Living in 444 square feet

Micro living. If you haven’t heard this term yet, it is a movement against unnecessarily large homes and unmanageable mortgages and for creating an optimal life/work balance in a teeny tiny space. Or, as one participant in the documentary “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” said, the outside of your living space should draw you in, and the inside should draw you out.

Living small gets me outside more, like watching the sunset at Camelsback Park.
Living small gets me outside more, like watching the sunset at Camelsback Park.

The truth is I hadn’t heard much about this movement until I moved to the West coast. It’s more than just poorer people, like myself, only having small spaces as options. Wealth has nothing to do with it, though in a way it does. People of all backgrounds and financial standing are fighting against a created US ideal: that the size of your house indicates the success of your life.

In high school and part of middle school, I lived in a mansion. A pretty legit mansion in Buffalo, New York, in a planned suburb. It had three different “living rooms,” one for the actual TV and couches, one for an extensive dining table that I don’t ever remember being full, and one for less comfortable furniture that everyone was encouraged to stay out of. What was it all for? I don’t blame my family for getting sucked into the norms of most US families, moving up in life and feeling a desire to display this moving up to the world through increasingly larger square footage. I’m also not saying that micro living or being a tiny house dweller automatically makes one a better person. I am saying that it is a different way of thinking, one totally different from the values I was brought up with, and I find myself increasingly intrigued by the principles behind the movement.

Until about a year ago, I never questioned that someday I would have a mortgage on a cute house with 3-4 bedrooms and a yard. I also never questioned that I would spend most of my life paying off that mortgage to some extent.

Moving to Boise, I had a very strict budget. I was adamant that I would not allow myself to take out any more student loans. I would just have to make it work here. The apartment I eventually found through the help of an awesome friend in my grad school program is 444 square feet total.

I drew ya'll a layout of my apartment.
I drew ya’ll a layout of my apartment.

I remember when my mom and sister visited for the first time. My mom’s first reaction, “I cannot believe you actually live here.” There are three rooms, all connected like a really long hallway. Moving here I realized I didn’t need any more space, at all. Limited space meant I had to go outside and walk my dog every day. It meant adventuring, hiking, limited grocery “stocks.” All of this worked for my budget. I can’t buy anymore than will fit in my apartment, and it turned out, that’s all I really needed.

 

With Kevin moving in, I had to rearrange the layout of my place. But once again, I found myself surprised how a few changes created even more space in what was supposed to be this tiny apartment. Kevin and I bought a wooden loft bed from a local builder in Boise (his website is here) which created a whole other writing space for us to share.

Loft bed built out of pine. I stapled fabric to the back of the stairs because Meeko is afraid of "open" stairs.
Loft bed built out of pine. I stapled fabric to the back of the stairs because Meeko is afraid of “open” stairs.
Meeko pleased with herself that she figured out the stairs.
Meeko pleased with herself that she figured out the stairs.
My future writing space, I don't have it all set up yet. I'm thinking xmas lights?
My future writing space, I don’t have it all set up yet. I’m thinking xmas lights?

 

 

 

There is so much information online about this tiny house movement, and the more I read about it, I know this is right for me. I haven’t decided if I’d want to build a place on wheels, or build a more permanent cabin. In the same documentary mentioned above, there was a family of four with a dog. The couple explained how they originally lived in a tiny house on wheels with their dog. Once they were ready to have kids they built a 500 square foot house on their land, and now use the first tiny home as their work space. My arms felt tingly and my heart jumped. People are really doing this, I thought. By removing the enormous burden of house debt/mortgage from my future, I wonder what other possibilities might open up.

In the meantime, for practice, I plan on continuing to live in tiny rented spaces, and making improvements as needed. Below are some pictures of the small improvements Kevin and I made in order to fit two writers and a dog into 444 square feet.

 

6th Street

My sleep schedule has been completely off lately, so Meeko and I decided to take a walk this afternoon near our apartment. With a few hours until my night class (where my new short story will be workshopped for the last time this semester) we stepped outside. I forgot how bright the sun was.

It seems like Boise never has any clouds. The sky is a blue that Buffalo can’t even imagine. The leaves were vibrant yellows, warm oranges, and copper reds. I threw some in Meeko’s face and she thought that was a great game. The leaves are crisp like biting into an apple. Or so I imagine, because I don’t bite into apples. The skin gets stuck in my permanent retainer and it’s no good.

I set outside with no plan of where we’d go. Only after a few blocks did I realize my feet were leading us straight down 6th street. I had no desire to change directions or keep track of where we were going, so we just kept walking.

Kids walked home from school. A mailman delivered mail to painted boxes on wooden fences. A dad with a pink backpack smiled as he watched his daughter walking one foot in front of the other along a cement curb of someone’s sloped front yard. A middle schooler struggled carrying her cello on her back and her Mom just laughed at her from their fence.

You can’t make this stuff up. I walk through these scenes like, “Really Boise? What is this, I don’t even believe you.” People leave windows down in their unlocked cars. Entire yards of crunchy leaves. Strangers smile at me and wave me across the streets, happy to wait and in no hurry.

At one point a boy, maybe seven years old, walked towards me carrying a rock bigger than his head. His dad looked straight out of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit video, flannel shirt and long hair walking a dog that looked like a wolf. I imagine this dad was they type to say “radical” with no sign of irony.”You okay with that?” The boy struggled with the rock, locking his arms straight to make up for muscles that just haven’t grown yet. “Yeah, I got it!” As they turn the corner to walk perpendicular to me, the boy gives up with a smile and drops the rock into someone’s front yard. The dad just looks at him like “whatever little dude”.

Meeko and I walked until the end of 6th street, returning home with calm energy. I’m sure we’ll both sleep well tonight.

Kill your TV, go for a walk.

My new place!

I’ve spent about a week scrubbing and painting my new little one bedroom apartment. This is the first time I’ve ever lived truly alone…. and I am so excited!! An introvert’s dream come true. The landlord let me choose any colours I want, but I wanted to pick something that the next person to live here would enjoy as well. So, nothing too crazy.

Thursday, Meeko and I drove one last time to our old place in the suburbs. She was super helpful, running up and down the stairs chasing me as I carried heavy shelfs and books. Today I began unpacking, and the place is finally starting to feel like home.

Meeko is settling in great–we don’t have a backyard, but there is a big park right behind our place. There are a lot of squirrels though, so I’ll have to be careful Meeko doesn’t get too into chasing them.

My apartment is one of four units (I think) all in one big blue house. I’ll take some pictures of the outside and our “yard” tomorrow when the sun is back.

I still need to paint the kitchen and do a third (!) coat of paint on my bedroom, but it’s coming along.