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Downsizing, Chapter 1

For several weeks now, I’ve been warming up to the idea of “downsizing” my life ~ that is, launching into a thorough investigation I like to call “let’s see how much Amber can live without”.

The idea is to let go of any extra expense or unnecessary convenience, and in the process of simplifying my life, I am saving money, improving my health and (hopefully) earning Karmic bonus points.

The first casualties of my experiment were my personal cell phone and my home Internet connection. The cell phone was more of a psychological attachment than a practical sacrifice: I still have my work Blackberry and that serves my needs just fine, but (I’m a little embarrassed to admit) I kept my personal line mostly because I was attached to my 415 number, as if my self-identity as a San Francisco native somehow hinged on the area code of my cell phone.

The Internet connection has proven to be a little trickier to let go of, but ultimately it has done me some good to take this step. For one thing, I am no longer going home to spend hours in front of the computer in the evening after spending 8+ hours in front of the computer at my office. For another thing, it’s given me an added excuse to hang out in local coffee shops during the weekend, where I invariably run into people I know, or start talking to people I don’t know ~ so I am not only saving $50 clams a month, but I am interacting with more people in “real life” (whatever that means, ha!).

Next on the chopping block is a big scary beast: my car. It has long been apparent what a stupid thing it is for me to own a car in Bend, where it takes almost as long to defrost my windshield in the morning as it does to actually make the drive from my home to my office. Everything I could possibly need is only a couple of minutes away, even by bike, and yet I continue to drive just out of force of habit.

Well, there’s also the little issue of personal style ~ I’m the kind of girl who clops around in heels on all but the snowiest days, and I’ve been known to tape poetry to my bathroom mirror just to give me something to do while I am fixing my hair in the mornings, cause yeah, some days it takes that long. Sneakers and a bike helmet are really not in my vocabulary. But these are changes I am willing to work with, in the interest of improved karma and lowered expenses.

That may sound well and good, but I’ve been hesitating on this issue for several months now, just not quite willing to take the big leap. In that serendipitous way things always seem to work out in my life, I think I got a giant message from God on the occasion of President Obama’s inauguration, like a baby bird being nudged out of the nest.

I had for many days been wondering in what way I wanted to answer President Obama’s call to service, what meaningful change I could make to celebrate this new chapter in our nation’s life. On the morning of the inauguration, I left the house later than planned, and was dashing to work more furiously than I should have been in the hopes of getting to the office in time to pull up the streaming video in the conference room (I’ve long been rid of my television, so viewing the inauguration at the office was my backup plan).

Driving faster than I should have been on Century Drive, suddenly my car lurched, slowed, and the transmission light started to flash bright yellow. Since that moment, my car has been chug chug chugging like the Little Engine That Could, and it rumbles violently at stop signs and red lights. Coaxing my car up to thirty miles an hour seems to take an enormous effort, I almost feel like I need to apologize for making such outrageous demands.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure the transmission is about to die. Thankfully, there are still 4,000 miles left on my warranty, so I can fix the beast before ridding myself of it, but still the divine message seems pretty clear: getting rid of the car is the change I’m being asked to make. My basic plan is to buy a bike sometime in the next few weeks, and to go completely carless throughout the next spring and summer. Possibly sometime next fall or winter I’ll buy another, more fuel efficient car, and by then I should be so thoroughly in the habit of using my bike that I will only use the car when it’s snowing or when I need to leave town.

That’s the plan, anyway.