I am thirty, and I have still yet to own a couch of my choosing. Every couch that has permeated my living space has either been already provided by previous tenants or handed down to me by someone I know. What does that say about me, exactly?
While it is quite obvious that our personal successes are not defined by an ability to own a couch, I think it is implied that a medical professional of thirty would have been able to afford one by now. But buying a couch is no easy thing. In fact, buying ANYTHING for me is never an easy thing these days. The entire process involves a hefty amount of serious pondering and a mild case of deep-skin writhing.
In this line of work, I am approached by others in general for my thoughts on stuff. In a sense, my job here is to help make a value judgement. I am presented with the following questions: Who made it? How is it made? Where is it made? What materials are used? Why is it necessary? Which option is best, in terms of sustainability both in terms of the environment, the social implications, the global effects, and least importantly, my personal repercussions. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a matcha whisk, or a set of pajamas. It’s even more pressure on large scale purchases, such as a brand new couch.
I have been in search for a sustainable couch for years. Ever since my husband (then-fiance) and I moved into our own place two months after I graduated dental school in 2016. Specifically, I have looked for a couch wherein I can trace exactly where it was made, whose hands were used to make them, and in what environmental conditions. I have yet to find one that comes close. Most furniture companies don’t even bother to tag couches as sustainable, and those that do only involve a small level of sustainability (like using reclaimed wood without any consideration for the fabrics of the upholstery) that I cannot even take them seriously.
So then I started to reach out to acquaintances about possibly fabricating a couch. Our favorite piece of furniture in our home is a 12 foot dining table hand-made by the two girls who provided our wedding furniture. We thought maybe we could do the same with the couch. I reached out to a fellow wood-worker-baker and an at-home clothing seamstress to ask about making a sustainable wood frame and sourcing end-of-the-mill fabrics. But sourcing the fabric will take lots of work researching jobbers and the wood-worker friend was busy with current projects as well as a baking schedule. It wasn’t the path to take.
So we turned to the next sustainable option, which is to buy a used and unwanted couch from Craigslist, which would prevent an additional item from entering a landfill. I know that it would put us in the same spot as before, owning a couch that’s a hand-me-down of sorts, but at least it would be a couch of our choosing. When we went to Melbourne in January, we stayed at a really nice AirBNB, and we fell in love with a mid-century modern couch in their living room.
I was surprised to find a similar couch made by West Elm selling at Craigslist for $800. The same couch is still selling at West Elm for double the price. While West Elm sells some sustainable products, couches are unfortunately not one of them. But sustainability as defined by environmental impact is achieved with this option, and the fact that it was already owned means the buying of this Craigslist couch does not have an ADDITIONAL social impact or global effect, except for the positive effect of side swiping it from the landfill. So where’s the hitch?
It all came down to sustainability as defined by my personal life. $800 is no chump change. Maybe in proportion to brand new couches (why do they cost so much?) $800 seems like a steal. Perhaps it is. But in terms of my personal financial goals, $800 is almost double what we set aside each month for travel. $800 is almost three months worth of groceries, or eight months worth of dining out. $800 is a year’s worth of cat food for Theo, and probably all the Christmas and birthday presents we want to buy. It is one-third of our portion of the mortgage, which is helping us build equity – can a couch do that? It is 12% of our monthly loan payment, which is buying us freedom. How much freedom can a couch buy you?
In the end, we chose the most sustainable couch, which is the couch we already had. It buys us freedom from the cycle of continually searching for something better. It helps build us equity by not taking way from our ability to build equity. It fuels our financial goals, without taking away from our time. In the end, it came down to the answer of not which couch is best, but which couch is good enough. That’s what sustainability is all about.
I sometimes wonder how well these superlatives, and our quest for the best of something, end up serving us. What about the possibility of replacing better or best with good enough? The reality of my own day-to-day life is that living simply and keeping a pared down collection of well-loved items often isn’t about having the best. It’s about making the best of what I already have.
Like Erin, we search for ways to make the best of what we have. It’s the ultimate way to live without forever needing to chase. In our space, we have shades where walls should be, wooden panels where doors should be, and a bed where some might put a living room. But it ISenough, and there we still sleep soundly.
‘Thrifty‘ and ‘thriving‘ are two words you don’t often see in the same sentence, let alone together, side-by-side. The first insinuates a sense of meagerness while the second boasts of abundance. Yet in terms of small space living, it is important to establish both, and when small spaces are done well, one can do so without compromise.
