Downsizing is a Seismic Shift

The move looked like upheaval, but changes had reverberated through our lives for several years before my husband and I sold our house. Our sons no longer needed us daily, so we had stepped back into an advisory role. We focused more on fun, less on careers. The shift—from raising children and working full-time—was as natural and inevitable as tectonic plates moving.

Our old house

Our old house

We dreamed of a new life. The vision was a little vague—we wanted to live in the Twin Cities instead of the suburbs, in a neighborhood where we could walk to shops and restaurants, in a house with more character, less yardwork.

our old backyard

Our old backyard

What we chose is a 90-year-old, story-and-a-half house with a postage stamp-sized yard to replace our 40-year-old, three-story walkout with a generous yard.

Our new house

Our new house

New yard

New yard

But the change is deeper and broader than square feet and location. We chose a life that offered new possibilities. We are counting on ourselves to invent the life that goes with it.

Although I’m pleased with the new home we chose, occasionally I feel disoriented. Everything that was familiar has changed. How much room we need. How much activity we want. How much noise we can stand. How to stay connected to people who no longer live nearby. How to be good citizens in a city of activists.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on good behavior here. I pick up clutter and put away dishes obsessively—which goes against my messy nature—but I’m trying to learn new ways. I think carefully about what we bring into this house since we have so much less space. We gave away many of the fine things we’d accumulated during the past 25 years. Once we’d unpacked we needed to give away even more. But really, how much stuff do we need? And why? The habit of coveting is hard to break, though.

Walking around in my nightgown with the blinds down is odd, but our windows face the neighbors’ windows and I value my privacy. I’ve had to get used to locking the doors with a key. All the time.

But eating breakfast in the glow of the little lamp on the buffet is cozy even if the blinds are drawn. My gardens are so small that caring for them is fun now instead of drudgery. I like walking to neighborhood coffee shops and hiking alongside the creek. The energy and variety of the city appeals to me. Most days, I drive toward my new home without lapsing into autopilot and heading south of the river.

The bedrock our lives—raising children and working full-time—has given way. The foundations of our new life are couplehood, part-time work, and fun.

We’re still figuring out what our new life should consist of. So we rearrange the elements we want to keep (good meals, time with friends and family), discard ideas and activities that no longer fit (PTO and soccer practice), and relish the new possibilities (guitar practice and art history classes for my husband). For me, the choices are yet to be determined. I’m making it up as I go along.

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Stuffed

Unlike Elizabeth (I’ve Never Had Something Not Burn), I have lots of stuff—a houseful of it! More than I need. But I have trouble parting with it.

I really like my stuff and so much of it has a story.

I got the 1930’s wrought iron floor lamp from my parent’s basement. Now it’s painted blue, but before that it was red, and at one time it was black. I made the small nine-patch quilt because I loved the 1940’s retro print fabric. My bookcases are filled with books that mean a lot to me. I like the mission style desk I bought and refinished years ago.  I still like this stuff.  It makes me happy to have it around. I feel at home because it’s here. And that’s just my office. Lamp & quilt

Lurking in my office closet are piles of old writing samples and presentation supplies related the freelance writing business . . . that I gave up a year ago. I also have paper, clay, jewelry, knitting and craft supplies that I rarely use.  But I might.

Just a few of my bowls . . .

Just a few of my bowls . . .

Or what about all of the bowls I own? Bowls I made years ago when I had access to a pottery studio. Bowls I bought at art fairs. Bowls I picked up in antique stores. I could dirty bowls for several weeks before I’d run out of clean bowls.

And mugs! That collection is even bigger. I could tell you where each one came from—Spain, the North shore, a friend, and on and on. I love them all, but really, how many mugs does a person need?!? Occasionally I give some away when the cupboard gets too full, but there’s still a box of mugs on a basement shelf (don’t tell my husband).

These are just my favorites . . . I have more!

These are just my favorites . . . I have more!

The stuff I’m keeping is still good. I might need it someday.

The classy interview suit I don’t wear—the pants are kinda tight and I’m not looking for a job right now. Will it be hopelessly out of style the next time I’m interviewing or have a funeral to go to?

My box collection. I save shoes boxes and Amazon boxes so I can send cookies and presents to my family in Toledo.  Really, three or four would suffice, but I’m sure I have at least a dozen. My husband has learned to nest them so they take up less room and he weeds them out carefully so I won’t notice and squawk.

Lately, I’ve realized that having a lot of stuff can be oppressive.

I have to dust it, protect it from breaking, or store it.  Managing my stuff takes time and thought. Not just the housekeeping, but also the emotional upkeep of caring about my stuff—remembering the person who gave it to me and feeling torn when I want give it away. Deciding what to keep and what to give away is hard, so I don’t do it very often.

Even divesting myself of all this stuff will be hard. 

