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Downsizing Space, Upsizing Life*

The other day I was reading this hilarious tiny house post by the witty blogger behind Hipstercrite, and found myself screaming, “GODDAMMIT, YES!”

Let me first caveat this by saying that, like Hipstercrite, I wholeheartedly acknowledge all the positive things tiny houses represent: environmental conservation, recycling (e.g., you quite literally poo where you eat), de-materialism (it should be a word), blah blah blah good things. Hell, my parents live in a semi-subterranean, off-grid hobbit house in the middle of the woods. (But it’s more than one room.)

The Alabama Hobbit Hole, aka The Mirarchi Homestead

I get it. Being good to the earth is awesome.

But you know what else is awesome? Being good to yourself. Which means giving yourself space enough to think, eat, contemplate life’s mysteries, watch movies, and poo without the smell competing with the chili bubbling on the stove outside the tiny house’s bathroom “door” (it’s a curtain, y’all).

It’s no secret that I love talking and writing about design, mostly because I don’t know the professional ins and outs, and wing it whenever I’m decorating our apartment. But I have to say, if Andy and I ever moved into a tiny house, we’d probably end up getting a divorce approximately 6 minutes after walking through the door. (Although it’d probably make for good reality TV: Two Gays, One Tiny House, and An Obese Chihuahua: Who’ll Come Out On Top…or Dead?!)

We both love having our own space. Which is why our historic apartment in Raleigh was amazing. In fact, the other day Apartment Therapy re-posted our House Tour in their “Pride at Home” series following the SCOTUS decision. That was pretty awesome, not just for its timing and the fact I finally felt like an all-star, but also for the window it gave us into our lives a few years back.

We re-toured it, and remarked about how most of the stuff we saw has since been sold or gifted away. (And it also gave me an opportunity for ample self-loathing when I saw myself in those skinny pants, and my hippie hair. Oy!) Then we looked around our Seattle digs, and realized just how much we’ve downsized since moving from North Carolina to California to Seattle.

I mean, when we first landed in California, we were in a 450 square foot studio apartment in Koreatown, and most of our stuff was in a Gardena storage facility (oh, how little we knew the geography). Which, coming from our 1,100 square foot historic Raleigh duplex, felt like a glorified walk-in closet.

Ah, yes. The living-bed-work room. All in one tiny space! Bah!

Thankfully, the only thing we did right with that apartment was sign a 6-month lease.

And then we were off to West Hollywood – a step up space-wise with an actual bedroom and generous living-dining room. Still, it was maybe 850 square feet – quite a bit smaller than what we were used to. Thankfully, it had a great deal of built-in storage – so all of our random crap (and some furniture) was stowed away.

More space!

But then Seattle happened. We loved the new-old space immediately. But when the boxes kept coming and coming and coming, and the movers bid me a “good luck” with nods to the cardboard box forest behind me, I realized that this apartment was quite a bit smaller than our WeHe digs. (We never knew how big our WeHo place was, because the square footage was never listed.)

Big, open spaces. Big, open spaces. And breathe.

Not only that, but we have one closet.

And when I mean one closet, I don’t mean one walk-in closet and five other closets.

I mean one closet in the whole apartment. Granted, it’s a walk-in, but when you factor in all of the random domestic detritus you always need but have to store (towels, blankets, clothes, coats, umbrellas, ironing board, cleaning products, that one box of holiday decor you allow your husband to have…), you need at least two closets. The only other “closet” we have is completely occupied by our stackable washer-dryer, for which I’ll gladly sacrifice the space.

Honestly, though, as annoying as it’s been having only one closet, it keeps us honest. No hoarding clothes or shoes or furniture. Our space is full enough now, so anything new we bring it means something else goes out.

Except for Fiesta. There’s always room for rare I-will-cut-you-for-that Fiesta pieces. (One of the main reasons why we could never live in a tiny house.)

Always room for Fiesta!

We’ve culled a lot. And when I mean a lot, I mean that the only decorative stuff we have is what we see (except for some framed art under the bed – that ain’t going anywhere). And the only furniture we retained are pieces that pull double-duty, except for those necessary chairs. So our sideboards and cabinets hold dishes (all of which we use) and DVDs, and all of our clothes and shoes and coats and tools and gardening supplies are stored in the bedroom dressers and walk-in closet.

Even though this move was exhausting because of majorly downsizing, it was totally worth it. Do we love stuff? Absolutely. But we don’t need more of it to feel like we’ve succeeded in life, nor do we need a tiny house to convince us that we’re leading a quintessentially “simple life.”

And while this is the smallest apartment we’ve ever lived in (and will probably ever live in), it goes without saying that it’s still more than most folks in the world have. There’s something about living in a small(er) space that anchors this in the fore of my mind; it reminds me to be thankful for this little slice of life, and to cherish everything in it – because what we’ve chosen to retain is what we feel matters most.

