Some friends were in shock when I told them that I’ve moved to an apartment that is slightly less than 900 sqft in size with my wife and my (now) 2 year old son. Yes, you heard that right — I went from a 1,200 sqft “5I” HDB apartment to a 900 sqft 2-room private apartment.
“Can stay meh?”
“Not very small meh?”
I didn’t think much of it until I moved in. And when I did, I thought: Jit bai siao liao. (I’m in trouble now.)
It was easy to go from a bedroom at my parents’ (approx 150 sqft?) to a 1,200 sqft apartment all to myself (and wife), and I thought downsizing to 900 sqft with a additional human being occupant (the baby) shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, it was such a challenge that it made some significant changes to my/our lifestyle. And I think to myself: How could I have amassed so much material junk in a short span of seven years that I can no longer fit all my belongings in a house even though it is easily 4 times the size of my old bedroom? It is scary.
“How could I have amassed so much material junk … that I can no longer fit all my belongings in a house even though it is easily 4 times the size of my old bedroom?”
Let me also, for the record, just point out that this has got nothing to do with money or being wealthy — a person of low or average income can also hoard enough to fill a 5-room flat.
I have been on a mission to minimise since 2014, possibly even a little bit earlier. It first started with clearing out old hardware at my parent’s office, where I realised that it was actually more difficult to get rid of things than to acquire them. I wrote another blog entry in 2015 after continuous effort to minimise seemed futile, and then again in 2016 detailing all the crap I had unearthed from moving to a temporary rental apartment.
In spite of the multi-year effort to reduce, I still had loads of junk with me as I move once again in early 2017 into my new tiny apartment, and this is when I also realised that part of the problem with our rampant consumerism is the abundance of seemingly permanent storage spaces. (My USA friends be like: “Really? We have an entire basement/garage.”) Most Singaporean families buy instead of rent their homes which means people feel more settled and are more willing to buy things to keep/hoard. Our apartments aren’t getting any bigger, though, so some of this mentality needs to change.
“… part of the problem with our rampant consumerism is the abundance of seemingly permanent storage spaces.”
So moving into a small apartment forced me to really downsize. I more than halved my wardrobe. I threw and donated a bunch of stuff away. I actually felt bad, because it seemed wasteful to throw useable stuff away, or unkind to donate crappy items that the poor volunteers at Salvation Army have to sort through. I also sold stuff away on Carousell — usually things of higher monetary worth such as furnitures, gadgets, car parts, collectibles, crap, crap and more crap.
Because of all the trash I threw out, I actually started reading up on waste management in Singapore and found out that we generate a shocking 8,559 tonnes of waste per day in 2016! That is 8+ million kilograms per day! Where the hell does all these go? Before we run out of space to build houses, we probably run out of space to dump waste! And I am not proud that I am contributing to this. In fact, I think the government may need to introduce an initiative to reduce waste.
“… we generate a shocking 8,559 tonnes of waste per day in 2016! That is 8+ million kilograms per day!”
There was also a blessing in disguise — the building where I temporarily stashed my stuff was on fire. The corner where my items were was not burnt, but SCDF flooded the entire building with about one inch of water on every floor to cool it down and several items sitting on the floor got damaged in the process, so I took the opportunity and wrote some items off (even though some were not really damaged) and got an insurance payout.
But I’m not done yet. When I renovated the house, I designed it to have as much storage space as possible but I still have so much stuff that I rented a warehouse to store things that I do not need on a regular basis. I am paying close to $2K a year for a warehouse to store items that may possibly not even sell for that amount of money in total.
“I pay close to $2K a year for a warehouse to store items that may possibly not even sell for that amount of money in total.”
So my friends were somewhat right — can stay meh? Can. Only if I change my way of life.
I was used to buying things and just storing them away hoping to use them later, “just in case” — like a piece of furniture, or some gadget, or a tool, etc. I would also buy things in bulk due to bulk discounts and there’s nothing really wrong with that, except that I sometimes stash them away and forget what I have and end up buying them again. My parents recently renovated their house and in the midst of packing found out that they have so many boxes of tissues that could probably last them an entire year!
“… I sometimes stash them away and forget what I have and end up buying them again.”
And then of course, I am used to a house full of things I could just reach out for. All this had to change.
I am now extra careful when making a purchase; as a result I spend less money. You may think that’s something probably insignificant, but it adds up. A small house is easier to clean. Less stuff means less work taking care of, dealing with, cleaning, or fixing them. I also indirectly channel extra time (and money) on people and experiences instead of things.
I think we can also teach the young a thing or two about consumerism and materialism. I have a friend who says as kids grow up they’ll need space at home and he actually dedicates a room for his kid’s toys and stuff. I don’t really agree. Kids need only the same basic stuff adults need. For anything else such as sports or hobbies, they should seek other places to enjoy them and make friends in the process — not lock themselves at home.
If I had a choice, would I want a bigger house? Yes, only if I needed extra space for another kid. But if I had a bigger house, it would be to have more open spaces, not storage spaces. With that, the one piece of advise I’d like to share with friends who are buying their first homes — it is OK to start small.
“With that, the one piece of advise I’d like to share with friends who are buying their first homes — it is OK to start small.”