I found this post in the draft folder of my blog. It’s similar to one I wrote in 2016, but it’s still relevant so I thought I’d reiterate it, and then catch you up on our current thoughts. First, here’s the post:
When Pat and I moved to Slovakia, we downsized to an 1100-square-foot apartment–about 110 square meters. This was a fraction of the size of our Colorado home. We felt smugly adoptive of the simple life. Alas, we were minimalists.
Our smugness was short lived.
In Slovakia, we made several friends, all of whom lived in 500-square-foot apartments. Not uncommonly, parents slept on the couch so their kids could share the single bedroom. To local standards, our two bedroom apartment was indulgently large. It sniffed of privilege.
In the United States, this may have been the goal: to flaunt our stuff.
In Central Europe, ostentation was decidedly less cool.
Putting peer influence aside, over the course of 18 months in Slovakia we realized we simply didn’t use most of our space. Consequently, when we moved to Hungary, we downsized to an 850-square-foot apartment. My friend Szabi helped us find it. On moving day, he stood in the center of our living room and sighed. “Julie, Hungarians can not live like this. You are lucky. This is a very special place.”
He wasn’t judging me, after all IBM was footing the bill, but I realized we were still living in an apartment that smacked of affluence. What everyone noticed–beyond the patina of hardwood floors, beyond the dazzling view over Szent Istvan Park to the Danube–was the decadent inclusion of a second bathroom.
Call me shallow, but I loved that second bathroom.
May first, we will move to Paris for three months. I have signed a lease on a 270-square-foot apartment. My American friends react en masse. “How can you do that?” “Are you sure?” “That’s just insane!”
My Hungarian friends provide the counterbalance. “That’s fantastic.” “That’s my dream.” “All you need is a place to sleep after a day in Paris!”
Of course, the reason we signed this lease wasn’t some sort of sociological/psychological/countercultural experiment. This is Paris. It’s what we can afford. Luckily, Pat was willing to cash in a pile of chips on my harebrained scheme to write. When I push open the door to our studio apartment, one thought alone will pass through my mind: I am immensely fortunate.
Sometimes we talk about our dream home. What will it look like? Where and when will we settle down? We agree on two goals: a city which provides all our transportation needs and a space smaller than 1000 square feet. I hope we stick with this. Our small life fits us quite well.
Now, in late 2020, we are still discussing our dream home. Or maybe it’s figuring out what home supports our dreams.
In February of last year, we returned to the United States when our grandson, Jack, was diagnosed with cancer. We rented a 350-square-foot apartment, site unseen, near him in Charlottesville, Virginia. After all, I only needed a place to cry myself to sleep after spending the day at the hospital.
Since renting this apartment, we have spent a few months in Paris and six months in Philadelphia where Jack underwent further treatment. Throughout this time, we kept our little Charlottesville apartment anticipating our eventual return. That day came the first of March with Jack’s treatments complete and Covid nipping at our heels.
The apartment served us well last year when we needed to be elsewhere. It reminded us that normal life awaited. This year it harbored us as Covid redefined normal life.
It’s in a cool neighborhood that’s walkable to Charlottesville’s pedestrian downtown. Our door opens to a backyard where Jack loves to play ball. He sometimes sleeps over on an inflatable mattress that takes up nearly all of our floor space. Even at five, he finds our home confusing. The other day he said, “Grandma, I love your tiny house, but where’s your real house?” To him, I guess, this is a play house.
To me, it’s a viable long term base–a place we can leave for indefinite periods of time immune to the threat of a leaking roof or bursting pipes. Its a cheap place to refuel. A place I’ve grown to love.
As a home, I realize that it flies in the face of conformity, and I simply don’t care. We have tweaked our dream house goals. A thousand square feet seems so needlessly big. Ownership feels so needlessly constraining.
For the first time in a long time, I’m yearning to get back to the road. A glimmer of a plan is taking root in my brain. This little place will be here when we need it and won’t be needy when we’re gone. Besides, it’s near Jack.
For now, for us, that’s the best definition of a dream home.