By Felice Cohen / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Four-and-a-half million people around the world saw the YouTube video of my 90-square-foot Manhattan studio, and thousands expressed their opinions:
“She’s crazy,” “Not worth it,” “There’s no way she has sex in that bed.” (Believe what you will.)
Didn’t these people hear me say that living in that small space overlooking Central Park afforded me many luxuries?
Were there times I wished I had a bed with more than 23 inches above my head? Absolutely. But those moments were fleeting.
For me, it was more important to step out my door and be right in the center of everything. That’s the experience I was looking for.
Turns out I’m not the only one. Thousands of people are willing to trade space for convenience, location — and, of course, price.
I still get emails asking where to find a place like mine. I’ve not been able to give any leads. Until now. Mayor Bloomberg, who recently announced plans to ban large cups of sugary soda, may have had another agenda: to get us to fit into smaller apartments. He’s just launched a contest for designers to come up with “micro units,” supercompact studios that will be between 275 and 300 square feet. The first experiment, a residential tower on E. 27th St., will have at least two-thirds of its units dedicated to the shrunken living spaces.
While some call these sizes uninhabitable, I say they’re perfectly suited to the fact that there are a growing number of single people in the city — including 46% of all Manhattan households.
Why did I choose to live in a space the size of a large closet? In 2007, I wanted to move to Manhattan, but didn’t want to go broke doing it. I was about to give up when a friend said, “I know a place, but it’s small. If Michael Jordan were to stand inside, he could touch both walls.”
That didn’t faze me. I was a huge Jordan fan, as well as a professional organizer. Having worked in sprawling apartments and small spaces alike, I knew one thing for sure about compact living: You have to go up. When I saw the 12-foot-by-7.5-foot space, I took one look at the high ceilings and was sold.
After giving away a lot of stuff — a difficult process at first, though a liberating one as well — I never looked back. Besides, a large apartment didn’t interest me the way picnicking in Central Park and listening to the New York Philharmonic did.
The $700 rent allowed me the freedom to not stress over bills. Sure, for the same slice of my paycheck, I could have had a healthy-sized space in Queens or a huge one in Ohio, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted to walk out my door and see runners cross the finish line of the marathon. I wanted to watch balloons being blown up the day before the Thanksgiving Day Parade and get sushi across the street. And that’s what I did.
I moved in with the intention of staying one year. I ended up staying five. This was a testament to the fact that it was not just do-able, but genuinely enjoyable.
One of my most memorable experiences: standing outside at 3 a.m. in my pajamas on the corner of Columbus Ave. and 70th St. watching the eclipse. Chin tilted up at the sky, I was in total awe.
In my time there, I wrote a book, saw dozens of shows, had visitors (albeit one at a time), created and sold Shrinky Dink art, walked along the Hudson River at sunset, cooked meals in a toaster, developed great leg muscles from the five-story walk up, made new friends and much more. The space restrictions gave me other kinds of freedom.
The biggest lesson learned was that less is more. I wasn’t socked with bills or living among piles of stuff. I had everything I needed and I was happy. In fact, I would have stayed longer — but I was evicted. Turns out I was subletting illegally; the place was rent-controlled. I didn’t know.
My grandfather lived for almost five years in unimaginable conditions in eight different camps in the Holocaust. So when folks ask me, “How did you survive in that space?” I reply, “I wasn’t surviving, I was living.” And living well.
Cohen, the author of “What Papa Told Me,” is working on a book about living with less.
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