54: Downsizing to Our “Yacht”

54: Downsizing to Our “Yacht”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Downsizing to Our “Yacht”

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

~William Morris

“What is all this stuff anyway?” we’d ask ourselves as we weaved in and out of the labyrinth of accumulated junk. After thirty years of marriage, with three sons raised and out of the house, did we really need all this “space” now, particularly since we tended to fill it up with things of questionable value?

One day, as a pile of bills dropped through the mail slot, we realized we were paying separately for cooking gas, heating oil, electricity, water, sewage, and garbage removal, while our friends who lived in apartments or condominiums paid one single (and modest) fee for all of those. We started investigating apartments in our area, and found that we could live at a little over half our present housing costs if we switched lifestyles.

But moving from a house, with basement, garage, and several bedrooms, to a smaller apartment would mean we’d have to cull through an entire adult lifetime of stuff. Did I really need to keep those college term papers on how Shakespeare influenced the poetry of Lord Byron? The answer was pretty clear.

Much of what we had kept — and boxed up and moved with us several times from place to place — had no present purpose and no imaginable future use. Our guiding principle became a ruthless utilitarian assessment: will we ever use this again? If no, out to the curb with it!

Week after week, for a month, the curb in front of our house on garbage collection day was lined with stuff. It was astonishing, like the parade of clowns emerging from a car parked in the middle of a circus ring. Why did we keep that stuff and how did it all fit in our house?

Moving day came, and I had very carefully measured the apartment into which we were moving and planned every inch of book shelving and furniture placement. Bookshelves or tall wooden closets lined nearly every wall in the apartment, but one wall in each room was left “clean” and empty, a concession to our need not to feel “trapped.”

Now here is where we discovered the serendipity of our new home: the long living/dining area led up to an east wall that was almost entirely waist-to-ceiling-high windows. Thus, the place was flooded with light from dawn until mid afternoon. That was already a plus. Every other room in the place also had large windows facing either east or south, so despite the floor to ceiling bookshelves on most walls, we don’t feel imprisoned in our space.

We also had brought with us our huge fresh-water aquarium, which further “opened up” the place so that we didn’t feel boxed in. There is nothing like a micro environment full of plants and moving, brightly-colored fish to avoid the closed-in feeling that an apartment can impose upon someone more used to larger spaces.

Now that long narrow living/dining area that is the central space of our home feels like the carefully apportioned spaces of a yacht!

We’re not wealthy, but had enjoyed the good fortune of others who were, and when we began to see ourselves as living “on a yacht,” instead of merely a small apartment, we had to laugh. We may not be sailing around, island-hopping the Caribbean, and the view out the windows only changes with the seasons, but still, we often tell ourselves: if we were living in a space this size, and this well-organized, on a yacht, we’d think ourselves very fortunate. So, why not enjoy it? (The fish, by the way, and their little world inside ours, contribute to the effect.) Sometimes how you feel about where you live comes from how you see it.

~Gene R. Smillie


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