Small space efficiency is a an underestimated selling point for having less square footage. Benefits of small space living include more affordable housing, more efficient heating of spaces, less material consumption, less time wasted and money spent on maintenance, et cetera. In this way, small spaces can help one be thrifty.
Small spaces also pave way for intimate relationships. Cozy is a term I like to use. Think winter cabins and snow storms with your closest college friends. This closeness can elicit a sense of connectedness with the inhabitants, and their guests … especially when the openness in a home makes every room visible regardless of where you stand. This ‘forcing’ of community is an example of how small spaces can help you thrive.
Not only are we small space dwellers, but I am also a fan of ‘less is more’. Influenced by Japanese culture (in terms of decluttering and caring for items – see Marie Kondo) and an admirer of Scandinavian design, I find that the ability to thriftily thrive lies in the way we give purpose to our small spaces. There are many ways in which a person can thrive, but our environments play a large role in that act. For me, having bare white walls supports a creative head space. For our family, an open floor plan facilitates intermingling. For visitors, having one large dining table in the center of the home gives us a reason to look each other in the eyes as we sit down and share a meal.
Below, I will detail a few aspects of our home that make it extremely functional for us, yet that require less than what is expected. I will also explain how these aspects help to make our lives more maximilist, although others would consider it minimal.
Open Floor Plans
Occupation of modest space calls for an open floor plan. The addition of walls can make a space feel smaller, and could be considered stifling, at best. Fluidity in movement, light, and air is helped by an excess of open space. In our home, the open space give Mike and I a sense of connectedness. I could be sitting on the bed, reading a book with the cat, and look across the way to see Mikey in the living room fiddling with his guitar strings. Likewise, I could be sitting on the couch surfing the web on my laptop, and peer above the screen to see Mikey playing video games in the bedroom. When people are over, guests are within eyesight of each other at all times, since the kitchen opens to the dining area which faces the living room. I have yet to hear a guest ask me where someone is.
In our home, the use of screens encourages engagement between moving parts, while granting privacy when space is needed. When Mike and I are alone, we usually have conversations that travel from the bed to the couch. When guests are over, the screens are usually pulled, to give a sense of privacy to those sleeping on the pull-out couch. The same goes for rooms as intimate as the bathroom. We have a wooden panel that slides to reveal a laundry tucked away into a corner of the home. It also functions as the door to our bathroom. Unless someone is using the loo or shower, the panel is usually covering the laundry machines, thus leaving the bathroom open to the rest of the home.
Natural lighting is the one criteria that I have for my homes. Give me the smallest cranny, but please don’t take away my sunshine. My mood is greatly influenced by sunlight, which also means that my ability to create is hindered by low levels of light. In our home, we have floor to ceiling lighting on both sides of the house. We have sheer pull down screens to sift the light, which we occasionally pull down in the evenings to limit the glow from street lamps coming into our home. But the minute I wake up, I pull the screens up to allow as much sunlight as possible. I throw the windows open, in hopes to invite more air in, as if the house was gasping for breath. And since the opposing walls of the home are covered in windows, it allows for a steady breeze to flow straight across – in one side and out the other. Both ample light and ventilation enhance the perception of space, so it is very important for small dwellings to have both.
Because I err towards having less, I am a big advocate of making the most out of what we have, rooms included. Just as I tend to avoid items that are not used on a daily basis, I think the same way of rooms. When people’s homes have too much space, nooks and crannies tend to go untended. Useless, unwanted. What’s the purpose? To sit and look pretty?! No thank you.
We should consider how spaces can be used for multiple functions. Our living room acts as our theatre room, our relaxation area, our music room, and occasionally, our guest bedroom. The couch folds down into a double sized bed, the coffee table has drawers to store a guest’s belongings. As aforementioned, our screen acts as a divider to give guests privacy. In the “dining room” three steps away, our 12 foot table serves as a means to throw dinner parties, to hold baked goods on a busy baking day, and at times, as my desk for blog work. In the kitchen only a mere hand’s reach, we have an island that we use as a breakfast table, a meal prep area, and a baker’s bench for shaping tens of loaves.
Quality Over Quantity
I wrote, once, about how our happiness does not lie in double vanity sinks. Maybe I’m alone in thinking that one bathroom suffices for all our toilet needs. But it is true. I only need one couch, and dare I say it, one living room (even if it lacks in formality). I don’t need a breakfast table and a more formal dining table. I don’t need a guest bedroom for ghosts to collect in. I mean, we have one closet for goodness sake! But it’s large enough to stash everything we own, and is that not enough?