I’ve visited too many estate sales in which old hot water bottles, empty picture frames, spare light bulbs, rusty garden tools and other stuff nobody wants was lined up for sale next to kitschy-enough-to-be-cool Christmas decorations. But the sad useless stuff tainted my pleasure in getting a deal on some cookie sheets or a pie plate that my sons actually needed.

Recently, my sister spent hours cleaning and pricing stuff for a garage sale. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the end, she didn’t sell that much, so a lot that stuff went to Goodwill anyhow.

A good friend just pitched 19 years’ worth of teaching materials—all those lesson plans, readings, exercises, student samples—that treasure is irrelevant now that she’s retired. But I know she was sad to say goodbye to several decades of a profession she was passionate about.

My husband and I talk about moving to a smaller house someday. If we do, we’ll have to shed a lot of our stuff. I wish I could give it directly to someone who needs it—somebody just starting out who wants a lamp . . . or some bowls. I’d like to give my still-good stuff in a more personal way than just having Goodwill or the Vietnam Vets collect it. I wish I could hand it to somebody who will actually like it and enjoy it the way I have.  I daydream about placing an ad that says, “Come get some great, well-loved stuff—FREE!”

No doubt I’ll be sad when the time comes to move, because I’ll be shucking off an identity and lots of memories. But I hope my life will feel a lot lighter and simpler—more carefree.

Our Handyman, Tim

Tim 004This is not a paid advertisement.

On April 28th, an article in the Star Tribune written by Paul Muschick stated that in 2012 the home repair industry was the most-inquired-about industry at the Better Business Bureau (BBB). It was also the second-most-complained about.

My family is lucky we found Tim.

When you have children you acquire (whether or not you want it) – a calendar – that posts events in your mind that are Before Kids or After Kids.  Tim belongs in the Before Kids category.

Our relationship started simply enough. Leaving the YWCA in Uptown, Jody lifted his business card off of the advertisement board. We were dating then. She had witnessed my attempt to block birds from nesting inside the air vents on the roof. Thank goodness a storm blew through Richfield breaking my windows and leaving me with hail damage. Insurance would pay for a new roof and I’d have to hire someone to do the work.

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

I had a history of floundering as a homeowner. An electrician I had asked to make a repair in the bathroom mangled an outlet and the wallpaper. It was never the same again. The contractor I hired to put on the new roof was unable, even after many attempts, to fix the leak on the porch roof.

Finally, I put a cake pan inside the ceiling to catch the dripping water.

Until Tim came.

Tim smiled, handed me my cake pan.

He fixed the leak and has been with us for over ten years. We’ve had him longer than we’ve had the children. I think of us as growing up together: Tim, Jody and me, Antonio and Crystel.

Our relationship has matured to the point where we keep a running list of any repairs we need done and schedule him in the spring and fall. Tim lets himself in and finds the list on the counter.

004I look around our home and there is little that he hasn’t touched. He’s painted and tiled, painted and tiled. Put in an egress, trimmed trees, planted trees, tilled our garden, put up fences, taken down fences, removed the window that kept slamming on Crystel’s hand and in its place put in a patio door. He’s taken apart and put together exercise equipment, desks, futons, and beds. He’s put in windows, taken out windows, the same with doors.  He’s tuned up what needs tuning in the spring and fall.

I have even had him change light bulbs.

Jody couldn’t believe that. She said she could do it. I told her, that I knew that she could but that it goes on the list and if it wasn’t done by the time Tim came then he’d do it. Now she’s a believer. The kids are too. When something needs repair, even a toy, they say, Tim can fix that and we put it on the list.

Tim working on our porch project

Tim working on our porch project

Tim is a person of few words. He never said anything when I had him make a jungle gym on the second floor for the kids. If I could imagine it, he could do it. They had a swing, a climbing rope, trapeze bars. He never said a word when I had him take apart Crystel’s bunk bed and move it to the finished basement letting her transform her closet into a cave. Hopefully, he’ll have few words when I have him bring the bunkbed back to her room.

Phone May 2013 344Our latest project has been changing our 3-season porch into a 4-season and taking down the wall between the kitchen and the porch. First, he added new windows and a door on the east side, then he added windows to the west side, and he just finished the mudroom – from conception to completion. The couch he built has storage underneath the cushions.

Next year the wall will come down.

In-between the large projects, Tim has lists.

This summer, if all goes as planned, he will be working with Antonio and Crystel to build a tree house in the backyard. We wanted someone to show the ten-year-olds how to use tools. Who do you call for that? Tim, of course.

The BBB advises homeowners to take the time to choose a trustworthy contractor.

What I like most of all is that at any given time, I have a home that I am proud of.

I have Jody and a handyman to thank for that.  Email timschwartz@wwt.net for an appointment.