Category Archives: Little Lessons

The “Action” House

The Mr. made a joke not too long after we moved in about how he could now vacuum the entire house without having to move the plug. Well, it was kind of funny but it wasn’t actually a joke.

There are times I feel cramped at my desk, in a chair that backs into a file cabinet and incessantly pulls up the corner of the rug over which it rolls.

But after happening upon this video of Christian Schallert, a cheerfully ingenious guy living in Barcelona,  I can no longer complain. The point “where it gets annoying” for him, he admits, is when his bed is rolled out, taking up much of his 258-square foot apartment, which is accessed by walking up 100 stairs.

He calls it an “action” house because all the elements (except the teensy shower and toilet) have moving parts that must be activated to be converted for multiple purposes or concealed. He stays in shape just by going to bed, watching TV or setting a table for lunch.

Needless to say, he doesn’t have to think hard about what to wear each morning.

“You’re forced not to be chaotic,” he says. And how. Now, this is inspiring.

Life without a dishwasher

I’ve written stories about architects who build (and live in) homes that are about 700 square feet.I keep thinking of them as we settle into our 1,100-square foot cottage.

We are not exactly roughing it, but we have lived for five months now without a dishwasher. Installing one would mean giving up storage space in our small kitchen.

Half of the kitchen at move-in.

When there are just two of you, the dishwasher becomes mostly a receptacle for storing dishes; a way to procrastinate. You still rinse them, right? So why not just go ahead and wash?

So far, so good. It only took about two months to choose a drain pan. We eventually went with the simplest Rubbermaid thing out there, passing on fancy models that cost a lot and take up more space.

The slight downside: Seems like there are always dishes in the sink, since we almost never dry them right after washing them. So we really haven’t cured that procrastination thing, have we?

Could we really just be using the same two bowls, two salad plates and two dinner plates OVER and OVER again? Which means unless we have company, that’s all we really need.

Early summer: Our first dinner outside on the deck.


Do you have any idea how hard it is to resist a sale of knick-knacks that your neighbor has spent a year collecting, even though you have SWORN OFF accumulating any more stuff since a bunch of yours that you’ve almost forgotten after five months is still in storage?

Well, here’s the deal. Betty and Don down the street have been setting up for a week, putting tents over their driveway, layout out tables, piling on the stuff and blocking the driveway with their pick-up trucks for security. This morning, they finally opened up shop.


Betty said she does this every year about the time the Round Top dealers roll through town. (Actually, the shows are twice a year.) The fall shows start tomorrow at Warrenton, and Blue Hills has been open since last weekend. (I went to Blue Hills and discovered the gardens, which I love love love, but I didn’t buy a thing. Not even the pillows from some High Point, N.C. ladies with pretty prints of bees, which I could have used. Progress!)

Traffic has been noticeably heavier in Brenham this week as everyone in the antiques and junking world descends for the twice-yearly stuff-fest.


Betty puts up a wooden sign at the end of the block that says, simply, “Sale.” Not “Garage Sale” or “Estate Sale.” And no address. It’s like an exclusive club, kind of: If you have to know more, you probably don’t belong there.


With their granddaughter-in-law Adie and a few other friends helping, Betty and Don held court and collected money as ladies in-the-know prowled through the goods, most of it glassware.

You must have a big storage room, I said to Betty.

She pointed a little sheepishly, grinning, toward the windows of a back room in her house, which might be a dining room or a glassed-in porch or both – I couldn’t tell for sure and didn’t want to seem too nosy. I’m still new around here. (Anybody whose family hasn’t been in this town for five generations is new, so we’re more like aliens although everybody’s been really nice.)

Clearly visible in the shafts of morning sun were three or four shelves on the back wall absolutely crammed with small glass goodies. “Sometimes it’s hard to let them go,” Betty said.


I got out of there with just one painted metal basket, which I actually need to hold fruits and veggies. Yeah, need, that’s right. It was $5, and a teensy gold and black “Made in China” sticker is still on the bottom, but I love the clean, cheerful shape. It was satisfying enough that I didn’t need to purchase anything else.

We’ll see how the discipline holds up when I head out to Warrenton in a day or two.

It faces east

The little house in Brenham, early summer 2012.

The first time we stepped into the little house in Brenham with a real estate agent, our reaction was quick: cute but way too small. Tiny kitchen. No dishwasher, and nowhere to add one. One long narrow room in the front that would have to suffice for living and dining. Two bedrooms, both about 10 x 12 feet. Two baths, not unusably tiny but not up to our citified standards in the tile, fixtures and finishes dept. It was under contract, anyway.

The next time we visited, that contract had fallen through, and our agent, whose name was Boo (no kidding) persisted. “Let’s just take a quick look,” he coaxed. We liked the big yard — about 8,000 square feet –almost twice as big as our Houston lot. It gave us a nearly blank slate for a new garden, with a big ol’ pecan tree out back, some gargantuan shrubs that turned out to be winter jasmine and two trees we thought were big limes along the driveway, and some ill-placed boxwoods, hawthorns and nandinas in the front yard, where the 2011 drought had pretty much decimated the grass. The big deck and the view out the kitchen window also appealed. So did the shed out back, which could be converted into a studio for Don.

View out the kitchen window shortly after move-in.

The kitchen was kind of darling, with a few craftsman details in the woodwork and glass front cabinets, plush niches up top where I could display our heirloom teacups and pots.  Did we really need a dishwasher?

The floor plan wasn’t bad, actually – the two bedrooms and baths were at opposite ends of the house. There was a nice breakfast room. The place had a gazillion windows, so it could be bathed in natural light. The laundry ‘room’ conveniently occupied a long, narrow hall closet. The front bedroom, which we began to envision as my office and a guest room, had a big walk-in closet.

The biggest plus: We could pay cash for it, which meant freedom from a house payment and property taxes that had become a big burden. Flash forward a year and a few weeks… We bought the little place last September – right around Labor Day – sold the Houston home we’d lovingly tended for 15 years and moved to the country on Memorial Day.

We are adjusting to a new life in a small town midway between Houston and Austin, living in half the house with twice the yard we once had. There are days when I think we’re in heaven and days I want to bust out walls with my elbows. Come back often and share your thoughts with me as we explore the pains, the pleasures and the process of learning to exist with less.

Less stuff, less stress. Did I mention the other great thing? Our front door faces east, an optimistic direction.