I’m always fascinated by stories in trendy interior design magazines about people who live in incredibly small spaces. It’s easy to romanticize the idea of the perfect urban studio or tiny, rural cottage. Who doesn’t love that liberating feeling of cleaning out a cluttered closet and giving away a few tattered t-shirts or uncomfortable pairs of jeans? In the afterglow of a tantric spring-cleaning session, even the most materialistic among us can be seduced by the less-is-more mantra.
When my partner and I moved to Chicago, we bought a place that was well within our means and took pride in the fact that we could get by just fine sharing 700 square feet of space. Of course, living in a small space is just lovely—until it isn’t. Eventually, we became increasingly annoyed by the little inconveniences that come with living on a Japanese scale: no place to hide those extra boxes of cereal that were buy-three-get-one-free, no room for a treadmill, no way to dig the vacuum cleaner out of the closet without triggering an avalanche of suitcases, Swiffers, and half-empty cans of paint.
There comes a time in the life of every small-space dweller when you’ve reached your breaking point. Perhaps it’s after Christmas when you finally attempt to cram a new season of Fraggle Rock into a drawer that already won’t close without some elaborate, Jenga-style stacking of DVDs. Initially, there’s a sense of guilt. “Why do I need all this crap?” we ask. Then, anger. “I hate this dump. I work hard for my money and I should be able to watch Fraggle Rock whenever I want. And I shouldn’t have to throw out my copy of She Devil or Troop Beverly Hills just to make room for something new.” Then, at long last, we reach self-pitying acceptance. “I guess I’ll just add this to the pile of DVDs that sit in a permanent mound beside the TV. It’s not like anyone ever comes over here anyway.”
It’s bad enough not having the space to accommodate an adequate selection of 1989’s greatest woman-oriented comic films. Unfortunately, small spaces also subject us to a complete loss of privacy in our own homes. As much as I enjoy turning on Al Gore with my tiny carbon footprint, there are moments when I’m tempted to drive a Hummer to the heart of the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge just for ten minutes of peaceful, unrestrained poop time miles away from my significant other.
Living in a small space is appealing for many reasons—it’s cheap, it’s environmentally friendly, and it forces us to evaluate what’s truly valuable. I love to daydream about a simple life in an Airstream by the sea where I’ll be surrounded by carefully selected, precious things. At times, I’m certain that everything I could ever want should fit in a trailer that can go wherever the open road, a hybrid SUV, and an off-putting sense of hippie superiority will take me. But then I’m reminded that living in an Airstream would force me to choose between my greatest loves: my love of the idea of an ascetic life and my love of good water pressure and the option to watch The Witches of Eastwick on Blu-Ray whenever I feel like it. So until Al Gore is willing to memorize 1200 lines of dialogue and stop by my Airstream with a Cher wig, a bowl of cherries, and a bottle of ipecac, I’m going to continue to fantasize about a home as big as Daryl Van Horne’s.