Had I cottoned onto the philosophy of living with a capsule wardrobe and minimally overall, I would have made a more satisfying house experience out of my stint in Japan. I majored in Japanese at uni, and after graduation I took part in the JET Programme where I was placed down south in Kumamoto Prefecture. My romanticised idea was to live in a place with tatami mats, but most of the dwellings that had tatami rooms were quite old. I also read that tatami needs a bit of maintenance and with older houses there was a chance of serious insect infestation that would require regular pesticide bombs. Added to this, the older houses were quite big and it occurred to me that there was no point in heating and paying for a larger place when it was only going to be me the entire time.
In the end I chose a modern building complex with the compromise that the rooms available were only studio apartments. I had a view (on the 4th floor) with a small balcony, the floors were easy clean laminate wood, there was a platform for my futon, a small armoire, air con (a modern convenience not necessarily guaranteed in older buildings), kitchenette, and separate bathroom and toilet. I dubbed my room Studio4Corners.
Lacking any extra furniture apart from what came with the room, I distinctly remember eating my first dinner off an upturned box and looking about me, planning how to fatten up the room up with more furniture and make it look more homely. I had come from a household that revelled in clutter, so of course the first thing I thought of to try and replicate that atmosphere was to fill the empty space. Completely. Results below.
I brought far too many clothes with me, bought far too many unnecessary knick knacks from the local dollar store, borrowed far too much furniture in an attempt to contain the spew of junk I was accumulating, and didn’t keep any type of routine, schedule or order to how I lived. Hey, I was 21 living away from home for the first time, in a foreign country. All of a sudden I didn’t have a bed time, didn’t have to be home by a certain hour, had unlimited internet access (I was binge watching TV shows way before it became fashionable to on Netflix), and could cook and purchase whatever food I wanted. My independence cherry had been duly popped.
I now look back on those years with some regret, not about the time or experiences I had, but more because I wasted a brilliant opportunity to live efficiently and make the best use of the space available. I recall when my mum came to visit during my first year, the utter horror that registered on her face when she saw how I lived (and that was coming from a woman who lives in bags, books, shoes, lipsticks and furniture from the 70s). Here are a couple of tips I would recommend if you find yourself living out of a studio apartment for the first time:
- only obtain furniture that you actually need. I probably only needed one set of additional shelves and the kotatsu (low heated coffee table) at most, with a small rug for the winter;
- designate areas of your apartment to fulfill specific roles (home office/eating area; place to store paper and supplies etc) and avoid using the entire space as a general dumping ground, like I did. Give your things a home and return them to that area after use to maintain a bit of order;
- don’t buy storage containers and organising systems before you actually have stuff that you need to organise, otherwise you’ll just purchase more to justify the initial purchase…you see where this is headed; and
- keep a basic routine to follow during the week, like allocating a day for laundry, a time for cleaning etc. Even though you only have a finite amount of space, it’s incredibly easy to let good habits slip, and you may find yourself à la Bridget Jones and wake up with a pair of knickers stuck to your bottom as you stumble out of bed. It’s a classy vibe.