Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Journey

One message that was driven home for me over and over during the course of the Downsizing Challenge was that the journey is just as important as the destination.

This fact hung in my mind today as we launched a brand new school here in Denver. We opened the doors of SOAR Charter School to 240 eager kindergarten, first, and second grade students and their families.

I could go on and on about what makes SOAR different from a traditional public school or why I am so excited to be a part of it, but it is most easily summed up by this:

The journey is just as important as the destination.

In an age of school accountability in which school performance is measured in one way (by a narrow set of standardized test scores), it is an act of subversion to say that HOW we teach matters. To say, "Yes we will teach our children to score well on those tests but we will not sacrifice their dignity, their autonomy, their creativity to do so," is a radical call to action.

Just call us radicals.

At our school, the most important question a parent can ask their child isn't "What did you learn today?" but, rather, "How did you feel about your learning today?"

How the children get to the end of their school careers is just as important as what they know when they get there.

Likewise, a year ago I could have torn through my house, found 365 things I could live without, and lugged them off to the dump. There, a year of downsizing in just one afternoon.

But, of course, such an action would have completely missed the point. Indeed, throughout the year, I met several people who, after hearing about the challenge, said something like, "Oh, I do that, too. Every spring I get rid of a bunch of stuff."

Which is to say that THEY DON'T DO ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY CONNECTED TO THE DOWNSIZING CHALLENGE. To commit to a process, to say I shall make this a part of my daily life and learn and grow and change because of it is completely different than just throwing a big pile of stuff out.

The Downsizing Challenge was a wonderful way for me to get in touch with my life journey over the course of the year. The fact that I rid myself of some PEZ dispensers, firewood, or a record collection really doesn't matter.

What matters is that I've had a heck of a lot of fun along the way.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The bottom line

Six dollars and seventy-three cents per day.

Over the last year, my downsizing gig payed $6.73 a day. Not bad, I don't think.

Sure, if I had to support a family on it, things would be a little tight, but, considering that it was all supplemental income, I think it's commendable.

Since the beginning, I've tracked what my downsizing sales have taken in, but I never kept a running tally. I had a few requests along the way to publish what I had made so far, but never got around to doing the math.

I rarely get around to doing math.

I also spent a fair amount, too, mostly in postage, but I didn't even bother to keep formal records on that.

Note to my cousin Amy, who has embarked on her own Downsizing Challenge: I recommend keeping a running budget along the sidebar of your blog. Folks love to peek into your financials.

Curious, myself, about what my final take was, I've spent the last two evenings meticulously going through the archives to add up all that I made and subtract all that I spent. Here, are the positive and negative sides of the ledger:

  • Craigslist: $1,135
  • eBay: $728 (after subtracting eBay and PayPal fees)
  • Other: $329.05 (mostly two big sales of cloth diapers to friends)
  • Yard Sale: $300
  • Bull Moose Music: $85.62
  • Returns: $30.34
  • TOTAL: $2,608.01
  • Postage: $111.75 (that's a really rough estimate)
  • Chemical recycling: $40
  • TOTAL: $151.75

That leaves me with a net gain of $2,456.26 or, as mentioned above, an average of $6.73 a day.

The number would be far more impressive if I also included the profit from the sale of our house, but that seems to transcend the spirit of these other sales, so I've left it out. Besides, I don't want the IRS to know what we actually made on that deal.

I was rather shocked to see the craigslist total, but it certainly shows how the internet has made marketing and sales accessible to anyone. A market out there exists for just about anything, and services like craigslist can help anyone access it. Most impressive is that every cent of craigslist sales went into my pocket.

eBay, while allowing us to tap into a far larger market, has the downside of a) charging a commission for using the service, and b) necessitating shipping, which eats into profits. Thus, I was a little surprised that I didn't net more than $728. If I could have sold those same items for the same price on craigslist, the total would have been somewhere in the $1,100 range. Oh, what could have been.

What I don't regret is the money I spent on postage ($111.75) as I mailed downsized items to friends and family. By my count, I had at least twenty-eight days on which I mailed off something to someone, usually without even telling them it was coming. Every time I did it, I envisioned the fun they would have opening the surprise package. In this electronic age, I think we all get a special thrill out of physical mail arriving on our doorstep. I would have gladly spent double that in order to spread those emotions.

I certainly didn't enter the downsizing challenge with the intent of profiting from it, but in the end I actually feel like I made out like a bandit. After all, a year ago, if someone had offered me six dollars a day to maintain a blog, I would have jumped at the chance. Have fun and make money? Sign me up!

Plus, once I finally sell the book rights to this experience, I'm really going to be rolling in the Benjamins.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just a little off

When I first started the blog, I envisioned keeping track of the types of downsizes I completed.

I quickly discovered that even the free Blog sites are amazingly versatile. I, naturally, am partial to Blogger, but there are many others -- I encourage you to shop around before you begin your blog tomorrow, Dear Readers.