Instead of giving me a couch that’s only for formal gatherings, give me one that I can fall asleep on and drool. Instead of having dinnerware saved for special occasions, give me a set of reliable and unfussy china that won’t break with daily use. Instead of different decor for the changing of seasons, give me bare walls, you feel me? The quality of our lives is not measured by how must stuff we have.
Maximalizing Small Spaces
I maximalize our space in multiple ways. Other than having ample lighting and blank slate walls, our home meticulously selects for items of similar materials. The floor is one single concrete slab that runs through every room (even the bathroom and bedroom). It is a light gray color, and lighter colors make spaces seem bigger than. A unifying floor also is better at maximalizing than having different floorings between each room.
Likewise, smaller spaces benefit from a unifying color palate. The materials we choose usually flux between dark wood, brown leathers, silver and chrome industrial metals, and straw and paper baskets and things. Our color schemes reflect natural color states, and only small pops of vibrancy (in the form of greenery and fresh fruit from the market) permeate the home. We try to balance the warmth from our wooden coffee table with the coolness of our exposed ventilation system. We juxtapose the softness in our linen sheets with the hardness of the iron side tables nearby. Despite having an Industrial vibe mixed with an organic collection of goods, the flow from one room to another flourishes with the help of a continuous color scheme.
In terms of items, I am very selective with what’s visible to the naked eye. I consolidate all of our belongings into closets, organize them behind kitchen cabinets, corral them into bathroom drawers. If I could, I would also tuck away the fridge behind pantry doors, and the microwave into its own cabinet. We do have open shelving but when it comes to items sitting on that shelf, I have one basic rule: Only the most beloved possessions get that privilege.
A Sense of Community
We use our humble abode as a vessel to create a community. We gather people who would otherwise be far away from each other due to our urban lifestyle. Our home is especially good at making people feel close-knit. Mostly, because there’s nowhere else to go! When people visit, there are really only so many seating areas. We have to mingle like we used to. No one can surf their social feeds unobserved. This isn’t the place for that. Likewise, on a daily basis, our roommate preps dinners and lunches in the same kitchen. We watch movies together, or play boardgames after dinner. Even Mike and I are forced to resolve whatever arguments we have within minutes, because hiding away to the bedroom does not mean you steal away from eyesight. In this way, our home has brought us closer to each other.
As much as I love our haven, our small space also promotes a relationship with our surroundings. Our home is for slow living, but when the bread has been baked, the meals have been prepped, the guitars have been strummed, and the eyes have gone crossed from all the reading, there isn’t really much else to do. That promotes slow living in the sense that we do a lot of observing, imagining, pondering, and sitting. But it also promotes a life lived outside.
We live in the heart of downtown. Our bedroom window overlooks Yost Theatre, and we can feel the bass thumping from the bar down the street at half past midnight. We get ding dong ditchers at 2am. At first, I hated it. But now, it is growing on me. Couple our location with living in a tiny home and what do we get? A husband and wife who will find joy in stepping outdoors. We walk to the market to buy groceries. We accompany people who want to dine out across the street. We walk to our favorite coffee shops and support local brewers. Monthly art walks draw us out after eating dinner at home. When the dogs I’m sitting feel a bit restless, out we go in search of grass. I am finding that as much of a sanctuary we make our home to be, it is equally important in being the place from which we go forth.
If you walk into our home, you’ll notice a certain spaciousness. Part of that spaciousness is helped by the lack of things, sure. Some may think the answer also lies in a vaulted ceiling, and yes, the array of bright California daylight streaming through the windows gives the home a bit more freshness that you can breathe in. But this isn’t what causes that feeling of space, for I’ve been in plenty a home with vaulted ceilings and bright windows, without feeling the peace. The subtlety that our home is plentiful in but which one may not recognize as serving a function, is the bareness of our plain, white walls.
I love plain, white walls. I love how fresh they feel, how they emit a sense of newness and emptiness, like blank slates full of possibility. When you move into a new home, the walls are white, to allow you to dream of what could be, rather than what is. I like to keep that door to creativity open, to live in a place where anything can happen.
I like the way that you can easily detect a smudge, and just as easily cover it with some fresh paint, without worrying so much about the layers blending in with each other, or achieving the perfect shade. White on white is simple, but painting gray on existing gray makes darker gray, and that’s too complicated. It’s emancipating how easily you could fix the problem. A can of paint is equivalent to the white out pen of adulthood, a magic eraser per say.
