Stuff. It surrounds us.

If you live in North America, (or another developed nation), you are familiar with the idea of owning stuff. Look around at your stuff. There’s a lot of it.

You aren’t immune if you are reading this at work, either. Odds are, there’s a bunch there, too. And I’m not talking about the stuff the company owns. Nor the stuff that the company owns, but you figure is yours, (“if I ever leave this company, I’m taking that red stapler with me, dammit!”), but your own stuff. There’s at least a coffee mug and a picture of your kids from 5 years ago, right? Don’t worry, it’s all normal.

We own things. Not all humans have this luxury, and I don’t mean to disparage those who don’t, but in our existence in a prosperous, democratic nation driven by marketing and consumerism, ‘things’ is what we ‘do’. And more often than not, our collection of stuff builds because the rate at which we gather items is often higher than the rate at which we dispose of them. Now my intention here is not to get you feeling all first-world guilty. Sure there’s enough guilt to go around, and please, if you think you can make a difference in this world, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to go ahead, be that thing. But for now, let’s just contemplate on all that stuff. Comedian George Carlin once said that if you flew in a plane and looked down, all the houses were just collections of people’s stuff with covers on it. The man knew how to put together an idea for comic effect, but also to hit us where we needed it.

vancouver false creekA recent article that was brought to my attention discussed the topic of Vancouverism. Apparently, the goings on in my city are being watched and envied by other cities around the world. The goal being increased population density. The noble pursuit of having people live, work, shop and play all within a small radius of their dwelling. In Vancouver, there is no highway through the city. Parking lots are being demolished to build more vertical living space. And roads (actual car-carrying roads, busy ones!) are being usurped for big, wide (don’t forget controversial)bicycle lanes.

Here’s where I get to the point, if there is indeed one to be had. Within the last few years, I have moved twice. First, from the ‘burbs into the city proper. In the suburbs, we owned land. There was a house of 1500 square feet, a detached garage, a swing-set, playhouse, and basketball court in the backyard. (No, I’m not talking about a plastic hoop tacked onto the front of the garage, but an actual, paved, half-court with an aluminum post and a ten foot regulation hoop. Awesome.) From there, a move to a 3500 square foot mansion (plus detached garage) in one of the most expensive postal codes in Canada. (Yes, it really did qualify as a mansion, and no, it wasn’t mine. Teacher’s salary, remember?). The second move was a purchase of a condo that is 753 square feet. I never round this number, as I am determined that last three square feet is that big a deal.

Repeated for effect: 1500 Square feet – 3500 square feet – 753 square feet.

All moves leading to this last one brought an increase in space, and each move entailed the moving of more ‘stuff’. So you can probably guess what happened when we made the decision to move into a small two-bedroom-plus-den right in the city. A prime example was that we owned three couches. In a mansion, three couches still leaves the room feeling a little, shall we say, ‘empty’. There was a lot to get rid of. We actually measured out the floor space of the apartment in masking tape on the floor of the living room, and whatever didn’t fit into the taped off area couldn’t come with us. I am dead serious. The entire condo fit into the living room and entryway of our old house.

Before I end up getting TL;DNR here, I’ll save the explanation of ‘how’ we downsized for a different post. The point is, it is possible. It was a lot of work, but a family can live comfortably in a small space in the city. Vancouverization is achievable and appealing. There is a produce stand, coffee shop, deli, dry cleaners, dollar store, sushi, pizza and shawarma place all within a stone’s throw of the front door. My commute to work isn’t stressful: I can drive a car, ride my bike, or take the bus. And most of all, not only do I not miss all the ‘stuff’, but it’s freeing to finally be rid of it all. And when I buy something now, it comes with a new question I’ve never had to ask myself before:

“Is there somewhere to put it, and what am I going to get rid of to make space for it?”

Doug Saunders: The world wants Vancouverism. Shouldn’t Canada? – The Globe and Mail –

George Carlin Talks About “Stuff” – YouTube –