Live Smaller

Note: This entry was written originally in 2008.

I have a new ride. She is black and has two wheels, and she is named Louise. Louise is sleek and Italian and lovely, and my husband and I bought her one recent afternoon in the French Quarter. The quality of my commute has improved, as her wheels handle the considerable potholes of the old streets of New Orleans without leaving me rattled. She has lights and a dainty black basket.

Working at the motorcycle store has been every bit the adventure that I anticipated. The woman that owns it has done a remarkable job building her business, and the men in her life (her husband and two sons) are all thoroughly engaged in running it. Conflicts arise, as they naturally would in any business setting. Since the conflicts affect family members instead of mere colleagues, they take on a slightly more heated tone than do the average water-cooler situations. But the they also laugh with each other, help each other, and enjoy each other. They work really, really hard.

Every day I continue to try to understand what I seek in a career, and in a life. I have come embarrassingly slowly to the realization that had I chosen to live a little smaller at some key times in my past, I would have felt less trapped and more able to explore options. I have often chosen expensive instant gratification, rather than the more fruitful slow and careful path to resolving my questions. I admire my friends who lived carefully on a new teacher’s (writer’s, accountant’s, advocate’s…) salary and still managed to save instead of going negative. I admire my sister and her family, who long ago set down a vision for their family, and have continued to steadfastly follow their path. If they have ever been distracted from it, I have seen no such evidence.

Slowly I work to make better choices with my wallet and my time. Choosing a light and fun job over the serious and never-ending task of spreading English around was a good start. However, lately we have noticed that when I spend more time at home, and less time selling European helmets and motorcycle replica shirts to people, I have time to cook and keep things more organized. Voila, improved domestic harmony, better physical health, and the financial cost to the household is exactly the same. This is news to me, and perhaps others in my generation, but surely not my mom, or others in her generation. I am in quiet awe of my friends and family who have taken on the challenge of simultaneously working full-time and parenting. Sometimes I feel barely able to keep the cat up and running during busy weeks.

In New Orleans it is easier to live smaller than it was in Minnesota. The lack of grueling winter simplifies maintaining a two-wheel commute throughout the year, instead of only 6 months out of the year. It also means that there is not much of a heating bill. Maybe it is not just New Orleans though…maybe it is Chip, or the time in my life, or the uncertainty of what is next. Maybe I am just sick of having stuff because having stuff means packing and moving stuff. More and more, I notice that having stuff also means finding ways of disposing of it, and often far too quickly to make it worth the original cost, environmental or financial. For whatever the reason, I can finally report that living smaller provides satisfaction more often than pain. Not that I’m great at it, but I’m making progress.

I was really excited to buy a Vespa…I have had a crush on those beautiful scooters since I moved to New Orleans. But ultimately, it was not the most reasonable choice for Chip and I. It was more vehicle than we needed in our household right now, and it was better to save our money for other things. Ultimately, that is what led me to Louise: a beautiful and sleek bicycle. Who knows how long Chip and I will be down here, and of course I still have no idea what I will be when I grow up, but I do know that because we are living smaller, we feel free to make new choices, rather than to be bound by our previous ones.