I’ve gotten a lot of emails recently asking me about how I am able live in such a small space. Well, that’s not such an easy one to answer. For me, I don’t consider living in an apartment that is under 300sf unusual, but since the average American home in 2013 was around 2,600sf–more than double what it was 60 years ago even though the average family size has shrank by nearly 20% since 1970–I’m not surprised by people’s fascination with a space that is roughly 9 times smaller than the current median.
Last Fall my mom and step-dad were finishing construction on their new home, and throughout the process my mom was giving me updates. Sometime in late October, after the framework was insulated and the sheetrock was hung, I got a call:
My mom: “Hey, Ev.”
Me: “Hi, Mom.”
Mom: “Rich and I are standing in our bedroom right now and it’s really taking shape.”
Me: “That’s great, how does it look?”
Mom: “Great, but hey, Ev, we were wondering, do you know the square footage of your apartment? We want to know what it is like in relation to the house now that the walls are up. Rich was saying he thinks you’re probably around 500 because our bedroom is 400 square feet.”
Me: [Screaming into a pillow] “295 square feet.”
Mom: [To my step-dad] “He’s saying 295! I don’t know! [Into the phone] Ev, are you being funny?”
Me: “What? No, why?”
Mom: [To my step-dad] “He says no! Yes! Two hundred and ninety-five! Yes, Rich, that’s what he’s saying! [Into the phone] Wow.”
Me: “‘Wow’ what?”
Mom: “We just thought it was bigger. It looks bigger in pictures.”
Me: “Nope. Under 300. I guess your bedroom is larger than my entire home.”
Mom: [Pause] “Well…you’ve made good use of the space.”
Me: *Click* [Dial tone]
I don’t blame my parents’ shock. I would have a hard time, too, imagining what it would be like to live in a space in which the bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom combined were smaller than my entire sleeping area.
The fist day I moved into my apartment, after three years of living with my roommate in a spacious two-bedroom in Midtown East, around the corner from the United Nations, my hesitation towards downsizing was palpable. I remember texting her:
Me: »How are we going to do this? Closet can barely hold all jackets«
Her: »We’ll make it work. One day we’ll laugh abt this«
I think back on that now and I do laugh, even though I never thought I would. Living in a small space has taught me one very valuable lesson: more space does not equal more happiness.
When I lived in a larger apartment I owned more stuff. With four closets and a pantry my roommate and I consumed a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff, in hindsight, I didn’t really need, but I filled the space anyway simply because I had it. Two winter jackets multiplied to six and four pairs of shoes became ten, but it was fine because I had the space to keep it all.
Or was it? When I moved from my two-bedroom into my studio I quickly realized what I needed and what I could do without. I started to see very clearly what was a necessity and what just caused me anxiety. Sure it was a luxury to display every book I had read, every DVD I had watched and still have room for a few bins of holiday decorations or specialty cookware, but that stuff, I found, was really only inhibiting me. I realized the more stuff I had the more time I spent maintaining it, and the more time I spent maintaining it the less time I had free to do other things.
Choosing to live in a smaller space was like a self-imposed ultimatum. It forced me to keep only what I needed and cut the extraneous. No longer could I hold onto the t-shirts I wore in college because I couldn’t fit them in my dresser anymore. That warm-up jacket I had been carrying around since high school, though it had sentimental value, had to be ditched to accommodate a simple blazer for work.
This process of weeding out the superfluous introduced me to the Joy Of Less and I found having less gave me the freedom to enjoy other things. Instead of 1,000sf to clean I now had only 300, and 700 square feet can be the difference between having an epic weekend versus just a mediocre one. Not to mention the cashsheesh I was saving! Just think about it: a smaller home means a smaller commitment, a smaller commitment means smaller bills and smaller bills means more money to download every Fleetwood Mac album on iTunes. Simple math! Also a smaller home means the things I put in it have to be my absolute favorite things because there simply isn’t room for anything else. Period. Exclamation point.
At its core downgrading to a smaller space just required me to give value to things. Without the extra space everything I owned had to matter in a very significant way otherwise it was totally unnecessary.
I don’t think living in less that 300sf is a sacrifice. In fact, there are many people living with far less and doing far more than others who are living with ten times to amount of space. I’m grateful for the space (or lack thereof) I have. It’s been a real eye-opener to say the least.