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A small life is good, but slow down to enjoy it!

Small House on lake in Arnissa-Greece

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog that became wonderfully popular. A pretty little blog about a pretty little camper being pulled by a pretty little car. Ok so it was a mint-condition Morris Traveler and quite stunning really, but you get the picture I’m going for here, right? So there was this little blog together with my recent personal experience of contrasting my life in a big house, with an even bigger property here in the US and a small house in England with a garden that does come close to a postage stamp, both, in size and shape – and voilà another Twitter based blog-off topic was born, between some incredibly talented wordsmiths, Dogwalkblog, Paul Anater, Concretedetail and my humble self.

The idea of living a small life and the romance often associated with it are not new and certainly more of a consideration now than during an economic upswing. What concerns me is that we tend not to learn and while quite of a few of us are preaching the smaller living gospel a big majority of us would also jump back onto the big car, big house, big everything bandwagon if things loosened up some. Why not embrace a smaller life altogether, no matter what Wall Street thinks of it – and something tells me they wouldn’t like it much. And why, despite being so enamored with that cute-little-house-in-the- country-where-life-would-be-so-easy do we forever refer to little places as “ideal for a weekend getaway” and “great starter house”? People all over the world live in “starter houses” their entire lives, quite happily.

The US has, predictably, the largest square footage in average house size in the world. Over 2300sf which is nearly three times the British average and still twice the French average. Why? Do our huge personalities really require so much extra space? If an average of 4 people live there, does that mean a US resident requires 600sf where a French person requires only 300? I know the French tend to be petite but there has to be more to it. After all we have to pay for this. Mortgages, utility bills, maintenance are only the beginning, making us work harder and longer than ever before only to then come home and have to clean twice as long as our European counter part.

But a small life is not only about ones footprint, is it? It’s about stepping back, living the moment, slowing down, prioritizing things that really matter and finding ways to enjoy small things. There are people we can learn from, here and abroad. In my case, because I love her original photography so much, I’m going back to Denmark and Sweden to pay another visit to Katrine Martensen-Larsen and Stuart McIntyre, the duo that have made images of a simple life into and art form. So take a moment, relax and enjoy these:

Simple room in Greengate

White room

White room in Kolonihaven

Someone, and I’m not sure if he was in fact wise or not, once said that most good things in life are free. I’m not sure about that really. But I am pretty certain that what we make of things, enjoying the good things that surround us and noticing them for a moment before we rush off in pursuit of the next great opportunity, that moment doesn’t have a price tag yet. And maybe that has to be part of living a small life.

Tent and fire

Enjoy your day!

  • http://www.tamaradalton.net Tammy Dalton

    Beautiful photos! It’s true, it seems to be engrained in the American psyche that bigger is better, and old habits are hard to break. I agree with you, that savoring the small moments in life and in time really does make life worth living, and it’s possible for the driving desire for always more more more to subside.

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  • http://designing4life.com Amanda

    Lovely images to inspire a “downsize”. My goal this year is to reduce the amount of “stuff” I have by 25%. What good is it if we have no time to enjoy the things around us? Every time I release something from my life, a huge sigh of relieve comes over me. Someday, I will live in a tiny house like the above pictured!

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  • admin

    Oh I couldn’t agree more. Our house here in the US is so big and when I add actual spaces used I can easily gauge we could do with half the house. It’s hard to sell at the moment so we’re stuck with it for now. Owning things like big houses and big cars to me should never have been (and certainly shouldn’t be now) a basis on which to judge people. If you have it, spend it something else:) People who live smart are so much higher on my list than people who live to impress.

  • http://roamingbydesign.com Saxon Henry

    Great post, Veronika: and the photos are truly stunning. The look of your site is just so refined and wonderful. The images made me want to step through the computer screen (channeling Alice in Wonderland again; it’s a bad habit of mine)!

