Space trap…

Houses of relativity…

I never really bought into the dream. From an early age I was immersed in something which made little sense to me; a house with too many rooms, and a yard requiring relentless effort from my father who already worked like a dog to support this house that made no sense. The result of our family living in this home leant itself to more stress and frustrations, I believe, than to happiness. By the 3rd grade the fingerprints of minimal living were already being laid on me.

During my 5th grade year I visited the home of a friend, Alex. I was awestruck when I entered his family’s mansion, and the luxuries it contained. Despite my awe, the vastness of the house made less sense to me than the house I lived in. I wondered why anyone would need an entire room dedicated to games, books, and casino gaming tables. A full kitchen on the 2nd floor – just in case, I guess. One of the bedrooms belonged to the cook, another to the groundskeeper, several more were not even spoken for. I was touched by the fingerprints of, too much.

Later on my mother invited Alex to visit our house. I was embarrassed. My house which once felt too big, now seemed like a corrugated tin shack in comparison to my friend’s house. I made every excuse to justify not having a par 3 golf hole out back, or a gallery of mounted bears in the study.   After his departure Alex seemed to distance himself from me. Perhaps this was a construct in my head, but we didn’t hang out too much after his visit to the slums of the middle class. These were the fingerprints of insecurity.

I would go on to live my life torn between two desires; the desire to have more – that I might better fit in, and the desire for less – that I might feel liberated. If it seems like pandering to both desires would keep me centered, and in a life of middleclass moderation, it did not. It kept me confused through much of my life about how much is enough, how much is too much, and whether we need any of it at all.

Family and flow…

I would grow up to marry, and start a family. We began living in apartments like many young couples, and furnishing them with cinderblock shelves, and futon sofas. I never wanted more than that. Apartment living, and cheap furniture agreed with me. Eventually parenthood called, salaries increased, and we transitioned from renting apartments to buying homes, and furnishing them with real sofas, and shelves made from substances heartier than particle board.

As we went through this process, I always lobbied to buy the smallest house, with the smallest yard. To her credit, my wife was accommodating about my need for less. We lived in modest homes with modest things, and our happiness came more from moments, than from possessions. I enjoyed decorating with old grape crates, spray paint, and dumpster diving for adornments as my wife rolled her eyes in partial amusement. Those were the fingerprints of making more from less.

Cohen house '98.  0.0 Front yard.  I liked my odds...

Cohen house ’98. 0.0 Front yard. I liked my odds…

Two cans of paint, some tile squares from Pic&Save, and kitchen was born for under $100...

Two cans of paint, some tile squares from Pic&Save, and kitchen was born for under $100…

Hands solo…

Eventually we would divorce, and I would move into a smaller home – a Ford Windstar minivan. It was a little tight, but I could sleep in the back, shower at the gym, and eat on the fly. After 6 months of parking lot camping I took a one-room guesthouse with no heat, and no air. It was the perfect home for my needs. However, there was no place for my daughter when she visited.

The single best place I ever lived...

The single best place I ever lived…


After 6 months in the guesthouse, I rented a 3 bedroom home so my daughter could stay over when she chose. However my daughter was rarely there, and the place seemed far too big. Through my 11 years there, I occupied only a single room. Once my daughter was in college, I would return to guest house living for a few more years.


Today I live in a 1,600 square foot house, though most of it is my fitness studio. Again I occupy only a single room in back of the studio, and spend a majority of my nonworking time in a small office in the entryway, or seated by the fire pit in my front yard. This suits me well. All the while, any happiness I experience has little to do with where I live, and more to do with who I’m with, or what I am doing.

My current shack...

My current shack…

Roll me away…

I seem to distance myself from the trappings of things, and space a little more each year. Long ago I gave away my car, later my furniture, and I’m continually downsizing my accommodations. Aside from my minimal wardrobe, and my computer, I own a bed, a chair, a couple of surfboards, and a bicycle. These days, I spend much of my evenings seeking out what the best next living option for me might be – probably a small motorhome.

I recognize that living wholly off the grid isn’t realistic, and it is certainly not the goal of most people. I’m just messed up that way. I also still have to earn a living. Being grid accessible, with nothing anchoring me to it is the real goal. Perhaps parked on a tributary which provides easy entrée in and out of the modern scene as needed.   The fingerprints of Dorian Paskowitz, and Christopher McCandless have left their mark.

 Handprint of a legacy…

We wear outwardly the finger prints of the moments, the places, and the people who have touched us throughout our lives. Inwardly we may feel the push or the pull of the hands from which those fingerprints were placed. Though we may not directly associate each of our actions with these finger prints, they are ever present in all of our actions.

It is our necessary interconnectivity which limits minimalists like me in what we perceive as the free will required in attempting to live off or adjacent to the grid. What we likely seek is not free will, but individual autonomy as part of a greater collective. Perhaps I’m just seeking a little more autonomy than most. The finger prints which have touched me most have lead me wanting less. It is my sincere hope that the fingerprints of my own life will lay gently on the lives of those who I have touched. Be well… rc


Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from  Joe Ely.   Enjoy!

19 responses

  1. I winced for you about visiting your friend’s mansion… our homes seem to say “look at what a diligent and successful person I am” but unfortunately are barriers to any more interesting conversations. Thanks for living a good life and sharing your thoughts Roy.

    • Thanks for taking the time Doug. As always, I appreciate very much that you allow your eyes to slum long enough to read these. Also, very quietly, you help keep me grounded. Meeting you a few years back, was good add-on in my life.

