Tag Archives: living with less

Discipline with Excess-ories

Living small is not about acquiring more.  The consumer orgy known as Round Top is not a good place to be if you are trying to learn to let go of stuff. The event long ago stretched beyond the idyllic burg of Round Top for miles in both directions along Texas Highway 237, about 20 minutes from Brenham, bringing a wild mix of antique, collectible and junk fairs twice a year, in early April and early October.

Hard to resist, especially when the vendor explains that she's making her chandeliers on the spot from combined parts.

Hard to resist, especially when the vendor explains that she’s making her chandeliers on the spot from combined parts.

If you have just a smidgen of shopping gene in you, Round Top exerts a powerful pull. My niece Lesley hadn’t ever experienced it, so I took her out for a very long day earlier this month. She’s contemplating her first apartment, and apparently planning to fill it with Coca-Cola memorabilia. We found plenty of that in the fields at Warrenton, which is where you go when you don’t mind a serious scavenger hunt. (If you want the goods beautifully curated and marked up accordingly, head to Marburger Farm.)

Some people grumble that Warrenton, long a junker’s paradise, has been overrun with cheap imported goods. But further back in the fields, you can still score a treasure here or there and find vendors with garage sale-like setups, where everything’s thrown on a few tables and marked $5 or $10.

Made here in Brenham, as it turns out.

Made here in Brenham, as it turns out.

It’s best if you’re on a mission. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, the visual cacaphony can overwhelm you pretty fast. My goal this time was simple: I’ve coveted Margaret Meier’s vintage European flax linens for years. Based in Florida, she sets up at the Rose Field in Warrenton as Vintage Fabrics & Etc. I had a project in mind: recovering a much-loved chair we bought for $75 years ago in the mountains of North Carolina.

European flax linen: Stay tuned. The chair should be ready in three weeks.

European flax linen: Stay tuned. The chair should be ready in three weeks.

My eyes fell on a 13-yard bolt with a double butterscotch stripe in a darker-than-usual color. Margaret, a subtle but sure saleswoman, assured me I’d made a great choice: the butterscotch was rare, she promised, especially on a bolt so wide. Almost $700 later, it was in my trunk. And we’d been out less than an hour, with the full day ahead of us. Dangerous.

Of course you don't need it, but these vendors sure know how to make you think you do.

Of course you don’t need it, but these vendors sure know how to make you think you do.

My discipline held up with objects like bird cages and lanterns. But because the garden yields so much joy, and it needs to be brought inside or shared with friends, I have allowed myself to continue collecting small vases. As luck would have it, a booth that clearly stood out as something different was at the aptly-named Excess show, where a lot of the dealers make and sell goods from repurposed industrial objects.

I could see these hanging from the living room ceiling.

I could see these hanging from the living room ceiling.

Many of these vendors are regulars but I hadn’t seen John Norton before. A chemist from North Carolina, he buys up lab glass from factories — test tubes, beakers and such — and “Silver Flashes” them. He says that unlike mercury glass, his pieces hold water; although he warns against shoving in thorny rose stems, which can scratch the silver.)

Lesley shops the Industrial Age Antiques booth at Excess.

Lesley shops the Industrial Age Antiques booth at Excess.

Norton’s beakers exude the coolness of objects you might see in a MoMA catalog. In fact, he said MoMA had contacted him about selling them. Look for them in the museum store soon if you’re in New York. In the meantime, Norton’s company, Industrial Age Antiques, also has a website.

I cratered.

I cratered.

I managed to keep my purchase to just small bulb-shaped vase. Lesley couldn’t resist, either. She’s a fast learner.

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.