A little experimentation revealed that I could add links, pictures, opportunities for people to "follow" me, track visitors, and even include a year-long countdown on my front page. What I could not do, at least not without an advanced degree from MIT, was create a simple bar graph that visually represented how I was downsizing. From the first day I included a side bar entitled How am I downsizing? in which I categorized that day's downsize. I always intended to switch that over to a more impressive bar graph, but could never figure out how.

As a side note, I made the choice early on to count all of the downsizes from a given day only once. My rationale was that the challenge was, at it's heart, more about doing something daily than ridding myself of a set number of items. Plus, when I recycled an entire box of old school files on Day 2, I couldn't figure out whether that should count as one or a thousand. Easier to stick with the ol' binary code.

This meant that on days when I downsized in multiple ways -- such as both trashing and recycling items -- I needed to make a call about which category in which to count the event. I generally defaulted to the category that had the larger number of items.

Yesterday, after taking a few days off from blogging -- oh, sweet freedom! -- I tallied up my How am I downsizing? chart to discover, highly unsurprisingly, that the numbers didn't add up to the 365 days of the challenge. My Masters Degree may be in literacy, but I do know that 364 does not equal 365.

This led me to pull out a yellow table and, over an hour, go back through every post to determine the definitive How am I downsizing? totals.

With the blog numbers corrected, I took a few moments to ponder the tally. Here are a few observations:
  • Precisely one-third of my downsizing days (121) involved giving things away. Being a giver feels good.

  • Another eight percent of the downsizes (28) were donations, meaning that over forty percent of my days in the last year have involved giving things to others with the intention of helping or pleasing them. Being a giver feels very good.

  • Fifteen percent (55) of my items were recycled. The issue here is that as important as we all know recycling is, I think we still don't really know what it is. I put things in a magical plastic bin, they go off to some mysterious facility and the world's solid waste and global warming problems are solved? Ah, I don't think so.

Which brings me to...

  • My second most frequently used method of downsizing was tossing stuff into the trash. On nineteen percent of the days (69), I just threw crap out. While I am willing to take full responsibility for this travesty, it speaks loud and clear about how we are still far too entrenched in a consumer-culture built within a disposable world. I clearly need to redouble my efforts to launch a campaign centered around pushing companies to take more responsible for helping us to recycle the products they profit from. Please vote for me.

But, regardless of how I downsized, at least the numbers add up to 365.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The day after

What a wonderful day. While I carry the lessons of Downsizing with me, it was rather pleasant to not have to think, for one moment, about what I would get rid of today. And, in fact, I didn't get rid of a thing.

Rather, I spent a delightlful day with my Beautiful Bride and Brilliant Son. We walked around the farmer's market, splashed about in the swimming pool, and had dinner with friends.

There's still plenty of downsizing in my future -- turns out that once you start looking, there's plenty to get rid of -- but it doesn't have to happen daily, and I don't need to write about it. I do, however, have a number of wrap-up posts that I will be writing. I hope, Dear Readers, that you will stick around for those.

In the meantime, I am absolutely giddy with excitement over this little annoucement. My cousin Amy, one of my most loyal followers and frequent commenters, has launched her own year-long downsizing quest.

That's right, downsizing lives on!

She didn't even miss a day -- her challenge began today. So, Dear Readers, blow this popsicle joint and get over to Amy's blog: Downsizing Too.

I bet it promises to be an even more entertaining year than I gave you.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Three Peas in a Pod

7/31/10 Paper mâché pea pod, trashed

Three hundred sixty-four days ago, I began the Downsizing Challenge by thinking of family. The first item I parted with was a stuffed animal, given to my nephew James, who had the good sense to have a birthday on Day 1 of the Challenge.

That's serendipity. Read on for more.

Today, I wrap the whole experiment up with another family downsize: a paper mâché pea pod crafted by my mother and given to us at our pre-Chase baby shower.

I believe it was my sister Katie who said Joanna and I were "two peas in a pod" and that became one of the themes of the party. Our cake had fondant pea pods on top of it, and every guest got a paperwhite bulb with two glass beads in the flowerpot representing two peas. The centerpiece was this oversized paper mâché pea pod, which has remained front and center in our lives ever since.

Back in the Casco Cabin, we placed it on the windowsill above the sink, the place with the highest sight-count in the entire house.

When we moved into our temporary digs on Sebago Lake, the pea pod came with us, and took up residence there on the kitchen window sill.

For the drive across country, I put it on the dashboard of my car, where it slid off into my father's lap every time I took a left-hand turn. After 300 miles, I finally taped it down, and then it successfully led the way to Denver.

And here, in our apartment, it occupied a position of honor on the kitchen counter, a constant reminder of the love that undergirds my life.

Through eight months of downsizing, knick knacks fell left and right, but the pea pod survived.

I don't part with homemade gifts from my mother lightly. Just ask Joanna about the giant foam core Red Sox cat that mom created for me after the Red Sox won the '04 World Series. That ain't going anywhere.

But, I needed something truly significant for today, the final day of the Challenge.

Chase was born on January 15, and, of course, it changed my life.

Joanna and I will be together for the next sixty-two years (I'm definitely living to 100), but we'll never just be two peas in a pod anymore. With the Cajun/Colorado/Maine Critter around, we're now officially three peas in a pod.

