Life Isn’t Measured In Square Feet

I live in a small one-bedroom condo that I share with my three-year-old daughter and, for a few days out of the week, my nineteen-year-old son.  We have a grand total of 440 sq ft between the three of us, which can make for tight living quarters.  However, the bedroom is spacious enough to fit my bed, Maya’s bed, a couple of bedside tables, a dresser, toy shelves, two chairs, and a gigantic buffet/china cabinet that I use for book shelves and Maya’s clothes.  And, probably because I prefer to keep my small space as tidy as I can (while living with a child), the room doesn’t appear stuffed.

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a peek into my sanctuary… Maya’s space is in the part of the room you can’t see. Obviously. And I am in need of a more feminine bed ensemble. I am aware this.

When Josh is around, he sleeps on the unattractive but highly comfortable daybed in the living room.  I’m thinking about buying a more aesthetically pleasing loveseat (I admit I have Thrive or Restoration Hardware dreams on an Ikea budget) when he moves to Finland, but since I’ve grown to love the comfort and convenience of the daybed, I’m not sure if I’ll make the switch until I move again.  Anyway, it’s not the greatest living situation ever, but considering that in the United States alone over 630,000 people are homeless, I’m okay with our set-up.  Our tiny abode forces us to stay close-knit.  And insanely organized.

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the ugly but comfy daybed in the background, always covered in a mess of pillows

I started living here a few years ago because my move to California became derailed and, due to impending birth of my daughter (insane medical bills), I lacked the funds for a larger place.  After a couple of years I began to make just enough for us to live in a larger condo, but we would need to eat hamburger/tuna helper and so forth to make it work.  I consulted the teen who said he couldn’t care less about having more space; he would prefer the fresh salads, fruits, veggies, fish, and lean meat over any highly processed “helper” meal any day.  Thus, we continued to live small but eat well.  Because we love good food.

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yum

Along the financial vein: for those of you who have children and are aware of the cost of child care, you will understand when I say that since my daycare cost is significantly higher than my rent (by hundreds of dollars), smaller living is that much more appealing.  I’m not complaining about my child care cost, it’s simply one factor of the equation.  When I drop my daughter off in the morning, I have no concerns about her well-being.  Ever.  That sort of feeling is priceless.

There are a few things about the size/layout of my space that irritate me.  Obviously, the lack of the second bedroom is sometimes an issue.  Not because my love life is extraordinary and I need the bedroom for sexcapades (see this), but because Maya is noisy.  She’s an animated sleeper and I wake up frequently throughout the night.  Plus, I would love for her to have her own creativity center to do all the activities she loves– puzzles, color, draw, paint, whatever.  And, at some point, I would like my love life to blossom.

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Maya’s current “creativity center”

0629131509aAlso, the kitchen basically consists of a few appliances and cupboards along a wall.  I love to cook– LOVE– and a slightly larger kitchen would be nice.  (After I wrote that last bit, I glanced in my cupboards and realized that I have no less than seven coffee mugs.  Seven.  For two people [meaning myself and Josh, not Maya, although she loves coffee].  Plus, I have four more mugs a box in the closet.  And six large glasses and six small glasses and a salad spinner I never use because it sucks.  So, I can create more room in my cupboards for greater storage, but the lack of counter space is another story.)

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my kitchen behind the dancing Maya. The 50’s table can seat two or pull out to seat eight. I love it. It pulls double-duty as my desk.

On the flip side, there are many positive things to be said for small space living.  I don’t have as many rooms to clean, so I can zip through my household duties and still enjoy my nights and weekends.  If I’m ill and stuck on the toilet, I can watch tv.  (I don’t think we typically discuss these sorts of things on blogs, but it is a simple fact of life.  If your backside is unfortunately glued to the toilet, is it better to stare at the wall or watch Arrested Development?  Exactly. [And no, I don’t typically keep the door open while I use the toilet except when it’s just me and Maya because she will waltz on in anyway.  I have no privacy.]  There’s a lot of explaining I need to do for that one comment.  Contemplating deletion, but since I’ve already typed out a paragraph, the toilet comment is staying.)

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I wasn’t ill here. That would be gross. Especially with Maya brushing her teeth. I’m just giving you perspective.

