Wabi-Sabi Weekend: The Benefits of Downsizing

On Wabi-Sabi Weekends, I post excerpts from my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House.

“I want to spend the time I have doing things that make my heart rage.” — Buck Howard

Today the fields just beyond my back fence are covered with snow. By next week, the snow will melt, rewarding us with brilliant green.

Today the fields just beyond my back fence are covered with snow. By next week, the snow will melt, revealing brilliant green.

Letting go of commitments we’re not fully committed to and stuff we don’t care about (but have to take care of) is a gift greater than gold—and an ability worth cultivating.

My first taste of simplicity’s promise came from Duane Elgin’s 1981 bestseller, Voluntary Simplicity. Elgin showed me that putting less energy into systems I’d like to see transmogrify gives me more time to focus on what I love. His brand of simple living—consciously chosen, deliberate and intentional—is about paring down possessions to free up time and energy for what really matters. Less stuff means more time to spend with family, friends or nature—a philosophy simple enough for even the most complicated people (like me). Still, the concept was academic until my divorce forced me to move from a house to a townhouse. Only now am I understanding the benefits of downsizing.

Living in a small space keeps me from acquiring things. I’ve furnished my entire townhouse without ever getting out the credit card. I like sharing amenities, such as the swimming pool, and responsibilities, such as garbage collection, and I like running into neighbors when I walk my dog, Rug. I can walk Rug through pretty, shaded paths within our cluster of townhouses or along a ridge outside my back door, overlooking a valley with a working farm. (At night we hear coyotes.) My tiny back garden is just big enough to grow a couple culinary and medicinal plants and enclose a cozy outdoor conversation spot. I like not battling knotweed or trying to grow grass. Except for storage, my little house has just enough of everything.

Sometimes I like to sit a while on my back deck, looking out at the wild grasses and the big, open sky, watching the cows graze in the fields beyond. A half hour will go by, the moon will come up, and I’ll just sit. I’ll watch the hawks circle and the ravens scold, and sometimes in late fall pairs of geese fly by, alarmingly low. I sit, an accidental wabibito, enjoying my life’s gifts.

Every day around sunset, the man who lives at the end of our row shows up in our back window. He stands in the same spot, perfectly framed by our sliding glass doors, wearing khakis and a button-down shirt. In winter he wears a light jacket. For a half hour or so (I’ve never timed him), he leans against the wooden rail fence at the top of the ridge and looks out. When one of us spots him, we mark the in-between moment: time to turn off the computer and put away homework. The man in our view reminds us to stop for a minute and just look. Then it’s time to think about dinner.


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