I like the way light reflects off of them, and how they can make a room feel brighter somehow, bigger almost. Living in a tiny home, that’s kind of what we need. I like how they accentuate the furniture, rather than hide them in their shadow. It’s almost as if it draws attention to the actual things that fill the home, rather than have the things hide the home itself. I like how they reflect the warmth of wood, and the coolness of metal. Dark walls wouldn’t do the same.
I like them better when they’re bare. Have you noticed how picture frames suck you in, open shelving collects clutter, and anything else at eye-level distracts your attention? Have you noticed how rooms feel smaller when the walls are covered with hanging treasures … ever felt claustrophobic, or suffocated? I like that people walk in here, and open up just by being in the white wall’s presence. I like that they don’t stop mid-conversation to comment on a painting, or a picture frame. While it may be nice to walk into a home and comment on the childhood photographs of the inhabitants of said home, perhaps, as a means to start a conversation or reminisce, I also think it detracts from an ability to speak to each other of things far less superficial. I am not saying this isn’t the way to decorate, for that’s a personal choice, but I am saying that when I stare out into space and regress into the inner workings of my own mind (as I oft do), it helps to achieve clarity when looking upon a blank space.How often do we get to converse, undeterred these days? How often do we get to think, without other inputs? It’s a gift, these minimalist walls.
Likewise, when I walk into a home teeming with things, I immediately feel a difference in my ability to breathe. Never you mind whether said things are stuffed safely in a closet, or organized neatly into stacks on a shelf, but it’s almost as if I can smell the mustiness (things DO have a smell). In smaller living quarters, the quality of air more poignantly matters, and I like breathing in the emptiness. The walls bleed a sense of calm that I cannot explain but can within my bones feel.
So if you ask me about small space living and a means to make them feel less small, start with these havens of white. My mantra of ‘do nothing’ stands. Allow for these sacred walls to elicit more by having less: more meaningful conversations, more in-depth thinking, more breathing room, more living space, more freedom, more possibility.
Does any one else feel the same?
For those wondering, our walls are painted this Sherman Williams shade of egret white.
There’s one thing that comes with Mr. Debtist’s love for techy things that I absolutely have difficulty embracing. Cables. A motley crew of them, tangled, multi-colored, snaky things making their way into our rental properties, and now, into our home. I remember the first day I stepped into the boys’ house back when we were all in undergrad, young and carefree. You could say that their cables were of the same nature, a mangled mess, running from the downstairs to the upstairs and in between bedrooms. Even after grad school, their first house that they shared together as working men involved a number of wires and Wi-Fi receptors thrown onto the walls and ceilings, framing doorways, finding their way into boyish loves: computers, TVs, consoles, etc. Complain as I might, there is just no separating my darling husband from his love for video games and reddit, just like there is no separating me from my books. He deals with my books, so I will have to deal with his cables.
Off course, dealing with the cables can insinuate a whole slew of solutions. The most aesthetic also being the most expensive. Ideally, we would wire the cables within the walls, so that they can snake around, unseen to guests and residents alike. Unfortunately, that would require a permanent solution to the living room, which I am not ready to commit to. We are still living with the hand-me-down couch from my college roommate, a couch that has been in my life for five years. It isn’t perfect, but we are all about making do for now, while we tackle the student debt. But you know how it is. Without the perfect couch, I won’t know the orientation of the room, which means I won’t know which wall the projector will face, which means we don’t know where the speakers will go, et cetera. So the more permanent and ideal solution will have to wait.
I have also considered buying some of those cable covers. The boxy kind that houses pesky wires and run along baseboards, better disguised. We actually had such a thing at our rental, which wasn’t so bad. However, I did not want to buy any more said cable housing knowing the solution is temporary and that it would require creating more plastic waste, not to mention spending.
So along the lines of our daily mantra, “make do with what you’ve got”, I grabbed a stapler and left-over paint from the can sitting in the closet underneath the stairs. I took the wires and stapled them in horizontal tracks along the baseboards, trying to make their way as neatly as possible from the audio box to the projector. I then painted over them in white, LA apartment style. I took a step back, and admired my work.
It’s been about two weeks since I’ve done this project. To be frank, I have forgotten about the wires. It isn’t so much that they’re disguised completely. They’re only slightly less horrid than before. But there are more important things than worrying about how wiring looks against your baseboards. No one has commented on them, which means no one is really looking at them. Or if they are looking, maybe they approve of the city-style chic my painting over them has tried to mimic. Maybe it feels a bit more New York, emitting the older loft-like vibes of a more mature taste. We look on the bright side of things around here, always.