Impulse buying is basically prohibited because I have nowhere to put new items.  My rule is that if I buy something new, I must donate or sell an item to create space- this includes items for Maya.  Speaking of the girl, I know exactly where she is at all times.  She cannot get into too much trouble before I catch her in the act.  Like the other night when she was drawing all over herself and the wall with markers.  (Whomever invented washable crayons/markers, I thank you.  And the inventor of Magic Erasers.  Godsend.)

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moments before the marker incident

For the most part, I’m fairly happy where I am.  My space is clean and happy.  It isn’t staged like a magazine set-up; it’s homey and lived in.  I feel safe.  My neighbors, though some might appear rough, are really sweet and quiet.  (Except for the schizophrenic woman who lives in the building beside me.  She tends to talk to trees and occasionally yell at windows.)  When I talk to my old neighbor, who lived here with his daughter until she needed her own space, he comments on how much he misses living here.  And I miss hearing him belt out R&B tunes to his girl and hearing her sing back.  And then texting him to tell him what a fantastic singing duo they are, and a minute later hearing him bust up laughing.

Why do I mention all of this?  It has been ever-so-kindly brought to my attention that a person isn’t really living a full life unless they have a McMansion, an endless wardrobe, a closet just for shoes, and are basically drowning in debt.  This wasn’t said straight-out, mind you, but implied in snide comments and offhand remarks about my living choices.  Now, don’t get me wrong- if you can afford the palace with the pool and outdoor kitchen and Bose surround-sound, by all means live it up.  (And invite me over for bbq’s.)  Enjoy life however it suits you.  However, don’t judge me because I chose to live in a small space with less stuff.  The lesser amount of square feet is not an indicator of the size of my heart.

When my son was younger, we lived in a 1200 sq ft condo with tons of space, but we always ended up next to each other on the couch watching tv or sitting at the table putting together a puzzle.  We had stuff.  A lot of stuff to fill our big space.  When he was nearly thirteen, he went to live with his dad in Iowa for a spell in order to spend some time with him and escape the school system here.  I immediately downsized.  Drastically.  I donated hundreds of books.  Clothes.  Random items I collected over the years that had no sentimental value but that I held tight to anyway.  Sold some furniture.  The stuff owned me, and I felt lighter upon its removal.  I don’t want stuff to own me again.

I know that I will eventually have to move, but for now, I’m content.  I have everything I need and then some, especially compared to the vast majority of people on this planet.  I can afford to travel and take my kids camping for a few days or book my trip to Austin for the Blogger Interactive.  I can put money into savings so that my next move will be (financially) stress-free.  I can save for a down payment on a cute craftsman bungalow that has a little backyard with a treehouse and tire swing and room for a dog to bounce around.  I can help my mom if she needs it.  I can donate to Save the Children, buy some random kids ice cream cones at Dairy Queen, or pick up a package of gourmet decaf coffee as a thank-you for my daughter’s caregiver.  I can live how I truly want to live by keeping it simple rather than trying to keep up with everyone else around me, and in the Vegas area the pressure is always on.  It’s absurd.

However you live, examine your priorities and make sure it’s how you want to live, not how you think you should live or how it will appear if you choose otherwise.  If you want a home in the suburbs, then that’s what you should go for because you want it.  If you want a downtown loft, then go for it because you want it, but don’t look down on the suburbs.  And suburbs, don’t look down on the lofts.  We all just want to make our home a safe, loving sanctuary and live a happy life.

Right now, living small makes me evaluate what’s truly important to me.  I continually examine my priorities and do my best to stay on track with my dreams, not someone else’s.  If I find myself in a McMansion of my own someday, well then cool (though I would prefer a few small places scattered around the globe rather than one giant home).  I will invite you all over for bbq’s and a swim.  My home will be a sea of family and friends.  But McMansion living will be on my own terms, not because someone else had dreams of it and pushed their dreams onto me.

Until then, happy small living (or big living) to all of you.

Small Space Ideas:

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/

http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/rooms_ideas/small_spaces/

http://www.hgtv.com/small-space-design-guide/package/index.html

http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/Small-Spaces

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/small-space-living

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25 thoughts on “Life Isn’t Measured In Square Feet

  1. Home is where the heart is, and clearly there is lots of love in yours. I admire your neatness and organizational skills. I have 600 square feet of living space it is not messy, but I have collected way to much stuff over the years 😉

    Thanks for sharing this post, you have inspired me to get rid of some useless trinkets and odds and ends that are cluttering up the place, and to get organised!

