What!? Are you serious? That small?
Those were the most common reactions of our friends and family when we told them the size of our Granada apartment – 850 square feet.
To be honest, we were a little concerned at first, too. Moving from 2100 to 850 square feet sounds quite drastic. But after three months in Granada, I am happy to say that we experience more happiness and more “living” in our small apartment in Granada than in our bigger home in Dallas.
Richard Quinn wrote in “We are Stuffed” about the realization that we have too many things that keep us bound up, which hit the nail on the head for me. I considered myself frugal and often shopped at thrift stores, but when I had to go through my closet fro deciding what I “needed,” I realized I also had accumulated too much stuff. Moving compels us to face our true nature as judged by the accumulated artifacts (or junk) of our past choices.
Because I frequently shopped at thrift stores, I was proud, perhaps even felt a bit superior, that I spent less money on shopping, but going through my closet to determine what to take humbled me. I embarrassingly realized that shopping at thrift stores gave me a justification to shop more frequently for more stuff. I would often proudly tell Jim that the new blouse I just purchased was only $1 but the truth remained I really didn’t need so many $1 blouses.
It also affords us a chance to purge the burden of our past choices that we now reconsider, giving us a rare opportunity for liberation. As the old saying goes, they may be called our “possessions,” but do we possess them or does all the cumulative “must have” stuff of life end up possessing us?
To get ready for the move, I separated my belongings into 3 piles:
- What I absolutely needed and would take with me to Granada,
- What I didn’t need and could give away or sell, and
- What I was not immediately taking to Granada but wanted to keep in storage (family photos, some family mementos, keepsake books, etc.).
Most items surprisingly fell into pile #2 – what I didn’t need and could give away. Knowing the dimensions of the one closet where I would store my stuff in my new apartment, I only took about a third of my clothing and shoes to Granada and donated much of the rest!
When we finally “jumped the pond,” we ended up travelling with 4 rolling suitcases (two a piece), plus two cats.
Big revelations from small spaces
In the process of performing triage on our life, we came to learn much as we adjusted to “living small”:
- We have wasted a lot of money; All those dollar here, five dollars there, purchases add up. It may not seem like a lot, but that cumulative sum, if saved and invested for 30 years, could have yielded a return five times over and brought more enjoyment than having a stack of knickknacks gathering dust in the back of a closet.
- Having more stuff didn’t make us happier. The happiness comes from the memories of great times associated with the stuff, so apart from a couple of special keepsakes, pictures work just as well (along with Jim’s retelling the stories for the hundredth time).
- I realized there was very little that we actually needed. As a rough test, if we hadn’t looked at it or thought about it in over a year, why did we really need it around (and why are we paying for the space to keep it)?
Living in the animated present, not in the inanimate past of possessions:
Living small doesn’t mean less living by any means. If anything, we feel like we live more in the now, and, simply put, it’s mentally freeing.
Living small often eliminates the temptation to shop for many things because of the simple predetermination that there isn’t room to keep it. For other items, we are compelled to critically weigh whether that item is worthy of taking up residence (and space) in our home. There is a “we beat the system,” freeing satisfaction to the realization that one can carry on with life without having to own what is advertised as a “must have.”
A smaller home makes for a bigger world!
Less time maintaining one’s overly expansive home means more time to do things we truly enjoy – writing, tennis, reading, sightseeing, spending times with friends, pursuing other interests etc.
It also gives us better health with more fresh air and sunshine.
Less indoor space induces us to go outside more, making us healthier mentally and physically. Most Spanish spend a lot of time outside, especially when the weather is nice. It’s common to see people of all ages sitting outside till late at night visiting with friends and family. Many street corners are even designed and set up for such rendezvous with numerous benches or small shaded squares.
We often spend time having tapas with friends over a course of 3-4 hours and just enjoy the food, wine, atmosphere, weather and good company. Even just having a smaller kitchen means we walk to the market more often but buy less. Jim has lost weight without trying.
We feel good that we are doing more of our part for the environment.
Everybody wishes they could do more than just shake their head at the dire climate-change prophecies, and living small can have a huge impact.
It obviously takes fewer resources to heat and cool smaller spaces (why Texans pay to air condition rooms with twenty-foot ceilings was always beyond us), and separated, single housing is more and more unsustainable (those unused side paths between houses that allow heat to escape may be costing our children in the long run), but we also realized that buying less means fewer wasted resources that eventually become junk taking up space in landfills.
Back in the States, we felt helpful for just not accepting straws at a fast food place; now we weekly carry out our separated plastic, paper, and glass to the recycling bins at the end of our block.
In the end, everyone must be their own “Goldilocks” and decide what choice is “just right” for them.
All I can say for us is that, one year ago, it was common for me to be working upstairs in our Dallas home, Jim downstairs, and we would communicate by texting.
Now, I usually sit at the table, Jim on the couch, both of use tapping away at our computers, till we see a beautiful stream of light come through the glass door to the terrace. We simultaneously look at it, and then across the room at each other.
And we leave the stuff behind (and it never seems to mind).