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How Moving (Out) to A Smaller Space Changed My Life

See how this editor discovered the benefits of downsizing

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Photography: Dairy Darilag (Main Photos)

Sometimes there’s nothing like lack of sleep to push someone to make a significant life decision. Just last year, I moved out of our house and transferred to a newly built condo across my workplace with the goal of being able to sleep longer without being late for work. I knew this was only possible if I put an end to the four- to five-hour daily drives to the office. The fact that the average Filipino spends three years of her economic life in traffic also served as a validation. Moving out also meant saving over a thousand pesos from paying toll, parking, and gas every day, and experiencing living on my own for the first time—so it all seemed like a really great and practical idea.

The entire process was exciting more than stressful, till I realized I had to Konmari Method my life to actually fit all my essentials into a 21-square-meter unit—pretty much the size of my old closet. I could have opted for a larger two-bedroom with my dream space for hosting dinners with all my friends and a real living room, but that meant triple the rental fee and/or asking help from my parents to cover for what I couldn’t, which totally defeats the purpose of being “independent.” I refused to be that kind of millennial.

After I had fixed all requirements for the move (including a paper with a Moving Out SWOT analysis I presented to my mom, which is another story entirely), I began sourcing for pegs to design and decorate my unit and deciding which things from my old room I could fit into my new space. Here is where the purging began.

The fact: The built-in closet in the unit was as tiny as an extra large fridge.

The problem: I had too much clothes, enough to last me a couple of years without going to the laundry.

The realization: An examination of your wardrobe is worse than an examination of conscience and there would be more denial involved in it than anything. I thoroughly went through my clothes and everything just seemed to be something I would still wear somewhere, somehow, someday—including the stretchable tutu dress from 10 years and 20 pounds ago.

The solution: I forced myself to sort my clothes into three categories: for taking to the new condo (everyday dresses, tops, and bottoms), for leaving in my old room (seasonal clothes for traveling like heavy coats and puffer jackets, leather everything, gowns, swimwear), and for selling (everything I haven’t worn in a year, trendy clothes then that looked silly now, and everything else too small or too big). It was a good motivation to know that I could make money from the things I didn’t need. I set up an Instagram account for this purpose and priced each item at P200. I earned more than P10,000 in a week (again, another story entirely), and that inspired me to keep getting rid of the clothes I wouldn’t wear anymore. I ended up bringing just four suitcases of clothes with me to the condo, which all fit in the closet perfectly.

The fact: The kitchen didn't have a provision for a complete cooking range (with the oven under the stove kind), unless I use the space for the fridge.

The problem: It means I can’t conventionally bake or grill using a real cooking range without knocking down half of the sink cabinet to fit in the old La Germania.

The realization: I would rather have a fridge.

The solution: My kitchen was instead equipped with smaller and more practical things. Now I can’t imagine life without my multifunction pressure cooker, which I also use for frying, steaming, baking, and everything else. I also opted for other kitchen essentials like a microwave, an electric kettle, a coffeemaker, and a small electric stove.

The fact: The unit was too small for a provision for a vanity nook (unless I discarded the space for a dining table or my bed, which of course I didn’t).

The problem: My makeup and other beauty products occupied an entire section (a stretch of an entire wall) of my old room. They all neatly filled a vanity desk, some shelves, drawers, and organizers like a secret altar. 

The realization: Believe me, I did my best with the Konmari Method. “Put your hand on each of your beauty product. Close your eyes… Ask yourself… Does it spark joy?” I almost heard Marie Kondo hypnotizing me. Of course everything sparked joy! How can dozens of gorgeous lipsticks, magical eyebrow tools, skin perfecting fluids, and pretty perfume bottles organized in dainty trays and tables NOT. SPARK. JOY?

The solution: Here is where I failed the organizing guru, and instead heeded to another school of thought—the When There’s a Will, There’s a Way method. I decided to bring my tall display cabinet, which would occupy just about 1.5 x 1.5 square feet of space, but would be high enough to store most of my makeup and would allow me to categorize them neatly onto its glass shelves. Since it’s clear (wooden frame enclosed by glass), it perfectly housed the other decorative pieces I had on my old vanity like makeup books, flowers, trays, gold makeup brush holders, and more. My skincare items were organized behind my rotating full-length mirror, which occupied the same amount of space, and my perfumes were strategically scattered in sets around the condo, which worked as nice adorning pieces on my bedside, coffee table, TV rack, and washroom.

The fact: A studio unit as tiny as mine can only have either a decent living room or a bedroom.

The problem: Sleep has always been one of life’s best luxuries for me. I knew I needed a nice bedroom, but I also liked having friends over, and the idea of welcoming them to my home that looked like a bedroom didn't really sit well with me. 

The realization: I don’t have to put up with the discomfort of a using sofa bed just to be able to deal with this. You also don’t have to.

The solution: I opted for a low day bed, where I sleep on at night, and which conveniently transforms into something that looks like a sofa with throw pillows any other time of the day. I invested in a comfortable, high-quality mattress (we all deserve one because it’s something we use every day, after each tiring work night), and bought color- and design-coordinated throw pillows to match my different sets of bed sheets. I added a small rectangle coffee table over a neutral carpet across the daybed, from where I also watch TV, to really give the space the living room feel.

The fact: I only had one wall left to set something against on, and it had to be a practical pick.

The problem: I still had my keyboard, my work desk, my shoe cabinet, my decorative vintage suitcases, and my vinyl rack and turntable to bring.

The realization: Choosing one didn’t have to feel like I was choosing a favorite child. In the end, I had to be practical.

The solution: I figured my dining table can double as a work table anyway, so it was an easy decision to leave my work desk back in my old home. I didn’t need the ornamental suitcases nor the shoe cabinet. I was down to two; I decided to bring my keyboard to the new condo instead of the turntable because that’s what sparked more joy—thanks, Marie Kondo. True enough, I found myself playing it every time I needed to relax or take a break from work.

I now buy less and think twice before buying anything: Do I really need another scented candle? Do I need to buy another rack for my my little things or am I just starting to accumulate more things again?

I’ve always believed that what we get out of life is what we have set ourselves to get. I wanted my own space and the freedom and responsibility that come with it. While I had to significantly downsize my life, I’ve never felt more fulfilled on my own. For the first time, I actually believed that less is more.

Got a story that you'd love to share? Whether you've just moved into a new home, purchased a property, or moved to the province—you can share it with us! Send us a message on Facebook.

PHOTOS: Miguel Nacianceno | Jilson Tiu | Dairy Darilag (3, 4, 5) | Jerome Jocson | Ocs Alvarez/ACME Visual Productions

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