    Best wishes,
    ~Cliff

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    1. Thanks, Cliff. There is definitely a lot of love here. And puzzle pieces all over the floor…

      I think it’s natural for us collect things. I collected books forever, and I will admit that letting them go was hard at first, but I don’t regret it. Now others can enjoy reading them, and should I want to read a certain book again, I can just go to the library.

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      1. You have a refreshing approach to life, Michelle, and your charming little space might be just the inspiration I need. I think I might start by packing up my books.
        I’m sure their are plenty of charities that could use the donations. There are lots of ebooks available online and our main library in Vancouver is very well stocked.
        Thanks,
        ~Cliff

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      2. I’m not sure in which Vancouver you’re located, but you might want to look into this: http://booksforsoldiers.com/
        If you’re in Canada, maybe they have the same sort of thing.
        It’s a funny thing about books: they become our babies, our children, and it becomes difficult to let them escape into the world and bring joy into the lives of others. Admittedly, I still have many more books I should free.
        Have a beautiful day, Cliff.

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      3. Vancouver, Canada. I think we have a similar program here. I am easing my way into this. Parting with some of these old tomes is going to be tough. Thanx for replying
        Peace & Love,

        ~Cliff

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  2. Melanie

    This is beautiful.
    I get small living. I prefer it. When I left my exhusband I started from scratch. I don’t have credit cards so every purchase is cash. It makes life matter, not stuff.

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    1. I don’t have credit cards, either. I cut them up a decade ago and never looked back. It forces you to evaluate your purchases.

      Although, I do sometimes wish I had a credit card for traveling…

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      1. Melanie

        I quit the cards in 2006 and had them paid off by 2007. There have been times I wished I had one, but then I remember the stress of them. They’re more trouble than their worth.

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  3. good for you for making it work! we applaud you! we just wrote a post about making it work in our 500 square foot apartment, so we know a little bit about what that’s like. we also know how important it is to make choices that work for you & not for what other people THINK might work best for you. it sounds as though you are doing a great job taking care of your family & doing what makes you happy / ultimately, isn’t that why we live? for happiness? you are doing it right. thanks for writing this & for the unintentional affirmation that small space living doesn’t equal small living. xo

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  4. I am currently in the process of moving from 110sf to 600sf! I have absolutely no idea to do with all that extra room. I’ve had to buy furniture I never thought of having before, since I used bookshelves as double or even triple duty items. I feel your pain with small spaces, but small living has a lot of positives, too. Everything has a place and a purpose.

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      1. Well, to be truthful, that didn’t count the bathroom or kitchen, but still, it was pretty cramped, especially with a dog and a cat. I’m so excited about having 600sf. It might as well be a mansion. 🙂

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  5. Yes. Yes, smaller, simpler, less cluttered living… that’s where I want to be.

    It’s a sad state we live in, when we need to justify why we live the way we do (or don’t), why we choose to purge, or not, why we want to just live a life that is comfortable and suits our needs and, at the end of the day, makes us happy.

    Of course we all want things that may make things easier/more enjoyable (I agree about the larger kitchen!), but being it doesn’t always happen the way we want it to be. Making the most of what you have? That’s priceless.

    And as an aside, can I just say I am insanely jealous that Josh is moving to Finland! Turvallista matkaa Josh!

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    1. It’s a sad state we live in, when we need to justify why we live the way we do (or don’t), why we choose to purge, or not, why we want to just live a life that is comfortable and suits our needs and, at the end of the day, makes us happy.

      Well said.

      I’m so excited for Josh to build a new life in Finland. I’m even more excited to visit him!

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  6. I used to have a lot of stuff, and a lot of space, but I’ve found that good food and good company goes way father than things do. My dad was gone a lot when I was younger due to work, and I would have traded a lot of things to have him around more.

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  7. Like McDonald’s food, McMansions are unoriginal, cheaply made and crap. Don’t ever apologize for providing your kids with the best life you can. You daughter looks amazingly happy and not all parents can make that claim.

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    1. True… the little dictator is most happy because I am her lackey, set upon this earth to do her bidding. I mostly fetch her cheese and milk. Completely off the subject, but we have a drawer in the fridge dedicated to cheese. All different types of wonderful cheese because she LOVES cheese. Just like her mom.

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