When we tell people that we are not ready to have children at this time, their next step is usually to inquire about the likelihood of us owning a pet. A feline friend or a canine, perhaps? To which we have shot them down with equal fervor, choosing our own privacy, space, and time over additional responsibility. Why would we want to complicate our lives after everything we’ve done to create space? What we didn’t know was that the universe had plans of their own, and decided that if we were not going to search for an animal to love, I suppose it was going to dump one on our laps, or rather, in the midst of our nightly walking path. I guess it’s a way to fill up the space that we’ve purposefully made room for, with things of meaning and value. After all, that’s what this life we created is all about.
As you can probably guess, we have added a new member to our home. Which begs the question of how to even begin thinking about bringing in an additional breathing being into small space living. The answer is simple and easy. Which is that there is always room for another loved one.
We were still renting at the old loft and were doing our usual mid-summer night’s walk through the neighborhood, when this orange ball of fluff appeared out of nowhere, and approached us. He didn’t approach with hesitation or signs of fear. Boldy, this little guy walked right up to Mr. Debtist’s bare ankles meowing and literally head-butted him, an obvious indication that someone needing some pets. Mr. Debtist knelt down and gave him a little head pat, which was invitation enough for the fellah to continue purring and head-butting his way into our little hearts. After getting a minute’s love from Mr. Debtist, he came after me. Nudging me with his little ears and rolling over to get some belly pats, it was easy to see that he definitely was an affectionate little creature. Once ten minutes of giving him attention passed, we got up to continue our walk home, and he followed us for a ways, meowing his farewells.
After our first introduction, we started visiting him every night. He was reliably found in front of the same door, which made us think that perhaps he was owned by someone else. However, the occasional interview with the neighbors taught us that he was a stray cat that appeared around the time we first saw him. One neighbor let him into his business front every morning for the entire day while he was working. When he left for home, he would put the kitty out. Another neighbor would feed the cat when she got home from work. When I asked her why she only fed him wet food, she told me it was because he was toothless, a dagger delivered straight to a debtist’s the heart. A third neighbor took the liberty to name him Tucker.
In mid-September, we closed on escrow! As we were preparing to move, my woes were mostly centered around leaving the loft that was our home the past two years. We started living in that loft before we were even married. We experienced so many moments with close friends and family, and on our own, too. We imagined we would buy one loft just like it in the area. But that’s not where life took us. It took us away from where we first set our roots to grow, and it took us away from that darned cat.
Of all the things I missed most about that place, I didn’t miss anything more than our feline friend. Admittedly, we made some ventures back to the old place for tying up loose ends, and looked forward to seeing his face. Each time, I feared someone else had fallen in love and taken him away from us. Each time, there was a moment I held my breath, in case we found him no longer there.
One week ago, we went on our usual visit, when a neighbor popped up from his balcony and tried to get us to take him home. He praised that cat and really pushed and shoved, but we didn’t budge. We weren’t interested in taking a cat in, or so we said. We would jokingly say, “Let’s take him home,” and look at each other and grin. Mike said he was down if I was serious, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ready to give up space in our new home. Small enough as it is, where would a kitty scratch post go? Or a litter box? More importantly, where does it go so that it is considered to be even remotely sightly? Where can it be placed so that I won’t have to gawk at its ugliness, that fiendish plastic bin being?
Then this past weekend came and went, along with it a series of natural events.
It has been so long since California experienced rain, I can’t even pinpoint when it was. Perhaps we missed the rain while we were away on vacation? My memory pinpoints to June, of LAST year. Well, rain it did this weekend. Sunny, 98-degree weathered Friday brought in thunder and lightning in the early evening, along with a torrent of rain drops. Angry rain, momentarily, and then a drizzle until next morning.
I was walking the three blocks it takes to get to work, in the cold, on the wet, and thought about that cat. How was he faring? Meowing his head off, no doubt. Asking for a warm body to hug, maybe? It rained all of Saturday, and that’s who I kept thinking of. I voiced my concerns to Mr. Debtist, who agreed and repeated that he was down to take the cat home. But still, I hesitated.
Sunday was lovely, in contrast. A day well spent with my parents and brother. In between the socializing, Mike and I teetered between going to pick up the cat, or not. Since it was a sunny day, and I was busy entertaining family, there wasn’t anything to push me over the edge.
Monday … Monday was a different story. Providence brought about dreaded Santa Ana winds. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, and could not go back to sleep. The double-paned windows creaked in misery, singing a sad song that brought my mind to the cat, once again. Darned cat. Trees have fallen over, in surrender. Has that cat, too? My co-worker brought news of a lady who was killed in the morning by the wind a tree pushed over by the wind. Has the cat suffered the same fate? I couldn’t torment myself anymore.
