Friday, August 06, 2010

Small Space Love

Could hotel rooms be good for my health? I just adore those miniature homes away from home. I have an ongoing fantasy where I junk my suburban fake Gothic four-bedroom to live on our Marriott points, write a blog called “Married to the Marriott,” get a book, then movie deal. Meryl Streep will play me in the movie.

Why do I feel so happy and safe in small spaces? Is it because I spent my early years in a tiny apartment above my grandparents’ place? When my parents ditched the urban life for a 1960s style sprawling split level, I asked my mother, “How many families will be moving in?” I remember my first night in our multi-room dwelling. I felt lonely and out of scale with my own body.

“It could be related to the safety and security of the womb,” says Rachel Winer, Ph.D, a psychologist and founder of ArtsEngine. Makes sense, why wouldn’t our first digs have a profound effect on us? Hours after my first son was born, his baby thought bubble read, “Wow, what a big room.” When I told my second son to eat his veggies so he would grow, he promptly quipped. “I don’t want to get bigger, I like being small. I need to fit under the table.”

According to Winer, there’s more to liking tiny spaces. “It could also be related to aesthetic preferences,” she adds. Winer is right. I feel burdened by too much space; it generates too much stuff, which in turn needs to be put away. Winer has similar needs. “I like to see what I need for comfort and survival,” she says. “What brings us security in our dwelling space makes it possible to explore the outside world. Some of us also want to live in close proximity to other people.” She’s got a point there. When I moved to Houston, the master bedroom was downstairs. To me, it was an odd design choice. I wanted to hear my son breathe, but his crib seemed to be in another country upstairs.

I am not the only one that longs for a troll house, the small house movement founded by Sarah Susanka, author of “The Not So Big House,” has garnered the attention of NPR, Time and even “Oprah.” Could it be that people feel happier knowing they are taking a smaller toll on the world’s resources? Winer is not about to claim that your mansion is bad for your health, but living lighter and smaller could generate less stress. There’s certainly a well documented link between stress and auto immune disorders and other diseases.

Winer brings up values and cultural issues. “Preferring a small home may also be a statement of not subscribing to the showiness of flamboyance,” she says. “Space is used differently in less individualistic societies, where there’s a more diffuse boundary.”

Too small spaces don't work either. My former office made me feel trapped. Later on, I learned my office had indeed been a closet. Now, I sound a lot like Goldilocks; the size of my space has to be “just right.”

According to Winer, there’s more to pining for hotel rooms. “I can live with the illusion of being a tidy person,” she says. “There’s also a chance to reinvent yourself and take a vacation from your own house.” And I thought I liked them because they were so small.

As a recovering philosophy major, I turn to Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space.”

“For our house is our corner of the world, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.” I suppose I just need a modest corner. Sadly, Bachelard has absolutely nothing to say about hotel rooms.

In my childhood neighborhood there was one house we called “the castle.” We rarely saw anyone entering or exiting the place, and we concocted all kinds of nutty fantasies about the place and its inhabitants. Years later, my mother confessed that she had actually been inside the mansion. “They mostly lived in two rooms.” Just trying to turn the castle into a hotel room I guess.