Plus, it’s sort of fun transitioning formerly decorative stuff into the functional realm (e.g., the dough bowl that used to hold pine cones in my parents’ house, looked Spartan and old and beautifully empty in our WeHo apartment, and will now be turned into a container for a succulent garden in Seattle).

But there is such a thing as too small a space, and I need more than one pan to cook with.

My ideal is to have another bedroom for guests (or, you know, a kid) and another bathroom. (I also like to occasionally channel Mary-Louise Parker in The Client and tell Toby that all I want is “A little white** house with a walk-in closet.” (Nix the white.) It’d also be great not to have to design everything along a wall in our living room, but I’m done worrying about “design rules.”

Our pared down library

I think our space works just fine, and doesn’t look half bad either. So while we won’t be investing in a tiny house anytime soon, I’ll take some of the tenets from that ascetic lifestyle and map it onto our slightly more material-bloated, less claustrophobic 745 square foot Capitol Hill perch.

After all, Toby’s not about to pare-down any of his toys.

Toby isn't letting a single one go. No tiny house for him!

(*I’m pretty sure upsizing isn’t a word. But it should be.)

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Recession Rubric for Recouped Rubels

Alright, so I absolutely adore alliteration.

Almost as much as I love coffee.

Speaking of coffee. As I was grinding a bag of coffee beans with my great-grandparents’ cast iron mortar and pestle this morning, I started thinking about all of the cost-saving measures Andy and I have implemented since my foray into unemployment.

Grind that coffee! Work those muscles!

(Like, say, salvaging the cast iron mortar and pestle instead of buying a new one.)

And since I’m a giver, I’ve decided to gift you with a short list of how you can cut costs, too. Even if you’re employed. (Show off.)

(1) Cull the Fat.

Y’all may remember that, immediately after our cross country road trip, we culled the bejesus out of our apartment.

(With a little help from Grey Goose.)

We ended up pulling out so much stuff that we devoted two weekends, and a few weekdays, to shedding it. But you know what? Having our apartment in complete disarray was worth the outcome: a lighter, brighter apartment. Which got its face-lift right before its second feature on Apartment Therapy.

(2) Cull More.

Right when you think you’ve gone through every closet, combed through all of your books, you realize that, while beautiful, you don’t really use that vase.

Cull, cull, cull. (Except that vase of cars, and that fabulous green bowl.)

And those piles of books you’ve been wanting to read for years should go to people who will actually enjoy them. And yes, even though you like a drink on occasion, you don’t need all of those glasses. Keep it simple.

(3) The Great Pantry Cleanse.

No, this doesn’t involve copious amounts of paprika and prune juice. But I do recommend doing this while humming or playing Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.” Just because.

We all have that partially used bottle of soy sauce for that stir fry we made last year (what?), or those dried beans that should really be cooked instead of sitting in that cool pottery canister.

Clean out that pantry!

And don’t get me started on what’s in the freezer–the vegetables you couldn’t eat but refused to throw away, the 10 or so pounds of venison from Alabama. You know, the usual stuff.

Well, kittens. It’s time to get your creative juices flowing. Because it’ll surprise you how long you can last on what you have in your house. Sure, you may have to run to the store for one random ingredient. But you’ll be amazed at how awesome the stuff that’s been sitting around can taste with a bit more effort than what you usually cook.

By the time I took stock of everything we had, I realized we were totally prepared in case of a zombie apocalypse. Sure, tangerine-chocolate-chip cake isn’t the healthiest alternative, but it’s better than the brains I’d crave after getting mauled by a zombified Harris Teeter cashier.

(4) Wear Your Heart (and Everything) In Your Favorite Sleeves. 

Yes, this doesn’t really make sense. But you get the gist: wear what you love and get rid of the rest. I’ve read several articles about culling stuff, mostly because I find it fascinating how far we’ll go to justify what stays and what goes. Especially when it comes to clothes. (Especially bonafide or poseurish clubbin’ clothes. FYI, you’re too old for that shit.)

But one of the best articles detailed a month-long experiment that went something like this: after you wear an article of clothing, turn its hanger around; then, at the end of the month, get rid of everything on the un-turned hangers. (Unless it’s that really expensive job interview outfit.)

Rinse and repeat Steps 1-4 until desired results are achieved.

***

Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list. But as Andy and I figure out our next steps, and become increasingly envious of those who can move everything they have in a 14-foot rental truck, we’re glad to have these mad skills under our belts. Because, regardless of where we end up or how much money we make, we’re still going to implement these lessons.

Why not?

Sometimes a simpler life is the way to go.

Because as amazingly bright as our material possessions shine, they can never trump the glow we get from unshackling ourselves from the past to take steps toward a lighter future.

From realizing how little we need to carry on our journey.

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On Tattoos and Purging

Okay, I’ll admit the title is a tad misleading.

Because this post isn’t about tattooed bulimics.

