People typically respond the same way when I tell them that my boyfriend and I, grown people in our late 20s, recently downsized from a one-bedroom to a studio: “Oh... really?”
Our last place, all 850 square feet of it, had plenty to love: a view of the Space Needle, a walk-in closet, a storage unit in the basement. It also had the rent to match. While I considered us lucky to pay what we did for our spot on Queen Anne Hill, it galled me that every month we wrote a check for $1,820.
What exactly were we paying for? A living room that was too big for our furniture. A bedroom we barely ever lounged in. A kitchen with an outdated oven that made me live in constant fear of explosion. Such luxury for only $21,000 a year!
We realized over the course of two years that we could do better.
It’s not news that the Seattle rent market is out of control. I won’t bore you with the stats of how many people move here a year (let alone a week) or how the high cost of living is driving people away. You know this. You can’t live in the Seattle area and not.
Many of our friends have responded to that crunch by packing up and moving away from the city center—or out of the city limits entirely. They’ve relocated to Columbia City, West Seattle, Shoreline. While we love these neighborhoods, my boyfriend and I wanted something different. We wanted to drive our car as little as possible, stay within walking distance of a grocery store, be central, and not have to pay for it.
The best solution we found: downsize.
In making this choice, people assume that we’re settling. They consider it a phase, part of us being young and wild and free. People hear “studio” and think, “Oh, money must be tight” or “How cute!” They don’t realize the very conscious decision made over the course of many months to sign a lease for 650 square feet and no bedroom door. They don’t appreciate that we want this. We choose this. And we like it—a lot.
In the three months that we’ve lived in a studio, my boyfriend and I have realized that we like it here better. You’d think never having a wall to separate two grown adults wouldn’t work, and it might not for a lot of people. But not only does it work for us, it feels like what we needed all along.
This may not always be the case. Kids, I’m told, will make me crave space, and it’s a very real possibility that someday we’ll be priced out of Seattle entirely. But even if we relocate to an area where we can get more for less someday, our leap to a studio has taught me to think more critically about what I use. Do we need more space? Do we even really want it?
I have a hunch we won’t.
I say that because we’ve got a dirty little secret about our downsizing: It saves us money, but not that much. Including $20 a month in pet rent, we now pay $1,641. That’s $179 less a month compared to our one-bedroom—meaningful, but not exactly budget-breaking.
We’re saving on something else: space. And that’s a controversial choice because it’s easy to equate space and success. If you have more of the first, you must have more of the second. Except what if you don’t need more?
Different people use different words for this process of redefining “need.” Tidying up is most common though I’m also a fan of death cleaning. All boil down to the same ideas: Surround yourself with things you actually use regularly. Do not fill space just because it’s there. Space-filling is not a good-enough reason.
In this spirit, we’ve been giving a lot of things away. If you’re a member of the Lower Queen Anne Buy Nothing Group, you’ve probably seen some of it. Furniture, lamps, books, art—if we hadn’t used it in more than a month, we let it go. The result is a smaller apartment that some have told us “really could fit more.” Which is so not the point.
When you walk into our home, everything you see is something we get value from every day. From our favorite photo of us hanging on the wall to the framed albums we have of the first band we ever saw together, what we love is front and center. It’s not buried or lost amid clutter. It’s front and center. If you see it, you know: It’s something that we love.
This switch to something smaller? It’s about something bigger.