A recap of 2018. It was a busy year.Read More
There’s a lot to be said for Going Smaller. Since January of 2017, we’ve done our best to reduce, re-use, donate, and recycle. We went from a 2200 square foot home with a yard, to a 1500 sq foot apartment (complete with fleas), down to a less than 900 square foot apartment. We’ve learned some important lessons— first and foremost: you can go too small.
900 square feet is SMALL, folks. Especially for three humans, two cats, and a love of cooking and books (and cookbooks--some things don't translate well digitally).
We have learned the optimization of packing: this goes first, this goes last. Linens make great packing materials. Boxes can (and if you think you’re moving in a year, should) be stored. Laundry baskets make a great portage mechanism for local moves, allowing you to carry dishes (and reduce takeout orders), clothing (keep those hangers on and put things directly into their new home!), sheets (always have the beds made as soon as possible), and toys (reduce stress with the kiddo by allowing immediate availability of familiar objects).
This will be our third move in nine months—the last time we have moved prior to 2017 was from our Microsoft adjacent apartment to our 5-bedroom home in Lake Hills (Bellevue, WA)—in 1999. It’s funny how old knowledge resurfaces - and is applied - and yet, even these old dogs can learn new tricks.
What have we learned this time around?
There IS such a thing as too small. When you have a child, the proximity and safety of such things as walkable streets, parks, and recreation is very important. When these don’t exist or are in such limited quantities as to feel non-existent, it has an overall effect on your quality of life. You don’t go out, you don’t go for walks, you don’t leave your space. You feel trapped, claustrophobic, and in a constant state of flight.
It’s impossible to know if you will acclimate to an area without living there (Santa Monica was not our bag, baby). All the research in the world can’t equate to your own experience (e.g., your mileage may vary).
Sometimes, sacrifice is necessary for the right change. We have gambled breaking our lease on our tiny space in Santa Monica for a bigger, brighter space slightly further south. We changed our son’s daycare, in hopes we could find a better life at a more affordable cost. And we rolled the dice on commuting for the one of us who has to drive to work.
We have a lot to share in upcoming posts about how our life has changed, why we made the decisions we did, and how we got to this new place. Including important lessons on not feeling the need to fill up a much bigger place with more furniture just because we can.
What kinds of experiences have you had with a major up-sizing or down-sizing of your living space? Please share them – one of the major things we've learned is there is no one right way to move toward a minimalist lifestyle, no matter how you define that for yourself.
Ages ago, when we still considered indulging in refined carbs, there was the Chonga bagel.
The Chonga bagel was a delight --cheese, onion, garlic (get it? CH-ON-GA), with a sprinkling of seeds and melted fromage on top. Freshly toasted and with liberal cream cheese application, it promised a full on carb coma and guaranteed personal space at any group meeting one might be forced to attend (I can hear Stanley Tucci saying, "Did someone eat an onion bagel?")
By the time we discovered the Chonga bagel, our carb consumption was already in decline; therefore, it was to be considered a treat. We would hoard our carb allocation and splurge on the Chonga, joyously anticipating its fresh from the toaster arrival, carefully adhering cream cheese to every possible point. We'd savor the idea all week, and when the time finally came, we'd eat the bottom half first, the better to save the, erhm, "culmination" of our gustatory extravaganza when we had the top half, with its liberal application of cheese and garlic.
Until one day, a friend noticed our delayed gratification tactics, and asked us why we did it that way. We went through the whole spiel: the one treat of the week, how special it was, how the top was the best part, save the best for last!
And then she asked "What happens if you don't get to the best part?"
There's lots of axioms out there about enjoying life in the moment. Life is short, eat dessert first. Life is short, it's up to you to make it sweet.
Life is too short to wait.
These sayings pile up and accumulate, and over time, they just lose their meaning. It takes something peculiar, something personal, for them to regain their power. And for us, it's this: "Life's short. Eat the top half of the bagel first."
For us, that's become a benchmark for decision making. When we're thinking about a new experience, or a change in our lives, we now try and apply our Top Half of the Bagel standard.
