Posted by: patenttranslator | December 11, 2018

The Zen of Downsizing

Niemand ist mehr Sklave, als der sich für frei hält, ohne es zu sein.

[No one is more of a slave than he who thinks himself free without being so.]
Johann Wolfgang Goethe

It is a time-tested custom that older people downsize from a big house if it is no longer suitable for them as they suddenly have different priorities than when they were younger. This is now called downsizing in America and other countries, but it is in fact something that has been around forever, in different forms and in different cultures.

In old Japan, for example, there was a custom of drastic downsizing called obasute, or ubasute, ((姥捨て), which literally translated means “throwing the old woman out”, or “oyasute” ( 親捨て) , which means “throwing the parent out.” Wikipedia describes this ancient custom as “the mythical practice of senicide in Japan, whereby an infirm or elderly relative was carried to a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, and left there to die.”

But I don’t think there is anything mythical about it. Why invent a mythical barbaric custom if there is not some truth to it? When times were hard and there was only so much rice to feed hungry family members, you had to make a choice whether to keep alive the children or grandma and grandpa.

When Bohemia was still a part of good old, ramshackle Austria-Hungary a century or two ago, a preferred form of what is now called downsizing in English-speaking countries was in Bohemia called “na vejminku“, which is hard to translate, partly because unlike Japanese, the Czech language does not have Chinese characters with cute and meaningful curlicues (although it would be so much fun if it did, wouldn’t it)? Anyway, na vejminku could be translated as [living] on a concession.

When the parents got to be too old to live in their original house, their children, who were now married and with children of their own and needed more space, simply took over the big house and instead of taking the parents to a mountain to die there of hunger and exposure, they allowed their old parents to live out their days in a smaller building constructed for the old geezers behind the main house. This was the condition (or concession) under which the old folks agreed to give their house to their kids.

To the best of my knowledge, people no longer bring grandpa or grandma to a mountain to die there, nor do they build that much little houses behind the main house for their elderly parents. Fortunately, old people in most countries now have an income called pension, provided that they have been honestly paying taxes for many years while they were working.

But because in every country, the income from a pension is likely to be much smaller than what most people were making when they were younger, typically about one third of the original income, older people often use different, creative forms of downsizing when they reach retirement age to make ends meet.

But downsizing is about more than when old folks move to a smaller place in a cheaper area or country. It is a philosophy and a way of life that is becoming popular as an alternative to the Western type of insatiable and ultimately unsustainable consumerism, a hungry dragon that insists on eating itself, starting from the tail and continuing until it logically must swallow its head and then die.

More and more people in all age categories are beginning to understand that it makes no sense to measure the health of a society and success of individuals in it by how fast the GNP (General National Product) is growing. When more than 50 percent of marriages in Western countries end up in divorce, which they do at this point, this is a very healthy development from the viewpoint of how quickly the GNP number is growing. Divorce lawyers are getting rich as poor ex-husbands must pay and pay, but it is hardly a positive development for the society in a given country.

Incidentally, as per the Youtube video below, unlike in recent past when divorce was usually initiated by men, 75% of divorces are now initiated by women who see divorce mostly as a way to conveniently squeeze even more money from the men who at one point were stupid enough to marry them.

Older people move from countries with a high cost of living to retire in cheaper countries, which often offer also a warmer climate and a simpler way of living.

Young people who refuse to be saddled with mortgage for two or three decades choose different strategies to avoid becoming slaves to insatiable appetites of the banking and real estate industry. When they eventually move from mama’s basement, and they prefer to stay a long time in what in Europe and Japan is called “hotel mama”, they move to small apartments instead of buying their first house, or use even more drastic methods of avoiding a huge debt, including building a tiny house or even retrofitting a van to create a permanent living space for themselves.

Drastic downsizing of any type of course always comes with many challenges.
If you move to a different country, you will either have to learn a new language, get used to a different culture and find new friends, or remain a foreigner in the country where you are trying to make a new home.

If you downsize to a tiny house, you may have to climb up a ladder every time you want to go to bed – and go from bed to bathroom – and you will have to solve all kinds of problems, such as where to connect your water, electricity, gas and other utilities, including WiFi, the most important utility because it connects you to information and to the world.

The downsizing trends, such as the MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) trend and other societal changes are only some of the many indications that the current economic and political systems may have outlived their usefulness and that the structures that used to work reasonably well for several centuries are now breaking down and disappearing.

People are looking for new ways to live because the society as a whole is looking for alternatives to the old, rusty models that no longer seem to work very well. We can try to ignore what is going on around us, or stop being slaves of the dragon who is eating himself and has already eaten up at least 50% of his body, and instead enjoy and marvel at how things are constantly changing, and join the changing world with our small contribution to it, however small it may be.

The second approach, which I am calling the Zen of Downsizing in my silly post today, is in my opinion much more fun than the traditionalist acceptance of the way things are because we “know” that we can’t change anything anyway.


  1. Steve, we don’t go “ubasute” or go “na vejminku”. We go “semi-retired” until we go on ultimate concession. We don’t go out of it alive, anyway. Just take it easy. You definitely understand why the Germans call a graveyard “Friedhof”. There we find peace and freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting – the Goethe quote got me going. And excellent videos! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I shared you blog on my LinkedIn group. Avesome

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks!


  5. The custom you describe is not specifically Czech, of course.
    Among farmers In Austria and Southern Germany, it is called “Austrag”, and the old parents move to an “Austragshäuserl” (or in poorer/more cramped situations, where there isn’t a separate house, “Austragsstüberl”).

    Something similar among the landed aristocracy in England is the “dowarger house”.

    Liked by 1 person

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