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Confessions of a Recovering Pack Rat

I’ve always been a lover of yard sales, thrift shops and flea markets; and I still am. It’s fun to hunt for treasures and find a bargain. Yet so often I’d drag home pretty things I didn’t really need. Or I’d find a future project like the chippy chair that needed a little sanding and new paint, a vintage lamp to rewire, pretty tiles I’d use somewhere, someday.

There were plenty of finds I put to good use, yet so many pretty dishes got shoved to the back of the cupboard and all those projects sat in my attic and garage for years, waiting for the day I'd have more free time.

Letting go

My day of reckoning came while I prepared to sell my 2,400 square foot craftsman house in Portland. In preparation for my three-day estate sale, I went through 13 years of accumulation, pulling all those projects and collected items out of my attic and garage along with hundreds of other items I no longer needed.

Right before we opened the front door for the sale, I surveyed each room of the house from the living and dining rooms, the kitchen and the two upstairs bedrooms. Every table, countertop and floor surface was covered in vintage linens, dishes, rustic antiques, endless rows of tchotchkes and all those future projects. It was at that moment I realized, I did this. I accumulated all this stuff. I am a pack rat. I wasn't a full-blown hoarder, but I was definitely an accumulator, and one who was ready to change her ways.

As items flew out of the house into the hands of dealers and collectors, I felt a huge sense of freedom. I was letting go of all these things that no longer served me. I was making space for new opportunities and new adventures. I was free.

Moving on

Two years later, after I’d downsized for the second time into my 700 square-foot accessory dwelling unit, I was walking through the Camas, Washington Vintage and Art Fair. My eyes darted back and forth, scanning all the beautiful items lining the street. I was only looking for a much needed, large bone China coffee mug. But I spotted a handcrafted garden sign made of old wood, an ornately framed French mirror and a shabby-chic green folding chair. I wanted them all. I even wanted the pink vintage trailer a vendor was selling cosmetics out of — but alas, it was not for sale.

I have that gene in me. That urge to accumulate. But now, I was determined to only bring things into my life that served my higher purpose. As I walked away, the disappointment I felt was quickly replaced with a sense of freedom and relief, and gratitude that I don’t have a garage or a storage shed. The mirror was lovely, but I had no wall space for it. If I’d bought that sign it would have needed to be weatherproofed with varnish — another project. And I needed another folding chair like a hole in the head.

I felt I’d had a breakthrough. I no longer had the need to accumulate. Or was it just because I lived in a place so small one more thing wouldn’t fit? What would happen if I moved to a larger house?

Being a conscious shopper

Now that I have my second home in France, I’m wondering if I can keep my minimalistic discipline. At 875 square feet and three bedrooms, it seems so big compared to my Portland house, but it’s still a small house.

If all my past accumulating, and subsequent purging and downsizing, has taught me one thing, it's to be a conscious shopper. Even while searching for basic kitchen essentials, I found myself questioning whether I really needed things. How often do I use a garlic press, a toaster oven, a whisk; do I need these at all?

The decorating side is more challenging as I don’t have a clear vision yet. I want to add more French country charm, but still keep the décor minimal. When I return to France in late spring there will be many temptations at the brocant (antique) markets and vide greniers (yard sales). Especially at the vide greniers because the prices are so low. Yet I am determined not to clutter the house with too much bric-a-brac.

Here are my ground rules before I buy anything for my home:

  • I must love it. I won’t buy anything just because it’s cute and inexpensive.

  • It must be something I actually need and can put to use right now. No future projects.

  • Everything (or almost everything) must be both decorative and functional.

  • It must fit into the overall décor of the house. When I return, I will create a vision board for the design style.

Although I feel I have made a shift, I must remember I am an accumulator at heart, and minimalism is still a new frontier. It certainly helps, and I am most grateful, that my French country house doesn’t have a garage or a whole lot of storage.



Hi, I’m Lori Cronwell. As a writer and frequent traveler, I admire the values most Europeans embrace: choosing quality over quantity; residing in smaller, more sustainable homes; working less and spending more time with friends and family.

Those values were key in my decision to drastically downsize to a 700 sq. ft. accessory dwelling unit (ADU) with the goal of creating a simpler, more sumptuous life with time for travel.

Slow travel, that is. Spending more time in one place — even if it’s just a week. You'll not only spend less, you'll discover a deeper and more meaningful travel experience.

Please subscribe below and join me on a journey to find affordable ways to explore Europe in the slow lane and to live a more European lifestyle every day of our lives.

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