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Downsized • Posted: Jun 04, 2009 01:00:51Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Had a friend nearly 4 years ago tell me it was time to "downsize" her life. I understood, of course. She was nearing retirement. Though she and her several husbands had worked long and hard to amass her now not insignificant fortune of car, SUV, and large house with extended yard, hot tub, and multiple special purpose rooms in well-to-do neighborhood, she was now single again and saw no need for those particular accoutrements of easy living. One car and a more modest house or apartment would do her and her small dog just fine. And so she began sorting and cleaning and hauling things to the recycler and to Goodwill. She held a garage sale for much of what was left, and put both vehicles and house on the market. At the end of a full year, she'd converted nearly everything she had to cash.

Now that was determined downsizing, downsizing few of us would by choice have the stomach for. And why is that? Why have we so married ourselves to so much "stuff"? We have increasingly specialized and sophisticated stuff for almost every conceivable activity we might engage in. We have specialized clothes for specialized occasions. We have specialized vehicles for specialized trips we're planning to take. We have specialized tools for endless varieties of foods we might prepare. Our schedules are filled with special times for specialized activities. We even have specialized friends for special occasions. We quite literally live in a proliferation of specialized and compartmentalized everything. Almost nothing is dual-use, multi-use, or in continuous use, except possibly our "smartphones".

I am reminded of a yuppy bumper sticker from a few years back: The One With the Most Toys Wins. What was so sad about that particular outlook is that it was penned by someone who only a few years previous was smoking pot proclaiming establishment materialism to be total bull shit. Need the world of inspirational ideas we choose from really feel so impoverished?

Times have changed. Today a great many folks are being economically forced into downsizing of the type my friend did voluntarily. Today, we are taking another look at all the "stuff" in our lives and reconsidering whether we need it or not. As all this downsizing occurs, we are going to find that on aggregate the amount of space we need, energy we need, stuff we need is going to decrease. That will do two things for our planet. It will ease some of the consumptive and polluting pressures we exert. And, it will offer opportunity for not just a few different kinds of relationship with our fellow humans.

To the extent we can perceive of and engage in multi-purpose, energy and resource efficient, consequence aware activities, our collective future begins to look not only bright again, but sustainably bright. However, should we instead use the opportunity before us to proliferate more and more hungry, selfish, consequence ignorant or denying, increasingly desperate humans, our collective future does not look bright at all.

It's a topic that hasn't been talked about much lately, but population downsizing is something that probably needs to be looked at once again with a bit more seriousness. I heard a Pro-Life person argue recently that ending abortion would be good for the economy. Considering just the numbers, that's an entirely dubious assertion.

Saturday, May 30th, 2009