfires and invite friends over for hot dogs, marshmallows, and watermelon filled with fresh fruits from our farm and the surrounding area. We thought we had it pretty good, and so did all our friends who repeatedly came for more such occasions.
Again the point is where is all the consumerism in all this? It’s not there. If we had pizza we made them, and often. BBQ pork was made by my Mom. She canned all sorts of vegetables and froze others. When T.V. dinners came out they used metal or aluminum trays. Mom would save them and make our own T.V. dinners. The time was during the mid ‘50s and early ‘60s.
To bring this into perspective, when was the last time you made a pizza from scratch, including making the dough and not buying dough already made?
Have you ever done the preparation to can vegetables, freeze corn off the cob, shelled peas to freeze? Have you ever planted a vegetable garden and cared for the plants? How about going on a picnic where the fried chicken came from home and not KFC?
Can you see how far we have come, and dependent on items that today we might actually think we can’t do without? We have been driven to consumerism to such a degree, that it became necessary to have a two income family to support all the items that were now necessary to buy, rather than provide for ourselves.
Two short years ago we made our retirement move back to Ecuador. In doing so it obviously required looking at everything we had accumulated to determine what we would sell, give to charity, and finally take with us.
The number of things we hadn’t used in years was first of all staggering. Items collected for unknown purposes, broken things kept for that eventual repair that never happened. Clothes either outgrown, or just put aside.
At the time we were in a home of 1800 square feet, just the two of us. The things we sold at a garage sale, gave to family, and the 10 trips to Salvation Army, Goodwill, and churches to give things away possibly reduced our belongings by half…no exaggeration. What is the point?
We didn’t need it. Truthfully, we just wanted it, perhaps because it gave us some sense of security. When we got to Ecuador, we ended up in an apartment of 1100 square feet. We have had stuff in storage under the beds, and in storage facilities now for two years. Curt entry we are waiting for our home to be completed, which will be another year. We have survived without all those things in storage quite nicely, depending on who you ask!
As we contemplate moving into our new home, we have far more than we need, but convincing my better half that we need to get rid of things rather than take them and keep them in storage is just finally beginning to be heard.
We have too much stuff! Getting to the place of being minimalists may be a stretch for us, after so many years of consumption, but it does not alter the fact that we are finally becoming conscious that we have too much.
While we may not downsize our home, or get rid of our transportation, there are a multitude of other things we can do to gain back our time, be of more service, discover opportunities previously overlooked, as we learn to focus less on ourselves and those perceived, inflated needs, while being more aware of what’s going on around us.
In doing so, perhaps the greatest benefit to be derived from all this, are the relationships which will gain some much needed attention. Now that’s something to look forward to!
*Alan is retired and resides in Quito, Ecuador. Writing is a passion which has resulted in two eBooks thus far, with more in the works. Married 46 years with four sons and 13 grandchildren, provides potential grist for the mill!