I’ve never lived in a large space.
My first apartment was a winged two bedroom in the East Village in New York City. For an apartment to be winged, two rooms extend out from a connection point, like wings. In my apartment, that connection point was the kitchen with a side of bathroom. My roommate and I used it less as a kitchen, and more as a living room since we would spend most nights sitting on the floor of the kitchen, drinking wine and eating rosemary and olive oil popcorn from Trader Joes as we talked about our day.
My bedroom was the smaller of the two. It was what people imagine when they think of an apartment in New York. My room had space enough for a twin bed, a single chair, a dresser, a small book shelf, and a lamp. When I would study for finals, I would sit on the floor surrounded by library books and notecards, and with my back to my bed, my toes could just about reach my closet on the other side of the room.
In short, I was actual Polly Pocket, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.
It made my second apartment, a nondescript studio in Wisconsin, look positively spacious. It was palatial. I moved into that studio for the rent as it came to my attention that bills were in fact a priority. So I overlooked the nicer places for a roof over my head. And it didn’t hurt that roof came with a washer and dryer. At the time, it was all I needed and then some.
In a surprising twist, I stayed in that studio apartment for six years.
Let’s be clear, that was not the plan. And my last two years in the apartment were really pretty brutal.
It wasn’t really the apartment’s fault. Though after six years my initial thoughts of “what does a person do with this much space? Who needs all this space? Should I start a dance studio in the corner of this studio? Should I rent out that corner to neighborhood pets?” slowly transitioned to “the walls are going to swallow me. They are closing in, and that is how I will die.”
It wasn’t the apartment’s fault. It was my neighbor. It was my neighbor’s fault that I spent the last two years descending into madness.
To protect his privacy, I will identify him by a pseudonym. I will identify him as Gasbag. Gasbag Jones.
Over the two years he lived above me, I learned the following about Gasbag.
- He prefers to listen to music at exactly 2:00 in the morning at full volume, though early Sunday morning’s are a particular good time to drunkenly listen to what I can best describe as a temper tantrum set to music.
- He smokes on his patio, and dropped his cigarette butts into my plants.
- He also enjoys listening to music at full volume in the daytime hours.
- He is not opposed to taking a nap on the stairs to the second floor of the building if he’s had too much to drink.
- He calls women “mademoiselle” when he’s trying to be endearing. It has the opposite effect.
- He and his girlfriend got a dog– not allowed per the lease, by the way– and that dog would bark for hours at a time when the two of them were out.
- When he sells things on the Facebook marketplace, he stores them in the communal hallway. Things including a stained mattress.
- He’ll prop the building’s front door open for hours when it’s 20 degrees outside.
Over the two years he lived above me, I can only assume the following about Gasbag.
- His hobbies include bookcase dominos and clogging.
- He pronounces supposedly, “supposably.”
- His nose whistles when he breathes.
- He stands at the gate to board flights before his gate was called.
- He talks during movies.
- He uses Ax Body Spray as deodorant.
- He kicks puppies for fun.
- He is an actual bag of gas.
My life began to revolve around the gasbag upstairs.
Because of Gasbag, I learned that if I run the dishwasher right before I go to bed, and take a melatonin, I’d have a better chance of getting to sleep.
I learned that if I hear his music after 2:00 in the morning, I’d probably have quiet once I woke up because he’d probably be sleeping in.
I learned that there’s a certain floorboard he can step on to make it sound like the roof might actually cave in, and depending on how loud the crack was, I knew if he had guests or not.
I knew more about his comings and goings than I knew about any neighbor I’ve ever had. And facing another winter, facing months of being trapped inside listening to whatever noises Gasbag would fart out while ice coated everything outside, I finally cracked. I needed more space. For me and from Gasbag.
Last week I moved into a one-bedroom. And so far, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.
Initial thoughts I’ve had:
- “Should I be counting my steps? My bedroom is so far away… I left my water in the kitchen??! Should I take my phone with me in case of emergencies?”
- After crashing on my sofa– I have a new sofa!– after a night of assembling furniture, I realized most people have to consciously *get up* when they make the choice to go to bed. Most people don’t just 1) eat dinner and 2) play Angry Birds for hours till you melt into sleep because your kitchen is your living room is your bedroom.
- “ANOTHER CABINET!”- something I legitimately screamed when I realized that I no longer had to Jenga-stack my coffee mugs to fit in my one cabinet I had for dishes.
It’s amazing what space can do. I’ve been able to relax my shoulders and breath a little easier. This week as I’ve been unpacking, I’ve found myself stopping every couple hours, realizing how long it’s been since I thought about what a neighbor was doing, calculating how many minutes of quiet I’d have when I heard my neighbors leave the apartment, wondering what combination of white noise I’ll need to sleep through the night. Dryer, fan, dishwasher? Dishwasher, podcast, with my left arm flung over my ears? 8 melatonin gummies and audiobook?
So I’m not only left with physical space but mental as well.
Almost six years ago, I sat in the floor of my new studio apartment, looking around at all the empty corners asking myself, “what do people do with all this space?” Overtime I filled it with books and projects and socks I kicked off after coming home from work till there were no corners left. If I reached from my kitchen, I could grab things on my bed. I had to squeeze past my plants to get to my desk. There were nails in every wall, not for art, but for extra storage for oven mitts, necklaces, and bathrobes.
Aside from the year and a half of grad school that I’ve paid for, this is my life’s biggest purchase. And I am in love.
I’m typing this from my new blue velvet couch, looking around my living room wondering something very similar. I wonder what people do with this space? What do people do who don’t store things in strategic piles around their apartment? What do people do when they aren’t constantly considering the comings and goings of their neighbors? What do people do when they have enough space?
- Host support groups for people with bad neighbors?
- Rent out your living room to an exercise boot camp?
- Create sculptures out of Pellegrino bottles and plastic to-go containers from the local Chinese restaurant?
- Use that mental space to learn a new language? To try a new recipe? To solve the world’s problems? Or at least my own?
I may just sit on the floor and point my toes knowing they’ll come nowhere close to my closet. Or walk to my desk without having to shimmy past my fiddle leaf. I may just have to fall asleep without having at least two sources of white noise drowning out any gasbags in the vicinity or remember how to give my neighbors the benefit of the doubt.
For now, I’ll just sit in it. Or dance in it. Or be grateful for it.
Or get an accent chair. We’ll see.