Living Small

Living in New York City makes one contemplate many things.

The people, the consumerism, the money, the culture, the diversity.

But closest to the self, it makes one contemplate SPACE and way of daily living.

The space you are allowed to take up in this city is merely a fraction of that allowed elsewhere.

While I have been blessed with a decently-sized apartment for the past half year, before I took the dive and rented an apartment for myself, everything I owned and used was crammed into a closet and on the floor of one small bedroom; cardboard boxes galore.

Even this improved apartment is barely the size of my living room and kitchen (if even) back at my parents’ house.

In my previous living situation, where I slept under five layers of blankets and jackets all winter (the owners turned the heat off every night despite it being in the teens outside), I paid almost half of what I do now, for a small room in a three-bedroom apartment.  Someone was always living in the living room, curtains for walls, for $500 a month.

When I moved out, after only 8 or so months into my life in NYC, I was surprised at the sheer amount of STUFF I had to move. Now, half a year later, I have somehow filled out ALL of my four closets of various sizes, and constantly looking for places to shove things into.

Recently, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  Her full-time job is to teach people how to throw out hundreds of bags and live a clutter-free life.  While I think she’s a little too enthusiastic about throwing all the things away, some concepts did stick with me.

The most memorable one being, Surround Yourself with Only Things That Spark Joy.  Basically, only keep things that you love, and throw everything else away; you wouldn’t use it anyways because you don’t like it, and it just takes up room and dust in the depths of the closets or drawers. Also, what a waste of potential for the sad objects trapped in our closet, unable to fulfill its purpose!

Though I have a lot of STUFF, it’s true that I barely use a small fraction of them in my daily life.  I am a hoarder by nature, which means that I pack-rat basically everything, from random pieces of clothing and magazines to cardboard boxes and small packets of food (yuck!), with the belief that I’ll use it some day.

While sometimes, my “hunch” (hah) was correct, and I dig into my pile of cardboard boxes to find THAT THING I PACKED AWAY FIVE YEARS AGO LOOK NOW I’M FINALLY USING IT!, most of the time, things are only found when looking for other things, by sheer accident, packed away in boxes that I only open because I have too much stuff and need to hunt through all of my boxes to find it (and most of the time, I still don’t find it).

I look for the cheaper things to purchase, mostly because of my income bracket, and the high costs of living in the city.  However, I am beginning to wonder if only I could reduce the amount of things I have and buy, and buy only things I love or need at the moment, I could spend more money on each item, not have to replace them as much, and have less things I would never use or forget about.

In the grand scheme of things, though it is difficult for me, as a pack-rat, to come to terms with, things I get “for later” is going to probably just be forgotten and thrown away after a long period of time, I am beginning to think that it may be true. It really doesn’t help that my memory is horrible, so once I pack things away (for safe keeping, I swear), I forget where I’ve put it, or worse, forget I have it in the first place.

Relating to my memory issues, another point that spoke to me was the concept of: Keep Everything in Its Place.

Basically, choose a place to put certain categories of things, and don’t get lazy- put things back! This way, you don’t buy multiple chap-sticks, hair ties, and Aspirin (admit it- you probably have 3 bottles of Aspirin in various levels of use), because you know exactly how many you have left, and you won’t misplace things because what you’re looking for is always in the spot you’ve designated for it (not being able to find the thing may cause you go to out and buy it again since you need it).  It saves headaches, money, and time to know where to find things, and to know that they’re all in one place.  Given that my apartment is only a few dozen paces in length, putting things back really isn’t that difficult. Besides, knowing where things are helps me locate things quicker, which is helpful for my anxiety and irritation management.

While the concept of my things sparking joy was a strange one while I was reading the book (and felt the author was a tad too enthusiastic about things), on one of my rare shopping binges (retail therapy is an evidence-based treatment for stress, right?), I realized that it was true.  When I opened a package of something I’ve purchased after wanting for a long time, I was very happy.  It really did bring me joy.  Now the only problem is to become better at purchasing and keeping things that continue to spark joy, and to get rid of (and not even purchase in the first place) things that are only momentarily gratifying (this month has not been a good one in that regard).

If I love something a lot (even if I had to pay a little more money to get the perfect thing), I wouldn’t have to buy a multiple of them, because I fully enjoy the first one.  In the end, even if I had to spend more to get a better quality, more lovable thing, since I don’t have multiple of them (like purses or tumblers), I save money AND space; a win-win in a city like New York City, where space is tight and budgets tighter.

Recently, I subscribed to a newsletter that promises to help me declutter my life, and live smaller (I have my doubts about these claims, but any tips are good tips!). The first pointer it gave was to make a “Donation Box,” and to place one thing in it every day.

While that may be a bit of a high aim, given most of the things I have are not all that useful and I don’t think anyone really wants it, I do want to give it a try soon, to see how much of things I have could be put to so much better homes and enjoyed instead of being wasted in a closet (or under my bed).  Once there’s a good amount in the box, I will find an organization to donate it to… Less clutter for me, better home for things that deserve love, and someone in need can use it… Win-win-win!

I want to be THANKFUL for, and AWARE of everything I have; having too much of things I don’t need does not help me be thankful, and stresses me out.

Looking forward to Detoxing my life and belongings in the upcoming months and years, living with only things I love and need, and helping my journey towards my health and recovery.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and I am so glad to be back!

Hiroko Nishimura
AWS Community Hero. Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Technical Writer. Author "AWS for Non-Engineers" (Manning Publications). Technical Instructor "Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers" (LinkedIn Learning).

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