Is this something we will regret not doing?
Even if we end up deciding it wasn't for us, is it a mistake to pass up on the opportunity?
How will this experience have a positive impact?
What can we learn or do that we haven't done before?
Carbs, folks. They're magical.
Ok, maybe it's not strange, but it has always been funny to me. I have no idea why, but as long as I can remember growing up, we always had a big pot of New England Clam Chowder around the holidays. As far back as my memory goes, I can recall my mom in the kitchen in our 1905 rambler style house in rural Tillamook county every holiday, a big pot on the stove, and the smells of bacon, onions, clams, and cream all coming together to make what would stay a life long favorite winter comfort food for me. In particular, it always happened around the holidays. No idea why. It just did.
The tradition, at least in our household, goes on - even if my much loved mom is not here to enjoy it with us.
It doesn't much feel like winter in West Los Angeles county, though it almost feels like early fall finally. But hot or cold, rainy, snowy, or sunny, it's that time of year.
What does this have to do with going smaller? Well, nothing really, other than having some good soup recipes just means when you want something warm, comforting, and delicious, you don't need to order out to get it.
Clam Chowder Recipe
Got this recipe from my mom, not sure where she got it from. I cleaned up the instructions, and added a few of my own tweaks. On the seasoning, play with it. Add more or less. I often will add a bit of cayenne pepper as well during the boiling stage for extra bite.
On clams: I've tried to make this with fresh clams a few times. While it can add a really nice extra complexity to the flavor, it is a very subtle change, and a LOT of extra work, especially if you have to shell the clams yourself. If you buy really high quality canned or prepared clams from your seafood market, it tastes great - and will probably have less sand then if you buy unshelled.
- 2 dozen large clams (or 3 7oz minced clams)
- 1/2 Pound Bacon
- 2 cups clam juice
- 2 cups water
- 3 medium sized onions (peeled and chopped)
- 4 large potatoes, chopped (peeled if you want)
- I frequently add fresh celery, and this year, I also added a few fresh leeks to the pot. Add them at the same time you add the potatoes.
- Bay Leaf
- Savory Seasoning to taste
- 1 tsp. finely ground white pepper
- 2 tsp. salt (to taste - can take 3 or 4 tsp)
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups cream (heavy or regular)
- 1 to 1.5 tsp xantham gum for thickening (flour or cornstarch are fine if you don't have a reason to avoid them)
Chop up the bacon as fine as you want it, and in a soup pot, render the bacon until crisp. Keep 1/3 cup of rendered fat in the same pot, save the rest for breakfast cooking or whatever. You can remove the bacon or leave it in the pot, depending on how crisp you want it. In the pot, cook the onions until soft.
Add the potatoes, water, clam juice, bay leaf, savory, white pepper, and salt. You can optionally add the bacon back in at this stage. You can also optionally add the clams here, depending on how well cooked you like them. Bring the liquid to a full boil, and then reduce heat and let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
If you haven't yet, add the bacon and the clams to the pot, add the milk and cream, and then add your thickening agent very slowly, the whole time bringing the entire pot up to serving temperature of 170 degrees. You can also add 3 tbsp of butter at this stage for added creaminess. Do not allow the chowder to boil, as it can scald the creams and ruin the flavor.
To serve, add finely chopped parsley and/or paprika.
Chowder will keep in the fridge for roughly a week, or freeze for up to two months.
In our last post, we talked about how to uproot your life in two weeks.
Now we can look back and see at least one major thing we could have done vastly better: choose our new place to live.
Two weeks doesn’t give you a lot of time, especially when you’re moving to a place with even more of a housing crisis than where you were. We narrowed down the most important things to us:
Down to one car and traffic worse than Seattle (by a longshot) meant access to mass transit was crucial
Walking distance to day care, and grocery shopping
Air conditioning (believe it or not, many places in SoCal don’t have it).