I texted Mr. Debtist to pick up the cat after work. He drove back to our old place, and there was the cat, waiting. This furry creature weaseled his way into our hearts, and now has a warm home, just before the winter months. We took him to the vet yesterday, and we picked up the minimal necessities. Turns out, there IS room for a loved one and his things. Our small space just got a little smaller, but our lives just got much more grand. The cat’s, too.
Age: Guesstimated to be about 4-5 years
Physical Appearance: Orange, Short Haired, Green-Yellow Eyed. Has a small tip of his ear cut off, for when the Rescue and Release Program took him in and neutered him in the past.
Almost toothless. Has severe periodontitis, so we are extracting what few, decayed teeth he has left in a few months, to make it entirely official.
FIV+. Poor guy, must’ve gotten in a fight at some point with another FIV+ cat. It doesn’t mean he can’t live a long and happy life. Only that his immune system is weak and we need to monitor his health a bit more closely. Hopefully, we give him happy days for the rest of his cat life.
Personality: Loves cuddles and head scratches, is very talkative, and social. Feels unsure about his carrier, and does not like the way we pick him up. Not a picky eater, and loves to take cat naps.
A daily qualm for small space living is answering the never-ending question of where to put things. Complicated by a desireneed to have everything look tidy and put together, storage solutions run short in our home. Well, acceptable solutions anyway.
Five years of working as a product specialist for retail stores has its pros and cons. Con: Jumbled messes and unabashed eye-sores cause anxiety. Pro: I know just how to fix it.
Enter the use of baskets. The perfect vessel for wrangling things together in one space, without the need to organize or neatly fold. For well-loved, most-oft-used pieces, stock-piling them into one spot is kind of a necessary thing. The basket keeps everything corralled in a neat space, is beautiful to look at, and hides one dark secret: that I am not perfect and though I can fold a stack of clothing like a machine with perfectly even edges, I do not necessarily want to do it all the time.
For me in particular, the basket I am referring to holds a number of soft sweaters and cardigans. Too delicate to throw on a hanger in the recesses of our only closet, and too often used to continually fold, stack, re-fold, and re-stack. They’re forgiving enough to avoid wrinkles, and look more beautiful laying askew than they do folded into a boxy shape.
Off course, this applies to many things that are unsightly, but you want to hide. A basket is perfect for holding shoes. Kicking off shoes as you enter the home is a part of life since my mother brought me into this world, and small spaces are less tolerant of shoes lying around, lest someone trips on a stray sneaker. Likewise, we use a basket to hold my beloved Fiddle Leaf. The pot it came in is one of those standard black, flimsy, plastic bins with a clear water tray at the bottom. Throw it into a basket, and voila! Only you readers would ever know.
The ones we have in particular are made by Olliella. A brand based in London, England and born in 2009, it was created by sisters Chloe and Olivia Brookman. The baskets are made of natural materials which are sourced sustainably. They are fair trade certified and are ethically produced.
How about you guys? Any storage solutions to keep small spaces organized? Share away!
It’s been a while, since I’ve written about curating closets, but closets have been at the forefront of [our] minds lately. Mostly, because we have none. I revealed in this post that our living space on the second floor has absolutely no closet space, not even in the bedroom.
Or pantry space.
Or a bathroom door.
Or a bedroom for that matter, technically. Loft living for the win.
So where to put storage? Our lifestyle is salvaged by a lone closet underneath the stairwell, located on the first floor (in the business space). We’ve placed a rod in this “coat closet” and have hung most of our clothes there, underneath the linens. There’s shelving above it, wherein sits our few sweaters that avoid hangers, to prolong their sweet little lives. The space is limited, and what minimalist closets we once thought we had have proved to be, well, not minimal enough. The husband owns too many tees, while I own too many formal a dress. So, a few words on curating, once again.
It’s dawned on me that the de-cluttering process is one of the most mindful practices I engage in. And I do it repetitively, because there’s still room for self-improvement, as well as self-reflection. Here’s what this new “space” has reminded me:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
I keep returning to this quote. I first discovered it perusing a shelf of cards at Daydream Surfshop in simple black lettering across a blank card. I loved it so much that I gave it as a birthday card to our roommate. When curating closets, I ask myself these two questions: “Does it have a purpose?” and “Do I love it?” Some may say “love” is a bit too extreme of an emotion, but I have found that liking something is not enough to stand the tests of time.
