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Downsizing is a huge step Add to ...

Now that we’re on the other side of downsizing, I think I can say this: downsizing is huge.

Five years ago we cleaned, cleansed, purged closets, basement, shelves.

Hefty old bedroom suites went bye-bye thanks to the beefy movers from a local mission who were happy to pick them up for us. Books got sorted, with much whinging on my part, boxed and sent to a secondhand book shop. Dishes that were rarely used got sent with one of our sons to his new apartment, along with an assortment of chairs.

We went from a generous space to, well, how to describe it? Easy to vacuum.

It had been a journey, finding this right spot. We considered every possibility with the exception of a yurt.

We looked at everything in real-estate land that year. And we disagreed on what form our new living quarters should take.

I fell in love two or three times. The first I thought a winner was a sweet little house that reminded me of a Barbara Pym cottage, complete with apple trees for “a stroll ’round the garden in the evening,” as one of her characters likes to do. But there was really no place to keep our essentials, like our shoes.

Then there was the smallish house that bordered on a footpath down to the marsh.

“Imagine the deer that would come to our garden to feed,” I said, trying to appeal to the lover of wildlife in my husband.

“Too isolated down here,” he said.

My other favourite spot had a fireplace in the dining room. I’d read enough English novels, seen enough Merchant Ivory productions with the flicker of flames casting shadows on the dining table while the hostess spoons ragout from a Spode terrine, to know that a fireplace in the dining room was my heart’s desire.

His argument against that one?

“Look outside the bedroom window,” he said. “We’d be right up against that doughnut shop.”

“I can think of nothing better than to wake up to the aroma of double-chocolate doughnuts,” was my feeble retort.

And the one with the lovely white walls and huge windows had a trickling stream flowing through the basement.

I wanted a cottage kind of place where we could hang out a name sign, like “Mallards” after the house in the Mapp and Lucia novels. I hoped for charming, cozy, leaded windows, bookshelves beside the fireplace, an interesting neighbourhood, enough room for the kids when they landed.

He wanted not much yard. Dry Basement. Period.

We looked at everything from handyman specials to the houses near the university with “rooms for students.” Having just bade farewell to our own three homegrown students, we weren’t sure about taking on other people’s offspring.

There were condos with fees, apartments with rent. There were houses large and small each with their unique problems and delights. There was one so tiny you could only get out of one side of the bed (but it was cute!).

We went to the library and checked out American architect Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big House. Ms. Susanka touts quality over quantity, mimes the Japanese credo of less is more, says that better not bigger is the way to go. I hoped I’d remember her charming bit of philosophy when I couldn’t find enough room to keep the teapot.

But finally one wintry afternoon, there it was: our tiny perfect house, a one-floor bungalow with leaded windows, a mere smattering of grass, a room at the back where the sun pours in with enough space for people to sleep when they visit. It had no fireplace in the dining room like the double-chocolate house did, but it was near the marsh and the mallards.

Dear Reader, we bought it.

Five years hence and I can say this: Even though I can see my husband putting on the breakfast kettle in the kitchen from where I’m brushing my teeth in the bathroom, it works.

Our friends have found us and we enjoy them as much in this small space as we did at the other place. The kids come, now with spouses and soon with our first grandchild. The birthday cakes taste as good out of the oven in a small kitchen as they did in the larger version. Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony sounds as lovely here as it did there.

My books are happily ensconced beside the fireplace (which doesn’t work), and their words have as much meaning in this house as they did in the other. The powder-blue delphiniums in this tiny patch are the same heavenly blue as they were in that larger patch. The Wife Of Bath roses grow as soft and as pink as if they’d been bred in the garden of a manor house (you know the kind, with a fireplace in the dining room).

There are no deer in the backyard, but the raccoons know where we live. The feeders are full of Baltimore orioles and hummingbirds in early summer. The goldfinches come for the niger seed. In autumn, the yard will be full of sunflowers and the birds they bring. Our new neighbours are as wonderful as our former ones.

And if you decide to downsize, you can depend on this: Your kids will start filling up your basement again with stuff they want to keep and use, “but not right now.”

Judy Pollard Smith lives in Hamilton.

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