I’m a thirty-something who owns and lives in a condo the size of a typical bachelor apartment in the midtown neighbourhood of Bankview in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I sleep within a few steps of my kitchen, having neither a bedroom nor any enclosed rooms to speak of, apart from the master bath and a few storage closets. Most hotel rooms in North America are only slightly smaller than the place I now call home. Let’s face it, I live in a shoebox.
Thinking in conventional terms, my choice of living arrangement would make the most sense if I were still a starving graduate student spending all my waking hours shuttling between the library and the cafeteria writing term papers, with little need for more than a laptop and a bed. It would make the most sense if I were completely cash-strapped, working multiple jobs to pay the bills, and having little need, means or desire to entertain at home. Choosing such a tiny space would make more sense if I had become perhaps an aging widower or a struggling divorcee under pressure to downsize, or if I had simply given up on life altogether.
My choice to live in a studio would appear to make the most sense, in other words, if I had no choice at all or felt my choices were limited. After all, it seems rather odd to prefer and actively seek out a home that is less than 400 square feet, especially when someone may have the budget for something grander.
But that’s exactly the kind of choice I made, and why my realtor probably thought I was crazy when I asked her to track down all the studio apartment condos available on the market in my city. Early on in my search for a new home, I decided that I wanted to embrace small space living, not as some sort of compromise, but as a means of leading a simpler, happier life.
I guess I connect happiness with simplicity to some degree. I don’t own a car. My tiny condo is close enough to the downtown core that I’m able to walk into work, which also ensures I get daily exercise without even trying. Keeping things neat and tidy is easier, because there just isn’t any room to accumulate clutter. I can vacuum, dust, and scrub down the entire place in less than an hour, which frees up more time to pursue my favourite leisurely activities: reading, writing, sketching and doodling.
400 square feet also encouraged me to be creative, smart and strategic with interior design. Furnishing the place has been tremendous fun. What inspired me to embark on this great experiment, in the first place, was a video over at gizmodo.com about a tiny apartment in New York that packs eight rooms into a space even smaller than mine.
Although my condo can’t claim to be as versatile and futuristic as the ambitious design featured in the video, I did track down the same company, Resource Furniture, which was mentioned on Gizmodo and also happened to have a showroom in Calgary. They were able to find some unique pieces for me, such as a coffee table that adjusts to various heights, doubling as a desk and also expanding into a dining table that comfortably seats six people.
Not surprisingly, I have a space-saving wall bed — or what is commonly known as a Murphy bed — which folds down over a collapsible couch. I’ll admit that Murphy beds have a certain reputation for being the furniture of choice for fools, simpletons, cartoon characters (in some situations) and depressed bachelors (in other cases). But that’s because these novel beds have suffered from almost a century of bad publicity. They have often served as a common setup for comedic scenes in films such as Charlie Chaplin’s 1916 One AM, several Three Stooges shorts,”It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie and in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” But the design of wall beds has come a long way in recent years. The sleek, ultra-modern options engineered by the Italian company Clei are a case in point.
But more importantly, I see small space living as a whole philosophy of life. Our culture today is still obsessed with the idea of growth. We often latch uncritically onto the assumption, “bigger is better,” even as thoughtful people like author Jeff Rubin warn about how unsustainable this mentality can be in a world — and in an increasingly turbulent economy — that will have no other choice but to get a whole lot smaller (and smarter) in the coming years.
Besides there’s something to be said about staying ahead of the curve, and figuring out ways to do more with less and still be happy with what we have. And I’m not just happy with my new home, but quite proud too.
Let’s face it, I live in a shoebox. But I think that’s kind of cool!