The Clarity of 600 Square Feet

Three weeks in and my little cottage looks like a bomb went off inside it. I have never in my life lived in such a small space and even just getting things set up is a challenge I did not foresee. In the past, I’ve been able to designate part of a room the “drop zone” – I’ll stack things there and move them to where they belong as I tidy up.

Well, the rooms in my new house have no “parts.” Each room is so tiny, there’s no place to stack items in order to move them around later.

Because I packed my belongings without dividing them into boxes based on which room they belonged in (I’m more interested in using the space in a box wisely than designating each box to a separate room and potentially waste a few square inches), when I open a box, stuff comes out that belongs in the garage, in the spare room, in the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the kitchen… It’s a random grab bag. So I’ve had to move piles of items from the spare room to the garage to the living room to the garage to the spare room again to the garage and on and on. I’ve literally shuffled things back and forth at least 4 times, at this point, just trying to figure out where to keep things, where things will FIT. (Not a lot fits.)

I’ve known for a while that I would have to seriously downsize – and before I moved, I got rid of my couch and two entire carloads of stuff I don’t use anymore. I thought that would make a serious dent.

It turns out that actually being in the tiny space of my home gives me much more clarity about things than I had before I moved. Now it’s not just conceptual – this is the real deal. Suddenly, being able to function in a room without feeling like the walls are closing in is incredibly important. Suddenly, the occasional usefulness of an item is not enough of an argument for me to keep it. Suddenly, something that takes up only 3 square inches has to justify its presence in my home.

As I was unpacking the other day, I thought about Marie Kondo’s organizing philosophy that an item should “spark joy” if it’s going to stay in your home. Usually, I’m pretty sharp about what that means, what that feels like. I know that spark of joy.

But now that I’m in this new space, swimming through a sea of stuff, I started to feel a little muddled about it. I’d pull things out of boxes and remember that I used to love that item, but did I still? It fit so well on the table in the old living room, but now… A lot of items also reminded me of how much time and money I spent on trying to build a perfect home for a family I never had. That’s a lot of ghosts to bring into a new home, and frankly, I don’t have room for them, either.

As I pondered all this, pulling items out of boxes that made me feel lukewarm and confused, I suddenly pulled out some of my antique knickknacks…and smiled. I could feel my whole face light up. I was excited.

I realized my new experience of “sparking joy” was going to be much more discerning. There are a whole lot of items that made it past the pre-move initial sweep that aren’t going to make through this time around. The second round is a lot tougher than the first. My possessions really have to work it if they want to remain a part of the household.

Some of this is painful – it’s always hard to relive memories of the dreams that fell by the wayside. It’s hard to open a box that was packed up right after the dissolution of a household and relationship and find items, three years later, that had once held a place of honor in your supposedly happy love nest, but that went forgotten in their boxes.

Some of it is completely awesome. There’s a lot of stuff, I have discovered, that I used to love to do but perhaps don’t really love so much, anymore. And even more stuff that I thought I should love to do that I really don’t. Hobbies that I’ve grown out of, or hobbies that I started because I wanted to be “that kind” of wife and mother.

It’s really exciting to claim what I am and what my life is like here and now and decide what that really means and what that looks like. I’m not a mother. I’m not a wife. I can let go of so much of what I acquired to fulfill those roles and then…what might await me? Time and money to spend on a little bit of travel? More time to explore the woods? Or better yet, what if my writing becomes such a hot commodity that I have to spend most of my time writing novels? I love clearing the space for these possibilities.

I also just love to relieve myself of the emotional weight and energy. I believe that every single thing we own (even stuff that’s as tiny as a thimble, and even things we have forgotten we own) costs us energy. Every single thing. Anything under our stewardship demands energy from us, in one form or another. And when you’re the sole head of a household and every part of it, inside and out, is yours and yours alone, that’s a heavy load to carry. It can be a joyous one when you have struck that balance of owning the right amount of possessions and only (well, mostly) those things that make you happy. But if you’re drowning in an ocean of STUFF that you don’t really care about…it’s time to reevaluate.

And that’s where I am. I am waiting for that smile now. That excitement when I look at something I own, when I see something that makes me happy. Almost everything else is going to find itself a new home with people who truly appreciate it and will be energized by its presence.

I want to be a lean, mean machine in my 600-square-foot house. I want to know where every single item lives and be able to grab it quickly. I want my home to be simple, organized, and filled with space for whatever is coming.

And guess what else is going? The hair… (Stay tuned.)