Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Small House Envy

I'm obsessed with the home of one of my neighbors. It's tiny. Maybe 400 feet square. It looks like it was built as a "mother-in-law-unit" for a craftsman bungalow. For all the complaining I do about Dinky Manor, and downsizing, and no closet space, I really want to live in a smaller house. I think my life would be easier.

I've never wanted a big house. Even as a child, my dreamhouse was always a one bedroom, four-square cottage or a tiny stone farmhouse in England. You can only really live in one room at a time. My desire for a smaller house was really fueled by my trip to Italy at the end of 2005 when I met and briefly lived with Paolo.

Paolo is a Roman landscape designer who creates parks and public spaces for the city of Rome. While his office is a sprawling warren of trashpicked furniture, bookcases and computer drafting stations, his apartment is a machine. It's only 400 square feet big and, like most apartments in Italy, has not one closet. It's magnificent in its efficiency. With the exception of his harmonica collection, which sits neatly stacked on his desk, every single thing in his department has been distilled down for maximum beauty and functionality. There is not one extra thing in his apartment that isn't used daily. But there's also nothing ugly.

After living in such a state of grace for three weeks, I returned home to my little house in Los Angeles, which suddenly seemed too big for on person and full of visual noise. So that's when I created a new game to play with myself known as "Roman Apartment." The rules of the game are simple. If it's not fabulous enough to be crated and shipped to Italy for my future tiny Roman apartment, then why would I want it in my home in Los Angeles? Once I decided that I would move into Dinky Manor with Mr. Foxypants, the game was briefly renamed "Do I like this object more than my boyfriend?" Downsizing is easy when you think in those terms.

Today while I was driving my car, full of envy, by my neighbors teensy house, I realized that the time that I felt like my life had the most balance and I was the most centered was when I lived in a 600 square foot rental home in the late 1990's. Although it was little, it had tons of storage space. I remember the two years that I lived in that house as being incredibly productive. I got so many personal projects done. I had a huge garden that provided me with so much fresh produce, I had to donate some of it to the food bank. I baked birthday cakes for all my friends. I quilted. I ran a used furniture store out of my one car garage on weekends. I think I got so much done for two reasons:

1. I did not have a television.
2. I had a little house.

Because my house was small, I didn't have to waste any time cleaning it. There was never any clutter because everything had a home. I wasn't filled with desire every time I went to the Rose Bowl swapmeet or to an antique store because my house was fully furnished. It had everything I needed and nothing more.


I frequently have little snitty fights with my local freecycle moderator. She's kind of anal and really, REALLY into rules. Our freecycle group gets more "This is how you do it" emails than any of the other swap sites I subscribe to. But should I complain about her really? She moderates the site as a volunteer. It's a thankless job keeping other people's crap out of the landfill. So today, as a gesture of goodwill, I gave her a partially used box of joint compound that other freecyclers wanted. I have no idea if as a moderator she can tell if she jumped the line, but since this blog/experiment is all about randoms acts of kindness, it doesn't matter what she knows or doesn't know I was being nice. It's just about being nice without expecting reciprocity.

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