The Sweet Spot

Simple and comfortable.

When we moved to Hawai’i in 2014, we shipped 4500 pounds of household goods over with us, 8,000 pounds less than what we moved from Japan when Brett retired in 1992. We were ready for a simpler life in Hawaii, and during the first four years we lived on Kaua’i we added just five small pieces of furniture and a washer/dryer combo to what we brought. We put 1500 pounds into storage and sold everything else in 2018, but when we left Kaua’i again earlier this year the only items we kept fit into 32 boxes that were mailed to the mainland. The contents of those boxes weighed less than 300 pounds. Five of those items were broken during shipment, so we ended with even less.

Brett and I used to frequently ask each other during our first four years in Hawaii if we could do with less, and that made selling our things before we set out to travel not to be as difficult as we thought it might be. We still had many possessions we were not ready to part with though and we paid dearly to have them packed and shipped to the mainland for storage. We lived minimally during our travels and discovered we enjoyed being responsible for so little. Although we ultimately ended up owning less than we had before when we returned to Kaua’i in 2020, we continued asking ourselves the same question – do we really need or want all this stuff?

We’re discovering this go-round the answer is still no. Our current home, an apartment smaller than our one on Kauai, has limited storage and space. There’s little room to accumulate . . . anything. Furniture purchases were minimal out of necessity.

We initially worried when we arrived that we might have given away or sold too much of our stuff, especially the antiques from Japan. We know now it was the right amount. I told Brett the other day that it had apparently been time to let those things go because I don’t miss any of the things we sold and had hauled around with us for years and thought we couldn’t live without. There is no room for them here anyway. The few items from our time in Japan that we have kept are the most meaningful to us, and we take joy in seeing and using them daily.

I also didn’t think a kitchen could be smaller than the one in our Kaua’i apartment, but our current kitchen, although fully outfitted, has a smaller amount of space for dishes, cookware, and pantry items. It’s taken a little over a month to figure out how and where to fit everything in, and get ourselves adjusted to less counter space and such, but it’s working for us now. We’ve been able to cut our food expenses not just because prices are lower here but because we only buy what can fit in the limited storage we have, which thankfully has meant no more bulk buying at Costco.

We have long dreamed of living in a location where a car wasn’t required, but this is not that place, and truth be told, we are enjoying our car. But, gas is affordable here, we only drive when we have to, and we combine errands whenever possible. One car is enough for the two of us and we still strive to have at least one day a week where it isn’t driven.

I never thought I would say this about Tennessee after coming from Hawaii, but we are happy here and so glad we said yes to our son’s request. We are getting to live the minimalist life we have dreamed of. Having family nearby is the icing on the cake. We love how free and satisfying it feels living with the least amount of stuff we’ve had since we were first married. There is no clutter (other than dog toys all over the floor) or even a way to create clutter here. Our few pieces of furniture fit all our needs. We have a smaller amount of kitchen gear than we did in Hawaii but enough that we can usually get away with running the dishwasher every other day. We produce less trash. Any purchase, clothing included, is made with purpose and only after thought and discussion.

Other than caring for our granddaughter after school, or when our daughter-in-law has to go out of town, we are also not tied down with obligations. Our days and our time are our own to fill, with the freedom to decide what to do each day or even if we want to do anything at all.

Ten years ago, if you’d told me we’d be living like we do now I would have thought you certifiable, but minimalism is about living with enough, and we’ve hit our sweet spot. The changes we’ve experienced over the past eight years have been good for us and will see us well into our later years. The only thing we have left to accomplish will be our last move, but we’ve got another couple of years to prepare for that.


28 Boxes

As each day passes and puts us closer to our departure, Brett and I find ourselves living more and more minimally. We’re cooking with one saucepan, one large saute pan, and four small sheet pans these days. We watch TV on my laptop. Our remaining furniture is due to leave the apartment next week and after it goes we’ll be sitting on resin Adirondack chairs and sleeping on an inflatable mattress, at least until the chairs (hopefully) sell at our yard sale. After that all we’ll have is the mattress.

