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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Simplify your life...

I recently helped a couple buy a place in Milford who shared with me their unique outlook on life - they are trying to live simpler, less cluttered lives. That seemed to make sense to me and then I saw a story about a new book that delves into the same topic.

"The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough" (Taunton Press/American Institute of Architects, $40) delves into the realm of simplicity, the idea that having "enough" is often much more than we really need. It was written by architect Sarah Nettleton and landscape historian Frank Morton

The book makes the argument that human-scaled, low-maintenance, green, unadorned homes with straightforward floor plans and natural lighting can be a better deal than starter castles cluttered with stuff we don't use.

The key is, when we inspect our lives at home, we can often find areas where the simple life is a better, less expensive life. Some of the major points in the book are:

1.) Enough is enough. A simple home offers the luxury of space in a world of clutter. When you identify your true tastes, throw out notions of what you think you should have, avoid excess clutter and maintain only the essentials, simplicity begins to set in. Sure, you need a place to eat, but does it really have to be a separate dining room?

2.) Flexible use. Rooms can serve multiple purposes and help you get more out of what you already have. A breakfast nook can be a play area until a child ages. A kitchen can double as an art studio. Make a small screen porch more functional by installing a custom-sized table rather than going to the equity till again to enlarge the porch.

3.) Thrift-minded simplicity. Fresh tomatoes from the garden taste better than greenhouse food. They'll also get you outdoors. Make a list of simple pleasures that delight but do not require expenditures for more stuff.

4.) Timelessness. Avoid the attraction to "new" for "new's sake." Select a starting point for the feel of your home, edit your wish list down to one favorite image from a book or magazine. Trust your instincts. Your own style is authentic and timeless.

5.) Sustain. Gizmos don't create sustainability. You do. Find the balance between what you can afford and what you really need. A comfy window seat tucked into a window nook in a just-right size room can be as comfortable as a large custom leather sofa in an imposing large room.

6.) Resolve complexity. We all talk about disliking complexity in our lives, but can we walk the talk? Examine aspects of your home that prove troubling. Identify the real value of change. Is bigger really better? That new home's kitchen is darkened by the attached garage. Is saving a few steps with the groceries really worth missing the morning sun in your kitchen?

These points make great sense and would almost certainly also lead to a less costly lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that we give everything up and go live with the Amish. It does mean taking a look at how we are living and being honest about why. In our society the Baby Boomers became enamored with possessions as a measure of success in the 80's and 90's and that has just carried over into the new millennium and Generation-X. Gen-Y, the latest generation to take up the torch, has shown early signs of not being so possession oriented, perhaps because they are also facing a much downsized economy and fewer big-money job opportunities, but maybe because they genuinely aren't so self-centered. In either case, they are making choices in housing that tend toward the smaller and simpler homes. Builder need to pick up on that trend and build fewer McMansions, if they are targeting the new generation of home buyers.

I suppose that we could philosophically extend this line of reasoning to say that it’s really not what you manage to collect in life that is important, it’s what you do with your life that really matters. This is likely where a jump into a religious discussion would take place, but I’, not going there. Instead, I will refer you to the blog of my ex-pastor Jack Fred to continue along that line - so start reading Jack’s Winning Words for advise on living not only the simpler but more meaningful life.

As for me, I’m going to start by finally tackling cleaning out the clutter in my home. I have stacks of stuff in my home office that I can no longer remember why I saved. I have a closet full of old computer stuff (sound boards, printers, dial-up modems, etc.) that I couldn’t bring myself to throw out, but which likely no longer is useful in any modern computer. And I have stuff in my garage that I have no idea why I’m keeping – a riding lawn mower that doesn’t work (plus I live on a small city lot now) and at least 40-50 old golf clubs that I don’t carry anymore. Why? I have no idea. Time to simplify! Here's a wonderful Web site with more on the topic of simplifying.

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