I live in a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. Each bedroom has a full bathroom, a closet, and area for a desk. The kitchen is relatively large with a dishwasher, stove and oven, large sink, washer and dryer, and full refrigerator. A living room hosts a couch, chair, table, and television. The ceilings are expansive and tall; not palatial, but more than necessary. Maybe it’s just my “phase of life,” but this space feels like more than enough. What more could I need?
At 27 years old, I make enough to live. My salary is just over $20,000 each year. I can’t really save much considering the costs of my education and ancillary costs, but I’m happy with what I have. There’s room for improvement, but as I look at my apartment and stuff, I can’t help but feel embarrassed by the relative opulence. Most of the world doesn’t have it this good. I have everything I need right now.
If I were married, the apartment would actually feel even larger, too. Currently, my roommate’s stuff occupies a solid half of the apartment. If it was just my partner and I, we would share the same space, and only need one bedroom. The other room could become an office, dayroom — whatever! Heck, it could be a walk-in closet for all I care!
Over 900 square feet, I would begin to feel the creep of growth — the push to fill space whenever emptiness is present. Whether it’s my philosophical values of frugality or minimalism or a desire to minimize my carbon impact, I’d hesitate to grow beyond these walls. They wouldn’t be necessary.
However, it’s important to consider whether my tendency toward extremism is getting the best of me. Could there be a time in life when 900 square feet might not be enough? Potentially. If I had a larger family or needed to make room for my parents or some other unique situation arose, I could see the need. But it would be temporary to expand to the need of others, not constant space for the rest of my life. I’d want to downsize again.
Last week, I was reading an article in The New York Times about couples who had moved decades ago into the suburbs surrounding New York City. Some had moved into large bungalows and McMansions to raise families, enjoy the slower life, and have more room to grow.
One family raised three children in a 2,400-square-foot home. For those struggling with math like me, that’d be 5 people — 3 more than my roommate and I. With about 500 square feet per resident, the house could probably be quite a comfortable location. When accounting for the size of the home, it doesn’t include off-site storage, yards, and/or storage sheds that can be added later.
Now, later in life and three adult children, this family is looking to downsize and move back to the city, culture, and bustle of Manhattan. Who can blame them, too? New York City is fun — there’s always something to do, eat, and see. But as that couple looked for locations, they came up empty. They said all they could find were “depressing,” “very small” places at 900 square feet.
My jaw dropped at the statement. I was shocked! Here I’ve been living in apartments of 900 or less square feet for about 4 years; yet, this couple was struggling to move into such a space. What was I missing?!
Here’s what I suspect:
- People develop and find a comfort in abundance. To downsize may be a reflection of lost class and status.
- There’s a fear of giving up and away. Some material goods might not keep us alive, but are still hard to part with.
- Despite a “couple’s” desire to downsize, there might be discrepancies. Making a move up, down, or laterally isn’t always mutually agreed upon in the relationship. Those contrasting aspects can prevent people from committing to a serious downsize.
- We reach an adaptational level, which sets a new normal. Anything less just doesn’t feel “right.”
- Surrounded by a culture of mass and materialism, it’s hard to buck that trend and go small.
The reality is smaller spaces are freeing for people young and old. Not having lots of material goods and space means you can vacation when you want, dig into more expensive cultures, and enjoy a break from endless chores. And more importantly, plenty of normal, average, everyday people live in small spaces with great efficiency (Just look at this couple who lives in a beautiful, 420-square-foot apartment).
For years, magazines, newspapers, and all other forms of media have stressed how wealthy people buy opulent homes. Tens of millions of dollars are spent to afford these palaces. From Bill Gates to Ellen DeGeneres, these homes capture our attention. Don’t we want to be successful just like them?
Rather than duplicate this display of status, we can choose another path. What if we looked for the smallest apartments or homes? What if we looked for less? What if we looked for tiny, modular apartments that move and shift to our needs? What if we gave up our cultural addiction to more stuff in favor the culture out there?