At least two bedrooms, with space for some sort of office space for working from home
We found a large complex run by a nationwide property management company. The apartments were relatively spacious, parking was in a secured garage. It was next to light rail (literally running outside our window) and had the other amenities we wanted, plus two pools, and a small gym. We even did a tour of the property in the limited time we had on the ground in LA before completing our packing and starting our new adventure.
The last time we lived for an extended period of time in a rental was 1999 before we bought our house. There have been intermittent rentals since then, due to jobs, but they’ve always been with the idea we would return home. And so, it wasn’t until we’d been in our new place a few days that we realized we’d made a horrible mistake.
We didn’t check the online reviews.
Granted, online reviews for most apartment complexes are going to be crap. And the last time we rented together, online reviews weren’t even a thing. There was no Yelp, no Facebook. So, we went in and naively signed a one year lease.
Within days, we noticed the veneer of where we were living was nice, but the reality was not. Worn carpets. Elevators left broken (in a 7-story building) for days. Handles that broke off doors in our hands. Latches that broke off windows with one use. Air conditioning that ran 24/7. Visually decent blinds over the windows that were so old and worn, they were almost impossible to utilize. The air conditioner, located right outside our bedroom on the dirty, dusty deck, roared like a jet and was about as energy efficient as your average mansion. We looked at the existing reviews, sighed. and told ourselves we could tough it out for a year.
And then came the fleas.
We noticed, after being in the apartment two weeks, that the cats were suddenly biting, gnawing, scratching. Small red marks were appearing on our ankles and feet, and all over our toddler. Maybe we’d brought home some sand fleas from the beach? We got cat flea treatment, and applied it. We vacuumed thoroughly. We sprayed with lemongrass, lavender, and eucalyptus. And the bites got worse.
We noticed we got bit the most in the room we used as an office. The cats had spent a few days sitting in the sunlight there, but no longer wanted to go in. We, put a light trap in overnight—basically, you fill a shallow container with soapy water, and set it under a light source in a dark room. Fleas gravitate to the light, and drown in the water.
The first night, we got over 40 fleas in that one room. It was suddenly clear the management had not properly cleaned the carpets from the prior owner, and we had inherited their flea issues, which had now migrated to every room in the apartment. Our toddler no longer wanted to sleep in his bed, exhausted from being bitten throughout the night. Every black spot set us on edge.
After an utterly exhausting and prolonged battle with the management company, we got out of our lease. It meant repacking everything, finding a new place to live (hopefully within the same parameters as before), finding movers, coordinating more address changes, and uprooting our son at an age where they insist a routine is key.
It was worth it.
But, in our constant attempt to assess and improve--we should have balanced the desire to be settled, after almost a year of uncertainty, with just a little more transition: temporary housing, extended hotel stay, airBnB. Time for both of us to walk the property and literally sleep on it. Time to explore the area and understand bus routes, walking opportunities, and the rental market (not as competitive as we were led to believe).
Our impatience resulted in sleepless nights, a constant rotation of flea treatment products and solutions, psychological heebie jeebies (what’s that? Is that lint or is it a flea?), moving twice in the space of two months, and multiple month recovery from exhaustion and illness once we completed relocating.
Oh, and we should have read the damn reviews.
Not even a month ago, we thought we were moving to London. Even with the recent uptick in unrest in the city, we were both very excited to be moving to not just a new country, but a new continent. We both had some concerns about the usual things: daycare, flat prices and locations, navigating cultures, customs. Neither of us were looking forward to the stress of an unhappy, confused toddler, who had already noticed the slow disappearance of furniture, artwork, and occasionally, toys from our house. But we had weighed the positives and the negatives, and the chance to spend time in Europe was too good to pass up.
Until it suddenly wasn’t.
Suddenly, we weren’t moving at all. Our house was down to beds, kitchen necessities, and an inflatable couch we regularly thought about stabbing to end its misery. Job hunting ratcheted up in earnest. For about four days. And then our lives went a little sideways. Here's the quick and dirty version of events.
May 29: decide we can’t move forward (haha) with London
June 2: flight to Santa Monica, CA, for job interview
June 3: job offer, job acceptance, flight home
June 4: panic at the disco, I mean, the house. Start date is June 26.
