Involuntary Simplicity

I have always loved shoes. Not just any shoes: elegant, high quality, classic in design, wearing well over time. Even when I was a graduate student living in New York, when my income was laughable, I shopped for shoes at Bloomingdale’s. Over the years, I have created a nice collection. It was not on Imelda Marcos’ scale but for me these two or so dozen pairs of elegant shoes, in different colors, were a source of pleasure.


Well, it all came to an end about two years ago when foot problems signaled the end of an era. I was forced to transition to different types of shoes: more comforting for my feet and less comforting for my ideas of styles and beauty. My carefully built collection became obsolete. It took me about a year to face up to that fact and another year to give it away, in stages, painfully and regretfully. I replaced it with a small and utilitarian set of shoes I mostly dislike.

But here is a bright side to this involuntary downshifting. For one thing, I hardly ever need to ponder what shoes I should wear for an occasion. I have more room in my closet. And I lost all interest in going to shoe stores because finding a pair that will fit is so difficult and unrewarding, and the outcome so uninspiring, that the less I try the better off I am. And I am saving money.

An experiment in sharing economy


We have a vacation house in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod. A twenty-minute walk through woods and marshes gets me to a public beachfront on the bayside. It is a hidden gem with extraordinary sunsets and ten-foot tides.

For as long as I can remember, there have always been rowboats, canoes and occasional kayaks stored at the beach front. We also stash an oldish canoe there. The boats are not locked, everyone just ties up to a wooden fence that town authorities installed for our convenience. A couple of years ago, they built a long rack for storing an increasing number of these vessels, evidently to protect the fragile beach grass from being trampled when the boats were dragged back and forth by their owners.

I noticed over the past three or four years a rapid proliferation of kayaks. Every year there would be more of them. This past year I counted approximately forty. The storage rack is already full and excess boats just came to be stored out on the sand.

Now, a kayak is a good choice for these waters because the frequent winds make a heavy canoe difficult to navigate. So we decided that we also wanted a kayak of our own. Before buying one, which is not a big expense, I set out to study other people’s kayaks in order to decide on the style most appropriate model for us. The first thing I noticed was that the boats were hardly ever used; each kayak is always in the same precise location. Whenever I am in the area, I rarely ever see anyone launching their personal kayak.

So is it not possible for us to share these boats among ourselves, rather than keep adding new ones? I estimate that there are about 200-300 houses for which this beachfront is regarded as “their beachfront,” so the prospect of more vessels on this tiny piece of sand and grass is very unappealing. I created a laminated sign and put it up there. So far, no responses.