You know what? We’re fine, and living with so little has proved to be much less of a challenge than imagined. In fact, it hasn’t really been a challenge at all. It’s instead been liberating and felt like a great weight is being lifted from our shoulders.

Our daughters took many of our things back home with them at the end of last year, but we’ve otherwise had no trouble letting things go and have not regretted nor missed anything we’ve sold, including items that we’ve owned for near 40 years.

We’re sort of surprised by how much we’re enjoying having less especially since we’ve always been people “with stuff.” We know it’s soon going to seem like we’re camping, but these last few weeks with just a minimal amount of furniture, a few dishes, a tiny amount cookware and utensils, and so forth has been eye opening. And, it’s also been enough. It turns out we need very, very little to live a good life, far less than we imagined.

Life in our apartment the past two years has shown us how small a space we need to be comfortable. We’ve also figured out in the past few months how few things we need in a small space as well as what’s important to us and what isn’t. We’ve completely changed our minds about what we’ll need once we finally get ready to settle down again.

When Brett left the navy in 1992, we moved 12,500 pounds of household goods from Japan. Over the years we began to slowly downsize, and when we moved to Hawai’i in 2014 we brought just 4,500 pounds with us, more than enough for our family. When we left to travel full time in 2018, just 1800 pounds of household goods went into storage. And now, after over 44 years together, everything Brett and I want to keep from our life together fits into 28 boxes, and weighs less than 300 pounds. Our plan was to to keep just 60 things but I think we ended up with 65, only because we had extra room in the last box we packed.

Will we acquire more? Of course – when we finally stop moving around we will need to buy and/or replace furniture, major appliances, and other necessary household items. However, we’re never again going to need or want as much as we have in the past. The simple life caught us and we couldn’t be happier or more satisfied.

What We’re Not Getting Rid Of

Last week I went through the house, opened cupboards and drawers, took inventory and made a list of the things we plan to keep and store with one of our daughters when we depart Kaua’i. Compared to our last departure, the number of things we keeping is quite small, and everything can and will be sent through the mail.

I’ve collected pottery since before Brett and I got married, and each piece gets used regularly. Some of the pottery items are big (and heavy) and will be mailed in their own boxes, others are smaller and can be grouped and mailed together. The Japanese items, other than the sake jug lamp, are all small items this time around. Most of the art will come out of their frames for shipment and be reframed whenever we settle. None of it is valuable to anyone but us (the valuable art pieces have either already been sold or are going home with the girls in December).

The miscellaneous items are just that: miscellaneous. They’re mostly kitchen items we love and will be happy to see again, and they run the gamut from the stainless cutlery we’ve had for nearly thirty years to an inexpensive melamine coffee tray from IKEA. My 30-year-old, 14-piece All Clad cookware set did not make the cut – too expensive to ship and easy to replace – it will be sold after the first of the year.

The list below is not set in stone . . . yet. Although there is a good possibility of items being deleted in the next few months, it’s very unlikely anything will be added – we’re pretty good at talking ourselves out of making the lists any longer. For the time being we’re feeling committed to the lists as they are now.

All the pottery


  • Vase
  • Gray & blue platter
  • Large green & gray bowl
  • Coffee mug
  • Blue-green bowl
  • Pie dish
  • Three small to medium serving bowls
  • Five rice bowls
  • Three pasta plates/salad bowls
  • Three rectangular plates
  • Cream pitcher & sugar bowl
  • Blue & white tea bowl
  • Haniwa horse
  • Pitcher
Not fine art, but most treasured: silhouette of our son, age five, made by his kindergarten teacher, and B&W photo of the girls done one month after YaYu joined our family.


  • Japanese train & subway map
  • Antique Japanese fabric banner
  • Three antique Japanese book prints
  • Antique 19th century Japanese woodblock print
  • Small watercolor of Hong Kong harbor
  • Gyotaku (fish print) I made
  • Black & white photograph of the girls
  • Silhouette of our son, age five
The sake jug lamp and some of the Japanese things we’re keeping. Other than the lamp, all the other items will fit into one large flat-rate box for shipment.