This morning, this little triple team took a drive over to 2089 Uinta Street, the site of our future home. On the final day of downsizing, it made sense to visit the location of the biggest upsize of my life. And guess what? The construction crew broke ground yesterday. As this year-long odyssey comes to a close, the next big chapter of these three peas' lives begins.

That's the serendipity I was talking about. "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

We took the pea pod along to officially bid it goodbye. (Although, rather than trashing it, Chase seemed pretty intent on trying to eat it.)

Of course, ultimately, even the house doesn't matter. Like the pea pod, it's just a thing, and if there's one lesson that the Downsizing Challenge has taught me, it's that things just aren't that important.

I've got Joanna and Chase and, a little farther away, better family and friends than any man deserves.

As long as I have all of those people, I can let anything else go.

It turns out, when you've got enough love, downsizing is really easy.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for a great year.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Penultimate Downsize (Soldiers of Fortune)

7/30/10 Franklin Mint Soldiers of the World's Greatest Armies set of fifty pewter figurines, sold on eBay for $270

This downsize is perfect for the penultimate post. With 363 days behind me and only one to go, getting rid of this collection of figurines really highlights so much of what this challenge has been about. Here's why:

1) This was unique. Fifty pewter soldiers, representing armies from around the world and across multiple millennia. It was issued by the Franklin Mint and released, one figure at a time, over four years. A Google search did not turn up another single collection. Rare, indeed. Ask yourself: How easy is it to downsize something that uncommon?

2) This was valuable. My grandmother bought this back in 1980, and she managed to save the individual receipts from all but six of the figures. Each receipt showed the purchase price of each soldier: $23.50. That adds up to $1,175, not counting tax or shipping & handling. And those are in 1980 dollars. A potential one-of-a-kind collection that was bought for over a grand thirty years ago. Can you say "college fund"? Ask yourself: How easy it is to downsize something that valuable?

3) This was a gift. For reasons that are still murky, my grandmother bought this collection for me before I even hit my teens. Regardless of her motivations, I am saddled with the fact that it was a heart-felt gift. She bought it for me with the belief that I would cherish it forever. Oh, the guilt. Ask yourself: How easy it is to downsize something that someone gave you with such love?

4) This was a challenge to get rid of. When we have something of value, even if we don't want it, we feel invested in getting fair compensation for it. Sure, Nanna shelled out over a thousand for this, but how the heck could I find someone else willing to pay that king of bling for it? Putting it all up on eBay, with pictures, shipping costs, and enticing descriptions was a time-suck during a rather busy month. Not to mention that packing and shipping the figures, complete with glass-front display case, was a logistical nightmare. Ask yourself: How easy is it to do the work of this downsize?

This represents the Downsize Paradox. Given all of the above, the soldier set was absolutely ridiculous for me to keep, yet virtually impossible for me to part with.

But, here we are, just over twenty-four hours from fulfilling the challenge. Three hundred sixty-five consecutive days of setting things free. The whole point of this past year (or at least one darn good point) is that we MUST let go of those things that scream, "Never give me up!"

It's unique? Valuable? A heart-felt gift? A hassle to sell? It's just wrong to let it go?

That's why it has to be downsized.

In the end, I entered a Zen state, posted the collection as an auction on eBay starting at ninety-nine cents -- yes, Dear Readers, the bidding began at less than a dollar-- and felt at peace.

In the words of Bill Murry in the classic film Meatballs, "It just doesn't matter, it just doesn't matter!"

The collection sold to a guy in New York State for $270. ($300 if you include shipping. No, despite all I've learned, I never solved the problem with eBay).

As it all comes to a close, let's recap this symbolic downsize: I gave up an heirloom, lost a whole lot of money, forsook my grandmother's wishes, and wasted a lot of time and energy doing it all.

That's what I call a successful downsize.

It just doesn't matter.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photo Op(ortunity)

7/29/10 Photographs, given away

My new job presents a tremendous opportunity, and Colorado is proving to be a place I could easily fall in love with.

But, let's be very clear about this: We absolutely would NOT have moved to Denver if it wasn't for my great friend -- and brother in everything except blood -- Marc.

I was roommates with Marc for five years and then lived near him in New York for another four. So, the last seven years in Maine have represented a time of buddy withdrawal. The chance to relocate a few blocks away from him was too good to pass up.

And so, I saved an appropriate downsize for the day before the day before the Challenge ends. This marks the last time during this year of culling that I shall get rid of pictures. Always an emotional and difficult downsize, but made easier when you get to laugh at your best friend.

The photographic evidence suggests that Marc has spent most of our friendship sleeping, often with his hand down his pants.

I guess we get along because we have common interests.

He and his wife got a few good laughs this afternoon as I handed over the pictures, and I kept enough to ensure I can always get a chuckle when I need it.

Then, this evening, Joanna, Chase, and I took an evening stroll around the neighborhood. Eventually, we ended up walking by Marc & Gianna's home and, before you could say "Welcome to Mayberry," I was helping Marc mow the lawn and their kids were playing with Chase.

Who needs pictures? Whenever I want to see my best friend, I can just walk down the street.