When telling friends and family that I was moving to southern California for school, people’s first question was often what I was going to do with my horse. To me, Simon has been one of the easier obstacles. Once I get settled, I’ll look for a barn in CA and ship him in. Though there are still a lot of details to work out for Simon, I was more concerned with finding housing for me and the dogs than I was finding him boarding.

Luckily, the area where my school is located is more affordable than other parts of Southern California. About an hour outside of LA, it’s safely tucked away from the worst of the housing and traffic crises. It’s not as scenic and lovely as San Diego, so finding a place to live wasn’t as insurmountable as it would be in other places in California like San Francisco.

I will probably miss this patio the most

Still, let’s be real — very soon I’m going to be a poor ass grad student. Though the funding for my school is very generous for a liberal arts degree and I’m extremely happy to have it, I’m going to be making $7,000 a year for the first year. Right now I make… not that. Not that by a significant amount.

When I started to look for apartments, I quickly realized that I had three options in terms of housing for me, Eliot and Pascale:

  1. Blow past my budget by a solid $500+ a month in order to rent a very nice, spacious apartment
  2. Blow past my budget by about $200 a month to rent a crappy, spacious apartment
  3. Stay on my budget and rent a crappy, tiny apartment

Having the huge drop in income and general insecurity that’s involved with this attempt at a career change has me pretty cost conscious right now, so I decided on option 3 — teeny tiny but very close to my original budget.

White chairs are already gone, the rest is going soon hopefully

After a month of waffling and looking at complexes, I decided an extra $150 a month was more important to me than square footage. $150 can buy a lot of things when you’re in grad school. That’s a set of horse shows. That’s an entire month’s entertainment budget. That’s a pair and a half of Kate Spade shoes on sale! Okay… I can’t buy Kate Spade shoes in grad school… but damnit I’m going to miss you Kate… love you forever.

At the end of last week, I locked myself into a year lease on a 400 square foot “Junior Bedroom” apartment near campus. It’s essentially a studio with a wall to split the living and dining room. This means my living space will decrease by 1,250 square feet — which is significantly bigger than my first home.

How much horse art can you fit into a 400sq ft place? Stay tuned in two months.

Since signing the papers, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what that kind of lifestyle change is going to mean for me and the dogs. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say, I think it’s cruel to keep large dogs in a tiny apartment!, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone commented as such here. But the place I rented is on the ground floor, which means it has a private patio. I have known from day one that Pascale is going to need a lot of outings, and have plans to entertain her that don’t involve a giant backyard. Eliot is almost twelve, and his energy level and dexterity has greatly slowed down. Now in our big house, they don’t spend much time in the backyard without me. Instead, they follow me around the house from room to room. As long as I promise to get Pascale a bed that’s big enough for her and I both, she’ll be happy.

The bigger challenge is stuff. I’ve got a ton of things to go through and hard decisions to make in regards to my possessions. Last weekend I had a moving sale, and unloaded tons of decorative knick knacks, kitchen items, crafts and small furniture I accumulated over the years. While I do love me a good William Sonoma decorative bundt pan, I just can’t take it with me.

I also went through now what has been round 3 of “slowly letting go of Tim’s things.” I opened a drawer in my dresser last night, and found some of the shirts I couldn’t bare to part with a year and a half ago. A mardi gras long sleeve polo, two zipper hoodies, two generic Target t-shirts, and a NCSU longsleeve athletic top. I can’t tell you why I couldn’t stand the thought of getting rid of these, but I threw most of them in the Goodwill pile. Letting go of his items happens slowly, and it’s never absolute. I kept a hoodie and the NCSU shirt, which is as rational as keeping his reading glasses… but some things I can’t force out of my hands.

Included in things you can’t force out of my hands is this Simon painting that will be buried with me one day

For the next month and a half, I’ll be perusing small space design blogs and continuing to downsize the items in my home. I’m super curious if any readers have gone through a similar housing shift, or if anyone has tips about stuff and organization or making a big move like this.