June 6: flight back to SM, returning June 7
June 8-12: frantic packing, finding of movers, locating apartment, determing daycare while one of us still tries to work from home
June 11: movers empty storage unit
June 12: movers come to house, where we are packing boxes as quickly as we can
June 15: toddler and parents fly to Santa Monica
June 15 (yes really): one parent back to Seattle to pack up a U-Haul trailer with remaining items, drive Volvo from Seattle to SM (with agreeable and kind friend, and two cats) in two days
June 18: in new apartment
June 22: House is on the market
June 28th: 14 offers on the table, one accepted, entered into contract. Closing in a few weeks.
Neither of us can recommend this timeline to anyone. It’s just the way it worked out. We needed a big change of some sort, and gratefully, all our prep over the last year helped tremendously. We downsized, and downsized, and downsized some more.
And we got here, and big surprise, there’s more to downsize. The Buy Nothing posts have already started.
Still, the point is: we have started going smaller. This whole thing is a journey, and this is just one stop along the way.
Like anyone who writes with any regularity, many articles have been written for Going Smaller that never saw the light of day. Off topic, uninteresting, or simply the a 'thesis' that was too muddy. This is none of those things. This is a post that will literally never happen.
I wrote this a week or two ago in preparation for a move we were expecting to make. On Monday, my spouse and I made one of the hardest decisions we've ever made, and decided to revoke our acceptance of the offer. It's not really appropriate to dig into why, other than to state some changes happened that caused us to re-evaluate this specific move. We're very sad to not be going, both the opportunity for travel it represented, and the chance to work with some truly amazing people. But it was the right decision for us.
We're now figuring out what's next, as we're still expecting the house to go on the market as soon as we can vacate it. But, that is not today's story. Today's story is one that never happened. Unedited from the original draft I had ready to publish once we had our passports, with the new visas in them, back from the consulate.
Going Smaller, Overseas
It's been a crazy few months since the last update. Around the time of the last post, we had been cleaning, working on the house, and in general continuing the process of getting as much stuff out of our house as possible.
Why? Because we are finally going to sell the house. We've been vacillating about it for a few years, but no matter what happened, we had decided this year was the time to do it. It helped that the housing market in Seattle is absolutely bonkers at the moment.
But why RIGHT now? Well, starting in February of this year, I started talking to a company in London that a good friend of mine joined over a year ago. They are working on interesting projects, had a solid technical pedigree which always appeals to me, and appear to have a good road-map for the next few years.
Long story short, by mid March, I had accepted an offer to move to London to work.
It's two months later, and with a few final tweaks to my employment agreement, and with visa just approved, we're starting the countdown to flying ourselves, our little boy, and our two fuzzy little girls to the United Kingdom.
It's been a challenging month or so in particular, but I've been amazed how well it's gone. We have almost no furniture left in our house. Other than a few lamps and two bed side tables, actual furniture is down to a breakfast table and two chairs (and Bean's Stokke chair), our king bed and little man's twin bed, and an INFLATABLE couch. Honestly, I can't recommend it. Even for college students. It's major hell on the back. And one of the compartments already has a leak, so that's never ending fun.
This was not the specific turn of events we anticipated when we started this journey to go small. But it's one we welcome and are hugely excited about starting. I expect frequency of posts will increase in the next few years, because have you looked at average flat sizes in London? THEY'RE TINY! Even for us, it's going to be a huge adjustment getting used to an entirely different country. Thank goodness they speak English, because right now, other than a smattering of Spanish, German, and Japanese, the only languages I'm fluent in are English and bad English. That'll give me time to work on my French and Spanish.
There's a lot to be said for a move like this, even as scary as it is - and it is scary. It's a lot of change and unknowns, but ultimately a chance to do things. The chance to explore Europe via train, a stronger cultural appreciation for "working to live", rather than "living to work", knowing I will be able to get the medical care I need without having my insurance stripped in a few months when pre-existing condition exclusions come back, and a chance to show our son just how big and amazing and diverse the world is.
