A shift in thought

Ok, I am about to go on a rant here, so sit tight and enjoy.

I am not going to complain about fellow cyclists, cars, drivers, or the city. No, I am going to complain about me, myself, and I. You see when I was younger, we did not have much stuff. We did not even have much money. My mom busted her butt to get everything for us and I am grateful for all she did for me and my siblings. She is a great person, something I do not say to her enough. She is my go-to when I need advice, or when I need just encouragement. When I look back, I enjoy the thought of all the silly things we did to pass time that did not cost hardly any money.

McDonald’s trips were a once a week adventure. I was excited to get my little happy meal and a fountain Coke. I also remember the countless hours we spent playing Nerf basketball. We would play horse and my mom would play dirty. She would put her foot on the dresser and make the basket. I would follow her, and my little 5-year old frame could not get my foot up that high. She would instantly give me an “H”. Yeah, it was mean to do to a little kid, but we still had a blast. Trust me, I got her back. I would squeeze under my bunk bed and make a shot, she could not get under there, and I got my revenge with her gaining another letter. Ahh the joys of youth! Sorry mom, it took me over 30-years to get to this point, to this thought process. Much too long. I should have discovered this years ago. Heck, I should have had this mindset set in me like stone after growing up like I did.

These days we are much too spoiled. People eat fast food almost daily, not even thinking about sitting down to a home cooked meal. If the meal is at home, whether cooked or take out, people almost always eat with the television on. I am guilty of this at times. My wife and I eat out more than we should. Almost lost are the days of my youth, when the special night was on Friday, when we would sit down and watch Wheel of Fortune at the coffee table in the living room. Friday was always a special night of the week. The celebration of the beginning of the weekend. We would sit, as a family, and watch Full House, and whatever else was on that night. It was a tradition that has been almost lost.

You see, I have just had my eyes opened. Ok, I am lying, it did not just happen. No, I have been tossing the thought in my head for a while. It has just now started to come out from thought to action. My wife and I just got a nice big house. We have followed that American dream. To own not only a home, but a big home. Hang on for a second, since when did “big” enter the American dream? True, land is abundant here, but does that mean we need to take up huge amounts of it for a big house? Think about it, in big cities, temperatures are slowly rising. Is this really a warming climate? Is this really a change in the planet, steadily getting warmer? It could be, but then again, there may be an alternate explanation.

What are cities doing these days? Simple, they are expanding. We are slowly moving further and further out. Houses are being constructed, and they are not small. We are building more and more streets. Tons and tons of concrete. Think about it, what is one property of concrete? When the sun hits it, it warms. Considering how it is now summer here in the U.S., take a late night stroll tonight, barefoot. Tell me your feet are not warm. Sure they are warm, they are really warm. The concrete heats up, holds the heat and then slowly releases it. Why is it so much cooler in the country? Simple, LESS CONCRETE!

Maybe our climate change is the lack of heat dissipation. The earth itself is designed to slowly release heat. When you walk though the grass at 10pm, after the sun has gone down, it feels cool to the touch. You step on concrete, it is warm. During the day, go barefoot. That concrete is dang hot. We often head to the grass for relief.

I am getting to a point here, but this is a rant, so I am venting a little first! haha

Ok, so my point is, when did the American dream include lots of stuff and lots of space to store it? Jay Shafer from Tumbleweed Houses may have the answer. He started building these small houses, his main baby is sub-100 feet-squared. He lived in a large home, almost 4,000 square feet. Ok, it was a huge home. He then found out that there were restrictions stating that you had to have a house of a minimal size. He decided to go against the grain. He found a few loop holes in order to get a house that is under 100 square feet.

We are driven by society to go bigger and bigger. That newer is better and we need it, NOW! Let us not forget that a bigger size leads to a larger expense! I say let us sit back and analyze this thought process. Who is telling us bigger is better? Well Jay states that the housing market and banks helped drive the minimal house size standard (and possibly insurance companies as well).

