Essay

I Always Dreamed of a Larger Apartment. This Year Changed That.

One writer finds that learning to live with less is a personal journey, not a one-size-fits-all.

November 14, 2020
Photo by Matthew James

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.

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.

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I agree completely. It was a jarring experience to recognize that what I was told I needed wasn't fulfilling me and I started over again when I either sold or gave away our furniture two years ago and slowly replaced everything or completely cut things out. Now, I've been a lot more intentional with what I bring into our home and make sure it's not something that I'm told I need but that actually has value to me and it will serve a purpose. I think you can have ease and style but it's something unique to the individual. ”
— Matthew J.
Comment

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.

Photo by Matthew James

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.

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.

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.

Photo by Matthew James

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • M
    M
  • CocoM
    CocoM
  • Arati Menon
    Arati Menon
  • Matthew James
    Matthew James
Matthew James

Written by: Matthew James

7 Comments

M November 17, 2020
It's such a game changer to discover the difference between what you truly need and want, and what you were told you need and want. That open concept kitchens, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops aren't a universal default. That just about any add-on room is only handy if you actively and regularly use the stuff within. Not everyone needs a craft room, a bar, or a guest room. But that's the inevitable result when ease and style is sold to us without the practicality and reality of the object or look. We buy, it doesn't work with our lives, and we buy again. We're all funnelled toward some sort of universal it, but one person's perfection is another's chaos.

 
Author Comment
Matthew J. November 17, 2020
I agree completely. It was a jarring experience to recognize that what I was told I needed wasn't fulfilling me and I started over again when I either sold or gave away our furniture two years ago and slowly replaced everything or completely cut things out. Now, I've been a lot more intentional with what I bring into our home and make sure it's not something that I'm told I need but that actually has value to me and it will serve a purpose. I think you can have ease and style but it's something unique to the individual.
 
M November 18, 2020
Absolutely! This is why I wish discussions of all matters of the home, from food to furniture, come with the downsides, struggles, not-so-fun work. I love the idea of a reality where we are sold the values (and lack thereof), rather than an all-in-one "need." It'd be easier to navigate towards what each of us really wants. It says a lot that I completely relate to your story, while disagreeing with just about every particular, because my "needs" include a stand mixer, microwave, and more sheets. Though I'm with you on the pasta maker. No one ever talks about how it doesn't just clamp onto every countertop.
 
CocoM November 14, 2020
This was a really interesting read Matthew. My partner and I just moved into an apartment of a similar size - after always having lived in shared apartments - and the excess of space has felt at the same time like a luxury and a chore to fill. At one point my partner suggested we put a Foosball table in our kitchen nook. I’ll show him a picture of your café-like set-up in the hope that sparks other ideas for him...
 
Author Comment
Matthew J. November 17, 2020
I'm so glad you liked the essay Coco! Always moving into a space where you have more room - especially for the first time with your partner - can seem daunting. As I mentioned I ran into a similar situation with our current apartment where we had so much space! The one thing I'd recommend is to take your time to gather the pieces you need to make the apartment feel like your home - even if just for a couple of months!
 
Arati M. November 14, 2020
Thanks for sharing this journey with us, Matthew. I think that this year has forced a lot of us to come to terms with our changing needs from, and relationship with, our homes. The best lesson I’ve learned is to stay open to but not be tied down to these shifts, and to find my own path through them.
 
Author Comment
Matthew J. November 17, 2020
Thanks Arati. Yes, this year has definitely forced many to reevaluate their needs within their home and how it will be viewed in the future as well. I've been trying to do the same and not get too bogged down as everything constantly shifts in our new everyday - which for many is still changing!