Meg and Dean Hoornaert, their son Dexter (9) and daughter Kyle (8) live in a modest ranch house. They are a textbook nuclear family, yet they do not thrive in isolation. Their neighbor watches the children after school, but also stayed for dinner and an exciting game of Uno, which crafty Kyle won hands down.
Meg and Dean don’t have a white picket fence. In fact, they are tearing down the fences across three backyards so that children and dogs will have more space to run. Several neighbors dropped by to coordinate the upcoming yard expansion.
They also have an open door policy; anyone who arrives at their home gets assistance. Around 9:00 p.m. a young Indian man knocked and entered. Apparently his car was stuck. How it broke down on this side street and how he knew to seek refuge in this house is beyond me. Perhaps it was because we were laughing so loud at our game. Anyway, Dean welcomed the man inside and arranged for an Uber.
Meg and Dean have only one car, which sits in the driveway most days. Their neighborhood is hardly urban, but they can walk to stores and cafes, the library and the post office. Dean rides his bike to Intuitive Surgical in Santa Clara, where he’s been an engineer for eighteen years. The children walk to school; Meg substitute teaches and often walks as well.
Their single car garage is devoted to bikes – many bikes. They each have their own and there’s a pair of tandems for family trips. Meg and Dean toured before their children were born, and are planning more now that Dexter and Kyle are bigger. Next year, the family is taking a sabbatical to travel around the world.
That may seem an extraordinary luxury for a young family, but Meg and Dean understand that financial independence is not just a function of what you earn, but also how much you spend. They never bought that second car, the bigger house, the vacation house. What they enjoy – outdoor activities and time with their children – doesn’t cost a lot.
Dean’s bucked the Silicon Valley trend to job hop. “I had a chance to go to Apple a few years ago, but I turned it down.” He’s employee #75 at Intuitive Surgical, developer of the Da Vinci robotic surgery device. Steadfastness has made Dean financially secure. “I have a good friend at work who’s moving to a new job. We are really going to miss her. I wonder why she’s moving on when I am thinking of retiring.”
An evening with the Hoornaert’s is interesting in what’s missing. Our dinner was simply but hearty, served up family style. We didn’t discuss water or real estate, California’s two main topics of conversation. Conservation is the general consciousness of the Hoornaert household. Their real estate is the center of family life first; their investment second. There’s no TV. A piano occupies the wall where most people would hang that. Kyle and Dean played some wicked four-hand duets.
In the morning, amidst the coordinated choreography of getting five people cleaned, dressed, fed, and out to five different places, Dexter had yet to come up with a response to my question. He’s an analytic soul, who accepted my query with gravity. His morning chore was to put out the recycling. “We just need less stuff.” Perhaps he wanted his chore lightened. More likely, I think he understood the values his parents lived. The less stuff we have, the more choices will be available to us.
How will we live tomorrow?
“Tomorrow I will live pretty much the way we do today.” – Dean
“We just need less stuff.” – Dexter
“We’re going to go to school and it will be fun.” – Kyle
“We’re going to live in love.” – Meg
“We will live with less stuff. We are in a sweet spot where energy and possessions are over abundant. That is not sustainable, Contracting will not be bad.” – Dean