It can be hard to give up preconceived notions of success. Most people from my parents’ generation strove for our equivalent of the American Dream. Success meant three kids, a large house with a yard and a swimming pool, and two cars. That’s what it meant to “make it in life.” Except that I vividly remember my dad’s consistent worry about debt. Or how he was always cursing our pool pump that had once again broken down. The garden meant work and money. And there was just always something or other that needed fixing. A house needs constant attention, and a bigger house means bigger problems.
But this idea of owning a house with a big yard still established itself in my idea of what grown-up life should look like. So when we started talking about having a baby we decided to move out of our one bedroom apartment in Cape Town and resettle in a roomy three bedroom house in Stellenbosch.
Having lived in apartments pretty much since leaving school, the idea of a house seemed romantic at first. But we then realised that we weren’t used to having so much space (keep in mind, this was still a shoe box compared to the houses we had grown up in). I remember being freaked out because I couldn’t hear everything in the house. If I closed my door, there was complete silence. Instead of giving me a good night’s rest, I felt isolated.
The other thing about a bigger house that you have a lot more space, and more space means you need more shit to fill the space. So off we went to look for furniture, buying cabinets and side tables and lamps and other whatnots to push into nooks and crannies.
For various reasons, we ended up deciding to move again after a year. We started scouting out new places, and since I was around 5 months pregnant at this stage, we started by looking for something large. You know, because our family was growing. But rent in Stellenbosch is obscene and we realised that in order to move into a bigger house, we’d have to cut back on other parts of our lifestyle that we really enjoyed, like fine dining and travelling.
Suddenly we couldn’t remember why we needed all that space. We didn’t like space. We liked cosy. Most of all, we liked living within our budget and having plenty left over to spend on experiences rather than filling a landlord’s pocket. I remembered seeing this tiny little cottage-style place on Gumtree and organised a viewing simply because the place was dead cheap. And we loved it! It felt like something between a London duplex and a Cape Town loft apartment.
At first scaling down on space seemed counter-intuitive. But then, I think our generation has given up on this idea of what it means to be a grown-up. Ours is the time to have less and do more. Since we had minimal closet space and no garage, we were forced to sort through our excess and get rid of items we never used. All the things we were saving for a rainy day started getting in the way. We gave up boxes and boxes of stuff, and it felt fantastic. Now we’re especially careful to only buy things that add to our space in a useful way or that make us happy. And what we buy now should be something we really want, not something we simply buy to fill a gap in the living room (mostly because we don’t have a spare gap to speak of).
So I don’t think our generation is necessarily tempted by the typical American Dream lifestyle anymore. We do, however, live in a time where we’re constantly bombarded with more and more things we’re suppose to buy; cheap products that follow this or that trend, sales that tempt us into “snatching something up quickly” before we have time to reconsider. It’s easy to get swept up and rarely do we ask ourselves whether we actually want to spend our hard-earned cash on this shit, or whether it would be better spent on something we’ll actually cherish. Giving up space has helped me get rid of clutter, and the need to purchase more. It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made this year.
Now to avoid buying clothes and toys for my baby…