  2. Fascinating!

    What you don’t know is you just gave the one best trick to ensure one exercises enough: never shower anywhere else but the gym. You’ll want to go every day. Problem solved! 🙂

    I don’t know where my interest for minimalist living comes from. My parents were not obsessed with stuff, but they were not frugal either. Although they mostly indulged in non lasting luxuries such as travel, food, wine and music. You can spend a lot without acquiring anything material. 🙂

    Showing off my “status” with stuff did have an appeal at one point, but that did not last very long. Nowadays I am mostly interested in luxury for the pleasure. I like beautiful and comfortable things, like everybody else, but I couldn’t care less that I impress people with my stuff or not.

    I am aware, very aware, that experiences are worth much more than things, and that owning too much stuff is just stressful. Lately I have been getting rid of a lot. It feels wonderful. The more I empty this house, the more I realize how little I actually need.

    My family and I own “only” 1 car, 1 TV, 1 phone, and no smart phone or portable electronic devices other than an old fashioned cell phone (1 for the whole family). Compared to our peers this is very frugal! Imagine.

    I would advocate for owning less stuff, but to opt for good quality when you can and when it matters to you (hiking/outdoor equipment and shoes come to mind).

    At different times in my life I had a very simple life from the materialistic point of view: my 3 years in Africa as a child, my 2 summers as a camp counselor in my late teens, and my first 2 years living without my parents in a tiny student apartment. Plus my 3 months traveling as a backpacker through Europe and sleeping only in youth hostels. It is those moments, and not the ones when I had more, that stand out as my best memories. Maybe it’s because I was DOING instead of HAVING.

    • As always, Julie, the comment exceeds the post. Three years in Africa, youth hostels, and owning less. I like it, and glad my daughter is following a similar path.

      As for the gym and the shower I’m serious when I say I hope to move into a small motor home this year. When I do, the gym shower will be a daily requirement once again, even if the workout is not.

  3. I read this post on my phone the day before yesterday and it really helped me to gain perspective. As you know, I went minimalistic a few years back. Not by choice, but just the same I can still now put everything I own into a suitcase and computer bag.

    Having lived on ‘our’ boat for most of a year and a half now, I’ve begun to miss the solid ground of a house, the space and the things. I think I miss having a garden for vegetables and herbs, along with flower beds that I dug with my own hands.

    To many it’s a romantic notion living a spartan life, traveling with camper in tow or sailing to unknown ports. The reality is, when one still has to eek out a living it removes that ideology as the job keeps us leashed. However, being less burdened and living more simplistically has it’s appeal over being trapped with a home and things.

    I have been fighting depression these last few weeks because I don’t do well in dark, cramped quarters. ‘Ours’ is an old boat…beautiful, but very dark teak wood throughout, small ports for windows with two hatches that must be covered during rain to avoid leaking. At night the lights are weak/dim as is usual for older ketch rigs. So it’s dark and depressing. I need light and airy!

    Truly living simply is just fine with me, but I finally took a deep breathe and realized it’s not the lifestyle it’s the aesthetics that need changing. Thanks for posting this. Seems you always have something relevant for me, Roy! 😉

    • You bring good conversation, Lisa. I have a friend who recently left her boat in Honduras where she has lived onboard for several years — her husband is a kite surfer. She’s now in an apartment community in The Valley near LA — this she considers and upgrade, not sure I would.

      Though boat, and camper may be too small, I have spent the better part of 14 years living out of a single room. To me that seems plenty, and a bit much at times.

      Dorian Paskowitz raised a family of 9 children, plus he and his wife in a 20′ camper. This, according to his children, left scars on them they will always carry, but each acknowledges a special relationship with travel due to their upbringing.

      Stroodle, and I will attempt camper or tiny house living. Whether we succeed, who knows…? We will try.

      Thanks for taking the time!

  4. I learned so much about you in this one post Roy… even stuff I already knew but came out more. Karen asked the question & very interesting answer from you… Loved the post!

    Since I have never owned, I still long to own, but not big, just own & a house that has windows out to no other windows.. I really never felt comfortable opening up my windows & shades anywhere I have lived – people cam just look in – just not my thing. 🙂

    • Thanks Jody! I would rather own a home that I can drive from parking lot to parking lot, than to rent one that keeps me glued to a suburb that chokes my soul.

      Hell, after this many years, you should know everything about me — probably more than most 😉

  5. Interesting post! I guess I am neither a minimalist nor a “keep up with the joneses” type of person. I owned a home once, and the only time I feel the desire to own again, is when the owners choose to move back into their homes. (this has happened 3 times now) This post comes along on the heels of the latest of such an incident. Having 60 days to find a new home, pack and make some choices, looking at our “stuff” yet the space we desire, and whether to down size way down or pay a little more for a seemingly similar place, makes me look at my reasons for my things. A home is security and family to me, other than perhaps work it is where we spend the most time. I want comfort and space for each of the individuals that live there. I want room for kids and eventual grand kids to pop in. We have chosen to spend a little more for the comforts we desire. For me it is the difference between a house or a home but that is just me.

    • Thanks Jules! Points all well taken. One of the attractions, for me, of apartment living (which I have done in the past) is that the owner can’t reclaim it. Now I know apartments have shared walls, and no yards, but a well planned life, and budget, can underwrite a great quality of life for apartment families. Much more of suburban (not urban) Europe, and Asia live in apartments, and with a higher quality of life. In that sense, once you walk out the front door, the whole world is your yard…

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