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Let's Get Small

Let's Get Small

Over the weekend the girls and I headed out to Ikea to stock up on Emmie Kvist, Expedit, and Branäs, as you do, and once again I got lost in the reverie that is the 386 square foot model home.

Have you seen these? Scattered about the racetrack that leads you past impossibly cute rooms that would never stay clean, Ikea now has three or four design cubes that show just how easy it is to live in a tiny, tiny floorplan. The biggest one, designed for a family of four, is less than 600 square feet, and they get smaller from there. I presume Ikea management is positioning itself for success as global population continues to explode.

I cannot resist the lure of the compact. I stand in the middle of these small faux apartments and marvel aloud to the girls. “Look at that!” I say. “The mirror is hinged so that you can put hooks behind it! And if you’re sitting at the kitchen table, you can reach into the ‘fridge without getting up from the table!” Every inch of the space is optimized with Kottebo baskets and Pingla boxes and the wicker Byholma chest in which spare bedding is stored.

Why the appeal? I don’t really know, though it may have started in childhood when my favorite place to hide was in the back of my dad’s closet, on the platform where he kept his sweaters. I loved feeling so snug and protected, my back against a plaster wall while my parents searched for me in vain so we could make it to the orthodonist’s office in time for my appointment. Maybe next month, suckers, right now I’m hanging out on a two foot long shelf. And later, after the ortho office closes for the day, I’ll be rearranging my dollhouse.

Or maybe it was my first apartment, in Germany. I moved to Munich with two duffel bags, and when I met a Brazilian girl who was moving out of her studio apartment and taking only her two duffel bags back home with her, I wrote her a check for all her belongings and moved in.

From the table/desk to the couch/bed to the closet/cabinet, it was a compact living dream. I could reach from the bathroom to turn the heat down on the stove, and once when I had a party and it got crowded, people just came and left through the windows. There was no wasted space, and it took me 74 seconds to clean the place from top to bottom.

My husband and I often rhapsodize about our first house, a two bedroom brick row house in DC that was perfect for two people. Nicely finished, but nothing extraneous – everything had its place.

Our house now is lovely and comfortable, but there is about 25% too much of it. We have not one but two rooms that no one ever enters, and a backyard that sees precious little visiting from anyone but the dog. We have a storage room that, predictably, filled right up to the top within a year of moving in and shows no sign of editing itself. I had room to store 4,000 backlist books by my husband’s cousin, an author, when her warehousing fees were getting onerous. A neighbor with chemical sensitivity stored two giant bookshelves in ANOTHER storage area, this one outdoors, to let them offgas for an entire year, and we forgot kept forgetting they were there. It takes me two+ hours to clean the house thoroughly, and add another two hours if your definition of “thorough” includes mopping and picking things up to dust underneath them.

To the kids, of course, it’s Home, and they do manage to fill it up with a bustle of activity and plenty of Lärm (pronounced lairm), a German word I love meaning noise, commotion, tumult.

So when I stand in rapture in the Ikea dollhouse room, running my hand along the Snålis boxes and admiring the clean profile of the headboard/bookcase, the girls roll their eyes and take it personally.

“We KNOW, Mom, as soon as we leave for college you’re selling the house and moving into something smaller.” The younger daughter adds something like, “You know, it hurts our feelings that you want to get rid of us.” The older daughter adds something like, “If you bought us some ice cream from the Swedish food court that would make us feel better.”

I assure them every time that it’s not about getting rid of them, it’s all about efficiency and the surprising luxury of living without things you don’t really need.

But the truth is that when it’s time for them to move out, the only way I’ll cope with all the empty space once filled by our daughters and their Lärm is to simply not have anyplace to put it.

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