A Complete About Face

For someone who for years has wanted more space, more room to have more stuff, the revelation that I am more than willing to go smaller, more minimal could be a bit of a shock. I have spent years complaining how small my shop is, how poorly everything fits together. I have spent years hoping for a separate office space instead of being in my bedroom. So this want to downsize could appear to come out of thin air.

It all comes down to realizing what is important, and realizing what it would take to get to that point.

I’ve wanted to move to England since 1998. It hasn’t always been as strong as it is now, but I’m also coming off two trips to confirm my dream. I never quite realized how strong of a pull it is to live in a walkable community. And by that, I don’t mean a huge subdivision with sidewalks. I don’t want every single trip I make outside of my house to require a car. That’s the realization I’ve come to, that after half a lifetime of loving cars, dreaming of bucket list vehicles…that I would rather live in a place where a car isn’t necessary, or at least necessary for my day-to-day life. I would like walkable destinations that would not only give me a place to go, but the ability to burn calories while I do it. It doesn’t just have to be walking; a bicycle-based transportation system works too (like Amsterdam). The point being, if I want something to drink or to pick up something from the grocery store, I don’t want it to be two miles away. Let me walk to it, bike to it (safely), or take a bus. I’m good with any of that.

Why is that so important to me? I can’t really explain it, I think it was fully awakened in me when I visited Evanston in 2018. It was so walkable, so full of life that it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was the smallest spark in a tinderbox, and the two visits to Europe really cemented it. I love trains, I love public transportation, I love cities.

Also, to be perfectly blunt, I don’t have a ton of socialization prospects. Living in a subdivision does not help that. I’d love to live in a space that encourages my participation in a community and allows for socialization and making new friends. I love being able to walk to the pub and getting a drink anytime I want to. It’s a great atmosphere. Drinking alone at home does not do much for me at all. Living in a space like this would absolutely go a long ways towards helping my long-term mental health.

Obviously, all things being equal, I would be doing this in England. Or Scotland. Or a lot of places in Europe. However, I know that this is a long shot. As such, I have to be open to places in the US or Canada that would fit those needs if the opportunity arises. All I can do at this point is put myself in a good position to capitalize if I can.

So, why all the talk about downsizing, giving up woodworking, stuff like that? The hard truth is that there is a huge housing crunch in the US and abroad. There is a severe lack of affordable housing, the reasons for which are much better explained by more educated individuals. The housing bubble bursting isn’t necessarily going to change these things either. Desirable places to live are always going to be more expensive than those that are not, and communities with a high walk/bike score are always desirable.

This means that you get less for your money. For the same size place as we have now in someplace like Chicago, NYC, or London, we could be paying anywhere up to and including 10x as much. We can’t afford a $10k mortgage or rent. The issue with the UK in specific is that not only is there an affordable housing crunch, the salaries are quite a bit less than the US. Some of this is down to not necessarily needing the things we need here like private insurance and a vehicle, but even so it still would hurt to move there. It might have to be a retirement scheme. So for the same amount of money as we are spending now on a mortgage, we are going to get less space.

So, what does that mean I’d have to do to downsize? It really depends on how big the new space is, but it likely means I will have to sell most of my tools, if not all. I don’t terribly mind this, so that’s ok. I should look at downsizing my physical media collection for a start. I have entirely too many physical games, DVDs, Blu-rays, and books. If I can give some up, switch to digital versions, or otherwise, it should be on my agenda. I don’t think I have to, or will, give up my consoles at this point. They fit pretty well in my printer sideboard I made, and won’t need multiple of the same in a smaller space. The others can go with my kids.

So much of music and movies now is done via streaming, so perhaps a lot of my discs can be sold or donated. We did a large amount of this for our CDs last year. The task can be done in stages by giving up ones now, and also making keep piles that you will re-evaluate later. The CDs are pretty well pared down, but I’ll be honest – since I ripped them all to the cloud, there might be five to ten I’d actually want to keep long term. For the movies, I would start with any that are readily available on streaming services and are not steelbooks. I could also easily give away the movies that came with digital copies. I used to believe in the fidelity of Blu-ray, but honestly most of my media consumption does not need it.

Very soon I will be doing a cleanout of all my old computer parts, as moving to Mac I really don’t need them anymore. I cleaned up one laptop and it’s ready to sell or donate, and there will be at least one more soon after I replace a power port. I am not getting rid of any LEGO unless I absolutely have to, and as far as model cars, I will get rid of my plastic ones and kits if I need to – but not at this point.

I have already donated a lot of hanging clothes, and I don’t have a need to pare down any more at this current time. I will likely give away a couple more pairs of shoes, so they all fit in my shoe rack. I have already gone through a few bins of miscellaneous stuff and thrown away, so that has been a good start to that. I’ll still hold onto my Apple boxes for the time being, since they don’t take up a lot of room. I just like the product packaging. I have quite a few other boxes that should probably be thrown away. There are a couple old cell phones that I should recycle. I will go through my books to see what can be donated, that I don’t have a desire to own anymore, or maybe replace it with a digital copy. Books on display are nice, but it isn’t a necessity.  There’s some odds and ends and knickknacks that I could stand to give up if needed.

I did buy the MacBook Pro, and I also added a portable screen, so I do recognize that I still have to live my life in the interim. I could take this combo to a cafe or elsewhere in case I need a change of pace or need to be mobile for some reason. This combo is good enough to use permanently if the situation dictates. Perhaps we decide to roam for awhile on a travel contract? I’m prepared. If we get somewhere that I can have an office in a spare room, I’ve also modified my dream office to have my desk monitor serve as the TV, which allows everything to fit in a smaller space with all the other changes I’ve outlined above.

All of this is possible because I reevaluated what is important to me. The answer isn’t more stuff, it’s more experiences. I don’t need a 5.1 surround sound when a soundbar or headphones is fine. I don’t need a 1000+ physical game collection that overflows two bookcases, when digital games are so convienent and Xbox Game Pass gives me most of the new stuff I want to play already. I don’t need multiple shelves of model cars that collect dust, mugs of everywhere I’ve been (even though I just added three), or old tech on display. Give me more reasons to leave the house, not live in it. I think that’s the key to a better life.

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