Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today's Food For Thought

Flipping between CNN and Morning Joe this morning didn't offer anything terribly interesting, but once I scrolled through the New York Times, this article caught my eye about a woman renovating her garage into her home, a whopping 250 square feet of full-time domicile. I'm a huge fan of Apartment Therapy as well and these days, they're having their 6th Annual Small, Cool Contest, in which apartments/houses of certain square footage compete against each other in design and decorating. It's pretty cool and since I'm a fan of small spaces--and the creativity needed to live in them (and, ahem, to travel in them)--I've been stalking that site a couple of times a day.

But this article on a woman buying a home with a garage and choosing to renovate the garage and live in it (and rent out the house to support the mortgage) requires an unusual out-of-the-box type of thinking and I love it. It seems like small space living requires a more deliberate approach to life and I aspire to that. You have to think harder about what happens in your space, what you need to be happy, what you need to live comfortably, what you really value, and what you can live without. Whatever reason you might have for living small (or traveling small), I really like the idea about being more deliberate about your life, about not letting anything happen by chance (though sometimes that's kind of fun). Next week, I'll read Bob Shacochis's "Become an Expat" to my students as their last-day-of-classes speech from me. I tell them, make the choice to live your life. Don't end up where you are just by default, just because you never left.

Yesterday, as I was flipping through the Small, Cool entries on Apartment Therapy, I'm always on the lookout for small space ideas that I can use in the Scamp. So far, I haven't found any. But as I'm looking at these entries--and some of them are very cool, even though I can't imagine myself living in them (not enough space for my books in 200 sq ft)--I find myself wondering if I could be happy living in 350 sq ft. Or 400. Or 500. What's the smallest space I can be comfortable in? What do I value that requires space? (At this point in my life, I have basically four Needs: washer/dryer, counter space in the kitchen, space for my books, and a parking space outside for my Scamp.)

What do I need to be comfortable and happy in sixty square feet? When I bought the Scamp a couple years ago, it was a standard layout (Layout 1) and while it wasn't terribly problematic, it wasn't practical for what I needed. So, with the help of my father and his tools (I don't have room for tools in my current living situation), we pitched our creativity against the problem--both of us being descended from my grandfather, the king of tinkerers--and we changed the layout ourselves to this (on the lefthand side, with the front dinette). We built a drawer under the existing bed/dinette to maximize space (this is where my suitcase of clothes goes) and we constructed shelves in the closet that so far have more space than I've been able to fill. I now have a place to sit with my computer and write; the cats have a dedicated place for their litter box; the porta potty/Shop Vac/extra jack are in a much more convenient spot. I might have plans for one of the little cupboards under the sink, but it's fine for now. Obviously organization--and being deliberate about the organization--is part of that essential equation.

(Some people do live full-time in their 13-foot Scamps, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet.)

But there's also an element of out-of-the-box thinking required by small space living (and small space travel) here that's kind of like a drug to me. I blame my DNA. We Babines love to build stuff and we’re practical builders, not artisans (for all that we take a lot of pride in our work). That’s not to say that art can’t be useful. What we build may not be all that attractive, but it suits our needs exactly, and it’s built well. We don’t do anything halfway, though what constitutes “halfway” differs from Babine to Babine. It’s why even though the front dinette may more impressive and the drawer underneath the bed is more clever, it’s the shelving system in the closet made of PVC that’s my favorite of all the tinkering we did. And the travel-sized Kleenex box holder made of Plexiglass that Dad made years ago (we had one in each of our cars when I was growing up) that I velcroed to the underside of my camper cabinets was supremely satisfying. Go figure.

We used to joke that our grandparents would trade in their Class A motorhome every couple of years, once Grandpa ran out of things to tinker with. I think my father has fallen into the same mode, having just traded in their 24' travel trailer for a 33' fifth wheel. There isn't much in our world that can't be solved by duct tape and Velcro.

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