  • http://urbanverse.posterous.com Cindy Frewen Wuellner

    Veronica, these images are stunning. And your words truly suit them, a powerful combination. Have you heard of slow cities movement? http://bit.ly/bk9yNV. It started in Italy and has spread to other countries. Its in sync with your red car blog. hope that you do that series, I would sure read it. best, Cindy @urbanverse

  • GirlFuturist

    Late in the last century, OK, it was the mid-90s but feels like a lifetime ago, I as in the midst of a successful big-city financial career, crashing in a tiny apt, and dreaming of remodeling my ideal house, complete giant landscape design and pet dog thrown in. Referred to by my (envious) friends as a mid-life crisis and under an illusion of some financial security, I “retired early” and attacked that re-visioning dream project twice (with 1 dog now 12 yrs old). Much to my great surprise, I woke up a couple of years ago, feeling enslaved to my gorgeous 2nd house and jealous mistress of a garden, yearning for that simple apartment where I used to just throw my coat down and plan activities for my free time. Oh, yeah. Free time. I think I remember what that was. My epiphany was badly timed, as the housing market had just entered my very elegant W.C.

    I’m not so much sure “small” is the new imperative we think it is. For me space is a luxury, and modernist me still loves and wants a big mostly empty room. The new small to me is more about time and value. Surely most of us accumulate stuff thinking more will make us happy. And then you gotta have stuff to keep your stuff in, ad infinitum. We all know the 5th present at Christmas just isn’t as much fun as the 1st.

    Over New Year’s I had a talk with myself, and listed my house for a price that I knew it would sell for. To a discerning buyer ☺. And it sold for well over the median price in the neighborhood. Success for my broker, and what was a small financial loss for me meant that I could start the downsizing project, which I’ve mostly accomplished. It’s a process and a constant battle because my esthetic is too highly developed. LOL. That means I love and appreciate beautiful things, alas. But I realized that there were a few things worth accumulating and keeping (books for one) because the value ratio (to me) is high enough. And that’s OK.

    If I later decide to live like a monk, then I will happily divest of my books and the few antiques I still have. If your true love is tending to your huge English garden every second of spare time, then you should do just that. If you need a kitchen the size of my current apartment because your life is cooking, then that is your value ratio. Just make sure you wring out every second of love and appreciation. Less is more, but it is your definition of less that counts.

  • http://www.dogwalkblog.com DogWalkBlog

    @GirlFuturist My ideal space is a very large, empty space with very tall ceilings and a wall of windows looking out onto a city. I would put one very large, overstuffed leather comfy couch in the middle of the room, a large round table to work from and fill the other three walls floor to ceiling with books. And a dog. Gotta have the dog.

    I would need nothing else. For me, it’s not about downsizing and living like a monk, but only filling your life with things that are worth your time to maintain. Books, sleep, dog, writing, sometimes other people. Nothing else.

  • http://www.cupboardsonline.com Nick @ Cupboards

    Great post, Veronika- totally agree with the “romance” of small spaces… Maybe that’s what folks on this side of the pond miss in their homes. Many are unwilling to embrace the comfort of a quaint space.

    AND- I could totally go for that place on the water. That’s my kind of spot!

  • http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com Paul Anater

    @DogWalkBlog — You just described my ideal, hold the tall ceilings though. You’re absolutely right though. For me it’s not about scrimping so much as it’s about bringing into my life only things I want to have there.

  • admin

    If something has come of our blog-off yesterday it’s a consensus that “living small” is not about size after all it’s about excess. Living with things that really matter and getting rid of the rest that only suffocates. That goes for the living space itself, the things we surround us with and even our daily actions or social obligations. We can’t always just do what we want but we can probably make an effort.
    Now about the ideal space for me? I’m not really a modernist but I like open space with only a few comfortable pieces in it. An open loft like space or converted barn, enormous leather sofas, a big round dining table (I actually like working at a dining table and when I don’t it’s nice to feed the handful of people I consider friends), lots of space for books, brick walls for great art, an unfitted kitchen. The place sits on the outskirts of a small, quirky, culturally diverse town that I can walk or bike to and if it has ocean view from a roof terrace then….off to pack a few bags.

  • http://www.concretedetail.com Rich Holschuh

    My ideal space would be a sparsely furnished (hey, even plain old straightback wooden chairs suit me) little cubist structure, probably with a loft and a little mudroom/entry and a few eclectic outbuildings (my own village)…. plenty of windows to gather the life-giving sunlight and the ever-changing outside world – preferably with a water-view of some sort (salt preferred). Well insulated, weathered wood siding, standing seam metal roof cozy, easy to live in. Tiny but very functional kitchen. Big bed right out in the open. Lots of books for me too. Some treasured collectible objects. I can’t stand clutter – my well-being correlates directly to the peace around me. Flexible accomodations for friends to visit, occasionally crash, eat delicious things, dance to music as loud as we want, and somewhere in northern New England probably, where wildness still coexists with a long cultural history of inhabitation, people are accepting and generally respectful and hard-working but with a deep-seated appreciation of the truly valuable things in life.

