In Praise of Small Houses (And Less Stuff)
Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
10Trip End Aug 02, 2008
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But on to houses. Daniel Quinn, in Beyond Civilization, quotes statistics (I know not where from, or how reliable) saying that hunter-gatherer individuals spend (spent? Are any left?) on average 400 Calories a day to get their 2000. We modern industrialized folks spend 1000 - and I doubt that total includes all the fossil-fuel energy in our modern food system; it simply measures how many Calories one person burns daily to get the resources (whether food directly or the money to buy it) to feed him or herself. Our culture seems to be swimming in Calories, trying to cut them wherever possible, but still - when it comes to basic survival, it really is a Calories in/Calories out equation.
What does this have to do with houses? Well, the one we're living in now is awfully small by modern American standards. I'd estimate it at about 1000 square feet, being generous: two nice-sized bedrooms, a tiny bath, spacious (really!) living area and a cute kitchen. Someone else lives in the basement, so this floor is it. I am struck with how easy it is to clean, and I began to wonder - how many Calories do Joe and I burn a week just cleaning our 2000 square foot house? This place is a cinch. First of all, there are hardly any horizontal surfaces to dust, and most that there are don't need much dusting - chairs, kitchen tables, counters
So living simply this summer has been about more than foregoing the automobile. It's also seeing a new possibility for living with less. There are times that this house feels empty, or I wish we had more furniture, more toys, more something to make it feel like home. When it comes down to it though, as I wrote earlier, home isn't about the stuff. If this were our real house, we could make it feel like ours without filling it completely with objects. And since it is not, I doubt that all the accoutrements we could muster would make it feel totally as if it were.
I don't know what this will mean when we head home again. You aren't likely to see me defenestrating easy chairs to lessen the clutter. Joe and I have discussed finding a renter, so we could share our spacious place (and its cleanup duties) with more people. I always told myself I didn't want a house too big for me to clean without hired help, and I've already failed on that account. (Our cleaner comes only once a month, and I still do all the bathrooms myself, but it's a slippery slope.) Maybe, for now, it's enough to remember that I have had firsthand experience with a small and sparse house, and I can truly appreciate that less is more.