In the last year, I graduated university, left a romantic relationship, quit my job and moved a thousand miles away from the place I grew up. It’s been a gigantic transition. But, the size of this transition is hilarious in contrast with the space I now call home—a tiny 18×12 one-room studio without running water, a closet, an oven, or bathroom. This is the story of my (very) humble abode, for the Urban Compass Starter Stories project on first homes.
Maybe you’re shocked that I would choose to live like this. A lot of people are. But, I should add that the studio comes as exchange for my work as a nanny to the eleven-year old boy that lives in the main house, and it’s entirely MINE. I can always go in the house to use the bathroom or oven if I need, I save the $1000 per month most people pay for rent in Bay Area (which, I might add, is one of the most coveted places to live in the world), and I don’t have any roommates to contend with. As a single woman just starting out on her own, this set-up is a godsend.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of constraints. It’s taken a cocktail of thrift purchases and ingenuity to make my little Berkeley shoebox home sweet home, but here the issues I’ve had and how I’ve addressed them.
1) The studio is tiny and storage is a huge issue. Luckily, when I arrived in Berkeley, my apartment was fully furnished with the basics as well as as much space saving furniture as she could fit (all of which purchased from thrift stores or IKEA), so most of the shelving I needed was already supplied to me. There was a big issue, though, and that was clothing storage: I had no hanging space and I have a lot of clothes. Like, a lot of clothes. I filled my dresser in a minute. Luckily, I had just enough space free at the foot of my bed for an adjustable hanging structure I found at Target. My own little touch was color-coding the hanging clothes in rainbow order, to make the structure functional and decorative. (Hint: this is cool for books too!)
2) The studio is literally a rectangle with white walls and very little natural light. So, how I’ve decorated the space is 100% of what makes it interesting. Adding color and visual interest anywhere I can makes the space feel bigger and brighter. I’ve arranged my bookshelves with little knick-knacks to add personality and put fresh-cut flowers around to add cheer. I especially love the look of maps: they are visually interesting and keep my wanderlust a-kindled! So, I have pinned the ones I’ve collected in my travels to the walls. (Maybe I’m crazy, but I think having the whole wide world on my walls makes the place seem larger than it actually is!) Then add all the postcards, pictures and other art I’ve plastered to the walls and you’ve got a surplus of Alexa-ness. Plus, to make the space feel less like a poster-covered dorm room, I’ve gone to salvage yards and thrifts sorts and purchased cheap frames for certain little pieces. Frames are fun and make things look much more Martha Stewart approved.
3) Clutter makes big spaces feel tiny, and this tiny space feel like being buried alive. I have to keep the space as clean and contained as possible, or else I feel like I’ve joined the cast of TLC’s Hoarders. The space just isn’t big enough to be messy. Of course, I get busy and leave things out, but I can’t do that for too long or it begins to swallow me up. Hence, I have to clean and stay on myself about getting rid of things (especially clothes, shoes and books—my vices) if I am going to buy something new. I have to remember I don’t have the space to accumulate, only to replace.
These are the main ways I make this space my own and keep it livable. That isn’t too say that rain doesn’t sometimes come in through the makeshift window, that the hotplate doesn’t blow the circuit breaker, or that people don’t accidentally see me in my underwear through the gaps in the curtain that acts as a front door. These things happen. Nevertheless, I love my little Berkeley shoebox. It’s like me: quirky, scrappy and a little impractical. It’s as small as I feel entering into the adult world on my own, and yet, it’s huge to me. It’s my Starter Story. Because of that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.