Apparently, they got greedy and wanted more money. An easy way to do this is help create minimum housing sizes so they always get good money when constructing a house. His tiny home was not only the cheapest in the state, but also the most per square foot. Why is that? Simple, it wasn’t just a floor. Every detail was planned out. Every nook and cranny, everything must have a place. Space was tight, so he made the best of it. What drove the price per square foot up was the fact that he has a ton of requirements in a tight space. In less than 100 square feet he has a kitchen, refrigerator, sink, toilet, shower, living room, bedroom, desk, closet, pantry and kitchen table. Yes, it is tight, but it is amazing. You can check it out at Tumbleweed Houses. He even has a video channel on YouTube. Just search his name, you will be amazed (or appalled, who knows). Just watch it with an open mind to what he is trying to accomplish.

Not only has he gone against the grain with house size, he also proves that you do not need material items to keep you happy. Honestly, my level of happiness has somewhat gone down since I was a kid. I do not feel it is the level of responsibility that changed me, it is the fact that stuff does not bring happiness. I am living in a much larger home, I have high quality items, several computers, a nice car, just a nice life. Am I any happier? No, I am not. I am happy in that I have 4 great cats (yes, cats. Cats rock), a great wife and a great family. I am happy in those elements, but material possessions in themselves do not bring happiness. Americans are slow to realize this. In Europe, where land is scarce, small is the norm (at least when it comes to housing). Here, we are spoiled. We have this land and for some reason feel the need to build out instead of up.

We are closet hoarders. Compare the average American home to that of someone in the UK. Not only are ours larger, but they are crazy in comparison. I look in my closet and see things from my youth, stored in there, rarely seeing the light of day. WHY? Why on earth do I feel the “need” hold onto these things? Does holding onto “memories” that I seldom, if ever, look at make me feel more complete? No, not at all. So why do I hold on to it? I have no clue. That is the realization I have come to.

Even with books, and I love to read, I am looking at them thinking which ones will I read again and which ones will collect dust? Those will slowly be heading out, being donated or sold. I wanted to trash my art box, my wife thought that we should make a small scrap book so we can show our kids (when we have them) the art I did when I was young. I am okay with that. A binder is much easier to store than a big plastic container. Not to mention, plastic is horrible for the environment. Yeah, it can be recycled, but still, it takes so much water to make it. Do we really need it? Do we really need to store it? Think like this next time you look in the closet. When you “find” a shirt you have not seen in years, and are contemplating on keeping it or not, think “When was the last time I wore this? Did I really miss it while it was in a box, or in the back end of the closet?” Nine times out of ten, if you answer honestly, not lying to yourself, you were just fine without it.

That is what I am getting at. Stuff is not us. Having more things does not make you more complete. No, it makes us more insane. Think of children. People keep getting them toys and more toys for their birthday and Christmas (if you celebrate that). Next thing you know they have 100 toys spread all out their bedroom and the living room floor. That is tough to clean up. Do they need it all? Of course not. Kids have an amazing imagination, and it is something they should use and expand. Imagination leads to creativity. Plopping kids in front of a TV or DVD player does not spark creativity. What it does do is teach a kid to be lazy. That being sedentary is what we are to do. When I have kids, they are going to be taught to be active, to enjoy life, and live like a kid. To not be eager to grow up, and to truly have “family time”. I will make sure that nobody but the grandparents purchase toys for the kids. That way they learn to appreciate what they have.

How many of us had a DVD player in the car growing up? I bet almost nobody who reads this did. We turned out fine, did we not? I remember bringing a book or my Sony Walkman to keep me company. Heck, our crazy family would blast George Strait in the suburban we had and yell the lyrics to “Ocean Front Property”. Those were the great memories, that was what sticks with me to this day. I hear George Strait and I am taken back to our rides to my grandparents lake house in the summer. I remember playing golf up there and just having a blast. That is what sticks with you. Do you really remember what you got for Christmas 20+ years ago? Probably not. I do bet that you remember some of those vacations you took, or little fun things your family did when you were young.

