Alternatives

I am infatuated with alternatives. Alternatives to fossil fuels. Alternatives to plastic.  Alternatives to waste “disposal”.  Alternative food systems. Alternative housing.  Alternatives to work. Alternatives to marriage. Alternatives to divorce.

Alternatives to war.

In so many cases there is a different, less wasteful, more respectful way to approach our problems.  In alternatives I find comfort. In alternatives I find hope.

But within this very source of optimism lies an unfortunate truth, a collection of thumbtacks hidden in fluffy warm bedding.  One of the most detrimental, and often baffling, things about humankind is just how well we can understand a problem and formulate solutions and yet continue to engage in exactly the same, damaging behaviors.  The knowledge of a better way does not necessarily lead to the it’s pursuit.

Still there are dedicated people willing to abandon short-term comfort and approval in the quest for a better way.  And I have decided that the best thing any of us can do is embrace the belief that we have it in us to become one of them.

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A tribute to life as a family of four in 580 square feet

My parents are coming to visit in just a few weeks.  I generally look forward to this time, grateful for the chance to foster the inter generational relationship.  But family is a complicated matter and our interactions aren’t without their challenges.  The tension usually starts the moment my father steps foot into our apartment.  It took me a while to understand why he got so anxious and upset but it was easy to see that the longer the visit, the deeper his depression.

And then I finally understood.

My father comes from a very modest background and, growing up in a big city (Rome), space was not something he had in abundance.  He is proud of the life that he has built in the US, which includes a nice and spacious home.  And it makes him terribly sad to see his daughter return to the very place he came from, living in a small and modest apartment.

I, however, adore our apartment.

G and I moved here from a tiny studio just blocks away when g was an infant because we desperately wanted a separation – a barrier that would allow us the freedom to continue living and breathing inside even when the baby was (miraculously!) sleeping.  We wanted to stay in the neighborhood, close to public transportation and walking distance from all of our basic needs.  We didn’t want to spend too much money.  And we wanted a door.

This apartment met all of our criteria and more.  It even has a fabulous south-facing picture window, a mature lemon tree and is situated just across the street from a wonderful public park.  It is only 580 square feet but it didn’t feel too small to us.  It felt like enough.

And over time, though we’ve added a fourth human to the mix, I’ve come to appreciate it even more.  The low rent has allowed us to live comfortably on one small income (we don’t qualify for reduced school lunches in our community but we only barely miss the cut-off).  This apartment has granted me my time. It has also secured us access to all of the things that are important to us: great schools, wonderful parks and libraries, excellent fresh food and, most of all, a wonderful community of neighbors.  We never struggle to make it to the end of the month and never feel like we are unable to afford any of the things that we need. This little apartment has made us rich.

I did my best to explain this to my father on his last visit.  There is one very fundamental thing that separates us from the poverty that so upsets you, I told him, choice.  Our apartment is too large to qualify as “tiny” but, philosophically, we have a lot in common with the tiny house movement.  The concept is quite simple. By needing less you gain tremendously.  By living well within your means, you buy your freedom.

I am aware of the cultural implications of our choices.  Although I don’t place a high value on social status the way my father does, I know that most people don’t see things quite the way we do.  And, despite my awareness of the problems of over-consumption, I’m not on a mission to convert everyone to my way of life.  In writing this, I’m not attempting to make a statement about American greed or the excess of your McMansion.  I really only want to make a simple point, the same one that I think my father now understands.

You have a choice.