So the next post you see here, very well may be posted from a temporary housing flat somewhere within walking distance of Covent Garden.
As always, we'd love to hear any stories of relocting overseas, or to circumstances that really required a re-alignment of your expectations.
Downsizing always seem to have stages. The excitement stage, or “Wow, think of all the awesome things we’re going to get to do in the new place!” The depression phase, e.g., “Oh my god, we have so much crap, why why why??!!!!”
And then there’s the inevitable, “We have what?” phase.
It was the start of Daylight Savings time this past weekend. Parents with younger children know what a delight the biannual time change always is. And it's not exactly pleasant for the rest of us. Coffee sales must see a serious spike. In addition to moving our clocks forward one hour, and fervently hoping our child will sleep a little later Sunday, we went through our medicine cabinets, and our kitchen. The medicine cabinet thing is something I picked up during my time working for an online pharmacy—it’s important to get rid of expired medication, since old medicine may not work as well, or at all. It’s equally important to dispose of it properly, which does not include flushing it down your toilet.
We love cooking, and one of us has a Penzeys addiction, so I’m sure we had a vague idea there would be some stuff we should put in our yard waste bin. That, however, did not take into account:
- The “make our own chocolate dipped strawberries at home” phase
- The “make candy at home” phase
- The “bake with alternative flours” phase
- The “spending way too much money at Penzeys” phase
- The “I like to make cupcakes, let’s do nifty decorations” phase
- The “alternative sweeteners” phase
Some of this is stuff we can give away on our favorite Facebook group, the Buy Nothing project. People regularly give away canned goods, half of a buy one get one, even leftovers. The “spending way too much money at Penzeys” items will go there.
Some of it, however, is just too old. We are fortunate we are in a position where we can afford to experiment with different ingredients, that our budget is not so tight that we must watch every dime spent. And so, this is where we will repeat: when it’s that time of year you need to change your clocks, you should check your smoke detectors, clean out your medicine cabinet, and make sure you don’t have a bag of stale flour, or a box of (now powdery) chocolate chips from 2010.
It took us three trips to our yard waste bin to dump all of old ingredients. It was a little sad to see; many baking experiments never carried to fruition, items lost or simply abandoned after one try. There are tangible benefits, though. It will make us more conscientious going forward, about what we chose to spend money on—important given we will most certainly have less storage space. For the short-term, we have more cabinet space, and less clean-up to do if downsizing gets to the wire. And the sanity those things bring is pretty priceless.
What are some of your annual traditions for spring cleaning, general clutter reduction, or sanity benefiting whirlwind reorganizations of your home?
When faced with a sudden need to downsize because you might be dropping your square footage in half, how do you do it? Well, we have some ideas.Read More
This is an unusual post for this blog. I usually keep it focused on things related to shrinking the stuff in our house, the clutter in our lives. Financial independence. This is about... The past month. It's fairly political in nature, and represents my views on things, and likely much of my spouses views. Comments are on, and are of course welcome. With all the normal rules. Be respectful of the others posting. You don't have to like their views or opinions, but debate those views or opinions, not their value as another human. I will ban hard and fast anyone I deem to being a dickhead on our blog. I did try and focus on some things my partner and I can do to make a difference, but it is, as the tag and category indicate, partially a rant. This is my lectern. On rare occasions it will get used for this. I will try and keep it a rare occurrence, however. But I'll always try and keep it constructive. Ranting just to rant is a bad habit to get into. If we can't seek solutions, we're just screaming into the hurricane.
I've been really angry lately.
I'm sure some of you have noticed.
I should be working on some projects I have going right now, but after almost a month of bottling this in, I need to get it out. Somehow.
I wish I could pin my anger on any single thing. Some of the cause is obvious. Other parts, less so.
Of course, I'm angry at the person barely a quarter of our electorate decided should be our president. But I'm far angrier at the almost 50% of Americans who either couldn't be bothered to vote, or even worse, were disenfranchised - mostly by a right wing who claim voter fraud that has no statistical evidence, but really, just want to eliminate urban voters.
