Lifestyle

More Space, More Stuff

For over two decades, I lived in apartments that were all under 500 square feet. Here’s the thing: I wasn’t unhappy.

My current apartment is nearly 1,000 square feet – twice the size of all those apartments I lived in for all those years. Here’s another thing: I’m not any remarkably happier than I was in the smaller apartments.

Don’t get me wrong. My current apartment is fantastic, and I’m very lucky to be living in it. The building is amazing, too. But in the time I’ve been here, I’ve noticed this creeping obligation to acquire more stuff to accommodate this “bigger” life I have in this bigger home.

Today, I have two sofas instead of the one I really need. I have a dining table that can seat six, even though I only need a table for two (or, if we’re being really honest, one). I have a queen size bed where I used to be perfectly content with a full. There are eight suits hanging in my larger closet, even though I regularly rotate about four of them. The four or five ties I love and wear are hanging on a tie rack with a dozen others I never wear. There is an entire cabinet and many shelves in my kitchen that are still empty. The alien urges for bigger and more are nudging my senses of less but better.

I spent so many years training for a carefully edited and curated life in smaller spaces that I’m feeling a little thrown by the unspoken call to expand. This is something that I’ve written about before as a virtue of effective living, and I feel like I’m losing sight of it. I’m currently living in a part of the country where maximum square footage with multi-car garages and giant SUVs and pickup trucks with pristine, untouched cabs rule, and it freaks me out. I’ve been to houses where the garage is so full of junk that a car can’t fit in it. I’ve seen homes where rooms or entire floors go unused. At the end of the day, what is all of this for? I can only speculate, but I do know that I really don’t want to go down that road.

We are living in a culture littered with luxury and excess landmines that blow up in our faces, reminding us that we need (or we should need) a lot of stuff to be happy. We’re trained to want more. And once we get more? More.

On last week’s episode of Big Little Lies, there was a great scene where Laura Dern’s husband nailed it on the head: “We’re creatures of want.” Boom. But unlike animals, we are equipped with reason, introspection and the ability to stop and change – if we want to. Even on the small scale of my own “expansion,” catering to wants, it’s starting to feel unmanageable – like I’m starting to slide down a slope that could get very slippery very easily. So, I’m hitting the brakes on the bloat bus and turning around.

When I started thinking about this piece, I put three of those neglected suits in a box along with a handful of those ties and a couple of shirts for the thrift store. I also have a pair of side tables and a disassembled work table that need to go. There’s more, too. The point is that along with my larger residential footprint came an unintended bigger appetite for more stuff. FUN FACT: The guy with more stuff doesn’t win. And he’s not the guy I want to be.

I don’t need a lot of space. In fact, I kind of prefer less, which offers less concern and less to manage, maintain and clean, giving me the freedom to do things I’d rather do. If I’m going to be rigorously honest, I often miss my small but very efficient and very edited 470 square foot studio in Manhattan. It was totally manageable and all I needed.

10 Comments

  1. Acquitistions won’t kill you. Some are actually good for the soul. I’ve been buying some pretty decent vintage paintings… They do give me pleasure and are kinda energizing. One large piece of studio pottery with a huge leafy branch in it is vitalizing. Submitted for your consideration.

  2. Midlifecrisissexsymbol Reply

    The second sofa is technically a loveseat, so it doesn’t count. 😉 And it balances out your room.

    But I hear ya. We once house-sat my in-laws’ house while our new house was being built and they were snowbirding in sunnier climes. It’s half the size of any house I’ve owned as an adult, yet I loved it. Most of our stuff was in storage, and it was easy living. Their yard was also half the size, so that made it even easier! I love my current house (2500 SF for two of us and three cats, because cats need lots of space, right?), but we also have two home offices, so we’re saving on not renting office space. And my husband is a drummer, so we need room for his drums (I think we’re at 4 sets now), my piano, and band practice. And I like my large yard because I love/hate yard work and gardening and the yard gives me perceived safe space between my house and the general public (my husband refuses to let me put in a moat). But I sometimes dream of simpler times, when I owned next to nothing and had no responsibilities but to work and attend school, and cleaning my apartment was a breeze, because there was nothing to clean but one plate for me and another for the cat.

    Also, being female, I need lots of closet space. I need clothes for the professional me, the casual me, the dressy me, the slutty me, the boho me, and so on. And I need all of them in three sizes, because female.

  3. Follow up tp previous message:
    I highly recommend “Axel Vervoordt, Living With Light” (Flammarion.) Essentially a coffee-table book.
    For the most part it shows the beauty of living with a minimal number of things; deliberate well chosen things that are significant and deeply satisfying. A lean aesthetic; definitely the antithesis of clutter.

    • Pro tip: George could have written that book. Some might argue he already has. In short order, he’d wind up donating the book—or borrowing it and returning it. Because that’s who George is.

  4. Joseph Crangle Reply

    Oh George, your living room, in it’s current state, is still more edited and minimal than 99% of American homes. Your innate discomfort with mindless consumerism will always preclude an appearance on “Hoarders: Buried Alive”. Enjoy your space.

  5. Robert Beukema Reply

    I agree with Joseph. What you have is a great backdrop FOR PEOPLE. Aquire PEOPLE! Invite people over!! Fill your table and then fill your sofas when your done eating! Play a game, watch a movie, be the house where the gang comes over for the Oscars/Tonys/Whathaveyou! You’re right, a hermit doesn’t need much, but you don’t have to be a hermit.

  6. Reggie Darling Reply

    When I was a boy, growing up in the 1960s in an upper middle class professional household, my family of six had a single hall closet that was able to accommodate all of our winter coats, since we only wore the minimum of what was required (one “nice” and the other for everyday). Only my mother had three coats, the rest of us had either only one or two. Today in a world of more-is-more, my family’s hall closet would be stuffed to the gills and not be able to hold all the coats (both formal and casual) and parkas, quilted jackets and vests, etc., we now deem to be necessary. Same goes for garages and basements, and attics…and every other room in the house. We are crushing ourselves with all our stuff.

  7. orlickigroup Reply

    Going through a divorce and in temporary housing I have learned to live with MUCH less than I would need normally. I can’t wait to find a new place, smaller, nicer, more modern with less maintenance than owning a home.

    Your place is still very edited. Don’t be so hard on yourself. EMBRACE YOUR SPACE! Love that media console.

  8. Brian L Feit Reply

    George, I really enjoy your blog because it helps me identify and define challenges of living as spare as I can in a colture of glut. I’ve been in similar situations, and felt the same. Over time I’ve developed some concepts and strategies.

    Concepts:
    Don’t spend what you ain’t got.
    Don’t be too hard on yourself, and consider some adventure that takes you out of your comfort zone.
    Learn the difference between spare and desolate.
    Consider who you buy from.
    Buy vintage/old when possible

    Strategies:
    Buy things that give you joy when you use them.
    Try the new stuff out a couple of times – if it doesn’t work – sell it or donate it (I’ve done it with both suits and ties.) Give it more than one shot.
    Some things get used up but give joy – flowers, and candles for example.
    Plants are great for your space, and also for your health.
    Edit stuff once a year

    (I’m not as good as I could be on any or all of those things, but I keep them in mind.)

    I think it was William Morris who wrote “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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