Wednesday, May 25, 2011

From iPinion - "Making Markets Free"

In my latest article on iPinion, Regulating Freedom - Making Markets Free, I explore the complex relationship between rules and freedom.  Economics has traditionally taught us that a free market is one that is unregulated, but can a system with no rules ever really be free?  Check out this latest installment in my series on Sustainability and Economics.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Living Small and Walking Tall - The Big Move

Moving is never easy, but when you choose to move into a smaller space it is nearly impossible.  Courtney and I, in an effort to put our money where our mouths have been, have opted to move into a home that is half the square footage of our last place, in a neighborhood that is vastly more pedestrian friendly.  Let me repeat that: HALF the square feet.  We now share, with our two dogs and two cats, a 550sq.ft. two bedroom home just west of Amazon Park, which has a Walk Score of 91.

You may think that we are crazy to willingly, and not for monetary reasons, choose to live in a much smaller space (and some days recently I would be inclined to agree with you).  But the fact is that most of us, by far, have much more space than we need.  As you may remember from my Dream of Less, we have been thinking about fitting our lives into less space for some time.  The goal is to find out how much space we really need instead of constantly trying to "upgrade" to a space which is bigger than the last.  This time, we upgraded to a home that is better and smaller, so we are really getting a lot more for our money.  Why would we endeavor to do this you ask?  Aside from forcing us to pare down, keep less junk, live more simply, etc. there is a primary environmental motivation: smaller spaces consume less energy, by far, than larger ones.  The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (or DEQ for short) recently published the results of a long study on housing types, and living small was on the top of their list of ways to reduce your carbon footprint.  To take a look at the whole report, click here.  A few other quick take-aways from the report: carpet has the highest embodied energy of any building material and sharing walls, whether in a duplex, townhouse, or apartment, drastically reduces your carbon footprint.

As you can imagine, the process of paring down to fit in a space half the size has been pretty intense.  It began weeks before the move, as we went room by room through the house, measuring furniture and emptying storage spaces to sort what we would keep and what we could fit.  About a hundred Craigslist posts and one garage sale later, we thought we had done a pretty good job.  As we began to bring our stuff into the new place (with much needed help from Courtney's parents, who came down to Eugene just to give us a hand), it quickly became clear that we had not done nearly enough.

We are now about 80% done getting rid of stuff and fitting in the new space, and as soon as it is presentable (currently there is at least one half empty box per room, except the bedroom which is actually coming along quite nicely), I will post some pics with explanations of what we did to fit our oversized lives into this undersized space.

That may sound like a lot of unnecessary stress to you, but there are two things that have made it not only bearable, but actually quite rewarding: one is the sense of elation and freedom that comes from getting rid of something after deciding that it is not adding any value to your life.  On the day we had our garage sale, some kids who came by regularly to request the presence of our dogs in the common area came to pick over our wares.  Courtney made a decision in that moment about a box of toys that she had been carrying since her childhood.  They served no purpose in our life right now, but she couldn't bare to just drop them at Goodwill.  She brought out the box and one by one gave her teddy bears and trinkets to the kids as a kind of reward for exercising our puppies so many times.  Everyone involved was quite pleased with the outcome.

Second, the ability to walk to everything has been a constant source of joy.  We now live across the street from a butcher shop that carries only meat from local, sustainable farms (as well as some provisions like artisan cheese, olive oil, beer and wine, both local and from afar).  We are literally next door to a fantastic cafe and deli, which serves delicacies rarely seen on the west coast like knish and bialies.  On our block there is a sushi restaruant, a hardware store, a high end kitchen store and, should we ever feel the urge, a knitting store.  Just around the corner is a very well reviewed veterinary office, a bicycle supply and repair shop, and a few more boutique shops.  Within a 10 minute walk is a dog park, a Market of Choice (like Whole Foods with Ralph's prices, for those not from Oregon), a liquor store, and more restaurants than we could eat at in one week, ranging from McDonalds (which are not likely to frequent) to Rabbit (which we wish we could afford to frequent more frequently).

Living where we do, on the edge of a residential/ commercial zone change, being able to walk to everything, makes both of us immensely happy.  We have moved from having to get in the car, for some reason, almost every day, to going for four or five days in a row without starting the car once.  I have been promoting small living and car free living for some time; I have been dreaming of having less space and using less energy.  Now I really feel that we are beginning to live the dream.