I'm frustrated with friends who blame, even partly, third parties for what happened, even though I'm not angry at them for that view. I get it, I really do. My anger lies with the fact that we were in an election that should have been a stark, obvious choice, and third party votes did materially tip the balance in a few states. It should never have been that close. Third parties need to be a viable option in this country. The lack of them is a large part of the feeling of disenfranchisement, even for those who haven’t been disenfranchised. Criticizing people for voting for what they feel is right, not for what they feel is "the lesser of two evils", right or wrong, is not how we improve our democracy. Yes, even if it means we get a fascist, racist, sexist demagogue for our president. The fact that person even had a chance should be the topic, not people who actively voted in a way we didn't.
I'm angry that someone I consider a good friend - and I'm certain there are many like him - feels their vote doesn't matter because of how our election system is rigged. I'm not talking about the electoral college, I'm talking about our national mentality of a winner take all attitude. And in his case, he still voted. If those almost 50% who didn't vote, did? Guess what. I’m reasonably certain their vote would start mattering. But it's hard to convince people of that. If we want change in a representative democracy, and we abdicate our power to make change, well, who's exactly to blame? Focusing on the president is a constant failure we make as an electorate. If we saw more libertarians, greens, constitutionalists, democratic socialists, in state governments, in congress, in the senate, you better believe presidential candidates would have to seriously reconsider how they run a campaign. But the state I live in? Has a top two only primary. Guess what that means for viable third party candidates most of the time? Exactly.
My emotions go so far beyond angry when I think that my wife and I must explain to our son how someone like our current president elect could get into office. In his daycare, he is one of the most lily white children there. Most of his friends come from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. From the first day he started interacting with people outside his family, he's been seeing every skin tone, hearing different accents, wildly differing clothing styles. As he gets older, he'll see our good friends who are LBGTQI in loving, lasting relationships, but still see them assaulted with the hate of religious bigots who think they are entitled to inflict their beliefs on others. People who think by simply allowing others to exist, they're somehow being persecuted, being forced to accept someone else’s lifestyle.
I've been so angry, I feel like I've been almost paralyzed with it. I still don't know how to deal with it. Anyone who's known me for a long time knows I'm a passionate person, quick to outrage, quick to laugh, quick to love. I have spent much of my life laughing, loving, and trying to enjoy life. Right now, I feel like anger has taken over all my other emotions. It's tinged with sadness, but it is a very base anger. The reasons may be nuanced, but the anger is not.
What can I do?
When I wake up in the morning, I tell my partner, my friend, my wife how much I love her. Even when the sadness and anger is evident in my eyes, she smiles, hugs me back and tells me how much she loves me. She's been doing it for over 20 years.
I eagerly wait for my son to wake up, so I can give him a hug. Kiss his blond sheath of hair. It's not really a mop. Like mom and dad, he has fine hair. I talk to him. We both laugh with him, attack his belly, start laughing at his laughter until all three of us are almost in tears. We go for hikes to see the beauty of the world that will hopefully still be there when he's older. We do whatever we can for him to build not just his intelligence, but his emotional intelligence, his empathy. Something that seems sorely lacking in the world today.
I give our three cats a scritch on the head, or a belly rub whenever I walk by them. I invite them on my lap whenever I'm reading. Little jerks rarely take me up on it, but I keep trying. I sigh contentedly when one walks up to me on the bed and curls up on my left shoulder, because I'm taking a nap, just like a good cat should.
I try and interact with friends. It's often just on Facebook, but I'm trying to get better about going to lunch, or coffee, and see the people who bring me joy in my life.
I try and get on video chat with my brother, so he and his wife can see their nephew more often. I still don't do it enough, but I want my son to know his uncle and aunt, because they're amazing people.
I tell my mom I miss her pretty much every day.
I plan, I ponder, and I work on ways to find a way forward for me, for my family, to live life more fully, enjoy life more richly, and experience more of the world.