Part of the reason I’m not upset about the small apartment, is that it’s a very visual indicator of a life change. Sometimes, even in the Austin house that Tim never saw, I feel like I’m still living part of his life… just without him. The furniture is mostly from our past. The spaces are empty of so many of his things.

I think starting completely from scratch in a new space, in an entirely new way, will be beneficial to me. I think that living in my new, 400 square feet box will help me analyze what’s really important in my life right now.

That’s what I hope, at least.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Kind of went through something similar when I got divorced. Went from 2500 sq ft to around 800. None of the furniture from my prior place would fit in the new one, so basically everything except dishes and clothes were thrown away/sold/donated and I started from scratch to furnish my new place. And I gotta say…I loved it. Picking out stuff that was entirely my own taste has been great. Also, at first bc I was very poor I literally only had a sofa, my bed and my computer. It did make me realize how very little I need to be happy and comfortable. It was certainly an eye opening experience.

    IKEA will be your best friend. They really do have great smaller sized, affordable and multi functional furniture.

  2. I’ve done a similar shift. From a 2000ish Sq ft 3 bedroom, 2 story house to an 800 sq ft apartment with a husband, Bullmastiff, mini Aussie (oh and I was pregnant). I didn’t scale down enough, but it made it very apparent what I could live without and what I couldn’t.

    The big takeaway – things are replaceable and the memories don’t live in them. I think I was afraid that by purging I was letting go completely of the part of my life they were connected to.

    For me, pictures were most important. I’m still going through the process of digitalizing things and letting go of the paper clutter. It’s easier to add furniture when you need it then live with no space. And it wasn’t until I really purged that I realized how much my taste had changed.

  3. I’m so excited for you…this seems like an amazing change in the making! Purging is really great for long distance moves and vice versa. I haven’t downsized quite that much in my across-state moves, but I think you’re definitely heading in the right direction! And I definitely find starting early and taking my time deciding what I really need to keep is far less stressful for me overall.

    Your pups will be fine, it just involves some changes and adjustments from all 3 of you. My 2 girls are still adjusting to having no fence in our yard, and it’s challenging to have to take them out on a leash several times a day and make sure the more active of the 2 gets enough exercise and mental stimulation. But, it’s workable.

  4. I raised my current dog (now 11) from a puppy while in grad school. My apartment was a decent size but we were on the second floor of a 3-story family housing apartment. So every outing was on leash and we did just fine. Thing is, you need a lot of breaks with all the reading/writing you’ll be doing and nothing is better than a dog walk to process thoughts, whether actively or passively. Extra bonus? Now that I have a huge yard (for 8yrs now) my dog never poops in it since she was raised pooping on walks only. Besides, hanging in a backyard is not exercise for a dog in my book anyway.

    • I should clarify – most outings were off-leash (very dog-friendly place w lots of green space) but it was a walk, nonetheless.

  5. Talk about a metaphor for your life/writing. Stripping away to the bare bones. I mean that in a good way. You continually blew me away with your strength. I can’t wait to read what you create.

  6. I’m getting ready to go from my home if 19 years with lots of room, into a big travel trailer with 4 handicapped Frenchie Bulldogs. Wish me luck. I’ll be following you!

  7. Your house is lovely so I imagine you can make your apartment look pretty good too. My husband and I share an 800 sq feet apartment and it was quite a change from the 2000′ condo we owned in NJ, but we’ve adapted. Some days I even like it; it’s certainly less to clean. I look forward to seeing your new place.

  8. Big changes, but you definitely just figure out what you need. My last place was just over 600 sq ft (and no patio which was actually the worst part) and it never felt too small. You realize just how much space you don’t need. I will say I highly recommend vacuum bags for off-season clothes – they shrink everything to mini size and then under the bed it goes.
    I also have no expensive furniture – Ikea, craigslist and thrift stores in really nice areas are my go to. I have a Pottery Barn couch, but only because I got it for next to nothing on Craigslist. I’m a notorious cheapskate, but I love nice things. My grad school method to deal with this was a lot of thrifting. You’d be surprised by the Kate Spade you might be able to have – I have a closet full of designer shoes and haven’t paid full price for any of them.

