Sunday, August 3, 2008


In the early days of our time in Japan, my CH joined a local health club so he could swim. It wasn't terribly expensive, but it was an inconvenient membership. He had to get up early and finish by noon at the latest. In fact, he often got up to swim while I was asleep and I was still asleep when he returned. After a few years of this, he started losing the drive to get up in the wee hours and rush out for a swim, particularly in the winter, and we bought a treadmill and he walked on it at home.

Fast forward until about 3 years ago and my CH started to have problems with his foot which kept him from walking on our completely manual treadmill. Since it has no machine driving the belt, you have to pull extra hard with your feet to move it so having a lame foot makes using it impossible without significant discomfort.

When a flyer magically appeared in our mailbox offering a reasonable deal on a day-time membership (9:00-5:00) at my CH's former health club for only about $80 a month, I strongly urged him to return to swimming. Though he wanted to swim again, he was somewhat hesitant to pay the monthly fees because I'd just quit my job and our income had dropped by about half. I assured him that his health was a high enough priority for us to make cut-backs elsewhere to accomodate his health club membership.

Since he started back up again, he's been using the same swimming trunks he's had all these years. He's had two pair for almost a decade and a half and one of them gave up the ghost yesterday. As I was fishing out the remaining pair, I got to pondering about how much is "enough". Does he really need two pair of swimming trunks or should one be enough? I concluded that he needed two so they could be swapped out and washed without interfering with his exercising, and so he has a back-up pair if one is damaged or lost.

From a rational viewpoint, "enough" should be something which is objective. Each person should be able to assess her need and figure out what is "enough". In reality, it's highly subjective. One person's "enough" is another's "highly insufficient" or "too much." This is something which is frequently brought home to me when I read the Apartment Therapy web site and people talk about the size of their "tiny" or "small" apartments which are always at least 1/4 bigger than mine (and often twice or three times as big). When someone asked if a couple could live in a 400 sq. feet place, one person said that you could only manage it if you spent as little time as possible in the apartment and spent as much time as possible outside in cafés, restaurants or other public spaces. My CH and I live in a place which is about 365 sq. feet (so I've been told) and manage to feel comfortable in it. We feel no compulsion to get out as often as possible. I daresay we could probably actually manage an even smaller space with one less room though it'd be very difficult to teach private lessons with one less room than we have now and it would require losing a few computers and getting a smaller television.

I think most people could get by with less than they have and a vast deal less than they believe is the least they can deal with. One of the things that living in Japan has made me grateful for is that the situation has really fully prepared me for the idea of scaling down my lifestyle and being satisfied with what I have. I used to want a bigger place with separate rooms for various functions (an exercise room, an entertainment room, etc.). Now, all I can think about is that it'd just be more expensive to heat in the winter and cool in the summer as well as just encourage me to save more junk. I've also grown accustomed to not using a clothes dryer or dishwasher. All those eco-friendly lifestyle changes people are forcing themselves into back home are "am there, doing that" for me.

Sometimes I wonder if there is appreciably more I could give up if circumstances compelled me to do so. I'm sure that people who devote their lives to helping in areas without technology would think that I have "too much" even at the level I'm at now. I'm not quite prepared to give up my computer or Internet connectivity, though I sometimes think it might be a good idea to least for a little while.


Joseph said...

Sorry to hear about the passing of CH's old swimming trunks, may they RIP :-)

Interesting ideas about 'enough'. I wonder how we will cope moving into a place similar in size to yours - whilst we've done it before, it's always been on a temporary basis - I'm intrigued to see if 'permanentness' makes it harder.

Like you say though (and as you both demonstrate), it's all very subjective - there's a lesson in there for me to not get wound up by living in a space that is 'too small'.

Anonymous said...

Wow...I can relate to this post! We currently are squeezed into a teeny singles mansion. One main room, one kitchen room. Back when we lived in the U.S, we had a huge apartment with two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, two balconies, a huge kitchen - and I *still* bitched about it being too small or too this or too that. We wasted money constantly on what, looking back now, was absolutely nothing. It really started to dawn on me when I brought endless boxes of books I hadn't read in years to the library, how much useless junk we were used to having around the house, and I often thought as I looked around, "What could I survive and be happy with?" Almost everything I could see in any given room could have been tossed, and eventually was when we moved the first time.

After living so out and out spoiled rotten for so many years, it's been a shock to reduce everything down to almost nothing, but at the same time, it feels so free. It's sometimes tough to do without some of the creature comforts a useless trinket or another piece of impulse-bought clothing, but on the whole, I feel as though we live better, more efficient lives because of it. So far I'm pretty happy not to have tons of STUFF cluttering the place up.

