This year has been unlike any other: Our routines have been upended, health concerns amplified, and lifestyles reframed. We’ve also cooked more, bought fewer clothes, knitted, DIY-ed more home projects than we ever thought ourselves capable of, and baked...and baked some more.
For my partner and me, it was also the year we realized we don’t need as much space to live.
Casey and I are in our late 20s with no kids, and we have lived in a 900-square-foot Brooklyn apartment for nearly four years. When we were looking for our current apartment, our expectations were low. Coming from one about half its size with a kitchen no bigger than an elevator, the only logical thing was to want more room. We dreamed of living in an apartment that would fit a media console, couch, desk, and dining table for four into a single room. We also wanted a kitchen with lots of counter space and plenty of natural light. We got everything on our list.
In the almost four years we’ve lived here, our comfortably sized apartment has gone through many iterations of layouts and styles. Since we came from a smaller place, our decor didn’t quite fill out our new home, so we opted to purchase oversize furniture that many New Yorkers could only dream of fitting into an apartment. This included a seven-foot media console, as well as a six-foot dining table that we never sat at and that soon became a dumping ground for all our junk.
Instead of the white walls (plenty of hygge but not our style), we began playing with color and bringing in pieces that added character. We painted the living spaces in moody hues, I stenciled our kitchen nook with a cheeky pineapple print, and we added a thrifted bistro table and bargain bentwood chairs to emulate a cozy corner at a local café.
Over the next two years, our home slowly began to transform as we focused on creating an interior filled with bold color and personality—and things we loved.
If there’s anything that this year has taught us, it’s that our homes are no longer just a place to rest our heads—or to paint and primp. Without the day-to-day stresses of rushing around the city, we’ve had the opportunity to become more aware of how we inhabit the rooms we call home, as well as examine our daily rituals. And what we’ve come to realize is: We don’t actually need all this space.
The bedroom we’re never in other than to sleep and start our day: does it need to be so large? Do we need an anteroom that literally holds only our barware and that only our cat spends any time in? Or the dining table I now use as my desk—did we even use this for meals last year? Especially since we have a second table in the kitchen nook.
We’ve come to recognize how little we need to be content. So many of the things we thought would make our lives more comfortable have rarely been touched. That pasta maker I just had to have? We tried it once and realized it’s difficult to use on marble countertops. The large media console we convinced ourselves would be great for storing all our games and movies? We just swapped it out for a vintage desk with a smaller footprint to act as our TV stand. And the stand mixer? I honestly forgot it existed, even though it takes up an entire shelf in our kitchen.
We’ve used the past few months to try to find a balance between our love for certain objects and the desire to live with less. This idea of wanting less during a time when many are looking for more from their home may sound odd, but it has rung true for us.
When anyone talks about living with less, it’s often associated with minimalism. What follows usually is an assumption of a certain aesthetic of white walls, essentials-only items, and a pared-down interior. For us, however, living with less hasn’t been about giving up nonessential sentimental items (my collection of salt and pepper shakers is intact!) or our aesthetic (the moody decor stays!). Rather, it’s been about living intentionally: learning to live with what we need and what we can't live without, whilst taking into account the impact of objects, and our choices, on the environment. This is a journey that’s both personal and unique—not a one-size-fits-all—as both Casey and I have discovered.
We've realized we don’t need more than two sets of sheets. Or a microwave. And all our furniture purchases can in fact be second-hand items. It’s a game of discipline and restraint, but we’ve been able to free up space that we have no intention of filling again.
With less clutter, there are fewer decisions to be made, less time spent looking for things, and more time to focus on what matters. For us, that’s spending more time cooking together or being able to spontaneously drive upstate for the day with no destination in mind. And with this new affirmed mantra to live more intentionally, it even has us contemplating our next move. Though we don’t know exactly when that will be, we know that it will likely be into something smaller (perhaps back to 550 square feet!). But check back with us after six more months of this...
Has this year changed the way you feel about your own space? Tell us in the comments below!