A thing, surely, is as big as it is. It takes up the space it does and that's all there is to it.
In the same way, a person has a certain level of income and capital, and a certain level of financial commitment — and either they have enough money to pay their bills or they don't, and that's the end of it.
On the face of it, those are self-evident truths.
Raising a large family, on a modest budget in a small-to-medium sized house, caused me to look very deeply into the challenges posed by the economies of storage and money. I like puzzles, and managing a home is very similar to an unending game of strategy, a puzzle.
Something I learned that goes on surprising me even though it is by now a very familiar phenomenon, is that how you store something affects the space it takes up, and when you spend money affects how much you need.
Time and again I've looked at my budget and had to concede it simply doesn't work — there isn't enough money — only to find, if I went on looking and thinking, and thinking and looking, I would eventually see a way to make it work by timing. I would set money aside to pay the various different bills we incurred, and there'd be a shortfall. But I discovered I had to look at it like a dance or a piece of music. I had to take the timing into account. If I took some money from over here and put it over there (borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, as they used to say), then there'd be enough money to pay the bill as it came in. Then when a payment for some work done came in, it would be in time to ensure the account from which I'd borrowed was topped up. It's crucial, and it never ceases to surprise me. There is almost always a way if you factor in timing as well as income and capital. For most of my life I haven't had enough money to do the things I've done; you don't need as much as you think you do — it's all about managing the flow.
And the same applies to managing the space, in setting a house in order. When I sit on my bed and look at my clothes, now I've put them away KonMari-style, I find it hard to believe how little room they take up.
My wardrobe (closet) is about four foot wide (slightly less). My aim was to have ten clothes hangers, but in reality I used to have between twelve and fifteen. On each hanger I had approximately three garments — a t-shirt, a cardigan and a skirt; or a pair of trousers, a t-shirt and a fleece. Some had more, because I hung them in outfits. So there might have been a pair of trousers, a t-shirt, a sweater and a cardigan. And my wardrobe looked rather full.
Meanwhile I also had a set of shelves to accommodate everything that wasn't clothes-on-hangers — so, underwear, toiletries, books, glasses, etc., etc..
But when I folded my clothes up like Marie Kondo shows you, they take such a startling amount less space that I could put not only the clothes but also the shelves away in the wardrobe.
It really surprised me. The clothes had been hung up very neatly, more than one garment to every hanger — how could it possibly be that they take up so very much less space when you store them in a different way?
It's the same phenomenon as the money thing — the impact on your life of what you have, is determined by how you manage it.
And I think that isn't obvious, or necessarily what you'd expect.
Of course if you simply live beyond your means or keep adding items into your home without taking any out, then it will all go horribly wrong. A house is only a box of a certain size, and even cleverly managed money can only go so far. But there is a kind of astonishing magic in the management of space and flow, that never ceases to evoke in me a sense of childish delight — when something should be impossible, but somehow it's not.
And to me, it's part of the duty and delight of loving — it makes even really very modest resources stretch a long, long way. Suddenly you have enough to share.
I remember my mother making a somewhat acid remark to my sister — this was decades ago: "I think Penelope must have a private income." It made me smile, because it felt like that to me, too — like Mary Poppins' bag. But really it was just a matter of understanding space and timing. It's not the what, it's the how.