After having read this entry, and the one a few days ago, I wonder how you feel you'll be able to adjust when you move back to the U.S. (is that still part of your plan?). It's such a wasteful place in so many ways, and flaunts as much - Do you think you'll be able to cope with it?

Having said all of that - I don't think it'll hurt to have two pairs of trunks around. We have two lunch boxes for the same reason! ^_^ Perfectly reasonable and not a waste at all!

Liz Stone Abraham said...

I am trying to reduce the amount of stuff that I bring into my house and my life. But what should I do with the endless piles and boxes of things that were given to me by people I love (a thousand birthday cards for instance)? And what about all the things that I've inherited that I didn't really want but devour me with guilt and sadness at the thought of throwing them away? Books, clothing, furniture, notebooks, photographs, knickknacks of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes I wish that some weird burglar would break in and steal of this memorabilia. I would wake up to a clean slate and clear decks, guilt-free.

As for the swimming trunks--if you can afford a second pair, he should get it. Owning two pairs of swimming trunks if you are an avid swimmer just seems like good sense.

Orchid64 said...

Joseph: If you haven't already gotten your furniture, I'd advise you to shop carefully. I bought too much early on in our stay and we also had the wrong kind of furniture. We still do in some areas, but I refuse to toss what we have just for new things (I only toss things when they're in a state of disrepair).

If you choose your pieces well, you can make the most of the space without overstuffing it. Of course, I'm guessing Twinkle already has some things you'll be starting with. Fortunately for you guys, there are lots of secondhand places in Japan now selling used items.

I think you guys will do fine because you're already comfortable with digitizing things and not a materialistic person except wanting the odd Mac or Apple toy. Given that we manage 2 full size PCs, 1 Mini, and 2 laptops in our living room without terrible crowding, I'm guessing you can manage with your "toys".;-)

Also, you and Twinkle like to be together a lot (or I'd guess from your posts). I think the small space is harder if you're the type of person who needs to be alone sometimes rather than the type who is just as comfortable with your spouse in the room. The CH and I need no privacy from one another and I think that helps a lot.

Dateline: Your apartment sounds like it's similar to the one I lived in for a month with my CH when he and I first met physically. It was one 6-mat room and a kitchen which was probably about 5 mats. I think that's the smallest a couple can manage, though I think it's impossible to live in that space and have a real bed. It only worked for us then because we used futon. A bed is worth a lot to us, so it'd be very hard to not have one. If we ever had to scale down to an even smaller place, we'd have to fork over a ton of money for a full-size sofa bed to compensate.

I do plan to go back to the U.S. I think it'll be a little strange at first, but scaling up is easier than scaling down, and I'm comforted by the fact that even a studio apartment in the U.S. would be sufficient for us if that was all that we could afford. The long term plan would be for us to live with my sister in the house she'll inherit in the future.

I am mindful that there are realities in the U.S. that require a more wasteful life than life in Tokyo. You have to have a car for the most part, especially in rural areas, and it's harder to hang laundry out when a place has a real winter (Tokyo's winter is milder than autumn back home - somewhat cold, dry, but almost zero snow). I'm mainly worried about job possibilities back home.

Liz: Awhile back, I faced some of the issues you mention. Regarding mementos like photos and birthday cards, I digitize them by either scanning them in or taking digital pictures and burn them to multiple (usually 2 copies) back-up CDs or DVDs. Occasionally, I drag a copy to my computer and make a new back-up copy just in case the old one goes wonky or formats change.

There's no reason to feel guilty about getting rid of items people gave you if you don't want them. However, I do understand there's a transition to be made in letting go of them. Appreciating the gesture and loving the person doesn't mean keeping items. It just means remembering the person and the item. Again, I'd take a picture and write something about it in a digital scrapbook (or, in my case, I blog about things). All that being said, there are still some items I've been given that I have limited use for but can't get rid of. My mother embroidered kitten designs on a bunch of pillow cases for me which are too cute for my grown up tastes, but I can't get rid of them because they are her handiwork and because she has gone blind from a genetic disease, they are the last type of this thing she will ever do. I can't get rid of them. I do use them on occasion, but if circumstances were different, I probably would have gotten rid of them by now, particularly because the material is very thin and cheap and prone to pilling.

I'd give the items away (to Goodwill, for instance) rather than throw them out, if possible. I have to admit though that I rarely get knick-knacks or other such items from anyone except students and I either keep them as future souvenirs of life in Japan or I toss them depending on what I'm given. I guess you've either been blessed with people who give you too much or cursed depending on how you look at it. ;-)

Thanks to everyone for the comments!