Home economics

Sometimes you need to live with other people in order to learn deep truths about yourself. Until last week, when my brother and his family moved in for an extended stay, I had no way of knowing that I had turned into this fussy old person who shuffles around the house turning off lights that others have left on.

In other words, someone with a strong resemblance to my old man.

(In many other ways, of course, Dad and I remain strikingly different people. For example, while Dad keeps two pens and a stack of 3×5 index cards in his left-hand shirt pocket to serve as a kind of retro PDA, I use a small, spiral-bound memo pad and get by with just one pen. And while he reads travel books right before bed, I read blogs.)

The other week, I decided on a sudden whim to trample a path through the weeds to the electric meter on the side of my house. An hour later, as luck would have it, the meter man showed up. Seeing a new face, I walked out to introduce myself and make sure he found the box for my parents’ house, as well. Sizing up the house and grounds, he said, “You’re a bachelor, aren’t you?”

This last recollection was sparked by a post on bungalows at not native fruit, which includes some photos of cottages half-swallowed by gardens nearly as wild as mine. Karen writes,

[A] small house is like a spiritual master. It teaches you to be disciplined, to minimize your possessions, to keep things clean and neat, to respect other people’s needs for space. You get organized, living in a small house, or you go bananas.

My spiritual master has porcupines under the dining room, groundhogs under the guest bedroom and black snakes over the kitchen. Small as this house is, it was built haphazardly in stages over the course of 150 years, with the result that it now encloses an inordinate amount of climate-controlled wildlife habitat – spaces over, under and between rooms that are virtually inaccessible to humans. Thus, even during the long stretches when I have no guests or family members sharing my space, I am never really alone. Plus, I almost never have to set traps for the white-footed mice in my kitchen. I think there’s an important spiritual lesson there.

“A small house can be comfortable and incredibly COZY,” Karen adds. Presumably, this is the experience of the shy woodland creatures who have chosen to live among us. I’m quite certain it’s true for Steve, Karylee and baby Elanor, who almost always seems pretty comfortable, as long as her diapers are dry. And sharing a rather small space with several other people instills invaluable spiritual lessons in consideration, conflict avoidance strategies and mutual respect.

Another spiritual service provided by my house is that, in really hot and humid weather such as we have been enjoying here off and on for much of the past month, it doubles as a sweat lodge. I can go upstairs for a siesta and emerge an hour later feeling relaxed and peaceful to the point of stupefaction.

Does living in a small house force me to minimize my possessions? No. Living without a steady income forces me to minimize my possessions. Yesterday, I walked all around the sidewalk sale of a local summer arts festival and admired many, diverse displays of craft-like objects without feeling any urge to pull out my wallet – except briefly for the hanging pink flamingo planters made from recycled tires. Then we went into a nearby bookstore and I dropped $30 bucks. Hey, it was a sale. I saved at least ten dollars. And, small as my house is, there’s always plenty of room for more books.

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