Is it enough? Honestly, I don't know. I'm still angry. Even more so because at the macro level, I feel like I have almost no power to change anything. I voted. I stayed informed. I tried to have good discussions with friends. But the country that is my home has made its choice, and I see a lot of pain coming.
But me being me, the best way to deal with pain in my life has been laughter. Love. Looking on the bright side, while still acknowledging the dark, shittier side.
We'll see what happens next. We'll see where we go from here.
You know how you’re going along, you’re in your groove, you’ve got your routine down, and then…life throws you out a window?Read More
There are more resources at hand than we often remember. Consider going back to an old favorite next time you need a book or to research your next project.Read More
Wherein our stalwart protaganists decide one of them should quit their awful job, triggering a chain of events that lead to more shrinking and overall happiness. You'll never believe what happened next! Well, of course you will.. We revisited our finances and made some big changes.Read More
Wherein the authors come clean for being total slackers for the past two months.Read More
I am my work.
Wait, no. Let me fix that. I was my work. I realize this doesn’t make me much different from many people who have a defined career.Read More
In my current bedtime reading, I came across a statistic that said Americans will acquire 33% more “stuff” for each child they have. Check out a “newborn essentials” list on a few baby sites, and it’s easy to see why that might be easy to accomplish!Read More
Well, almost always. Unlike our neighbors, who never seem to. If we don't, it's usually because we are doing a project that requires the space in there. Staining and finishing moulding is a great example. At some point, I decided I didn't like any of the pre-finished moulding available, so I started a multi-year project to replace all of it in our house. I'm about.. 2/3rds done. As a recommendation, don't do this unless you really love staining and finishing work. It's a BIG time commitment.
Sorry, not the point. It's 7AM, August 21st, 2014. I've been awake for a bit, fed the cats. Turn on the shower. Steam comes pouring out instantly. Ok, our water heater is good, but rarely that hot. Manage to get it to a normal temp, take a quick rinse, get dressed. Stacie is awake at this point. It feels really muggy in the house. I haven't had coffee though, so I don't really think about it. Stacie asks "Does it smell like rain to you?" It does, come to think of it. Finish getting ready, head downstairs to the garage to head off to work.
I get to the bottom of the stairs. "Uh, hon. There's rain all right. Or at least a lake." Sometime in the prior four hours, the thermostat on our 40 gallon tank water heater decided to give up the ghost. When this happens, the boiler just does it's thing, and never turns off. It also can create enough pressure to pop the tank open, which it did, continuing to pump in more water on a really hot boiler element. It felt like walking into a kind of moldy smelling sauna, with subtle copper notes. I turn off the gas to the boiler, get out my large plumbers wrench and run outside to turn off the water to the house. Now we get our plan of attack established.
This is where my wife's and my tag team shtick really comes in handy. I ping off a quick mail to work, letting folks know I might be a wee bit late, and get the shop vac out, close the door to upstairs to keep the cats away from our brand new swimming pool, and get to cleaning. While Wife is on the phone with our insurance, with ServPro to get cleaning underway, with a local water heater company, and eventually with a contractor that specializes in restoration work. All the while, I'm getting anything delicate off the floor as quickly as I can, and on to tables, couches, etc. Anything that will survive sitting in the damp for a few hours gets left. Among the first things to get taken upstairs is my still functioning Amiga 1000, packed away in their original boxes. Thankfully, it still works. Insurance for that would have been weird, and getting a replacement would have been hard to justify.
It would be almost three solid weeks of fans and de-humidifiers, in August WITH industrial equipment before everything was dry. It would be November before all the walls were replaced (3 foot sections cut out of every room), new floors put in (water warped Pergo stinks), and we could move stuff back in downstairs.
What does this have to do with our garage? Well, we had the option to have all our stuff put in storage, or just have them pack it in the garage. We talked about it, but realized there was an opportunity here. Even if it meant parking outside for a few months.
