Return to the Real
By: Chris Silva

Stuff. Things. Objects. Inventory. Pieces. Junk. Heirlooms.


Terms that mostly mean the same thing, depending on context. The objects we take care of can define how much free time we have. The old adage that says, “The stuff we own usually ends up owning us” is to me only a half-truth. Frankly, “stuff” doesn’t own anything—it is incapable of such. Inanimate objects really only serve us in two (possibly three) ways: as tools, as guides for our spirits, or as a mixture of the two. We imbue these objects with the permission to own our time (thus us) through our management of them.

A long (and more real) time ago, “traveling light” was held in high regard. Doing so meant one was free to roam, to get things done without obstacle, to experience freely. People carefully considered every single object they kept because ownership was a lifetime commitment and resources didn’t come cheap or easy. Experience was fleeting. People lived in smaller spaces and did bigger things, meaning they were able to concentrate on smaller tasks that mattered more. Back then, great things were never built overnight and never expected to be.

We love to look back and think about how we’ve advanced, how the Internet has changed the world for the better, how modern medicine and the industrial revolution have made us into superior beings that relentlessly rule the earth. However, for me, and for many others, I’ve noticed a shift. Maybe it’s nostalgia for an earlier, simpler time—the evidence is all around us. Design is going minimal and retro, beards are no longer reserved for vagabonds and lumberjacks, yet at the same time, safety razors are making a comeback, and the handcrafted is more desired and valued than it has been in some time. People not only want but need an authentic experience.

As an artist myself, shortly after completing graduate school I started looking for ways for my art to be my life. I see art as an indispensible presence in my life as well as that of others in my community. I started a business flipping (buying & reselling) objects, which turned into opening a retail store that intentionally had zero focus: we sold anything and everything. We listened to our customers and their feedback, we curated, we ran with what worked, and today, the business focuses on objects as delivery systems for experiences that the community so badly needed – which is apparently retro or vintage video games. I think about possession, ownership, and structures that manage object trade such as eBay and Amazon, and the desire that people have for these things. Personally, I don’t collect, I don’t like owning things, maybe something is broken in me, or maybe my training in art has conditioned me to think in that way. I spend most of my time making things, making experiences, making art—blurring the line between life and career. I didn’t want to clock in and clock out: making things is enough for me, the simpler the better.

Recently my fiancé and I decided we wanted to live more like times past: live smaller, more minimal, with less “stuff”, doing bigger things. We both desire a change, something sustainable in all senses: spiritually, financially, and practically. With Karly applying to medical school, and both of us not coming from wealth, this has become for me another opportunity to create a situation where our community can gather and benefit from our collaborative creation. Another opportunity to curate an experience out of what could have easily been merely a selfish pursuit. We decided that building a tiny house (sub-200 square feet) and spending more time on things that mattered was the way for us. Through a series of connections and communications, we were granted a space to display our new small home during the annual Earth Day festival where we currently live here in Santa Barbara. Additionally, we have many community and sustainably conscious builders and tradesmen working on the project. Our university UCSB embraced the project and a class formed where the students are learning about alternative living spaces, sustainable/responsible design, and what housing options they have after graduation. Many are excited and interested: these students, a lot of them under 22 years old, also feel the draw to expand their free time and simplify their lives during this chaotic time.

We decided to put off a honeymoon in order to create a lasting experience, to build something. Instead of spending a few days in a so-called “paradise,” we want to create a lasting paradise that will serve us for many years to come, and hopefully the impression left on others during our journey will last even longer. We wanted to leave an object-oriented life behind and focus on what’s important.

When I talk to my mother about stuff (things, objects), it is always a sore subject. She constantly needs to move things around, manage the time to do so, or wishes she even had the time. I took those conversations as lessons and am acting upon them. Almost everyone I know in my community has a similar story of wanting to return to something real by living with less. We hope to set an example by doing, sharing, and living this life ourselves.


Chris Silva is a 31-year-old performance and new media artist currently living in Santa Barbara, CA. He holds a BFA in Photography from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA in New Media from UC Santa Barbara and now owns the only independent video game store in Santa Barbara County. Chris and his fiancé Karly are currently building a 185 sq. ft. tiny house to be displayed at the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival that takes place April 18th – 20th 2015.