When you must choose between practicality and an item you love, sometimes it pays to choose the loved and less practical.
I was standing in a dressing room stall, holding two pairs of pants in my hands. I had been hiding away in there for thirty minutes or more, and the dressing room lady has checked in on me five times by now. Surely, she must wonder whether I’m in there solely because of the free AC. Not entirely untrue. But also, I was going through a tough dilemma, arguing with myself back and forth. Do I get the pair of practical denim which goes with everything in my closet and which can be worn on most days in casualness, or do I go with the auburn pant that wears beautifully, matches with a lot of my basic tops, but that I might hesitate doing some cooking in, lest it gets dirty? The truth of the matter is, I needed neither. In the end, I had walked out of the store with the pair of red pants in my hand. While practicality would have landed me a pair of denims that have everyday usability, I chose the thing that will make me ultimately the most happy. With something practical, one can wear it every day and never notice anything different. The practical one would not add anything to my life, except maybe a reason to de-clutter other denim pants that I already own. The red pair, on the other hand, will add joy to the every day. Plus, I’ve come to realize that when you love something, you end up using it as much as you possible can anyway. The moral is to choose actions that makes life happy, which is ultimately what we are living for. And when it comes to having items around, living surrounded with items that you actually care about is the thing that matters most.
Know what you need for your particular lifestyle.
Speaking of having items around, know what works for you. I have been guilty before of buying things that other people have, with the illusion that I myself may need them too. However, as I grew to know myself, I have found that my lifestyle is quite different from other people’s lifestyle. There were so many things we owned previously that we found we didn’t use at all. A toaster that we had asked for on our wedding registry. Cosmetics that I thought every girl required. A beer tasting set, ’til I realized I no longer wish to consume beer. Specifically for wardrobes, I used to think I needed high heels to compensate for my height, and short dresses to make my legs appear longer. I used to think that tight clothing helped me, and that having my hair curled made me appear more adult. Today, I’d likely grab a tee, prefer overalls, and get itchy when my hair is anywhere near my face. Also, I enjoy the freedom that walking, running, jumping (?) in flat shoes afford me. My lifestyle has slowed down quite a bit, so blogging on couches does not require the same attire as going out to happy hours do. Coffee shops are more forgiving than clubs and house parties. Denim pants are more suited to bread baking than mini skirts. You get the gist.
Learn to recognize sentimentality and guilt. Learn to let the burden go.
The most difficult, and final advice. Too many times have I stared at an item which has not been touched, used, or even looked at for many months [ahem, years], yet still it remained in my possession. Always, the culprit holding me back from saying sayonara was sentimentality, followed by guilt. Handkerchiefs handed down to me from my mom when I was 8 years old, for example. The thought of letting something go makes me feel like I was stabbing someone I cared about in the back with a knife of betrayal. The wild imagery pulls me towards being a “good person” and keeping it for the sake of sentiment, and also, to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. We must learn to recognize these moments, and then to ask, “what is it’s purpose?” If the only thing the item does is weigh us down with emotional burden, is that really worth keeping? Surely, your loved one did not mean to cause you such turmoil. I have found that creating space gives a higher ability to receive, while releasing negative physical, emotional and mental energy. Be kind to yourself, and know that the weight of the relationship should not come down to material things.
How about your closet space advice? I could use some inspiration. One day, I hope for that downstairs closet to have decent breathing room.
It’s likely apparently obvious to those who enjoy this space that I have a slight infatuation with decreased consumption, which stems from a cognizance regarding third world countries, from whence I came, and the less-ness that exists (in terms of material goods) in correlation to the comparative abundance of happiness levels. So when the small house movement came into my radar, as I was exploring theories of minimalism, essentialism, and frugality, I was on board like a runaway child on a boxcar train.
The small house movement is embraced by those privileged enough to have an interest in reducing their living quarters to something more practical than the escalating housing trend in the early 2000s. Technically, small housing is defined as a space less than 1000 square feet (still grand enough for a family of deux), whereas a tiny home is defined as one having less than 400 square feet. The more I browsed adorable photos of RV living and tiny guest homes, the more I thought to myself, “Why don’t we do this?”
Off course, extreme as I am, I immediately jumped to the thought of tiny house living. I approached Mike with talk of buying an RV, and posting up shop at a parking lot by the ocean. Imagine hanging macrame holding plant pots, a teeny kitchen with an oven big enough to make my own bread, a fold up dining table that double serves as a desk, and still room for a king sized bed. All thoughts of which were resisted heavily by a six-foot-three giant with claims of not being able to stand tall inside a camper. Fair enough. Just because I can fit inside a hobbit home, does not mean that a hobbit home is livable for my tall husband. So there goes that idea.
