Welcome to My Shoebox

Originally published February 27, 2008, in the Globe and Mail.

My toaster is stored at the foot of my bed.

The coffee maker stays on top of the stove. Unless I need to cook something – then it sits beside the couch.

Friends have commented that my kitchenette looks vaguely like something out of Star Trek, with its sliding cupboards that lean forward. There’s not enough room for them to open out.

I’m using an empty first aid box to hold my mail. From my bed, I can read the clock on my stove. On more than one occasion, I’ve set the oven timer as my morning alarm.

When I moved into my bachelor apartment in October, my father, who was helping me, asked, “Where’s the other room?”

I suggested I could set up the bachelor to look like a living room. Then I would just lie to visitors, telling them one of the closet doors was the door to my bedroom: “Oh, it’s too messy to show. I couldn’t possibly.”

My old place was a large one-bedroom apartment with a generous-sized balcony. In the summer, I grew leggy tomato plants and a host of herbs and flowers. I stored my bike and camping gear on the balcony. It was like an extra room. It was big living. I even had a parking space.

If I had a parking spot now, I might set it up as a dining room, wedged between the Caprice in space 17 and the Jeep in space 19. Be careful not to back into my best china.

Unconsciously, I have begun to refer to the two storage closets in my apartment as “rooms” – the front “room” and the back “room.” The front room stores everything from outerwear to coolers to holiday decorations, while the back room houses my clothing, antique jewellery and a wide selection of kitchen appliances. Do I want to wear the egg poacher today or the blender? Maybe I can use those nylons to strain the pasta. My specialty – fettuccine with full support.

A recent cold kept me sequestered within the four walls of my home for several days. It gave me a new appreciation for my small space. Functioning at quarter capacity, I did not have to expend extra energy to do, well, anything. From my couch, I could roll over onto my bed for a quick nap, then roll back to check my e-mail.

Hungry? Two steps to the fridge and a can of vanilla-

flavoured meal replacement, or as I call it, a one-pot meal. The perfect food, in fact, when your counter space is the size of a magazine. Pop the lid and drink. Just like mom used to make.

If I wanted to further maximize my space, I could take a cue from my mother. When she left the Southern Ontario farm where she grew up and joined the military, she found herself living in spartan barracks. With no fridge, my mother and her roommate used the outer ledge of the window as cold storage for their food and drinks.

Think of how much extra space I could have if I got rid of my fridge. I could create a workstation instead of resting my laptop on my lap, legs up on the coffee table.

Design experts say that windows can make a place seem larger, and I have to admit that my bachelor has large ones. The apartment’s south wall is all window. Unfortunately, so are all of the apartments across from me. While it would afford me an illusion of grandeur to keep my curtains open, I’m not ready to get that close to the folks next door. If I’m going to pace the closet that is my home in flannel pyjamas with my hair askew, I don’t need an audience.

I’ve tried to take my new living space as a challenge. I relish visitors commenting, “Well isn’t that clever!” My favourite piece of furniture, and inspiration for many of my space-management solutions, is a gift I received since moving here: a rolling kitchen cart.

When not in use, it fits perfectly in the front room, rolled in between my shoe rack and filing cabinet. I’ve used it as an extra counter while cooking, a snack table when company is over and a gift-wrapping station over the holidays.

Next to the kitchen cart, the best solution I’ve discovered to living in a bachelor is to pare down on the non-essentials. And I have, quite literally.

Like a goldfish, my body size seems to depend on the space where I live. My body responded to the move by shedding 15 pounds I wasn’t looking to lose. I rid myself of clothes that no longer fit, which is great since I’ve been eyeing an espresso machine, and it would go perfectly where I used to store those old sweaters that were too big.

And look at all the extra space I have now that I’ve downsized! Less hips to worry about when rounding the couch or corner. More room in the kitchen when company is over. Everyone wins.

Just don’t ask to stay over. You might be sleeping on the kitchen cart.

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