Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Joys of a 1000Square Foot Rental

Our Building (In Center). Photo by Ivan Gilkes

I admit, living in the middle of Manhattan, in a rather small apartment with two rambunctious boys, a husband and a home office, does get tedious at times. There is the fact that I work mere inches from where I sleep, and that there is only one bathroom, which often offers a nice whiff of urine, as the boys are not yet adept at getting the pee in the bowl--Sebastien, our youngest, just started potty-training (today he even "dropped a duce" in the toilet, go Seb!)--and that our kitchen is so tiny two people cannot operate in it simultaneously. And the living room is strewn with toys and about 2000 books belonging to my husband and all they do is collect dust.

But don't feel too bad for me. Because small can be grand. When I vacuum the house, which I admit is more rare than it should be, I can reach every corner of our space without unplugging the cleaner. How's that for convenient? We never have to do yard work and if the toilet is clogged or the sink won't drain, our maintenance men come within the hour to fix it. We don't even own our refrigerator, so when that broke down, they brought us a loaner fridge until ours was fixed. There are five other families in various forms on our floor, so if we ever need a cup of milk or someone to watch the kids for five minutes while we run to the store, we just knock on the door. Our carbon footprint, living in the city, in a large building like we do, without a car, is smaller than if we lived upstate on some idyllic farm. Call me crazy, but I think raising a family in a high rise in the middle of a big chaotic city is where its at.

I know, I know, the poor children never get to play in the backyard. Instead we go to our local park when its warm, and the kids get to actually socialize with their neighbors. Or they play soccer on the grass in front of our building or ride their scooters around the fountain at Washington Square Park. While our apartment is heavily subsidized by Steve's employer, NYU, I don't know that the suburbs would be a less expensive option. Factor in the car payments, insurance, mortgage, transportation costs, extra childcare needed because of the commute and the additional alcohol and drugs we'd take to counterbalance the alienation, and I think it would cost us more money to move to a nice house that we owned.

Look, I know there are cool people in the suburbs and great families and that opening your door and letting the kids run around outside is a very good thing. And, I know there are those that will be offended by my suburban slagging (my mother included) and will remind me that not everyone can afford the city. I accept all your criticisms. The city is too, too expensive. But what isn't these days? And yes home ownership is a great safety net, until the bank forecloses on your mortgage. I get that. But answer me this: why oh why does every middle class family in America need so much freaking space? What do you do with all those rooms? Are you avoiding your children? If so, how? My children like to be in the same room as me, even when I go to the urine-scented bathroom, so even if I could go in another room, my two would just follow me around telling me that so and so stole this or demanding juice boxes or begging for TV or telling me their butts itch. What's the benefit in that? All I can think of when I see large living spaces is "Ugh, can you imagine cleaning that humongous place?" and "Damn, what are the heating costs?"

Now of course, sometimes, I worry I might be missing out. Like when I visit my family in Los Angeles, where all my relatives live in stunning homes filled with light and tasteful decor and more than ample space for gardens, multiple TV's etal, accept for my sister Denise, who is a life-long renter like myself, but her apartment is still nicer than ours and almost as big, even though she is just one person. And when I visit them in their suburban splendor, sure I get jealous of the pools and their smug homeownership. And when I come back to NYC, I miss driving to Target and Trader Joe's and filling up the rented SUV with all the stuff, and throwing the kids in the back and listening to KCRW's morning becomes eclectic as I drive around burning fuel at the drive through of In-and-Out Burger.

It's what I know. I grew up in a lovely house, designed by my architect father, in the San Fernando Valley, where family upon family lived out their middle class dreams. My grandparents saved and saved to own a home, their proudest achievement. And here I am, living in rental sin, and loving every minute.


  1. Great post. I found your blog by accident, looking for a recipe. (Do you google ingredients and just hope for the best too?) I'm camped out in the burbs with my family (kids are 5 & 2) and I miss living in the city all the time. It's nice to see someone making it work.

  2. Hey, it's Amy from the old Get Crafty boards!

    MY SO and I have a great rental in Baltimore, which is affordable for our neighborhood and it's size (and palatial compared to what friends in NYC are renting). We know we're lucky, and though I do have the itch to own my own home to fix up and decorate and trick out I'm also hesitant to buy. Sure, prices are dropping but I also work for a young independent business and want to make sure things are stable before taking on that responsibility. And other than rent and some lawn care I don't put any money into this place. I think it's cool your kids are growing up urban with the diversity and cool opportunities it affords!

    Also wanted to let you know that we linked to your friend's bag video at our store's blog (scroll down):

  3. Hi
    you made me laugh and you made me feel good about living in our rented 5x7m little blue house at the back of my aunt's church. Which used to be a proper church of its own in 1880 but got chopped down into half when the brick church was built in 1912, then chopped into quarter again to make a granny studio/flat. All my friends live in "real" houses and pay real mortgages. We pay tiny rent and live in Sydney and make films and sculptures and play with our 2 and half year old. Somehow we make it work like you do but we're not brave enough yet to have dinner parties. We'll be launching our little business on Etsy soon, which is how we found you. I'll visit your blog again and drink a little more vasse felix dry red wine in celebration of little spaces and bravery in the middle of NY.
    Best wishes to your and yours.

  4. hey lovely lady.

    I love the sentiment about NYC living. I have lots of friends back home and they always tell me the city is way too expensive. I'm so tired of defending the true affordability of this lovely urban sprawl we call home.

    I actually believe it's the only thing I can afford and my rent is astronomical. I know what car payments, maintenance, gas, and insurance cost these days and can't imagine tacking that on top of a mortgage and the insane heating bills to say nothing of homeowner taxes and home maintenance. Add to that the cleaning lady costs [you bet your ass I wouldn't be cleaning a big house all on my own] and the salary cut and NY seems the only affordable option.


  5. I found your blog via your single mother article on Babble and boy, am I feeling lucky to read the musings of such a kindred spirit! My husband and I do own our home (well, the little bit of it that the bank doesn't own), but it's a 1400 sq ft house (with two bathrooms but only one real bedroom!) in the heart of our city. We bought it against the protestations of 100% of our friends and family who all chanted you-can't-have-a-family-in-the-city, but we now have a fabulous 20-month-old son (who utilizes what would either be the den or the dining room as a bedroom) and we're doing just fine, thank you. We get to walk or take the bus everywhere (which is never far, because we're so central), and our son has developed into a fearless extrovert (which we credit to our wise decision for urban living, of course). Keep the faith!

  6. oops - was logged in as my son, Milo, for whom I blog. That was me, not him...

  7. i loved this post. i spend so much time feeling sick of the city, wanting space and rural peace and quiet, that it was nice to be reminded of its many, many benefits. thanks for the attitude adjustment.

  8. Super post and argument for renting.
    and thanks for using my picture!