Saturday, January 03, 2009


Our house is bursting at the seams. Furniture and rugs, and books and pots and pans and doodads and TOYS and all the accoutrement's of life. All of it, all of it squeezed into just over 1,100 square feet. 1,100 full, cluttered, frenetic square feet. Ha! I think back to the day of our appointment with the mortgage broker in 2004.

"Oh, I think we'll only be here two, three years tops. We'd have to find a new house before the baby starts school of course. Yes, watch for our call, we'll be moving again soon! I'm so glad this neighborhood is on the up and up."

Maybe "Ha!" isn't quite an accurate description of my flashback. Maybe rather it would be a severe weather alert of destructive, angry hail, gale force frustration, and a healthy helping of tear flooding.

In the nearly five years that we have been in our "Two year, starter home.", we have ridden the crashing Detroit tidal wave to rock bottom. We, bought at the top of the market. This place was booming. (Well, so we were told...and it seemed.) In the past five years, our home has lost 25% of it's value. That includes the 20% down that Jon paid out of pocket. Twenty five percent might not seem like a ton at first, but if you take into account that everyone thought our house, in this neighborhood would have 25% growth in the years to come, that's a lot! Not to mention, losing our future down payment and the hopes on the next small step up in space.

IF, even IF we could ever sell this place, we'd lose everything we put down and wouldn't have enough to slap down for the next, slightly larger depreciating Detroit home....or anywhere. It's just SO frustrating!

Oh yeah, and I forgot. You see, we were young and crazy and in a hurry to buy, and we failed to realize that our little house was not indeed a "three bedroom" home, but a "two bedroom home with a walk-through den". And so, especially since we have no family room and stuff Noah's toys in the tiny den, IT'S RIDICULOUS kind of! cathartic a rant is. Bear with me, it gets better, really.
I know...please please, I know, it could be worse, WAY worse. I know millions of people out there are in much worse situations. I am thankful DAILY for a roof over my head, to live in a safe place, to have what I have. I think it is ok and probably quite human to be both incredibly thankful for what you have and frustrated at the same time.

The thing is, beyond the loss of money, really way beyond that, it's that this housing situation really put a cap on things for us. It artificially stifled us in some major ways. THAT is what frustrates me, not the money loss. For one, the house is part of the reason that we only have one child. This is big! I have to admit that it is only one of about twenty reasons, but none the less, you don't want to live in a house that contributes to limiting your family size. Another situation is the fact that...well, (Grandparents, stop reading)...maybe....MAYBE....sometimes we dream and wonder what it would be like to do some urban living again. We often day dream about hitting the road and living in Chicago or Toronto or NYC or Portland someday. But if you can't sell your house....what do you do!? It feels at times like a 1,100 square foot ball and chain. I also get blue once in a while because since the day we moved back here in 2003, my suburban Detroit goal was to own a small craftsmen, or American vernacular, a four square. An eighty year old house that needed love and care. A place we could lovingly fix up and make our own. I didn't sit through years of historic architecture classes for nothing!'s not going to happen. At least not now.

Ok, last annoying paragraph, I promise, then it gets more positive. The final thing, after much soul searching, that bothers me about where I live is not really about the house itself at all. It's the street. I wouldn't call our neighborhood "full of kids", and our block, our block only has Noah. We have many many wonderful Grandparents around, original owners from the fifties, but not many children. I worry about Noah being lonely, and think back to my idyllic childhood, running the streets with the Pilgrim gang. We're within walking distance of downtown, and four blocks from a corner store, but still our original goal after SF was to settle somewhere within a city. We wanted to walk to get groceries or toiletries or library books. Now it's a fifteen minute walk, not bad, but not exactly goal.


So I seethed with my frustration and disappointment last year, and then slowly....slowly, slowly I came to my senses. I started to read in the news, about families, families with children, who lost their homes. No where to go! It made me feel not only incredibly sad for them, but angry at myself. Who am I to complain? I saw friends being laid off, and strangers losing jobs held decades long. People live in limbo around here these days. It's a walking worry...will my job be here tomorrow? Will I be able to keep my home?
So I snapped out of it and realized my many reasons to be truly grateful and thankful.

It is enough. Way more than enough. I am way way more fortunate than I deserve to be. And heck, after a transforming summer of more than one realization, I was all like... one kid is, enough. Really. Everything, for us, in our own, unique way is, ENOUGH!

I also remembered one of my most favorite topics of thought since my college years : Less = More. Europeans are cool. Look at their tiny fridges. I think I like you simulated Ikea apartments.

