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Saturday, Jul 07 2012 10:03 PM

Come on over, but bring your own shoehorn

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    Robert Price

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By ROBERT PRICE

So this is what that downsizing thing is all about.

We sold our home of 13 years near Cal State Bakersfield last month, pocketing a meager but acceptable profit, and moved downtown into a microscopic rental.

Our old neighbors were baffled. They wanted to know why. Had we run into unexpected financial difficulties? No, not unless you count out-of-control tuition increases at California public universities. This was about an opportunity to painlessly retire a mortgage that not so long ago had been upside down.

And it was about simplifying. With one kid off at college and the other sniffing the sweet fragrance of freedom just two years down the road, the time seemed right.

Then we acquainted ourselves with the reality of 1,200 square feet of living space. Somehow, within those limited confines, the builder (circa 1925) squeezed in three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Needless to say, only one person at a time may occupy any single room.

Compounding the coziness was the fact that Jill has come home from UC Davis. Her brother generously allowed her to take his room until September, leaving him with a twin mattress and an 8-by-10 room that was already crammed with furniture. During the day, we leaned the mattress against a wall and at bedtime we laid it out on the floor, making it impossible to cross the room without stumbling over his bed.

Fortunately, as we sorted through the boxes piled in the unattached garage, winnowing as we went, additional possibilities started taking shape. There was room for a sofa, a TV, a refrigerator, a stereo system, a desk, a foosball table and an 8-foot-tall cardboard cutout of Dan Marino -- good thing, too, because none of that stuff was going to fit in the house. We put a small air conditioner in the window, and voila! Ben had his man cave. We haven't seen him since June 29.

We love living downtown. My commute to work is literally three minutes if I hit the two traffic signals just right. I can walk to work in 15 minutes. Theoretically, I mean.

Jastro Park, the nicest park in the city and the scene of some of my greatest basketball-court heroics and humiliations, is right around the corner. I can still see Tony Lacava knocking down 25-footers over my lackadaisical defense.

One of the best things about downsizing is the forced paring-down of wardrobes. We were ruthless in ways we've never been ruthless before. I finally reached the conclusion that I don't need 16 pairs of identically faded blue Levis, 45 ball caps and 20 Hawaiian shirts, some of which I had forgotten I owned.

Moving into 1,200 feet of living space inspires cold, detached reasoning. Do I really need 300 vinyl record albums, some of which haven't seen a turntable since the Reagan administration? No, I do not. And what am I going to with those amateurish oil portraits of a 6-year-old me and my then-4-year-old sister that my Navy lieutenant father brought home from Japan? I'm going to toss them in the garbage can out in the alley and grunt with satisfaction.

I remember the feeling I had my first day of home ownership 23 years ago. I raised a shovel over my head and thrust it into the front lawn (because I didn't own a sword) like William Wallace claiming Scotland as sovereign soil. The Scots eventually came to their senses, and so did I. The bank giveth, the bank demandeth back, and homeowners only rarely truly become homeowners these days. We sold that first house two and a half years later.

As USA Today reported last month, the single-family home was the fastest-growing part of the rental market from 2005 to 2010, and we can expect its continued growth. The Prices are now part of the trend, and it's a comfortable feeling. Now, if I could only squeeze into the bathroom.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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