The first time I downsized it was involuntarily; I got divorced in ’91 which effectively cut my stuff in half. I dropped another 25% in ’99 when I sold my last California house and moved to North Carolina. The stuff that I got rid of was mostly unnecessary; things I didn’t think I’d need in NC.

The third and more serious downsizing came when I sold that house, the one I built in NC, and moved more or less permanently into my apartment in Washington, DC.

In that third downsizing I got rid of 95% of my stuff, some of which I had been lugging around for 40 years. Like I finally found the where-for-all to toss out the rising sun patched blue jean jacket that I acquired back in ’70 or ’71. The art, furniture, tools, guns, and other valuables (whatever that word really means anymore) went to auction. The garage stuff, extra computers, camping gear, clothes, and other whatnot were donated to the Animal Thrift Shop.

I digitized all my CDs, DVDs, and huge photo collection; no mean feat – as it took hours and hours. The hardest decisions were what books to keep and which books to toss. I had over my lifetime amassed bookcase after bookcase of books. I was still lugging around all of my university engineering texts and notes; but in the end getting rid of them was surprisingly easy.

It is rather ironic that the floor plan reduction had very little to do with getting rid of most of my stuff. Apartment living was what originally posed the challenge as to what to do with all the stuff but it was not the deciding factor in getting rid of it.

I was already living in DC and living in an apartment when I came to the conclusion one morning upon waking that it was time to sell the house. After all the house was 500 miles away and I had been slowly coming around to the fact that my life was either going to have to be in DC or in the mountains near Asheville; it couldn’t be both.

I was recently laid off from the engineering job that was my introduction to the DC job market so actually both paths were in fact totally open.

It was my first true layoff and as such it made me think. I thought about how practicing my profession in the first decade of the 21st century was vastly different from the one that I entered in 1980. My generation was the last to see pen and ink drafting on vellum. We were the last generation to have a support staff. The PC and Microsoft Office changed everything. But I was never one to live in the past and the idea of downsizing was more about making myself leaner and consequently more mobile. I had a vision of the future that ironically was a throwback to Thoreau and how carrying around one bag of stuff was preferable to lugging around two.

In the cold light of day that point of view certainly seems extreme. However my external value system had somewhere along the way got replaced by desiring to acquire and improve things that were more internal in nature.

Doing 60 hour work weeks had me positively loathing my physical self. I was a long way from fat but I wasn’t what I wanted to be either. And more importantly I was no longer living the life that I wanted to either.

But the decision of what I was going to do and where I was going to live was actually quite easy. It wasn’t until after my long 5 year self-exile to NC that I became very conscious of the true cost of ownership of things; both big and small. And I decided at some point that I was going to strip away all of the rest of the stuff; I just didn’t realize that it was going to be quite so soon.

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