January 29, 2010


In 1985, I was perfectly happy living in an 8′ x 12′ concrete-walled dorm room. I was thrilled to have a single in a dorm full of wonderful people. I didn’t care that the bathroom was down the hall, or that I didn’t own a car. I had a decent bike, a comfortable bed, adequate food, and was learning and having fun with terrific people.

Twenty-five years later, I enjoy living with my family in a nice house in a safe town with wonderful schools. I appreciate all the comforts life has brought me, but I also recognize how my material comforts have also brought an added level of stress, as my husband and I need to work hard to make mortgage payments, save for college for the kids, and meet expenses. I often tell my husband that I’d be happy living in a much smaller house, as long as I have my computer, a fast internet connection, and a secure yard for our dog. Clearly, the list would be longer if I thought about it…I’d also want great schools, a safe community, my printer, my purse, our couch, my gloves, my boots, my fleece jacket, my special pajamas, my pillows and a few more items and services. But as I sit here and scan the interior horizon, there truly aren’t very many items I’d consider to be that important to me.

In his recent column, “What Could You Live Without?“, Nicholas Kristof tells of an Atlanta family whose daughter challenged them to sell their house and buy a smaller one, and donate the net proceeds to charity. Even as it inspired some people, it evoked the wrath of others who complained that they shouldn’t donate to people overseas when there are Americans in need. I’m in the former category, and am impressed that a modern American family that has so much could sacrifice it and make a difference in the world.

The unexpected dividend in this case was that the family found that downsizing brought them closer together:

Mr. Salwen and his wife, Joan, had always assumed that their kids would be better off in a bigger house. But after they downsized, there was much less space to retreat to, so the family members spent more time around each other. A smaller house unexpectedly turned out to be a more family-friendly house.

“We essentially traded stuff for togetherness and connectedness,” Mr. Salwen told me, adding, “I can’t figure out why everybody wouldn’t want that deal.”

I look forward to reading the book they wrote about their experiences, The Power of Half. I don’t think my family wants to downsize, but if they did, I’d be all for it. I wouldn’t mind slowing down the treadmill and enjoying life and my relationships more. In the meantime, if I ever find the time, I am going to get rid of a lot of extra stuff we have around here. The Sport Chalet shoes were just a start…

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