Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Little Compromises

I spend some time every week thinking about refining my living space. I do this not because I'm hopelessly obsessive (well, maybe a little), but because I spend a lot of time in that space and it's important to feel comfortable in it and satisfied with it. I've traveled down a long and labor-intensive road to get it to a point that I'm largely, but not completely, happy with.

That being said, there are some things I'll never be really happy about that I have to accept because of the compromises I'm either forced to make or unwilling to consider. On the "forced" front is the small space situation and the lack of built-in storage. There's no getting around having a small place unless you're so wealthy that you don't mind tossing your money down the crapper for the sake of elegantly wasted space. I love a good barren minimalist landscape in a home as much as the next neurotic compulsive anal-retentive neat freak, but I'm not willing to work harder so I can throw money at having such a place.

The points which I'm unwilling to consider though not forced to accept are based on a lack of desire to sink money or materials into making things better. I have the money, but I'm not willing to replace something for aesthetics unless it is so painfully awful that it would embarrass me in front of open-minded people. When I say "open-minded", I mean people who don't think things that are worn-looking are "dirty" or unusable.

There's an obsession in Tokyo with replacing things that look old whether they have excellent utility or not and it's extremely wasteful. Tokyo has been my first experience with homes that last 25 or so years and get replaced. The concept of a disposable houses never occurred to me until I came here. I'm not sure if this is in line with an aesthetic which values what is new, novel and modern or simply related to keeping the construction industry going by having them use the cheapest materials so that places start to fall apart after a certain period of time. Honestly, I half expect the apartment building we currently live in to get replace in the next 10 years if the landlord can get permission to rebuild it with a third floor. I think this building is about 25 years old now.

Some people may not know it, but Japanese apartments get "gutted" between tenants. They strip out the walls, floors and often any installed cabinetry and plumbing. It's on a deeper level than what you tend to see in the U.S. where walls may be painted and carpets cleaned, but most of the fixtures are left in place. Since I've lived in the same place for so long, this stripping is long overdue for the cheap materials in it, but I'm not giving in to the urge to have the landlord replace things. He'd certainly do so if we asked.

My walls may be smog-stained and crumbly from humidity, but that makes them no less utilitarian. Also, let's face it, I can have the landlord strip the pathetic cheap covering from my walls and slap up pristine new ones but it's going to get covered in smog again in a year or less and humidity is going to make mold form behind cabinets during the first summer following the new installation. I know how much dust accumulates in my place and I'm unwilling to create piles of waste for the sake of temporarily "clean" walls. They are clean. I washed the damn things myself. They are just old and show it.

Still, I look around some times at the things that I hate like open shelving or the necessity of having part of the pantry on display because there simply is nowhere else to put things and think I should just give in to the urge to replace them with some sparkly new thing. I consider it a test of my ethics to not give in to superficial, materialistic urges such as these. If I'm going to say we shouldn't create unnecessary waste and live simple, frugal lives, I should damn well be prepared to live a life in tune with that.


Roy said...

If you have the money but choose to live like you do then I would call that a choice and not a compromise.

I bet that if you moved to a bigger place you would feel so much better (not implying that you are not satisfied where you are) that you would think to yourself "Now, why didn't I move years ago?" Your home has an affect on you (both good and bad) that you don't fully realize until you are away from it. I used to live in a great apartment which I felt so good in and would move back there in an instant if it was available and if I had not bought a house.

Orchid64 said...

I see it as a compromise between what I desire and what I should accept, but you can call it a choice.

I don't think I'd feel better being somewhere else. I'm pretty happy with my space as it is. There are always good and bad points to every experience and I might like a bigger space in some ways but spending more money on one would eat at me. There are a lot of benefits to my situation that I'd lose if I moved and I'm willing to deal with the bad points to keep the good ones. Other than the crumbly walls, I'm not overly bothered by my situation. I've been working on dealing with them though and have one left to go and then I'll be satisfied with that.

I'm curious. Are you dissatisfied with your house? You say you'd move back to your apartment if you hadn't bought the house which sort of makes it seem like you felt the apartment was better for you. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the situation though.

Dateline Osaka said...

I bet you'd get along really well with my husband! He's got some furniture around here from since he moved out of his mom's house, which he refuses to do away with because it still works just fine (well...I don't know if I agree with that in all cases, though!). I agree that functional furniture should stay even if it's a bit worn around the edges...but you should see his futon....*shudder* >_< I have to draw the line some place!!! ;) Someday I'll have to take pictures and show you what I mean!

Roy said...

The way I said it does sound like that doesn't it?

I used to live in a fairly old mansion on top of a small eye doctor's office. There was only one other tenant in the smaller unit. That place had windows on all sides except the one I shared with the other person, and each room got tons of light. It was also quiet and I could turn up my home theater late at night since the doctor's office was closed. Anyways, there was a great vibe from the place that I miss. Everyone who came over always commented on how nice it was when they walked in. I miss that. There were a bunch of reasons I moved. I bought a refrigerator that wouldn't even fit thru the front of the building, I wanted to simplify and reduce stuff, I wanted to find somewhere with lower rent since I had to pay for parking for the car, and also I wanted to live closer to the gym. Also, basically I like change and get tired of things quickly as you might already know.

I think if I had not bought the house I would have considered moving back into that place. I had a good relationship with the landlady. I'm not dissatisfied with my house but when I bought it I knew it was going to be a starter home and I'd move again within 10 years. I've already found the house I want to buy next but it costs over a million US dollars and I can't afford that, yet.

Orchid64 said...

Dateline: I'm betting I draw the line rather further back than your husband. My stuff is worn, but not embarrassingly so. ;-) Men are notorious for not caring about how tatty things get. I'm guessing my limit occurs at about 50% of that of most men.

Roy: It's interesting how characters differ. I don't like change on a large scale. I greatly dislike it. My husband doesn't care much for it either, though he's not really troubled by it (but I am). That's not the only reason we don't move. There's also a really good landlord, great location, super shopping areas, and we like the apartment layout. Also, my location is pivotal for getting private students to come to me. If I didn't live here, I'd have a lot more trouble getting students.

Getting back to your situation though, I'm surprised that you say you can't afford a million dollar home "yet". Boy, we really do live different lives. ;-)

Thanks to both of you for commenting.

Roy said...

I was being a bit facetious. I really do not have a lot of disposable income and little savings. But I've always been able to get what I want and the money has been there in some form or another so I trust that in the future I will be provided for or I will be able to survive somehow.

Also I like to think big :-)

A million dollar house is totally possible considering my current house costs a little less than half that and I was able to get a mortgage for it.