While John’s on the road, I’ve accepted his invitation to do a first-person post. Working in John’s office is a lot of fun – our politics mesh, and fortunately we like the same music! Best of all, I’ve learned much about living well from someone who really walks the talk. My job is a primary influence in the ongoing journey to a more sustainable life.
A year ago, my spouse and I were house-hunting with a view to reducing our overall footprint. Using John’s unique design questionnaire, we learned to define what we wanted in terms of what we needed, rather than vice versa. Instead of buying enough space to contain all our stuff, we chose to downsize into a 960 square foot home. This meant divesting ourselves of enough furniture and other items to fill a small apartment!
A smaller house would limit the stuff that we could own, but we found this liberating.
Then we applied John’s 95% rule: organize your home for the things that you do most of the time; don’t dedicate space for rarely-done activities. We quickly identified two areas of wasted space: the dining room and the guest room, both of which were seldom used. We decided to take all meals in our eat-in kitchen, which we preferred anyway. Our friends enjoy eating or sipping wine on our big covered front porch, and aren’t the kind of people who prioritize formal dining. This freed up the living/dining room for – well, just living.
The guest room was a bit harder to let go of, but we acknowledged that our families and oldest friends live too far away to visit much anymore. We decided to treat overnight guests to a nice local B&B, and turned the extra bedroom into storage and a music room for my spouse. Now the space gets used every day instead of once or twice a year. Small as it is, the house contains everything we need in a way that’s more appropriate to our lifestyle.
John made us the gift of his expertise and suggested efficiencies: new roof insulation, soffit, roof vents, and thermal blinds. On the south and west-facing windows, we added bamboo blinds on the outside of the house to cut solar heat in the summer. In winter, we leave these rolled up, lowering our energy costs with passive heat. Our cozy first winter in the house was a revelation. In just the first year, our monthly heating bill dropped twice, and we anticipate a future cost of $300 or less per year. In summer, inside temperatures don’t exceed 25°C, making A/C unnecessary.
We love our small house better than any of the others we’ve owned. With a bit of good advice and no major renovations, we have a home that functions well, feels bigger than it is, saves us money, and is comfortable year-round. Lesson learned: living small is living well. A more sustainable life needn’t be difficult or expensive. You may have to find creative ways to do some things, but little changes really do add up. Just pick one, and begin. — Marusha Taylor