Japanese things

  • Porcelain sake jug lamp (without the lampshade)
  • Cranes & waves jubako
  • 5 Japanese bells
  • 3 hashioki
  • Japan provinces tea cup/Brett’s O-tou san (“dad”) cup
  • Blue & white small plates
  • Blue & white soba choko cups
  • Blue & white “Arabesque” rectangular plates
  • Stoneware tea cups
  • Four wood trivets
The IKEA coffee tray & trivia, and the blue ceramic coffee canister, bought in 1981 at Motomachi in Yokohama. The electric tea kettle, coffee grinder, and our Chemex coffee pot that also sit on the tray will be sold before we go.

Miscellaneous items

  • 6 Christmas ornaments & 6 wooden Santas
  • Two throw pillow covers
  • Inflatable queen mattress
  • Assorted cooking utensils
  • Stainless cutlery set
  • Shun Ken chef’s knife
  • Henkel’s bread knife
  • Henkel’s serrated utility knife
  • Blue ceramic-handled pie & cake servers
  • IKEA melamine coffee tray & silicone trivet
  • Blue porcelain coffee cannister
  • Pittock Mansion coffee mugs
  • Dash mini waffle maker

Our total estimate when we started was no more than 60 items, and the total number of items listed above is right there (with some sets counting as one item). Looking it over I think we can get it all into around 10 – 12 boxes, which will be sent back to Massachusetts for storage. Many items will be packed together and sent in flat rate boxes, but others will have to be packaged and sent individually. Outside of the sake jug lamp, the pottery will be the heaviest and most expensive to mail. Most of the art will be removed from frames and placed in padded envelopes between foam board (to prevent bending) for shipment. We think that by starting in January and sending at least one box per week everything should be on its way before we depart Kaua’i.

Every item we are keeping carries a piece of our story. It’s definitely not the whole story, but enough memories and utility for us these days. When I look at the lists above they still seems like an awful lot of stuff, and I ask myself if maybe we could trim it down some more, but for now everything has been thought about carefully and are things want to see and use again in the future. We don’t want to start our story completely from scratch whenever we settle down, and we also know having some of these things will also save us a bundle. Everything will help make wherever we live feel like “home” once again.

Minimalism Suits Us

Our home in 1992 following Brett’s retirement and the delivery of our household goods from Japan. We had So. Much. Stuff.

Brett and I were talking this past week about when he retired from the navy in 1992, and how much stuff we had back then. Up until his final tour in Japan we had always lived fairly simply and had never acquired or accumulated much because we only had a very small weight allowance for moving our household goods. During the second year of our last tour, when we were in Japan, Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise also we received a huge increase in our household goods weight allowance. My reaction to that was to shop incessantly.

Shopping was my primary form of recreation while we were living in Japan. Beyond Brett’s income, I made good money teaching English conversation, and I did nothing with my earnings but buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. I attended every monthly bazaar, hit all the local shops and stores, took shopping tours, and visited monthly antique sales held at Japanese shrines. We came home with an assortment of 15 antique tansu (Japanese chests), loads of antique porcelain, antique kimonos, and tons other things that I had convinced myself we couldn’t leave Japan without owning. Looking back, there probably wasn’t a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. I didn’t know what I really wanted so I bought everything.

I believe our first wakeup call to minimalism came when our household goods shipment from Japan failed to arrive back in the U.S. on time, and we were told it could no be located anywhere in the system, that it was lost. Deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever was our first emotion.

But something changed in both of us as we waited for news about our shipment. We also began to admit to feeling somewhat liberated by the thought of not owning all those things. I began to question why I had ever wanted to buy and own so much stuff, and realized the thrill had been in the hunt, not the owning. I felt deep, searing pain whenever I thought about losing photo albums and other personal and truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever. For everything else however, I discovered I felt no real attachment whatsoever. What I wanted was our simple, uncluttered life back again.

We have spent the last 30 years divesting ourselves of all those Japan things. We have enjoyed them while they were with us, but the sale of the items has financed countless adventures, vacations, and other undertakings. Selling some of the items helped get us through some difficult financial times and helped fund the girls’ adoptions, payed off debt, got us to Hawaii, and launched our last Big Adventure. Selling the remaining items now is helping us save for our next adventure.

Brett and discovered during our travels that we were very satisfied living with only what we could fit in our suitcases. What we carried with us in those suitcases was enough, and it was the experiences we shared that made us happy and filled us up, not the things we owned.

Minimalism fits the nomadic life we crave now as we work toward an even more minimal lifestyle. Nothing we have sold over the years has been missed, and the same is true now. We are eager to divest ourselves of more, and the fewer things we have in our apartment these days, the happier we seem to become. Our daughters will go through their and our things this Christmas, and take back with them the items they want to keep. Almost everything else we own will eventually go, and in the end we will keep only what can be packed into a suitcase and taken to our daughter’s home for storage. We don’t need anything else.

Maybe this final turn toward minimalism is a function of aging, maybe it’s heredity, at least for me. Who knows? When I was young my grandmother always let me go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things any more, even though she already lived simply. My mother also got rid of most of her possessions and downsized when she got older. She would rather have traveled than maintained or worried about a lot of stuff, which is where we’re at now as well. I used to call Brett the “king of the packrats” as he used to hold onto everything, but he has also fully embraced minimalism these days and has a small footprint.

Whatever the reason, as the time passes the less both of us want to own and maintain. It’s an adventure for both of us as we learn what we no longer need or want, and what it’s time to give up. We remain a bit surprised by how well we like living with less, how easily we adapt, and we are looking forward to future of living out of a suitcase once again, this time with nothing left behind to tie us down.

Adventures in Downsizing

How soon is too soon to start when you want to get rid of everything? That’s the question we’re struggling with these days. Is it too early now to start letting things go, or should we wait until next year or even right before we plan to go? Are there things we can live without now versus waiting until next year or right before we leave? Are we ready to embrace real minimalism?

We’ve sold a few things already that have been sitting around unused and taking up space, and that the girls have said they don’t want. A small TV, a lightbox, a lampshade, a Le Creuset baking pan, and my stand mixer have all found new owners. I put our three Japanese hibachis up for sale a couple of weeks ago, more to see if there was any interest, but while I got a lot of views there have were no takers, even after I lowered the price. So, they’re going to be listed at my Etsy shop instead and we’ll see how they do there.

It isn’t easy to figure out what to do with other items we’d like to sell. Would they sell better as an individual item through Buy & Sell, or on Etsy, or at a garage sale? Is the item something I’m willing to ship or would the cost of that outweigh what we can get for the item?

Pricing will the biggest issue we face, especially living in Hawaii. Postage back to the mainland is quite expensive, and could push the price of several items up too high. We have to accept for some items that we will never receive their true value, and will can only hope to get what we paid for them. For example, our beautiful big hibachi table will have to go for thousands less than it’s worth – we’ve seen similar sized hibachis selling online for over $4000, but I know we’ll be very fortunate to get $600 for it here, as well as the custom stand, glass top, and antique plate inside. That’s still more than we paid for everything, but we can’t take it with us and shipping it would be more expensive and more of a pain than would be worthwhile. I will be happy though if someone else is happy about getting it. I can always tell when someone is thrilled to have gotten an item and that makes it easier to let go of.

I’m grateful for the time we have to figure this out. Selling everything is going to be a bigger task than I initially imagined, but if we’re smart, time will be our friend. We were shocked by how much stuff our neighbors still had right before they moved, where they ended up having to hire a truck to haul away what didn’t sell. Our goal is to end up with no more items than will fit into the trunk of our car to go to the resale store when it’s time to go.

Let the Downsizing Begin!

Brett and I made a command decision a couple of weeks ago that we will not be putting anything into storage again when we set off on Big Adventure II. Just about everything will be sold, including most of our Japanese antiques. Anything we keep will need to be small enough to be packed in a box and affordably mailed to one of our daughters on the mainland, including art work.

