It’s been four months. No car. No peanut butter. No warehouse clubs. And things are going great.
You see, our family of four has lived here in London since early January. My husband is teaching a journalism class at SU’s London Centre. We are enjoying our first winter in ten years without Syracuse’s copious snowfall.
But, as you might imagine, we are typical American consumers. We are used to stocking up at the supermarket once — maybe twice — a week. Here I’ve learned to grocery shop every day and carry everything home on foot. Here, there’s no van to load up with jumbo pack chicken pot pies, double pack jars of Jif and toilet paper to last until next Christmas. The Tesco trek is a daily chore and it is done sans shopping cart, with a small blue basket and a canvas tote.
Once the kids and I walk those goods to our flat, we cram them into a refrigerator smaller than the hot water heater in our Syracuse basement. The flat, by the way, is a lovely two-bedroom maisonette and we are comfortable here. But we are used to a bit more space.
Our Syracuse home rambles over 2,000 plus square feet and everyone has a bedroom. Here my nine and twelve year olds/ occasional mortal enemies share a room, one on the bed part of a trundle bed and one on the …well, trundle. The tiny space also holds a stuffed Mufasa from the glorious West End production of The Lion King and 531 (so far) UK football stickers plastered into a stack of books. So far, no major civil war has broken out despite the close quarters.
To be sure, my point here is that streamlining our space and belongings is a good thing for our family. We know already that we collect too much junk. Quarterly trips to Syracuse’s Salvation Army to unload outgrown clothes and unused toys only trim an inch off our material excess. And if we cleaned out our front hall closet, we could probably park a tiny European car in it.
As I packed for London, I put aside my packrat tendencies and gave away or tossed about two-thirds of my wardrobe. And I’m glad. The time has come for me to stop worrying whether I’ve worn a jacket more than once a week. Simplify. Streamline. There’s less to clean and mend.
Now, I don’t mean to give the impression that we didn’t bring plenty with us when we flew to the UK. My son managed to stuff his Wii, Nintendo DS, controllers and chargers into his carry-on bag. His father, a partner in crime when it comes to sniffing out ice rinks, skillfully stuffed three hockey sticks, two pairs of skates and all armor for on-ice battles into an extra suitcase.
But we have learned to drink Coke out of dwarf bottles and navigate London’s public transportation. We have enjoyed fuller, richer days here in this historic and cultural wonderland than we typically spend in our comparatively palatial space back home.
The only palatial aspect of London living is the cost. You need to be royally rich to afford the $14 sandwiches and $20 cost of dry cleaning one short raincoat. We, like every other American here for the spring semester, are wringing our bank accounts dry, thanks to the limp noodle US dollar. But we wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
True treasure doesn’t need space. London and its precious artifacts and history are our family’s great treasure. And we didn’t have to haul it home in a van.