    I would truly like to live with a small footprint but a large presence. A light-filled shadow cast across a diverse landscape of people, places, passing moments of intensity and serenity.

  • http://roamingbydesign.com Saxon Henry

    Wow, Rich: can I move in with you? It’s totally my vibe, as well. The thing I would add is that I value amazing art and I do love at least one comfortable piece of furniture for “hanging out” with my lapdesk, my journal and my cup of coffee in the morning or with a great book in the early evening. These are the routines I can’t do without. It’s how I clear my head of all the junk in the morning so I can get to the computer and get to the deeper writing I want to do (or the crazy internet stuff like blog-offs!). I have my desk right in my space, too; having a home office makes it challenging in terms of paring down, especially as a design journalist: far too many files. I’ve noticed that with each passing year, peace and serenity mean more to me than ever, and, like Rich, I have to be surrounded by books. It’s my lifeblood to the history of those writers who came before me.

    It’s funny how living in NYC is so important to me and yet I also love the idea of the country: planting herbs, composting, the smells of mosses and the texture of lichen. I guess I have a split personality that feels at home in both settings. Thanks for this encouragement to express what it is that makes me feel good in my environment: great exercise!

  • http://emmahowardstudio3.blogspot.com Emma Howard

    A monk’s wooden bowl, a bag of whole grains and your beautiful images all reflect the restrained simplicity and beauty of casual elegance.

    Aloha from a small art studio,

  • http://www.eco-modernism.com Becky / @ecomod

    Whattya mean an “unfitted” kitchen? It stabs. In the heart. :D

  • http://theslowhome.com Travis

    I think the issues with American homes can be reduced to availability and priority. These supersized homes are made ready to order by companies that are responding directly to our desires. We can criticize the suburbs and their developers as much as we can criticize our priorities. I say ‘our’ because an alternative is not simply a question of ‘what can I do’ but a question of ‘what can we do’ as consumers. This means becoming educated and responsible buyers who choose carefully. I think that slow can be as much an activity as a mindset – call it thoughfulness. Our homes occupy a very special place in our heads and heart, privileged with our loftiest ideals and most serious realities. I think that we should take special care in choosing our home, and not to get sucked into making a fast decision based on a glossy brochure, a promise of a better life, a big list of features, or a large floor area.

    A rather irksome trend I’ve seen through my involvement with a research project, entitled The Slow Home Project at theslowhome.com, is that the inflated footprints of American homes tend toward largely unusable spaces! While we are paying roughly the same as our French and British counterparts we are really only getting a repetition of uses. In Atlanta we have found homes with up to 4 living spaces that all, of course, have different names. A projection how multivalent dynamic we would like our lives to be? Marketing chugs along telling us to get more for our money, so why buy a home with 2 living spaces closer into the core of the city, when you can get 4 living spaces out on the edge?

    That said, your posted photographs stir in me that special feeling that can only be attributed to that indescribable ‘home’. I think that this trend toward romantic, intimate spaces – call it slow – really says a lot about our priorities. On a large scale, if enough of us want to find or make spaces like these, I’m confident that the market will readjust to service these wants and needs. It reminds me of how my mother’s family with 2 parents, 4 kids and a dog managed to grow up rather nicely in their 990 sq ft post-war bungalow. How much of our 2300 + sq ft homes are we really attached to? Wouldn’t we all rather have just one really nicely furnished, lit and oriented living room?

  • http://www.brucebarone.com Bruce Barone

    I with you!

    Great post!!!

    And as Simone Weil said “Absolute attention is prayer.”

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  • Lost Moggie

    I’ve just flown in cattle class on Virgin Atlantic. Lets just say when it comes to by backside and their seats a small life, or for that mater a hard life, is not a happy life!

    And that goes for their drinks as well.


  • http://www.bes.co.uk/ plumbing

    Having a small house is not a problem. If you have a good relationship with your family, have a clean home, have unique designs in your home, your house is fantastic. Whether it is small or big, the important is you are happy with your house.


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