The decision was made after lots of discussion about what we should keep along with the cost of shipping those items back to mainland once again. Besides the expense of shipping our goods back to the mainland, the movers losing a large box of our stuff and our shipment not being packed very well when we left Kaua’i last time played a major part in our decision. The main thing though is that we want less to own and be responsible for while we travel.

We’ve been storing several things for the girls but have let them know they will need to go through their things while they’re here in December and decide what they want to keep and what they can let go of. For example, we’ve been storing WenYu’s first guitar, a Fender Mini-Strat and its amplifier, and she’s already let us know she intends to take that back with her when she visits this December. But the cute “hat lamp” she’s had since she was a baby and was so insistent on keeping before she now no longer wants. It will most likely be the same with many other items they couldn’t bear to part with before.

Because the girls are adults, we will also be giving them all their official paperwork (birth certificates, adoption paperwork, diplomas, etc.). They will also get the packet of clothing they were wearing when we received them in China and that we’ve kept for them all these years. They will each be carrying back a piece of art work (or two) of their choosing when they depart as well – they’ve already agreed to that. We will be taking some things to Japan next year when we visit, things that our son should have to either keep or dispose of.

We’ve already started selling a few things as we’d rather have the money in our bank account now than those things sitting around unused, or in a closet collecting dust. Our goal is to sell at least two things each month. At the end of last month we sold my apple green KitchenAid stand mixer because I had not used even once in the last year; my hand mixer is more convenient these days and gets the job done. I listed the KA on our local Buy & Sell group and it sold in less than half an hour for the full asking price. The next day we sold a Noguchi pendant lamp that we can’t use. Last week we listed an ultra-thin light box that WenYu no longer needs and a small TV that YaYu didn’t want to keep. Those sold in a couple of days so we’ll probably list something else this month to keep the ball rolling. After the girls are here for Christmas we’ll reassess what else we can let go, and we’ll have a garage sale right before we depart in 2023 with anything that’s remaining.

We’ve learned during the last few years that downsizing and getting rid of stuff isn’t the worse thing in the world, and there’s nothing we’ve previously sold or given away that we miss. Our kids don’t want our stuff, and we’d plan to live very minimally when we eventually settle, so this is the right thing for us to do, and there’s no reason like the present to get started.

The Kids Don’t Want Our Stuff

Many of our treasures came from Japanese flea markets. Our kids could care less. (photo credit: Astrit Malsija/Unsplash)

When we’ve talked with our daughters the past few weeks we’ve mentioned that we’d like them to think about what things of ours they might want, including artwork, antiques, and so forth.

The silence has been deafening.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Meiling mentioned that while she likes our things and knows some of them are valuable, they just aren’t her style, and she thought her sisters pretty much felt the same. She said we should sell what we don’t want before we go and put the money toward our travels.

I was honestly a bit surprised by her thoughts at first. We think our stuff is unique, beautiful, high quality, and valuable, and we’ve worked hard to curate it over the years. But after some thought I realized I never wanted any of my parent’s stuff either, nice as some of those things were. I wanted to collect to my own taste and decorate my own way as well.

Walking through an estate sale is up near the top of my list of depressing experiences. After doing a couple of those I decided I would do anything in my power not to have my children ever have to go through that. Going through a house filled with old books, linens, dishes, bric-a-brac, clothing, furniture, out-of-date technology, dirty tools, etc. that no one in the family wanted was very sad for me. According to Forbes magazine, most children don’t want their parent’s treasured possessions these days. And, as we have found out, a parent’s interest in collections does not automatically pass on to their children.

We now intend to sell and donate the things we won’t want, need or plan to use in the future. We’re not going to get rid of everything, but will downsize once again from what we currently own. We’ll hold a yard sale before we leave Hawaii, and put other items on our local Facebook Marketplace to reduce the cost of shipping what we do keep back to the mainland once again.

