On living small – ish

squish-houseThose who know me understand that I’m not what you’d call a fastidious housekeeper.  Those who know me really well might even, however lovingly, use words like “disorganized” or even, um, “slob.”  Yup.  It all fits, I admit it.

So, when I recently decided to move in to a 670 SF apartment in downtown Portland, it required some downsizing.  This is a process I’ve actually been working on for the last several years, actually, one move at a time.  From 1999 to 2009 I lived in a moderately sized two bedroom house, with a basement, attic, garage and garden shed.   Hoo boy, talk about places to stash the clutter!  When I lost my job back at the start of 2009 and decided it was time to free myself of that house in order to be more mobile for job relocation, over the course of about a month, I managed to fill up three separate 10 yard drop boxes with more than a decade’s worth of clutter and crap.  During that clean out, I pulled cardboard boxes out of the basement that hadn’t been opened since my New Hampshire to Oregon move back in 1994 and had remained unopened for two more moves after that.  I mean, good grief, if I hadn’t needed the junk in 15 YEARS, it was pretty much a given that it was to become dumpster bait.

Fast forward to late 2015.  Two moves – one to Arizona and another back to Oregon – and two more job changes later, and even though I was living in a great place west of Portland, it was time to be done with a frustrating daily commute in and out of downtown.  Portland has been growing at an alarming rate the last few years and getting around is far, far more frustrating than it was even just a few years back.  On this move, even though the downsizing task had occurred again at each previous one, I still had a lot of stuff squirreled away that needed to disappear.

What do you do when you need to go through the stuff you’ve accumulated and once again downsize to fit in to a smaller downtown apartment?  You make a lot of runs to Goodwill to begin with.  But, at the advice of a good friend of mine, you also realize that maybe it’s time to actually UNPACK!  To me, each of my living arrangements over the last few years had been, in my head, “temporary”.  One of the things that I hadn’t really considered, or realized I guess, is how much living in a house with no pictures on the walls and no books out on the bookshelves and only a few plates, silverware and glasses in the kitchen, and one room full of packed moving boxes gets you down.  It results in a feeling over time of never really being home.  You start feeling like you’re living in a storage unit.

So this time around, before making the actual move, I finally unpacked boxes that had been packed up at the old house in 2009 and had traveled about 2,400 miles round trip, never opened for six years.  I found things I thought had been lost, and it became much easier to create the Goodwill pile and the dump pile.  To use a now popular and massively overused word, it allowed me to “curate” my stuff and pare down to the things that really mean something to me and that I want to hang on to.  The other pile?  Man, so much of it ended up generating the question in my head, “what the hell do you need with THAT?”  It’s amazing how much stuff I’d accumulated over the years that previously I’d thought I simply had to keep – how could I part with that?  NO, not THAT!!  Oh, no, I’m not tossing THOSE!  But, in the end, through a process that was equal parts draconian, full medieval, pitiless trashing and thoughtful evaluation, I managed to cull my stuff down to where it pretty much fits well in my new place.  Maybe some of that comes with getting older and becoming, as I’ve found myself becoming, much less materialistic.  Part of it is also, admittedly, is me finally coming to grips with that fact that in this economy, if I stay in the Portland area, I’ll be a renter for the rest of my life, so it’s time to embrace that.  Finally, I flat refuse to pay for a storage unit – that’s just another excuse to hang on to crap that I don’t need anyway.

Most importantly with this move, I actually spent time when I got in to the new place to unpack every box and get rid of all the packing material, hang up pictures, put out books and the few collectibles I wanted to keep (mostly antique cameras) and arrange my place so it’s comfortable and actually feels like home.  My little bike crash earlier this winter happened only about 3 weeks after I’d moved in, so that slowed me down a bit, but it’s almost done now.  Just a couple more pictures to figure out where to hang and a little more sorting to go.

Overall, I can already see my habits changing.  The clutter of junk mail?  That ends up in the recycle bin next to the mailboxes downstairs and never even comes in the front door.  Laundry?  Either in to the hamper or straight in to the washer rather than on the floor.  The trash room for my floor is almost literally right across the hall, so rubbish and recycling leave a couple of times a week – ’cause the only place for a kitchen trash can is under the sink and there are no 60 gallon roll-carts around to accumulate garbage until trash day.  Getting after little kitchen messes on a daily basis is absolutely required – you can’t hide from it.  The value of a few carefully packed plastic storage bins that can sit in the back of a closet can’t be discounted either.

I’ve been here for almost exactly 60 days so far.  While I’m not going to magically become the fastidious housekeeper I’ve never been in my life in that short period, the process continues and it feels really, really good.  The magical part is that having less stuff leads to less clutter and collecting in the first place.  I’ve got these nice clean, open spaces in the house now that really cause me to think twice before I put something there, or buy something or set something down until I get around to sorting and on and on.  There are some great ideas out there on the web at places like Intentionally Small, Apartment Therapy, Living Small and others.  While an awful lot of those kinds of sites are terribly “architect-y” and “designer-y”, as with ideas culled from magazines, you pull what works and roll your eyes a the rest.  There’s always something highlighted that I hadn’t thought of and that can work well for me.

Small place?  Check.  No car?  Check.  My latest experiment at a new life continues.