Rethinking what I need

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.