When we downsized for our move to Kaua’i in 2014, Brett and I came to enjoy the process as we went along, and found that going through our things before we let them go could be fun at times. We read and reminisced about all the letters that Brett and I had sent to each other during his time in the navy and then shredded them (because we would have been mortified if our children had seen many of them). We talked about books we had read and enjoyed before we sold or donated them. We sold or passed on things to people who wanted them. Done in a period of over a year, downsizing was a very positive experience for us. We have missed nothing we got rid of then.

The kids don’t want our stuff, but we hope to make further downsizing a positive experience once again. Because we have so many fewer things now than in the past, letting things go will require a bit more thought than it did before, but I’m pretty sure we will once again end up keeping just the right amount, and we’ll be happy and satisfied with the result.

Simple Living or Frugal Living?

(photo credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

A couple of days ago I was remembering an old friend in Portland, someone I considered to be quite frugal. One of her many skills was finding and buying bulk food deals for her family (four children) and I recalled her telling someone that she kept three freezers full of all her frugal finds.

Three freezers? I remember thinking at the time that there was no way I would want to manage or keep track of three freezers full of food, which was w-a-y more complication than I needed or wanted to take on in our similarly-sized family’s quest to live more frugally.

That got me thinking again about frugal living versus simple living. What am I trying to accomplish now? Which is more important to me these days?

Although frugality and simplicity make a good match, living frugally does not always equal living simply. For example, even if I only shopped at Goodwill, other thrift stores, or yard sales, if I bought a lot of stuff and brought it home, that wouldn’t be living simply although it saved me some money over buying new. I’d still end up with more stuff that I have to track and maintain. If I drove all over town to get the best deal with coupons, that would use both time and gasoline in the pursuit of saving a few dollars. In my life, maintaining a closet full of clothes, keeping track of a lot of food, or taking the time to drive all over town are complicated undertakings, and there are plenty of other things I’d rather be doing.

My definition of simple living is doing more with less. This does not mean not looking for the best prices, having reserves or buying extra when something is on sale, or enjoying the hunt at a thrift store or yard sale. It means setting limits that work for us. Being frugal for frugality’s sake isn’t an end in itself. Frugality means that Brett and I continue to learn how to do things better with less.

We remain a work in progress. One freezer full of food along with a well-stocked pantry would be more than enough for us, too much actually, these days. I like knowing what we have without having to resort to spreadsheets or calendars in order to use what’s on hand in a timely manner. We have enough clothes. We have much less furniture than we did three years ago, and it’s more than plenty for the two of us. Less means it’s simpler these day to keep our house clean, open, and light.

More than anything else we’ve done, being able to cut back on not just possessions but on the time we spend acquiring possessions (including food) has allowed us to focus more on saving and as well as doing a better job of saving. It’s frankly been liberating, and helped both Brett and I get to the core of what we need to feel secure, content and even happy.

Just becoming more frugal wasn’t the answer for us because frugal living didn’t necessarily equal simple living, and that has turned out to be our ultimate goal: A simple life.

What simple living means to me or our family might either be too complicated or too bare-bones for someone else. Everyone has their own “sweet spot.” For my friend, that meant having three freezers full of food. For me, it has meant not only spending within our means, but having more time to do the things we enjoy, and not feel burdened by the need to always be in search of the best deal or “have it all.”

The Neighborhood Next to Ours

The neighborhood next to ours in Portland

Back when we lived in Portland, the neighborhood next to ours was filled with street after street of large, beautiful homes, with big, green, well-manicured lawns and exquisite landscaping. The homes run the gamut of styles, from English Tudor to French Provincial, 50s Post Modern to Old Portland Foursquare, Mediterranean to Dutch Colonial. Volvos, BMWs, Mercedes and other high-end or new cars often sat in the driveways, and several of the homes had swimming pools. It seemed at least two, if not more, homes on each block had signs in the yards proclaiming that renovations, remodeling, or landscaping work was currently taking place there. The streets were lined with huge, leafy elms which kept the streets cool and inviting even on the hottest days, which was why I enjoyed walking there in the evenings during the summer.

