I turned around and saw Janice, sitting on the top step. A look of stunned shock was on her face. We were in full moving mode from a large 4 bedroom house, our home for the last five years, to a 2 bedroom condo. We had come to the painful realization that we had accumulated so much junk over the 5 years that we were drowning in stuff.
It was hard to believe just how out of control the accumulation of things had become. I guess we were so busy with our careers, raising kids, activities etc. that we were blind to the reality that every corner of the house was piled high. We avoided places like the back shed, basement storage and garage, all the spaces that became the dumping grounds for everything not being used, but not yet ready to be chucked. When it came time to purge, I was astounded. It was truly unbelievable how much stuff a family of seven can pile into a house in a few short years. We spent the better part of two months donating what we could to the goodwill and selling as much stuff online, through garage sales and consignment stores. We even had everything-must-go sales. As our moving day approached, we finally had to dump the junk and resorted to having several loads hauled away. It was quite embarrassing. I felt like we were on American Hoarders!
When Janice and I first contemplated the move to a smaller apartment condo, we took a serious internal evaluation to see if our current lifestyle is congruent with our desired lifestyle and overall goals. We both really love to travel. I am very passionate about my art as Janice is with fashion. We quickly concluded that we had become slaves to our things reducing our ability to focus our energies to the things that are so important to us. We realized that we had a huge anchor - one that we had to release. We were on a mission to purge......and purge we did! I even sold my car trading it in for a folding “Brompton” bike - seriously the coolest bike I have ever owned! I have now been without a vehicle for over six months and quite honestly, I don’t miss driving one bit. I seldom take public transportation opting instead for walking and biking. I am much healthier for it!
It was sometime around a year ago that I stumbled on the concept of the minimalist lifestyle through blogs like “The Minimalists” , “Zen Habits” and “The Hundred Thing Challenge.” These websites totally resonated with me, especially considering our recent purge. I had already started to, in a way, to re-jig my lifestyle, but these blogs really made me think seriously about where I want to go. I can honestly say that I likely won’t be reducing my life to a hundred things (although the thought did cross my mind), but we can certainly say we have reduced our stuff significantly.
Simplifying my life also meant getting rid of my studio. For two years I rented space above one of the better contemporary galleries in Ottawa, the Cube Gallery. It was a two year experiment to see if having a studio separate from my living space was viable. I have to say, having the studio was a blast! I loved having a separate place of my own to paint. It became a refuge from the day to day pressures of work and taking care of a house. The first Thursday of each month there was an "Art Walk" where all the galleries in the area stayed open late, offering wine and cheese and often live music or other special events. It was great - I had a built in one man show (and party) each month in my studio/gallery where I displayed my latest work and had a party to boot! It always turned into a late night event. Don the owner of the Cube would always drop up at the end of the night for a quick beer and play art critic with my latest work. It was a lot of fun and a sad day when my lease was due and I did not renew. Selling art is a very difficult business and when I did my reality check it was clear that running a studio/gallery part time was a loosing venture. The demands of a full time Architectural career made it impractical. I may not have been breaking even but I have zero regrets about giving it a shot. Nothing ventured - nothing gained!
Upon reflection, operating a studio/gallery was not consistent with my desire for freedom and flexibility. I was also painting large canvases in the studio - I love painting large scale paintings. It’s a very physical activity but it created a real dilemma - what was I going to do with all these large paintings now that we were going into a small condo. I had sold quite a few but had upwards of 150 canvases - some as large as 1500x1800mm. Renting storage was out of the question as this is just another financial anchor. There was no way I was going to stop painting, but I had re-evaluate how I was going to paint. I had to reframe what my studio was to become. I ended up removing all my canvases from their stretchers and storing them in my condo locker in plastic tubes. They are still available for sale, but will require re-stretcing, which any framer can easily do.
Over the next several months I found that I was spending much more time with my sketchbook. I started participating in several online sketching projects. I discovered the "Urban Sketchers" website and was immediately hooked on the concept of the Urban Sketch Crawl. I joined the group and I have now participate in several international SketchCrawls where artists from all over the world sketch on the same day and post their results online. I love the concept! We now have several artists here in Ottawa that get together for the events. The next SketchCrawl is in April for those interested. I also came across the "Sketchbook Project." Again this is a collective of artists from around the world who participate in a sketchbook project based out of Brooklyn.
What I have learned from these ventures is that I no longer need a physical studio. I have created my online store and (this) blog to display and talk about my work. I stopped painting large (well for now anyways) and now paint miniatures (5”x7” panels). I now carry a small 5”x7” “Guerrilla” pochade box that holds 2 wet oil paintings, a small sketchbook and some watercolours. My studio is now with me always, literally fitting in my backpack. My studio comes with me everywhere, even when we travel. It has changed my entire approach to my art. I no longer have to conceptualize the work - I simply sketch or paint what I see. It’s very liberating.
I have never enjoyed creating art as much as I do now - downsizing has changed my life.
As Janice eloquently puts it, “We downsized our things so that we can expand our lives!”