People are often amazed to learn that I live in a small condo in a downtown highrise with my family in Portland, OR. They just don’t see how a family can live in such a small space.
I love to watch house hunting shows on HGTV (yes, I know they are often staged) and I am surprised at how parents worry over the size of kids bedrooms. “Kids are small! They don’t need a lot of room!” is something my 10-yr old daughter likes to shout at the people as we watch. You see, she LOVES her room. She designed it herself. It’s blue, her favorite color. It has a custom-made full size murphy bed that she can fold up against the wall so she can have her “dance parties” or spread out her art projects. And she has a magnificent view of Mt. Hood out of her large 20th floor windows. She can watch the Rose Festival fireworks show right from her bed. Our condo building has a small lawn, a wading pool with a fountain, a deeper pool and deck, barbeque pavilion, and shared garden too – right in the center of the city. She can walk to parks, play structures, festivals, the river, ice cream carts, the library and the children’s theater. What’s not to love?
TINY LIVING IS THE NEW HIP THING.
In NPR’s story on Tiny Living this week “The Rise Of Small Spaces” the focus is on a shocking trend where people are choosing to live in as little as 90 sq. ft. (My condo is 1320 sq. ft. – a palace in comparison!) . After word on the 90 sq. ft. apartment got out, the contest was on, and it took mere days for a young man in Manhattan to post his video of living in just 78 sq. ft. Such stories have sparked multiple sites for blogs, videos, and sharing stories of tiny living across America, including a new movie titled: “Tiny: A Story About Living Small.”
This sort of “micro-living” appeals to some people for the sheer adventure or weirdness of the experience. For some, it is a philosophical commitment to shunning possessions and/or living green with a minimal environmental footprint. Of course, if you live in Hong Kong these dwellings are simply the norm – a Tiny House is just a house.
LET’S GET REAL.
For the vast majority of Americans, living in less than 100 sq. ft. is insane. But while the Tiny Living trend is radical to most of us, a move toward downsizing and simplifying, is something almost all of us can do. And according to many experts, it’s something we may have to do.
Economists and Sociologists predict we will see more people living in smaller dwellings as the nation continues to trend toward urbanization, sustainable living, and cost savings. As fuel prices increase and more jobs move to cities, young professionals will likely choose to live close to work. As heating and air conditioning prices continue to rise, and public transportation continues to improve, small urban spaces make more economic sense. But as these young professionals start families, living small can be more complex. Urban planners are responding – with more downtown zoning for mixed use buildings and condo projects that have minimum requirements for “family” accommodations – such as 2-3 bedroom units. More focus is being placed on downtown walkability, safety, schools, child-friendly activities, and daycare options. These planners know a secret – when families live downtown, urban areas stay cleaner, more vibrant, and attract more business.
IT’S NOT EASY. BUT IT SURE AIN’T HARD.
Now, you might be saying, “Sure, it’s easy if you are young, and don’t have much stuff to begin with. But what about all of us who would have to significantly downsize? That sounds like a lot of work and pain!” And you’re right – it is a lot of work, and some if it is sad. But it’s also cleansing. You free up more than just your time and your pocketbook. You free your mind – to take on new challenges and explore new ideas, hobbies, and community involvement.
Fact: Unless you’re of the Downton Abbey crowd and have live-in staff, or an incredibly energetic and detail-oriented stay-at-home partner, your big house is limiting your Evolutionary potential. In our book Evolutionaries: Transformational Leadership, we explain that the best leaders of positive change are those who “cast their net wide” – explore, read, travel, try new things, meet new people, take classes, go on adventures, etc. But, it’s hard to cast your net wide when you are chained to your house. From the never-ending maintenance to the weekend yard work, to the hoards of family and friends that always want to come and stay with you because they know you have 8 extra beds and will cook meals for 20 on short notice. The cleaning, the heating, the painting, fixing the gutters, edging the lawn, hanging the holiday lights – it’s giving me PTSD just thinking about it…
Yep, that’s right. I’ve been there. Before moving to our small condo, we lived in a 4200 sq.ft corner lot Victorian. Three car garage. Two libraries. A music room. Front, side and back lawns with multiple water features and a koi pond. A big wrap around porch in front and a huge deck in the back. A hot tub (who knew how much work they could be!) and a large rose garden.
And here’s the thing about that big, beautiful house. If you have a three car garage, you start to think you need three cars. If you have a music room you start thinking you need a grand piano, some drums, a few guitars (OK like six guitars), and a poker table. Well, ok maybe most people wouldn’t need a poker table, but we felt it rounded out the room nicely. And if you have a sitting room off your master bedroom then you need to buy sitting room furniture to go in the sitting room, even if you never sit there. The more fireplaces you have the more Christmas figurines and socks that you need to go on them during the holidays. Large front porches need rocking chairs, side tables, a porch swing and plants – even if you always sit on the back deck. All right, you get the idea…
It got to the point where our investment of time, money, and psychological attention in this glorious dream home was keeping us from our dreams – to travel, to explore new lines of work, to see more plays, concerts, festivals, give more time and money to non-profits, visit friends and family, and just generally explore the big world outside of our suburban neighborhood without worrying about the roses that needed pruning, the deck that needed sanding, and the three cars that needed new tires, service, and washing. Keeping up with all the material things we had accumulated was exhausting.
And so one day we gave it all up. We sold the house. We sold all the cars but one, and the camp trailer (it turns out you can rent those!). We sold some furniture and art. We gave some to my parents and my brother. We gave some to charity. We sold a lot of books and got e-readers instead. We gave away the ice cream machine, the bread maker, the asparagus tongs, the toast rack, the mandolin slicer, and several other kitchen items it turns out you never really use. And it was a little sad. But today, eight years later, I don’t miss a thing. In fact, I continue to downsize – realizing each year that there is more that I don’t need.
My co-author, Randy Harrington gave me a gift several years ago – a wall hanging with a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama that says,
“We have bigger houses but smaller families, more conveniences but less time… we have become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are times of fast foods but slow digestion. It’s a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room.”
It hangs in our small condo today as a reminder not of what we gave up, but of what we gained.