Downsizing for Geeks – Also, Why Digital Media Rocks

Sorry for the long absence, readers. Life ate me. Among other things, I’ve had to deal with a very difficult move which included a significant downsizing aspect: my husband and I have moved from a two-floor, two-bedroom townhouse of about 1200 square feet, to a one-floor, one-bedroom apartment of about 400 square feet.

This has been particularly difficult because my husband and I are both geeks. Or nerds, whichever identification you prefer. (More on my thoughts on the distinction between the two in another post. I happen to think we qualify as both.) One thing about people with this kind of hobby – gaming of all kinds, sci-fi, anime, action figures, comics, manga, filking, anachronism, cosplay, plus the fact that he’s a computer scientist and I’m a classicist – is that we acquire a lot of stuff. Multi-thousand-dollar collections of various kinds take up a tremendous amount of space, just by necessity.

We’ve had to ditch a lot of our possessions. Even more have had to go into storage. Tip, should you ever find yourself having to do this: find yourself an accessible storage unit, and put your geek stuff in front, so you can switch things out, should you want to. Make your storage space an extension of your home storage, and let yourself swap things when needed. Then it won’t seem quite so catastrophic to suddenly have your manga collection effectively vanish.

Fortunately, that necessity is changing, as we can have some of our collections in digital form. Now, I know that there are certain things I really like to have in physical form: old books, autographs, things with amazing images, leather-bound books, special editions, boxsets, etc. Not to mention certain things that I picked up over the years that I have an emotional attachment to, even if I could easily replace them. No amount of coercion could make me give up my David Eddings books, or even my collection of disastrously awful Arthuriana, some of which I even recognized was awful at age fourteen when I bought it. Others I’m content to replace, but don’t want to spend the money unnecessarily right now. After all, moving is expensive. Others, I could not replace fast enough (Wheel of Time, here’s looking at you, with those awful paperback bindings – the exception being my signed hardcovers, which I am of course carefully keeping.)

At the same time, geeky collections can be divided into two categories: the kind we want to have immediate access to, and the kind we’re content to know we have but can put into safe storage. It’s the former that makes digital media so useful when downsizing. For example, I have been able to store many DVDs that I would otherwise have to keep on shelves in our tiny apartment, because I can access the media on Amazon Prime or Netflix. I have been able to store books I want to keep and have access to, by getting a Kindle copy for access purposes and storing the print version. Digital media has been essential to our ability to downsize by two-thirds.

Equally essential has been careful planning of the apartment itself, of course. Several friends have asked how I managed it, and here’s the key: holding myself to a set of criteria concerning the furniture I brought in. Every object used to furnish this apartment absolutely must fulfill at least one and preferably more of the following criteria, no exceptions:

1) It must be larger vertically than horizontally. In a small apartment, you have to be able to arrange things in all of your vertical space, because your horizontal space is what will be at a high premium. Chests of drawers that stretch out lengthwise are probably not a good fit. Shelving units that go floor to ceiling are a better option.

2) It must create storage space. Some exceptions to rule 1 can be made for things that will create space to put things. Bookshelves will fit however they fit, and should be maximized. Space to put your geek stuff will be the most valuable thing in your arrangement of your apartment, so furniture that can create that space for you is vital.

3) It must be flexible and transformable. Furniture that can be changed from one thing into another, such as a sofa that can fold out into a bed, is awesome for a small space because it can serve double-duty and leave you more space for other things, or simply add versatility to what you can accomplish in your living space. If you have a bed and a sofa, but each can transform into the other type so you can have two beds, or two sofas, at a time, you’ve made your apartment into a space that can host delightful geek gatherings much more easily.

4) It must be lightweight and mobile. Things on wheels or things made of light materials such as wicker are great for this. You want to be able to rearrange things at will to make your apartment usable for whatever purpose might come to mind. Having a D&D group one weekend, a filk circle the next, and movie night the next, requires the ability to have your apartment in very different configurations. To do that safely, you need to have things you can move around.

5) It must have emotional significance. Many people discount this one, but don’t leave it out. It’s the emotional things that make a place home. Even if it isn’t the most practical thing, let yourself have a couple of items that just make you happy. You’ve just uprooted your life, and put a large portion of it away where you can’t see it. Keeping some items that are important to you is a way of taking care of yourself in a stressful time.

6) It must be an actual necessity. Yeah, nothing you can do about the cat’s litter box. Oh well.

Living in a shoebox can be a tremendous amount of fun, when it’s with the right people. The right people can be your loved one(s), or dear friends who also make understanding roommates (note, not all dear friends make good roommates, and any toxic roommate situation is magnified by close quarters, so be careful). Small can be cozy.

And it’s a heck of a lot easier to keep clean and organized – also a common issue for those with lots of stuff. This is probably the reason it’s a stereotypical problem for geeks. Sure, it isn’t luxury, but when you’ve got access to what you really want on a day-to-day basis, and you’ve got the right people around you, and you can still immerse yourself in all those wonderful geeky things you love so much, who needs luxury?

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