WE MOVED from a 2,700-square-foot home in the U.S. to an 850-square-foot apartment in Granada, Spain. Nothing makes you come to grips with how much stuff you have like moving to a small European apartment. We ended up taking less than a third of our clothes, along with other “necessities,” in four large pieces of luggage.
The process was both hard and liberating. As the old saying goes, they may be called “possessions,” but do we possess them or does our stuff possess us? Moving compels us to face our true nature, as reflected in the accumulated artifacts of our past choices. It also affords the chance to purge the burden of those past choices, giving us a rare opportunity for liberation.
In the process of performing triage on our life, we came to learn much as we adjusted to “living small.” Living small doesn’t mean living less. If anything, we feel like we now live more—for six reasons.
1. There’s the liberating satisfaction of knowing we can carry on with life, without having to own what is advertised as a “must have.”
2. Living small often eliminates the temptation to shop, because there simply isn’t room. For any potential new item, we are compelled to weigh whether the item is worthy of taking up residence in our home—and what has to depart to make space.
3. Less time maintaining an expansive home means more time for activities we truly enjoy—things like writing, tennis, reading, sightseeing and spending time with friends. Living for more experiences and less stuff also means fewer wasted resources—and less stuff that’ll eventually become junk taking up space in landfills.
4. Less indoor space induces us to go outside more, making us healthier mentally and physically. Most Spaniards spend a lot of time outside, especially when the weather is better. It’s common to see people of all ages sitting outside until late at night, visiting with friends and family. Many street corners are even designed for this sort of rendezvous, with numerous benches or small shaded squares.
Less space at home also means we often spend time at restaurants, having tapas with friends over the course of three or four hours and enjoying the food, wine, atmosphere, weather and good company. What if we eat at home? Having a smaller kitchen forces us to go to the market more often, but we end up buying less.
5. We have no car. That means we walk more and take public transportation. Because we now walk everywhere, we’re in much better shape, especially living at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is a hiker’s paradise.
6. We feel good that we’re doing our part for the environment. It isn’t just living without a car. Each small room in our apartment has an individual air conditioning or heating unit. It takes fewer resources to heat or cool one room, compared to a U.S. home with 20-foot ceilings and central air conditioning that runs day and night. Relative to apartments, free-standing houses are also less energy efficient, with those unused side paths between houses allowing heat to escape.
Jiab Wasserman recently left from her job as a financial analyst at a large bank at age 53. She’s now semi-retired. Her previous articles include This Old House, The Gift of Life and Odds Against. Jiab and her husband, who also writes for HumbleDollar, currently live in Granada, Spain. They blog about downshifting, personal finance and other aspects of retirement—as well as about their experience relocating to another country—at YourThirdLife.com.