We’re back in San Jose now and readying for our move to the apartment in Oakland. On Thursday’s flight from Phoenix I wondered if this was our last plane ride for quite a while. Almost immediately after takeoff on the first leg from Tampa to Phoenix, we experienced a sudden, short burst of turbulence, the kind that bumps and jolts and drops my stomach exactly as if I were on a roller coaster, except instead I’m thousands of feet up in the air. As my heart rate escalated I thought, “I guess I’m still not entirely used to this.” But I was much calmer than I would have been two years ago. Meanwhile, the eight-month-old baby (a blonde, bug-eyed sweetie named Chloe) across the aisle sipped her juice without turning a hair.
I have this plan that we’re going to launch our new apartment with simplicity and minimalism, without sacrificing utility or comfort. It’s a small place — especially compared to the three-bedroom house we lived in before — and I want to use and enjoy every square inch of it. I’m feeling very hopeful about this. After all, we’ve just spent almost two years living out of a few bags apiece. For the past few weeks we’ve been living in a home that’s tremendously welcoming while adhering to a very spare décor. And I recently read Béa Johnson’s book, The Zero Waste Home, and that inspired me to think rigorously about what we use and how we live. My goal is to avoid the kind of dead space that comes from poorly arranged furniture, dimly lit corners, and piles of “I’m not sure what’s in there but I’ll find a use for it someday.” My m.o. is to rethink need, as in “I need a citrus juicer” or “I need the car every day” or “I need to have enough space for overnight guests.”
This is pretty much the entire apartment, though it feels a bit bigger in real life (11′ ceilings help).
Of course, in spite of almost entirely eschewing books (except e-books), large wardrobes, and stockpiled crafting supplies, even a relatively minimal first-world lifestyle requires a certain amount of stuff. We managed to travel with a couple of bags apiece because we stayed in places that provided things like pots and pans, a bed, towels, and cleaning supplies. So now I’m having to locate all those things for ourselves, either by digging them out of storage, or acquiring new (or sometimes used) ones. A flatware tray so our knives and forks don’t get jumbled in the drawer. A dust mop for the beautiful hardwood floors. Coat hooks and clothes hangers (is there a good way to pack these so they don’t all tangle?!). And all the while, I’m blocking my ears against the siren song of the home-decorating gurus and the organizer stores. Rethink need! Rethink need!
Fortunately, I’m a little less frantic now that we’re here and able to start on moving-related activities. At Ying and Ståle’s house I was getting antsy, thinking about the apartment constantly yet unable to do anything for it except browse online sales and order necessities on Amazon. The forced inactivity rendered me obsessive. Last night I had two home-related dreams; the previous night I think I had more. Today I made us late to meet my best friend Jackie (she’s in town for the weekend) because I was sorting and packing clothes.
I intend for our move to be a small-scale, gradual affair. We’re lucky to have access to our parents’ homes as well as a storage unit, so we can move in only what we need immediately, and keep everything else offsite while we slowly cull. My plan, ultimately, is to get rid of almost everything, because I know that in most cases we don’t truly need it. Our apartment was built in 1898, and I like to remind myself that — not to be too reductionist, but — this fixation on large homes and an object for every purpose is a very recent development, and for most of human history, people did just fine with less. In fact, around the world, many people continue to do all right with less. It used to be that I only wanted to own what I love, but it turns out I love lots of things, so now I only want to live with what I use. I’m already massively limiting what we move into the apartment in the first place, but even after that, I plan to keep tabs on things like kitchen implements and clothing, and anything we don’t use after a month or two will be donated. It’s a good philosophy in general, but in an apartment this size, there’s really no space for excess. So I repeat, over and over: rethink need.
it’s a good exercise to do every year I think, even if you don’t have a tiny place to live or are moving or whatever. But yeah, I’m going through the same thoughts right now. Later if I do actually have a chance to implement my ideas, we can compare notes. 🙂
on a side note, you should see how Devin packed our hangers. He managed to stack them very neatly and efficiently in a box with only a bit of paper to separate piles. I told him to stop wasting time trying to make things neat and just pile as much as he could into the box. So of course he sat there for another 10 more minutes and managed to fit them all in like puzzle pieces, just to prove me wrong. ;p
It is a good exercise, though it’s considerably easier to do while moving. It’s easier to give things up if they’re not in your space in the first place — I mean it’s easier to say “actually, I’m fine without a pen caddy on my desk” than to look at the caddy on your desk and say, “Welp, I’m getting rid of that.”
On the other hand we just bought a small sofa on Craigslist, last night, and I made a huge run on stores and estate sales yesterday. So the new stuff is already trickling in. ;b
I want to see this magical hanger-packing system!!!!!!
Well, this is ironic. I just meandered around on my blog trying to figure out what ‘home’ is, then came over here for a visit and found the same topic. Rethinking ‘need’ is exactly what I have been pondering on these past few months, in the frenzy of moving and the unknown future. What to pack, what to get rid of. I’m sure we’ll get rid of more when we unpack. One thing I do know: clutter doesn’t make a home! I am looking forward to seeing what you do with your space.
Oh what synchronicity. 🙂 We are constantly getting rid of things — this is probably our fourth or fifth round of decluttering since we started traveling two years ago. So far I haven’t regretted anything we’ve deliberately tossed/donated, though there are a couple of kitchen tools I thought we kept that I now can’t find, and miss. But those are easily replaceable.
I’m finding these days that the more I get used to living without clutter, the more it really bothers me. I don’t just mean stuff but the assault of the unnecessary: way more drinking glasses than a household needs, or living-room ornaments no one really cares about, or the TV or radio going when no one’s listening. I’m sure I’ll mention this in a later blog post, but I’ve even begun taking the labels off many of the products around the house (dishwashing liquid, face cream, that kind of thing) because I don’t want to give the brands advertising space in my home. It’s amazing how much more restful my space feels without these superfluities.