Americans want too much. I've fallen into the trap myself, don't get me wrong. You know what divorce is for? So that each parent can unknowingly send their child spending money every month in college, so she can by the entire 1996, 97,98 and 99 Abercrombie and Fitch women's collection.
Although, I should say that while it was fun, it was also completely ridiculous and way too American.
I began reading Japanese fashion magazines, where each volume contained a large spread on how to mix and match and get the most usage out of a wardrobe of just ten or so pieces. It was fresh and fascinating. I was also dating a boy name Naoki, Naoki from Biwako, the greatest lake in all of Japan. He was a giant fan of the wonderful Muji, and disgusted by the materialism that ran in packs on the streets of East Lansing (or any college campus for that matter). Japanese, minimal Naoki, with his simple things, taught me simple ways. He would say: " Why buy a ten pack of Bic pens, when you can have one, smoothly writing, aesthetically pleasing Muji pen?" And one day asked so Zen like: "Why buy THREE tee-shirts from the gap in THREE colors, when you can buy just ONE well fitting Muji tee-shirt in ONE perfect indigo dye?

And so the layers began to un-peel. So much in fact, that I angered my father more than I have ever angered him before, by turning down, right before graduation, a junior design position at Hush Puppy shoes. This is because, although I was about to walk and receive my diploma in "Apparel and Textile Design" (Thanks aunt *Cindy for telling me that your undergrad major doesn't matter after college.), I had firmly decided two years before graduation, that materialism was LAME, and that I would not contribute to the making of more STUFF! (Although I couldn't stop the Abercrombie adiction....) But hey, I tried to change my major in year three (of five), back to psychology but that would have been about the Fourth change and my parents were threatening death. Not really, but my Mom used the word "furious" and gave me that look. You know, where her eyes get buggy and her face turns all red. I didn't push it.


Ok, sorry. dream of minimalism.....

Bottom line, this house is great! If this is my card, I'm going to play it for now. I will make the most of it. Heck, it's size is minimal! Just think of all the things I can do to this space to make it a minimal dream, like this:

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(Well, it's more minimal than we are now.)

Or this......

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Ay Caramba! How about this:

And oh god, maybe not so minimal but like this:

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I'm just kidding.

Ahhh...playful minimalism, with lots of books, rich woods and fabrics, and bunches of pillows and throws. Would that still be in the minimal range? Anything would be, compared to now.

I will get to work.

*Real names have not been used.


Meagan Vanover, CWP said...

I get it. And even with 40% more home than you, I still feel that we are suffocating and bursting at the seems. My extra space is really just foyers and closets, and even then, they don't adequately contain our crap.

We have too much. And I hate it.

However, if you're feeling especially generous, and want to clean house, I wanted to introduce you to one of the most amazing local organizations- Big Family of Michigan. It is an organization to help aid foster children. Among other things, they are always accepting of gently used home items (pots, pans, small appliances, used sheets & towels, etc.) for their children that are aging out.

Laura said...

I totally know where you're coming from! We're in the same predicament with space as you are. We are in a 2 bed/2 bath condo with two kids. We joke that our house looks like a toy store blew up and most days, it does. I have just recently weeded through a lot of our belongings and have given them away (toys the girls outgrew, clothing, old sheets that don't fit our new thicker mattress, etc). We still have entirely too much "stuff". I'm a big fan of Ohdeedoh (Cooki Magazine), Ikea and others that teach you have to be minimalistic. Heck, that was the theme of my thesis paper in college. I wanted to live the simple life. Then somehow, I got caught up in commercialism. I want to scream some days, so I know what you're feeling. I plan to make the most of whatever space we end up in.
Okay, I've just written enough here to blog about on my own blog! LoL

Lauren said...

Thanks Meagan, that's a nice organization. We do already weed through our things and donate. I don't think it is so much that we have a ton of stuff (except for toys), it's that our home is small and lacks storage. We've never been big into buying "the latest" and we're not huge shoppers. I just need to whittle things down some more, reorganize and get good storage solutions.

Laura! That was your Thesis!? How neat. I think it's very easy to get caught up in materialism, I've never met anyone who hasn't to some degree. Don't you think though, like I do, that rat race to get "the newest" baby gadget or coat or's just exhausting and empty? Trying to live more simply is actually kind of fun and it's rewarding. I certainly am nowhere near living truly simply, but it's a process and I would like to think we are slowly learning and on our way.

Thanks guys!

Judy said...

I go through my minimalist phase about twice a year, when everything gets purged. The only reason I don't change out my furniture (by the way - those pictures you posted have wonderful lines!) is because I'm too miserly to go out and buy MORE furniture to replace the bulky stained couch or the mismatched chairs or the broken dining room table. When I have everything cleaned out, I feel so much more freer and can actually feel the space opening up.

And, it does get easier as Noah gets older, I promise. As the kids grow, the stuff they want gets smaller (and more expensive)...just remember that. I am counting down the days until I can say goodbye to the coffee table/train table we have!

Kendra Lynn said...

Oh my word! I loved this post! I am so on a mission to make my home "sparse" read that correctly. However, it is easier said than done, and it will take me years to accomplish..but someday...

We are in the middle of renovating right now. I have just finished an "IKEA" family room! Yay! And we are starting a kitchen renovation tomorrow.

so, we shall see. I wish you luck on your minimalistic goal.

Much love.