Having about half of your house packed into boxes in the garage is a great time to really get rid of stuff. After we got past the worst of getting downstairs recovery underway, we started spending evenings and weekends going through a couple boxes here, a couple boxes there. After the first night, we already had a solid Goodwill run ready to go. Over the coming weeks, we would probably do about 5 to 10 more trips. We got really efficient and packing the stuff in to minimize our trips.
There was a LOT of stuff.
Much of it barely even in our consciousness any more. A good sign that you won't really miss it if it's gone. Our house was built in 1962, and the garage is an attached, fully enclosed two car style. There's just enough room to have shelves on one side, and a few things carefully leaning against the other side. Enough space on the back wall for a workbench, a table saw, and some other miscellaneous objects (that shop vac that was so important earlier on in the post). Our mountain of boxes filled the garage, stacked up against the shelves, leaving just a narrow path on the eastern part of the garage between the door into the house, the back door, and the garage door. A VERY narrow path was still open along the workbench, so we could access various tools and implements, but the garage was otherwise unusable during this time, until we started making serious progress through the mountain. Good motivation.
We got pretty brutal. Small, sentimental items that could fit in one of our memory shoe-boxes could stay. Almost everything else, unless we knew what the plan for it was, or used it regularly already, was on the chopping block. Some stuff got thrown away - things that you end up eyeing each other and sharing that look that says "Why the heck were we holding on to this?" Our recycling bin got filled frequently, but most of it went to Goodwill. Books, clothes, knick knacks and doodads that may have served a purpose at one point, but we had long since packed away, forgotten, and never missed.
Of course, we also found a few things that have been added back into our various rooms. Kitchen implements I thought were lost. Small electronic components that I like having around in my tool kits when I'm working on a computer. That sort of thing. But other than furniture, the lions share of books that we kept, and a hefty supply of stuff for the craft room that would get its own serious thinning over the coming months, we probably eliminated almost half of that mountain of life accretion.
We were lucky, of course. As I discussed recently, we barely even use our downstairs. The biggest inconvenience of this whole affair was doing laundry (the cleanup crew moved the machines into the garage while they tore out the drywall around them) and parking our cars outside. Well, and spending some amount of money we weren't expecting to.
- Replacing old tank water heater with inline gas water heater: ~$3500
- Replacing dodgy pine pergo with engineered acacia hardwood floors: About ~$2500 out of pocket after insurance
- Approximate cash value of donations to Goodwill: $3000
- Getting rid of 10 SUV's full of stuff we barely knew we had: Priceless. Shoot. Do I owe MasterCard a royalty for using that?
- Wifely Addition: Encouraging her to do a major culling of the craft room, also priceless.
Ultimately, I don't recommend flooding half your house to kickstart clearing out stuff from your life. Just pick a room and go. It's cathartic. It's good for your taxes if you itemize (and just as good for those in need, even if you don't). It's like getting rid of a nagging thought at the back of your brain; you know it's there but haven't quite acknowledged it.
This last weekend, we did a whirlwind through our bedroom again, performing a culling that will have unworn items of clothing cowering in fear for years to come. Seriously, between our two closets, it was about 70 pounds of clothes. I had to drag it downstairs.
Looks like we need to head to Goodwill again next weekend.
Got any stories of unexpected downsizings? Secretly a hoarder who's been working on ways to reduce the amount of stuff you hoard? Do you park in your garage, unlike three fourths of America? As always, we'd love to hear your stories, or link to them in our next episode if you have your own blog about this sort of life adventure.
Reading List and Errata:
- On hiatus this week. Still hoping to finish the Capitalism book, but had way too busy a schedule this week for reading.
- Moved over to Windows 10. I was pleasantly surprised! I expected it to be pretty good, but other than a single device incompatibility (The Oculus DK2, for you VR fans out there - they're working on Win 10 drivers though), it's been flawless. Fixes all the little things that annoyed me about Windows 8, and it's screaming fast compared to Win 7 or Win 8. If you're a power user, I'd recommend upgrading. If you're just a casual PC user, maybe wait a while for all the driver compatibility issues to get resolved then do it.
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