Yeah, we own too much and think we deserve more. We are spoiled. Yes, SPOILED! Everyone expects to own a car, like it is a right. Your license is not a right, it can be taken away from you and you cannot do anything about it. We expect to be able to own a huge home. The problem with that is we often live beyond our means. Back in the 1950’s, did you ever see the mansions that you see today? The only thing those hotels have over a standard house is square footage. Does that make it better? Does that single NFL player really go into every room every day? Heck, I live in a 4 bedroom house, and I do not even go into every room every day. I doubt the NFL player with 20 rooms would even come close to doing it. How wasteful.

Yes, less is more. There is an inherent freedom associated with being frugal. Some would think you are uptight, but honestly, does it matter how much you own? I grew up with one TV, one TV and it was in the living room. I now have what, 4 TV’s in the house? One in the guest room, one in the game room, one in the living room and one in the bedroom. REALLY? Do we really need that much? We rely on others to be creative, not taking the time to be creative ourselves. I even thought about putting one in the cleaned out office, but I quickly tossed that idea aside. Less is truly more.

Gaining more items and tossing more stuff into a home is a headache. You start to think, where am I going to put this? Then you FINALLY find a place to put it, only to move it every time you dust. What a headache! All this stuff you gain just means more junk. More junk is more stress! My office is simple. It has a desk, a drafting (art) table, and a filing cabinet. That is it. I am thinking about a bookcase to put my books, but before I do that, I really need to evaluate what I am going to keep and get rid of. If I have not read a book in years, I am not going to keep it. I am not a book collector, I am recreational reader. The Nook I have is my new library. Conveniently enough, my library is stored electronically, which means less clutter. My DVD collection of over 600 movies will slowly move its way to being all electronic. As I burn my movies to spare hard drives, I will get rid of the disc itself, thus freeing myself from that clutter. I almost went out of my way to start construction on a built-in to store these movies. No thanks. Why spend money to have more storage? Why not just take care of the problem itself? That is what I am doing. My CD collection of over 1,000 CD’s will follow the same fate. Only the truly great music that I absolutely love will stay with me. All others will get burned to the computer, then sold or given away. There is no point holding on to them all.

I must say, there is a freeing feeling associated with removing clutter. Just like there is a great feeling associated with having an organized space. I never really appreciated how organized my mom is until recently. She knows where everything is. Heck, I know where my tools are at, but they are in no way organized. She knows where everything is at and related items are often kept in the same place, in a neat and orderly fashion. Yeah, I am finally coming around mom!

So this is the point of my post. Do not give in to society. When you take a step back and really look at what you need and what you want, the differences are amazing. Do we really need 30 T-shirts? We each have our favorites that we wear constantly. Why not get rid of 1/3 of them? I have a couple of old baseball jerseys of my home team. I am not getting rid of those because I wear them to the ballgames when I go. However, those old Tae-Kwon-Do uniforms that I do not wear anymore? Gone. We went through our office supplies recently and found a stash of pens that would make waiters and waitresses drool. Do we really need over 100 pens laying around? I have only used maybe 3 in the past 6-months. No, those are going to be donated to a local eatery for the waitstaff to use. Just like the books I will not read. A local coffee shop has a free bookshelf where people can donate or take books and bring them back at their leisure. Well some of those books will make their way over there to be recycled for someone else to enjoy.

