Ana Veciana-Suarez

Ana Veciana-Suarez: In search of the simple life

Possessions can control us.
Possessions can control us. MCT

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! - Henry David Thoreau

While the rest of the country is digging out sweaters and hunkering down for the season of Brrrr!, we in sunny Miami are preparing for the 5-degree drop in mercury that moves us from sweltering to bearable. This is the time of year to plant impatiens and tackle outdoor house projects.

So in honor of autumn, The Hubby has decided to organize the garage. To sort, label and toss, with an emphasis on the latter. He has prohibited me from buying five jugs of laundry detergent when it goes on sale — I so love a good deal! —and has banned my use of this room as The Center for I May Need It One Day.

Good luck with that.

It’s not like we haven’t tried before. Keeping the garage presentable is one of those Sisyphean tasks laden with good intentions, like eating more vegetables. When we downsized from the house I raised my children, we vowed to make the new garage a model showroom, the kind of orderly place you can oooh about with admiring vistors. The effort didn’t last long, though. Life — and our general affinity for clutter — got the best of us.

On the week he began tunneling through the junk, discovering a few gems (so that’s where the good tape measure ended up) but also cringing at the rubbish (another empty bottle!), I came across two articles that underscored the importance of our mission. Some might consider these encounters random, but the belief in serendipity often strikes me as wishful thinking. Herewith is support for my growing conviction that more is not always progress and bigger doesn’t invariably translate into better:

The average square footage of the American single-family home has swelled from 983 square feet in 1950 to a sizable 2,679 square feet in 2013, according to the National Home Builders Association. And this at a time, when the size of U.S. households has been steadily dropping. Some see this as “yet another indicator of the nation’s deepening economic divide,” with the haves showing off trophy homes and the have-nots sardining into cramped quarters.

But fret not. A retro housing faction, not unlike the Slow Food movement, seeks to return to a more sustainable lifestyle. One prophet is Jeff Wilson, a college dean at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin. Known as Professor Dumpster, he’s living in a 33-square foot trash container as part of an experiment to develop a low-impact, zero-net-waste dwelling. A little extreme, yes, but an interesting idea for these bloated times.

Both pieces reminded me of my husband’s efforts to divest and my own inchoate yearning to simplify, simplify. The older I get (at a seemingly faster rate every year), the more I realize how little I need for a truly satisfying life. I also recognize how much time I’ve wasted in the acquisition of stuff and more stuff.

As my hair grays and my eyes demand higher wattage light bulbs, my priorities are shifting. The desire to own is being replaced by the urgency to live, to experience, to share more time with those I hold dear. The habit of consuming, however, is hard to break in a culture where so much is so easily accessible. I am tempted by websites, catalogs and pervasive advertising.

But we are, The Hubby and I, fans of fresh starts. Together we are embarking on a new diet, a regimen that imagines scaling back and trimming down as a form of liberation. Freedom by any other name...

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana