This October, after a particularly blissful morning at the beach, I had a little chat with the universe. “Okay, here’s the deal,” I said out loud, sitting in the driver’s seat of my car and staring at the ocean in front of me. “I need you to send me an apartment in this exact neighborhood—one that will allow me to foster big shelter dogs but costs less than the amount I’m paying in rent now. Got it?” (Anyone who’s familiar with Los Angeles’ oceanfront real estate knows that the odds of this happening are basically the same as having Ariana Grande show up at your door bearing avocado toast.)
Without giving it a second thought, I drove back inland to my place in the city. But with Amazon Prime-like swiftness, the powers that be fulfilled my order: While scanning apartment listing sites a couple days later, as I’d been doing for the past several weeks, I spotted a rare, all-pets-allowed place across the street from the beach that was priced about $300 less than the one-bedroom condo I was sitting in. It was a studio, and from the few pictures in the post, I could tell that it was small, but full of light, with a killer ocean view. Oh, and it was situated about 1,000 feet away from the exact spot where I’d made my request earlier that week, in a neighborhood that is most definitely above my freelance writer’s pay grade. (If I didn’t believe in manifesting before, I definitely do now.)
Still, I had a feeling that it might be too good to be true, and my suspicions were confirmed when I walked through the door that weekend—this place was tiny. Like, around 200-square-feet tiny. The kitchen didn’t have a stove or a full-sized fridge, because it wasn’t big enough. What it did have was a closet… the only closet in the entire apartment. I definitely can’t live here, I thought as I walked around the space, which took about 20 seconds. I mean, where would I put my extensive collection of adaptogen powders that I never use? But, to be polite, I went out onto the balcony to chat with the landlord, and as I looked out at the tumbling surf in front of me, a voice inside said No, you definitely CAN live here. You HAVE to live here. You’ll need to get rid of most of your possessions, but you have too much shit anyway. And aren’t tiny houses the thing right now? Just go with it.
So a few days later, without giving it much more thought than that (because carefully thinking things through is not really my forté), I was signing the lease to my very own micro-apartment. I officially moved in two weeks ago, and while it hasn’t been all palm trees and sunbeams since then, I’m happier than I have been in years—and I learned a few things about myself in the process.
I was surrounded by things I felt lukewarm about, and it was super freeing to let it all go.
A few years back, when Marie Kondo was a big deal, I applied her “does it spark joy” method to my stuff and ended up hauling a few bags of clothes, kitchen supplies, and books to Goodwill. (Maybe one percent of my belongings, total.) I didn’t need to downsize at the time, and so my definition of “joy” was, admittedly, pretty loose. It was more like Do I not hate it?
But this time, I had no choice but to be ruthless about my castoffs. If I hadn’t worn a pair of leggings in the past month, they had to go. If it didn’t make me truly sad to think of life without a certain muffin tin, see ya. I went through every last item in my apartment and asked myself, Do I like this or do I love it? If it wasn’t love, I simply couldn’t rationalize it taking up space in my life.
The end result is that I’m now only surrounded by things I’m truly obsessed with. And cheesy as it sounds, my cozy little space really does spark a ton of joy when I look around. It’s so powerful that I’ve started applying this philosophy to other areas of my life, too. No more dating guys I’m not super excited about, just because they’re nice and I wonder if one day they might grow on me. No more saying yes to job opportunities that make me feel “meh”, just because I could use the cash. No more ordering the healthiest option at a restaurant, just because I feel like I should. As a wise Instagram meme once said, If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no. Seriously, apply this one rule to your life (and your things) and you’ll be shocked by what happens.
Downsizing made me more mindful of what’s really important to me.
As I mentioned before, I almost wrote off my new apartment altogether because it didn’t have a lot of the amenities I was used to. But when I really looked at my lifestyle, I realized that a lot of the things we’re conditioned to expect from our homes aren’t necessarily a must for everyone.
Take the stove, for example. I never really considered that I could live without one, because, well, kitchens are meant to have stoves, right? I just didn’t question that logic. But then I thought about it and I realized I never really used the stove I had, aside from roasting small amounts of vegetables (which I can do in a toaster oven) and heating things up on the stovetop (which I can do with a countertop burner).
So what’s really going to make the biggest difference to my quality of life: boiling my eggs on a hot plate vs. a gas stove, or being able to walk across the street to the beach whenever I want (which is my go-to fix for anxiety and low mood)? I made this comparison with everything I’d be giving up, and the location won out every time. So far, living in the neighborhood of my dreams has been totally worth the (minor) sacrifices I had to make—and it’s taught me to think more creatively and be more resourceful when it comes to getting what I want.
I became conscious of how much my self-worth depends on other people’s approval.
After I signed the lease to my studio, I took some measurements and went home to determine how much furniture I could fit inside. (I know, this is something people usually do before they commit to a major move. But like I said, I’m not really a practical person.) And once I made those calculations, I felt a wave of panic so strong, I considered asking to get out of the lease. It wasn’t because I was stressed out about giving up my coffee table, however. It was the idea that I was a 36-year-old, single, childless woman who was about to move into a glorified dorm room. What would people think?
See, like most highly privileged Americans, I’ve been conditioned to believe that the size of my apartment and the amount of stuff inside directly correlates with my success. “The default message of our society is that material success equals success, period,” says psychotherapist Sepideh Saremi, LCSW, of Run Walk Talk. “It’s everywhere—films, music, and advertising tell us that owning a big house and fancy things is a the marker of a person who has life figured out. And surely, this person also experiences and is more worthy of love and happiness.”
Most of my friends are living in grown-up homes with spouses and kids. In my eyes, they’ve “made it,” so to speak. And I realized how, to combat my insecurity about not having these things yet, I’ve been subconsciously using my material possessions as a benchmark for my worth. Like, if I have a spacious, “adult” apartment, my friends won’t feel as sorry for me that I live there alone. (And they might even be a little jealous that I don’t have juice box stains on my couch.) If I have a space that says I’m successful in a mainstream way, that must mean I’m good enough to attract successful partners. F*cked up, right? And I had no idea that I was making these comparisons until I started imagining what the people in my life might think when they saw my new place. (In my head, their response was always Wow, she has a mini-fridge and her bed is next to her front door. She clearly does not have her shit together.)
I know, I’m rolling my eyes at myself, too. but it turns out this is a pretty normal reaction to downsizing. “Unwilling downsizers often go through a grieving process—it takes them some time to come to terms with who they are without [their stuff],” Saremi says. “Often, they feel a sense of failure that they really internalize. But there’s a lot of hope—we adjust over time to more humble circumstances and can be as happy as we were before.” When you’re less bogged down by belongings, she adds, you’re better able to focus on the things that really matter.
Having that realization was a huge aha! moment for me, and it actually convinced me that I’d made the exact right decision in choosing this apartment. The ultimate act of self-love is doing what makes you happy, without thinking twice about what other people will think. Fortunately, I’ve made peace with the fact that doing more with less is really working for me right now. And the people who are meant to be in my life will get that and love me even more for it.
Of course, tiny-space living does have its (first-world) challenges. My legs are covered in bruises from repeatedly bumping into furniture during my at-home workouts. I can hear every word my neighbors say, especially when they’re on the phone at 6 a.m. If the weather is bad and I can’t leave the house—because Angelenos melt when exposed to rain—I go a little stir-crazy sitting in one room all day. But I’m completely aware of how lucky I am to have a roof over my head in the first place, let alone one that I’ve basically been dreaming about since I moved to California 11 years ago. It might be a little smaller than I envisioned, but I’ve learned that, unless we’re talking about Lenny Kravitz’s scarves, bigger doesn’t equal better.
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