When my husband and I decided to sell our house and move into an 800-square-foot apartment, I was primarily worried about one thing: murdering him. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great relationship, but the idea of living in such close quarters was somewhat terrifying.
In our house, I had my own office and a separate yoga space, and he used the basement as his art studio. We had a walk-in closet, two bathrooms, a jacuzzi tub, a living room, dining room, back yard, and front porch. Our apartment, on the other hand, is comprised of two tiny bedrooms, closets the size of shoeboxes, and a bathroom that only one person can fit into at a time.
The proposition of scaling down brought up a lot of questions for me.
How will I get private time and space for myself?
How will I deal with the piles of art materials that my husband leaves all over the place?
Where will I do yoga?
Where will we put the kitty litter?
And most importantly:
What if I really need to use the bathroom (and it’s occupied)?
In the end, we had no choice but to relocate. We were moving because I’d been offered a job at Harvard – and you don’t say no to Harvard.
Our move involved a very interesting process of letting go and realizing how much unnecessary junk (both physical and emotional) that we had accumulated over the six years that we owned our house.
The shift happened in stages. First, we asked our future landlord for a floor plan of the apartment so that we could measure and figure out what furniture we could keep, and what would have to go. We ended up being able to keep:
- One couch (out of three)
- One bed (out of two)
- One lamp (out of many)
- Two bookshelves (out of four)
- One desk (out of three)
- One TV (out of two)
We had to let go of:
- The first piece of “adult” furniture I’d ever bought (a couch)
- The futon that I slept on while in grad school
- Most of the shelves from a bedroom unit that my in-laws had bought in the 80s
- Many, many articles of clothing
- A gorgeous (and expensive) dining room table
- Tons of shelving space that my husband had used for his art
- And much, much more
At first this letting go felt difficult. It was like watching pieces of my past disappear before my eyes – and it was scary. I worried about not having access to certain books or photo albums or tank tops. I looked fondly at my old couch and thought of how many movies I’d watched on it with friends. I thought of all the sleepless nights I’d had on that futon while worrying about my PhD thesis.
With each piece of clothing that I threw into my growing pile of trash bags, I felt like I was a snake shedding its skin.
But then it occurred to me that my husband and I were holding on to so many useless artifacts partly because we were afraid. Afraid of what the future held. Afraid of who we were without these possessions.
Would our relationship survive being compressed into 800 square feet in a city where we barely knew anyone?
Now, a year and a half later, I can tell you that our relationship has not only survived – it has grown in ways that I never would have imagined. The past eighteen months have been one of the hardest times that we’ve been through as a couple – but not because of our smaller space. In fact, our tiny abode has been one of the most liberating aspects of the experience.
The best part is having less stuff. And not having room for more stuff. Gone are the days of aimless browsing through Homesense to buy useless knickknacks. An added bonus is that we no longer have grass to cut, eavestroughs to clean, or a driveway to shovel. Plus, a freak accident caused us to write off our car, which means we no longer have to worry about finding parking on busy city streets, or paying for gas or insurance.
The hardest part is having so much room for our emotional stuff. Our less active social life means that we spend a lot of time together. Back home, we rarely had alone time. We worked during the day, taught yoga/played soccer in the evenings, and hung out with friends and family on the weekends. Now we hang out often. And by often I mean every. single. day. This is both easy and difficult. It’s easy because we are compatible and we enjoy our time together. It’s hard because there’s no place to hide. If one of us feels like crap, the other one knows it. And sometimes we catch each others moods the way you would catch a cold.
Ironically, having less physical space has opened up our emotional space. And we’ve become closer as a result.
These days when I have a rare opportunity to walk through stores like Target or Wal-Mart, I feel puzzled (and almost nauseous). As I gaze at aisle upon aisle of merchandise, I can’t help but wonder:
- Where did all of this junk come from?
- Why are we so obsessed with buying it?
- Who made this stuff, and under what type of working conditions?
- What is the environmental impact of all of this purchasing?
- Do we really need four TVs, five air fresheners, twelve picture frames, and four area rugs per person?
In a sense, I’ve become allergic to buying. I was never much of a shopper to begin with, but having less physical space has forced me to take a serious look not only at my buying behavior, but at my emotional relationship with buying. My physical and emotional space has become leaner, cleaner, and more open. And while I still don’t enjoy sharing a tiny bathroom, the benefits of having less physical space have made it worth it.
People all over the world are starting to clean up their acts and trim down their assets (check out the Tiny House movement to learn more). I encourage you to give it a try, too. You don’t have to sell your house and move into a smaller space. Perhaps you could simply get rid of a few books or donate some clothes to charity. I guarantee that your emotional life will benefit as a result.
What are your thoughts on living lean? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.