Even something as simple as old user manuals, why do we hold on to these things? Do I really still need the manual for an old CRT display TV that I have not owned in the past 6 years? Get rid of it! Not having to climb through stuff to get to what you are looking for is a great feeling. I am going to head out later today and get a few stacking storage trays at the office supply store. These trays will hold maybe 20 pens, a coupe of sticky notes, spare staples, and some markers. That container will hold only those items. We will not stash items anywhere else around the house. Clean, simple, easy. A place for everything, not just thrown in a “junk” drawer. Junk drawers are a headache in themselves and often hold literal junk. Hmmm, do I really need to put a penny or an old key ring in there for later use? I have a small tin mug that I keep my change in. If I need extra space, I get a few coin rolls, load them up with change, and make a deposit at the bank (or convert to dollars).

So yes, we do not need what we think we need. Needing something is not what we often think it is. In other words, we “need” air. We “need” water. We do not need a super expensive luxury or sports car. We do not need that $100+ blouse or dress shirt. We do not need $200+ dollar shoes. You think you need it, but that is nothing more than an excuse to buy something you WANT. You want it, you do not need it to survive. Does your body really know the difference between that expensive shirt or a clearance rack special? Can your body tell the difference between the new seasonal wardrobe purchases and last years? No, it does not.

Retraining your brain is hard, and because it is, people do not want to do it. It takes too much effort in a world that wants everything right here, right now. People want the miracle pill to lose weight, to lose a headache, etc. Often your headache is caused by nothing more than dehydration. Next time save some cash and make a trip to the water fountain, it works more often than not. If you are overweight, stop trying to find that pill that promises to make you lose weight. There is a simple solution, portion control, counting calories, stop eating fast food and become active. Just remember the word “spoiled”. It is not just Americans, people who live rather successful lives are spoiled. If you make $30,000 a year, you yourself are spoiled. Think of the other countries, that is poverty, that is a group of people who are not spoiled. If you own a car, have a house, have a job and have food on your table and clothes to wear, you have it made. When was the last time you had to sew patches on your clothes because you could not afford a new pair? Heck, if you are reading my post, you are spoiled. You have a computer and most likely could not imagine living without one. I am spoiled, I know this, and I thank God every day that I can live like this when others cannot.

Regardless, I am moving towards a more simplistic life. Items are a headache and I still have boxes in my garage that are driving me nuts. I just need to plow through them with the trash can by my side and an empty box for donation. As I go though them, find out what I need, what I do not, what I want and tackle it. We could all live a more simplistic life, and we all could easily get by with less. Not only can we get by with less, but we can have less stress in our lives because of it! Imagine that!

So next time you look at a house, realize size is not everything. Small is in fact better, not only for you or the environment, but for your pocket book as well. I think the fad for large houses is slowly fading. With the housing market upset we have had lately, smaller is where we are heading back to. That is good, because we really do not need large houses. Those roofs love absorbing heat, thus making neighborhoods feeling warmer. See a pattern here? Stuff is not a good thing. Yes, we have things we want. I want my art table and my laptop, but I do not need them. A part of me would like to have a small plot of land in the country, with a tiny 300 square foot house that has no internet or TV. Just a little getaway. That would be nice. Of course, that is another headache in itself…another property to maintain. Maybe I can start living my life better in this current house, maybe I can have a little of that peace here in the suburbs.

Okay, I have things to do, so I must be going. Sorry for the length, I just feel like I had to get that off my chest.

Oh and mom, I am grateful for all you did for us. I was a brat growing up who did not appreciate all you did. You worked hard and gave us a great childhood. I just want to say thanks. You really did a great job with us and we owe all of our success to you. I love you mom.

About TrekRiderMark

I like to ride bicycles and stay fit. I am also a professional photographer and artist. I dabble a bit in web design and as a graphic artist.
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2 Responses to A shift in thought

  1. The mama says:

    Great post, Mark. Do you know about Transition Houston? There are a lot of people there who have come to the same conclusions you have. Within TH is a group that focuses on transportation issues, like making it easier for more people to cycle, walk, & use transit.

  2. You can be very deep and eloquent. I truly enjoyed reading this. I don’t celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Yule. Small differences aside, your thoughts and mine are similar. And by the way, cats do, indeed, ROCK!

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