I’ve had one fork in my apartment since I moved in six months ago. Some may find this sad, but I find it liberating. No longer do I feel like I need to live in this self-imposed multiple fork prison that culture demands from us. Why do I need to spend more money on forks (and the resources to wash and store them), when I can use that same amount of money on the things that I truly find enjoyable, like going to dinner with my friends. Now let’s take this flatware microcosm and expand it. Why do you need two tables? Why do you need two bathrooms? Why do you need a backyard? Why do you need a house? The answer to all of these trick questions is that you don’t need any of those things, you want those things. While that may seem like a minor semantic distinction, it’s important because when we’re pursuing a life of wants, we often compromise the things that truly make us happy. And what if our happiness can be better accomplished by living in smaller place?
I’ve lived in a beach house in Connecticut, a garden apartment in Silverlake, but the place that makes me the happiest is my current 250 square-foot studio apartment in downtown Los Angeles. But why? How can less be more, especially when living in a country where bigger is always seen as better? How can one be paradoxically happier with less space?
WALKABILITY AND YOUR COMMUTE
While backpacking in South America last year, I took a job bartending in Lima, Peru. I lived in the Miraflores district and discovered that I really enjoyed the walkability of my neighborhood. I loved being able to get to supermarket, bars, and restaurants without the burden of dealing with a car, traffic, or parking. This made me happy.
The number one complaint about my hometown of Los Angeles is that there’s too much traffic. But wherever you live, if you hate commuting, then why do you willingly subject yourself to it? If you’re a renter and you drive more than 30 minutes a day to commute to work, you’re an idiot. I have friends that drive 2-3 hours a day in their car because the rent/mortgage is cheaper and you get more space further away from the center.
Space is an American luxury that we’ve become accustomed to, be it our gaudy mansions or our giant pickup trucks, but why not live in a smaller place closer to where we want to be? With distance, people never factor in the cost of gas and the invaluable cost of their own time. How much is your time worth to get a few extra square feet in your place, a bigger kitchen because you “love to host,” or a pool in the backyard? Think back to the past month and how often have you used these amenities. We pay a premium for these things we hardly use when you factor in the cost of your own time. By reducing your commute time you can do anything, from going to the gym, cooking more meals (saving you even more money and helping your overall health and happiness), watching more movies, or finally finishing that screenplay you’ve been working on. You can even spend more time with your girlfriend or your kids, the relationships that truly make us happy.
THE INTANGIBLES OF TANGIBLES
While backpacking through Europe and Africa and living out of a 32-liter backpack for a few months, I found out how truly little I need to be happy. Having less space means you also need to buy less things. With a bigger space also comes the need to spend more money to furnish it and more time to clean it. And a bigger space also costs more money to heat and cool during the changing seasons. With a bigger space you spend more money at Crate and Barrel and Le Creuset buying objects that promise to make our life better — when we know that it’s just marketing that appealing to our desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” In my apartment, I use my table as a desk. In your apartment, you have to buy a table, a desk, a nightstand, a coffee table, an armoire, a sofa, a recliner, etc. And before you know it the quote from your favorite movie Fight Club rings true: “the things you own end up owning you.”
Ask any 10 people on the street what they want most in life and they’ll probably say they “just want to be happy.” If happiness is what you want, commuting your time away and having five different tables from Restoration Hardware doesn’t accomplish this goal. On your deathbed, you’re not going to look back fondly on the time you’ve wasted and the items you’ve purchased. What you’re going to remember is the girl that got away, the girl that didn’t get away, the bruschetta in Florence, the surf in Morocco, or being there to watch your kids grow up. Sure there are compromises that you’re going to make if you live in a smaller space, but if it allows you more time to experience life and foster relationships, then it’s completely worth it. And you’re never going to have those things when you’re sitting in your car all the time with your paychecks tied up buying new forks. Less is more.