  9. I just moved (twice) and while our new place overall is much bigger, my bedroom is MUCH smaller. I just ended up throwing out like 50% of my clothes, most of my knick knacks, and most of my hair and makeup stuff that I haven’t used in a thousand years. Granted, I got a bit carried away, but it was SO EXHILARATING TO THROW EVERYTHING AWAY.

  10. Lol. I kept two high energy huskies in an apartment for years. They never cared. Their life was walks and barn trips. Now I’m working on downsizing again, and the thought makes me happy. I’m more worried about my adjustment than my dog’s. She doesn’t care how big our living space is, as long as there is room for her food bowl and some place squishy she can sleep on.

    Wishing you luck!

  11. New beginnings, while scary, are always SO exciting to me. I always become a better person for them. I’m so excited for you as you set out on your new adventure. Best of luck and I can’t wait to see how you decorate the new place to maximize the space.

  12. I think you are so brave! When I read you were going to move I immediately thought, but the horse! The dogs! The things! But it’s really the horse and dogs and new chapter that are important, not the things. We get locked on things for some reason or another. 400 square feet is small, but I have no doubt the dogs will still lead big, loving lives. I seriously (very serious) commend you for taking such a giant leap.

  13. My brother lives in a small beach condo in Virginia Beach and IKEA has been a huge help for them. I know for sure they got a bed frame that has storage drawers underneath. Something like that could be really useful. I’m not moving, but I’ve been going through a lot of my stuff lately and trying to get rid of things I don’t need so I can free up some space. I hold onto a lot of things for sentimental reasons, so getting rid of things is really hard for me.

  14. I HIGHLY recommend the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It provides a great method to getting rid of things. We are planning to gut and redo our house next year so will have to move out temporarily and while we have already KonMaried many things, we will do a massive KonMari next year and I CANNOT wait! Moving and regrouping can be so cleansing, esp with the huge changes you are experiencing. Good luck and have fun with it!

  15. We did this when we moved from our 1200 sq foot 2-bedroom townhouse in South FL to a 600 sq foot fully furnished one-bedroom apartment in the outskirts of DC. We only brought that which we would be willing to pay storage for, and only what would fill a one-bedroom apartment later on. For moving, we rented a U-Box from Uhaul: one box has enough room to fill with the furnishings of a one-bedroom apartment, so it was perfect. We brought our West Elm futon, my Pier 1 papasan (I love that thing), coffee and side tables that I had decorated myself (they are very unique), Carlos’s enormous TV and gaming consoles, ALL of my artwork collection, all of our books (we are bibliophiles), and the assortment of things you would need to survive every day, like all of our pots and pans, clothes, etc. Everything else got purged/given away/thrown out. We lived for 3 months in the furnished apartment before moving out into our own place once we were familiar with the area. The Ubox was convenient in that it could double as storage for far less $$ than renting a storage unit. Ikea and the Container Store have been our friends for refurnishing the apartment. Our current apartment is bigger at 800 square feet and I honestly prefer it to our townhouse. It is so much easier and quicker to clean, for starters! 🙂

    Re: dogs in apartments. If anyone dares say that is a bad idea, I will bite them. I’ve seen many, many large breed dogs live healthy, active lives despite living in small apartments. Sometimes these dogs receive MORE activity than those that have access to a yard, because the owners have to consciously take them out on walks or to the dog park. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

    I am so excited for you. Your blog is my favorite. You are amazing. I admire you so very much, and am thrilled that you are following this dream through. I can’t wait to read what you write!

  16. I wouldn’t worry about the dogs. When I lived in an apartment, my dog slept while I was gone. They do the same thing in our house! Good luck with the move!

  17. Dogs just want to be with us. They don’t care how big our home is. Your dogs will be completely happy to get out of the heat of Texas 😉
    Keep the things you use, get ride of the rest. If there are kitchen utensils you don’t use, or furniture you don’t sit in, it goes. You’ll be amazed at how much is decorative even though that may not be it’s purpose…

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here