Small Living in the Plastic Jungle

txflag_smallThere is a reason island nations are much more adept at small living than those of us in the United States, and especially Texas (where I hail from).  As the Texas Board of Tourism slogan goes, “It’s like a whole other country” (pronounced with an “n” in front of “other”).  And in Texas country everything is supposed to be bigger.  By bigger people mean “better than you.”  Well, I have come to not only disagree with this mentality but to actively combat it.  I feel that small living is a challenge to character because the forced process of prioritizing our material goods and the space we choose to live in leads us to question the core of our selves.

Something at the root of small living inclines one toward humility, or the focus of others.  At the same time I believe large living inclines one toward pride, or focus of self.  After all, the more space we take up the less there is for others.  In a grandiose state like Texas this truth is often far from obvious.  I grew up roaming the hills and thickets, which I shared only with cattle, jackrabbits, quail and the occasional annoying, little sister.

And so, yes, I see tiny home living as a challenge:  difficult, but also a daring problem to be solved.  It is a call for creativity and engineering, as well as discipline and improvement.  And the nice thing about small living is that it can always start with just a little bit smaller than now, until you find the space that you fit in the best.  I find it to be a whittling process that leaves you with the purest, most beautiful version of you and your family.

It was the expanding of my family that brought my wife and I to our most recent challenge in small living.  We were in the process of adopting our first child and preparing to move into the dreaded “plastic jungle” phase of life.  Could we survive our own impulses to buy a crib, a highchair, and other urgent and often redundant necessities?  Could we defeat the two-headed dragon of in-law splurging on plastic detritus?  Even now I can’t help but to think of the Pacific gyre known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and all the Huggies and sippie cups and plastic play sets that dwell there.

How could we continue to whittle away at the clutter and downsize our living while adding a new person?  Granted he’s Vietnamese and not a very big guy, but still, he comes with an array of accessories.

Right away we set up a 529 college saving fund in an attempt to stem the tide of excessive gift giving from friends and family.  We broadly announced that if people simply had to give gifts we were begging them to be the aunt or uncle that sent the brand new two-dollar bill in a crisp bank envelope.  Or better yet, transfer money into his 529.

Next we assumed that no single baby devise or contraption was absolutely necessary and went through the entire list deciding on which items to relent and which to refuse.  No crib, but a pack-and-play only (and one from Baby Bjorn that actually packs and plays!).  No bulky highchair, but a small booster like seat with a tray instead.  A set of simple Tupperware containers for baby food, three bottles for formula, a dozen Fuzzy Buns for diapers, etc.  An old dresser could serve as a diaper changing station; a bookshelf for organizing rags, books, snot sucker, nail clipper, lotion bottle, and my shop radio/CD player for putting the little guy to sleep.

Still, there was a lot of new stuff, but we tried to make sure that most of it would last the test of time (maybe even three kids).  We sought out reusable materials and quality products in hopes of not simply funneling fecal smeared goods into the garbage.  Lastly, hand-me-downs were a Godsend.  And everyone but God sent them.  But the beauty of passed along clothing is that there is no rule that it can’t be again passed along – as in, right then, until each item finds a loving, temporary home.

It wasn’t a perfect process, and it is by no means over, but so far we are surviving the jungle.  At the moment we are celebrating that even when life gets fuller, you can still live smaller.

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