It used to be my dream to live in this neighborhood. I wanted a beautiful lawn and landscaping, a bigger house for our family, a big elm tree in front. And for a while, Brett and I probably could have bought one of these homes. We instead bought a cheap house with a tiny yard up the hill from this neighborhood, with no trees at all in front. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made considering what happened to Brett’s income a few years later. Because we bought the cheap house we were able to weather his loss of income and then climb out of the debt that we accrued. We’d have gone bankrupt if we’d bought the bigger house, but instead made a profit when we sold our house before moving to Hawaii.

The cheap house turned out to be a great house, perfect for our family in a perfect location.

These days I shudder when I think about the prices of homes for sale here on Kaua’i, or in other places we considered moving, and the annual taxes on those homes. I can only imagine how much the upkeep would be, as well as things like heating them in the winter or cooling in the summer. We had a small patio installed at our cheap house, a real wake-up call to what extensive landscaping and maintenance would cost (a LOT). I don’t even want to think of how much we would have paid to furnish a larger home, even with vintage or used furniture. Actually, a bigger home would probably have ended up mostly unfurnished, but I’m sure we would still have been craving stuff to fill it rather than feel satisfied with what we had. We would have been living in neighborhood full of Joneses, trying to keep up with and most likely failing and feeling miserable about it.

This is our dream apartment for the future. Brett and I can happily imagine living a space this size these days (photo credit: Beazy/Unsplash)

I never saw it coming back then, how minimalism has become more and more attractive to us as we grow older. We don’t want or desire so much space now, so much room to fill and maintain. We’ve learned how to live in small spaces, including how to carve out individual space so we don’t feel crowded, even in a one-room studio. The older we get, the fewer things we want to own. It’s been a surprising journey finding how little we need or want, and what we can easily let go of.

I can no longer imagine myself in one of those big houses back in Portland. These days I admire houses around the island but don’t covet them any more. I’m no longer looking at real estate websites and dreaming about the houses that might work for us somewhere. Our dreams these days are of living in other places around the world, borrowing someone else’s house for a month or so, for as long as we are able, and then finally ending up in a small apartment, with just the right amount of stuff.

Imagining the Next Downsize

Only some of these things will be kept the next time around.

The other day I took two houseplants that weren’t doing so well and set them out on our front porch (where they almost instantly revived). With the plants gone, I was able to move a few things around in our living room which somehow managed to give it a fresher, more uncluttered and open look. I was surprised that the removal of only two items and a few other small changes facilitated such a big change in how the otherwise small room feels. Less had created more.

Brett and I are already starting to think about what we’ll ship back to the U.S. when we leave Kaua’i in a couple of years, and what we can let go of this time. Last time we sent back around 1,500 pounds for storage; we hoping for around 500 pounds this time. We already know we’ll be able to let go of more now, a reminder that downsizing and decluttering remain a process, not a one-time-and-you’re-done task. We know that was unbearable to let go of before can become bearable over time, and maybe even desired, and that we have a very different sense these days of what we want to live with than we did when we set off back in 2018.

While I think I already do a good job of not accumulating things, I came across an article the other day for decluttering or downsizing a room that I wish I had thought of or known about earlier, an idea which I plan to use mentally over the next couple of years as the actual process would be impossible given our current space. The exercise requires removing absolutely everything out of a room you want to declutter, from furniture to pictures to tchotchkes. Everything. When the room is completely cleared out, it’s deep cleaned it from top to bottom (and repainted if needed or desired).

The room should then sit empty for at least three days, but longer if possible while careful thought is given to the desired result for the room. After that, items should be slowly brought back into the room, maybe over a period of days, until the imagined result is reached. After that, everything else can go. The happy result should be a decluttered room with less needed than one initially imagined.

While we’re unable to do the empty room thing now, Brett and I will instead imagine a future empty space, and think carefully about how we’d like our room(s) to look. Our days on the road taught us that we prefer small, uncluttered spaces with a few thoughtful touches. What we’ll be asking ourselves going forward what pieces that we have now will be useful? What pieces will bring us joy?

We know that some things aren’t going to make the cut this next time, but it’s going to take time for us to figure it all out. For now we’ll appreciate, enjoy, and use what we have, but always with that empty room in the back of our minds.