The 3 Simple Questions That Have Saved Me Oodles of Cash

We’re back with a new edition of A Renter’s Diary! Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to follow Rebekah Hall as she and her boyfriend move from a home into a 800-square-foot apartment in Little Rock, Arkansas. From battling with the task of downsizing, to figuring out the quirks of the space, Hall will share all of the things you might forget or underestimate. Last week, Hall dealt with the shock of how small 800 square feet really is. This week she deals with defining the necessities and indulgences of a new apartment:

For the two months that my boyfriend and I spent living in my parents’ house, all of our worldly possessions were packed away. The living room and dining room became storage units, with cardboard boxes, milk crates, and plastic storage bins Tetris’d among furniture and lamps.

I could not have anticipated how difficult it was to spend a summer with all of our stuff hidden from sight. I’d spent the previous year carefully (okay, somewhat wildly) building a collection of artwork that brought me joy. I relished the pleasure of bringing a new trinket or textile home from the antique mall and nestling it into place in our house. Afterwards, it always felt like that new piece had truly been what was missing—like I’d just completed a section of an ever-evolving puzzle.

But with all that boxed away, the joy of seeing myself reflected in the my space dimmed. I felt restless and frustrated, and as a result, I became frenzied about buying new things. I wanted to itch my desire to control the space around me. I was feverish every time we walked into Target. “This plastic terrazzo plate is only $1.75!” I would whine to my boyfriend, choosing to ignore that I had plates stacked away—I just couldn’t see them.

Ever the voice of reason, my boyfriend would issue some tough love and remind me that we were staying with my parents to save money for our new space. Then we’d beeline straight to the paper towels and dishwasher pods.

Though those two months were tough, it ultimately helped me realize how vital control over my space is to my mental health. It’s a real privilege surrounding myself with things of my choosing—and I am trying to be more cautious about exercising that fact in our new apartment. I’m finding that instead of just buying things because they’re on sale or just because they evoke a strong reaction from me, I am paying more attention to my needs.

I’m now asking myself these three questions before I purchase something new for my home:

  • Does this serve an immediate purpose for me?
  • Do I already have something that serves this purpose? And, if yes, does the thing you use currently need to be replaced? Does this new item more efficiently serve the purpose than the existing item?
  • Is this something that will make my space more usable?

With these three questions in hand, I’ve bought only a couple of more things for my home:

  • An adjustable garment rack: Our closet has no bars on which to hang our clothing, it only has shelving, so we literally would not have a functioning closet without it. We got this one from Target and it works great!
  • An over-the-toilet shelving unit: The only storage in our small bathroom is the medicine cabinet, so we needed a place to stack towels and other essentials. We have a Threshold shelf from Target, but it appears to be discontinued—here’s a similar one.

Since we’ve saved up some money, we’re looking forward to buying a corner shelving unit like this one from Bed Bath and Beyond to add some necessary storage space to our kitchen counter. We’re also looking forward to buying curtains, which involves a painstaking analysis of which which curtains are truly right for us. Our apartment gets a lot of light, which we love, but we want to have a bit more privacy.

And I’m especially looking forward to buying our first large houseplant. I have eight small ones that I love, but I recently saw a fiddle-leaf fig on sale for $16 at our local grocery store, so now I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m excited to take care of a larger plant and give it a new home in our sunny kitchen nook.

Check back next week when Hall learns the value of patience in settling into a new space.

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