So then I started looking at homes bordering tiny. I set limitations on my Zillow searches for homes 600 square feet or smaller. Unfortunately, very few searches came up in Southern California, and unless we wanted to co-live in someone else’s backyard, zilch came up in Orange County. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my desires came from something external, specifically, from the appearance of tiny living. The homes that I was searching for did not move us towards the life we saw ourselves living. It may keep us away from over-consumption, out of necessitydue to lack of space, but I realized we didn’t need to buy a tiny home in order to do that, too.
Once I saw that, I started to go back to our original idea, which was to buy a live/work loft like the one we were currently renting. The dream is to one day, wake up and walk downstairs for work. To work together doing something that seems mundane, but involves creating something as well, to share with the community. In order to make this dream a reality, we started looking at properties that would set us up for a future business. So that’s what we ended up doing.
We bought a 1,500 square foot live work loft in the heart of downtown Santa Ana. The greatest part of all? We technically joined the small house movement too! Our living space resides on the second floor, and the downstairs is partitioned specifically for a business, or a roommate for co-housing. Since the business has over 500 square feet of space, it leaves us with around 900 square feet of living space on the second floor. I’ll pretend that counts as small house living! It has everything I need and more, but without the excessesof a typical home. For example, there’s not closet on the second floor. There’s not even a bedroom or bedroom door. In fact, it’s an open floor plan, with no doors at all, not even a bathroom one. Minimalist to a high degree, but made even more functional in its sparseness.
In this new series, Small Space Living, I hope to delve into the pros and cons of living with less. Some of the things I look forward to most about living small include:
Increased cash flow – When we were searching for a live/work loft, we had the choice of accepting a counter-offer for $650,000 and a counter-offer for $499,900. We obviously went with the latter. Now imagine if we were going to compare this place to a stand-alone home! Smaller homes might afford you a smaller mortgage, but there is the added benefit of lower property taxes, decreased homeowners insurance, and less maintenance costs. Imagine if you took the extra money you saved to improve on your home insulation or invest in solar roof panels and skylights to reduce energy consumption. Or you know, funnel that extra cash into paying down student debt, or creating the life you want to live.
Less Maintenance – Nothing excites me more than the fact that I will not have to spend hours of my days off keeping a large house clean. I recall my mother sweeping the floors day in and day out, and wondering to myself if she would have more time to relax if only we had a smaller home. Cutting down the hours needed to maintain a home leaves more time for enjoyable activities, furthering a business venture, or simply spending time with loved ones.
Lower utility bills – It costs less to cool down a small home in mid-summer’s heat than it is to cool down a large mansion, especially in deserty California.
Reduced consumption – The thing I love most about limited storage is the limiting effects on gaining even more stuff. Gone were the days when I would go rogue at a shopping mall, and there’s hardly a purchase I make now that does not involve hefty consideration. I avoid the cycle of buying more things, and then buying more storage for said new things. So many Americans use their garages as storage space, and when that isn’t enough, rent out a separate storage unit to store even more of their stuff! What’s the point of owning things that you never use? Currently, I have made a habit of getting rid of something that no longer serves if I need the room for something that adds more value to my life. So yes, I guess you can say I am pretty excited about the limited storage space.
More time with family – Have you ever left a family gathering and realized that you never saw Uncle Bob, or didn’t have a chance to catch up with your cousin Joe? Less space means that more room must be shared. When I was growing up as a teen, I thought having my own space was the most amazing thing ever. Now, I realize that we humans are social beings, and there is so much to be garnered from our togetherness. I’m all for a space that encourages bonding over group activities and dinners, strengthening relationships and creating memories. I now know the truth, which is this: Our dreams will end once we achieve them, but our memories will last our lifetime.
Off course, all this isn’t to say that small house living is entirely fantastic, let alone easy. Easier for some, but still, there is the question of where the clothes will go, and how to make do. Hopefully during the journey, I’ll share some solutions, and reveal some tips, that even I have yet to discover. What I do have to say about it is this: thinking about all that we already have, rather than what we don’t, leaves plenty of room for gratefulness to abound. For example, vaulted ceilings and 25 foot windows that grant me an abundance of natural light (and joy). A balcony for escaping, when spaces are not enough. Working appliances, and a roof over my head. An opportunity to celebrate our home with both sets of parents tonight. You know… the basics.