I don't know a single New Yorker with kids who doesn't fantasize about moving to the country – and I am one of them. The space, the affordability, the access to nature, the general ease - all of it is utterly appealing.
I think of it when I am schlepping groceries with all my things plus a baby strapped to me through narrow sidewalks and up flights of stairs. When I want to practice yoga but can't because my husband wants to watch tv, and we have only one place to do either. When I'm hoofing the half-hour commute to the next neighborhood with a 4-year old, desperate to get her to a school that costs almost as much as my mortgage, so I can continue on to work. When I consider staying home full time to manage our family, but can't because this tiny little spot of New York City that we can call ours, costs us so much that we need two well-compensated incomes to cover it. Or, when I simply want to take a walk in nature - and getting there requires renting a car and a full day's journey.
There are a lot of sacrifices involved in living in the city, but also living in this tiny, expensive space. Though perhaps we are slightly insane, we do it for many reasons. We do it for New York, unique as it is. We do it for the people. And I've come to realize that one reason I do it, is that these grievances also give me an odd sense of joy – let me explain.
We are 4 people living in a 1000-sf apartment, and over time, we've optimized in every way possible. There isn't a square inch of our apartment that I haven't taken on as a design challenge to use cleverly and functionally. The table we eat dinner at is also the Office, the Craft Table, the Sewing table, and at times, the Laundromat. I've had built-in bookcases put into a quarter of our walls to get floor-to-ceiling shelving. Each closet has been outfitted with hardware that supports exactly what needs to go inside without an inch of wasted space; our luggage is soft and foldable, and we alone could probably keep Space Bags in business. We have a full ladder that's only 2" thick so it can slide into a neat space next to the washing machine. I am constantly reinventing little nooks - most recently, a painting easel was thrown out in the bedroom, in lieu of one I designed and fastened to a wall in our kitchen. If something isn't just right, it either goes on the sidewalk or gets sold. Nothing does just one thing - for instance, rain boots must also be snow boots, or they have no home with me. Sometimes, I feel like this guy
The optimization isn't limited to space, but also expenses - for instance, recently we cut cable tv and sold our car.
But one of the greatest lessons I've learned is that despite the constant desire to have more - more space, more access, more things - the limitations I'm living with are deeply rewarding. I believe this guy
when he says that being rich is actually quite challenging in ways that we have trouble anticipating or relating to.
I secretly love having to constantly (and cleverly) optimize my space. I love that I can't buy just anything - most purchases require deep thought on their usage and worthiness. Cutting cable tv was like getting my family off a crack addiction: we read more, write more, create more; it's one of the healthiest things I've ever done.
And most surprisingly - I am happiest of all that I no longer have a car. For those who really know me, they will be shocked by this, because I am a DRIVER. I have only ever owned sports cars, refuse to drive an automatic, and am a terrible passenger. I even used to race cars.
But not having a car means we lose the obvious annoyances: we don't have to pay for it, worry about it, park it, move it, or clean it. But I've gotten to know the city busses. I bike around. I walk a lot. And all those experiences bring me shoulder to shoulder with new people, places and things.
It's true what they say, that the things you own end up owning you. What I didn't realize - and am [masochistically you may say?] enjoying learning - is that the discipline involved in not having what you want is really the secret to a certain happiness.
Have you thought about this? Have you taken the plunge? Leave a comment and let me know.
P.S. Country woods - I may still find you one day...