I mean, I have tattoos.

And used to be bulimic.

But this isn’t about rehashing the past. Nor is it about glorifying tattoos.

So. Just to be clear, kittens: go get inked if you want, and eat a sandwich if you’re hungry.

PSA over.

***

Now, y’all might remember a certain post a little while back about purging stuff. You know, all that crap you amass in a ridiculously short amount of time. Those things that, individually, are a lot of fun finding and making your own, but together can become a little overwhelming.

Especially when two households combine.

Because there’s no superhero that bursts out of the ground booming, “By your powers combined!” with a handbook about making everything fit into your design aesthetic. And there’s definitely no pointy-eared brother turning into water. (I mean, if I was Jayna, I’d have dumped that mop water of a brother into some kitty litter a while ago. And wash my hands of him completely.)

Fire! My Wheeler Planeteer ring...found during The Great Purge.

Now, it’s not like our apartment was an homage to Hoarders. In fact, it was all sparkly and clean and pretty. (Well, I might be a little biased because of a lil Apartment Therapy tour…even though it predated Andy, and our place looks nothing like this now.)

But lurking in the closets were little reminders that all décor is not created equal. Past decorative trends and accents were suffocating in trunks and boxes, left unused and unseen for years.

And then there’s stuff that’s good and all, but just doesn’t have its former pizzazz.

The solution?

A cross country road trip!

Okay. So that wasn’t the main reason we packed up the Prius and drove to CA. But once we were there, and on the way back, we knew we’d have a clean sweep of such epic proportions it’d make Niecy Nash blush and scream, “GUUuuurl!” right before she passed her fabulous self out onto one of her trademark hair flowers.

We’d barely unpacked everything before we both disappeared into different rooms and started grabbing things off table tops and ripping jackets, boxes, and files out of closets. 

***

With a very strong cocktail in hand, I sifted through my three distilled-down boxes of graduate school notes, papers, and drafted theses before emptying the entire lot into the garbage, and tossing most of my seminar books into the Sell pile.

Bubye to some grad school reads...

Clothes came next. And seven massive garbage bags’ worth later, our respective wardrobes breathed sighs of relief. (Mine mostly because an amazing influx of cashmere and cardigans phased out polyester-blends and overwashed cotton. Bam!) 

Next, each piece of furniture and decorative bit underwent a critical assessment, determining its functional worth versus its decorative appeal. So the pile grew with beautiful, lovely things that function pretty ineffectively. At least for us.

Cut glass punch bowl fabulousness...for someone else.

And then there was the kitchen.

And, guuurl. Did I clean it out.

Out came roughly a bazillion tumblers, and juice, wine, and martini glasses. (And even though I loathe tequila, we still had margarita glasses.) And dishes? If it wasn’t Fiestaware or locally-made pottery, it got tossed atop the Pile o’ Stuff.

But it’s not like we were going willy-nilly. I mean, we did set some parameters before we started–like, if we haven’t used it in a year, we clearly don’t need it. Or there are two of us, so we don’t need 70 wine glasses.

So much drinking to be done. By someone else.

So, so much stuff.

And why do we have it?

Because, like getting tattoos, buying shit is addictive. More than that, though, that chair or DVD or stand-mixer quenches your thirst for excitement, and leaves a material aftertaste.

But then, you’re surrounded. And you realize that you’ve just created a den of unhappiness. Because even if you have killer design sense, the common thematic element with every little thing around you isn’t paisley or purple.

It’s depression. Or anxiety. Or bitterness. Or other nasty emotions made tangible.   

And that’s why it’s hard not to respond cattily to certain comments. Comments that, especially during this whole downsizing-purging process, keep evoking expressions that make me resemble Two Face, or Tommy Lee Jones, or Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face. (Bless his heart.)

Like, “Why would you part with something so great?!”

Here’s the thing: it’s not easy. In fact, we’ve both lost sleep over it. Had tiffs here and there. Not just because our apartment is in disarray, but because trimming the fat is hard and exhausting and symbolic.

Vanity got the best of me. Ba da bah!Yay, Deco cabinet! But, bubye!

***

Change is never easy. But it’s necessary. And we need it more than a great Deco vanity.

We need a sense of permanence and purpose.

It’s like when I look at my tattoos. There’s no regret, only good memories about the people I’ve been, the friendships I have, and the experiences that’ve made me who I am.

And we both need to be able to look around us–wherever we may land–and feel that same sense of satisfaction.

And the two of us will. Whether that’s in a month, six months, or a year. We’ll get there. 

Whether it’s casting aside a throw pillow, or shipping off the first piece of Deco furniture I ever bought, it’s all about moving forward. And if I learned anything from Susan Sarandon’s character in Elizabethtown, it’s that “All forward motion counts.”

And we’re keeping that momentum going. Because that’s all we can do, especially when we have goals to achieve.  

Dreams to realize.