A month ago, I moved into my freshman college dorm in the middle of Manhattan. The move itself wasn’t such a worry. My real concern was that I’d be sharing a 192 square-foot space with two other girls. That’s three people with less than 200 square feet between them — 64 square feet per person.
Things are tight, but we fit a lot: there are three bureaus, three desks, a closet that is divided in two, one single bed, and one bunk bed. One of my roommates didn’t care about having any closet space, so she didn’t get any, meaning I got half a closet. I had less luck in the sleeping department: I got stuck with the top bunk. We have plans to switch second semester, but my little treehouse of a bed does afford me something that’s hard to find in this lil’ room: a bit of privacy.
Still, I feel like I have an adequate amount of space to myself. It’s of course not as ideal as having the entire room to myself, or even sharing it just with one other person, but a big part of feeling comfortable in this room is just accepting it for what it is. (Luckily, I don’t get claustrophobic.) Making it work, though, has required some adjustments.
For one thing, I’m an extremely messy person. Being messy worked out just fine for me back home, where my bedroom was my very own and I therefore felt comfortable flinging my clothes around the room and leaving thousands of half empty water glasses on my dresser like some sort of abandoned shrine devoid of candles. This sort of behavior doesn’t embarrass me because I’m a teenager (the ultimate excuse for getting away with anything) and sitcoms have taught me that this kind of behavior is normal. But here in a room with two other roommates, I can’t exactly be the Queen of Mess. While I’m okay with clutter, my roommates definitely aren’t. I let my stuff pile up by my desk sometimes, but I do my best to clean. As I worked on becoming tidier, my other roommate, who cares greatly about keeping her space clean, had to be more accepting of my less-than-perfect cleaning habits.
My room at home was spacious, with posters and artwork covering the walls — every part of by bedroom felt like a part of me. My desk shelves were lined with books and trinkets and my ceiling was decorated with lanterns, paper decorations, and lights. It had three windows that looked out onto my wooded front yard. It was basically the cutest, greatest teen girl bedroom ever assembled, though I guess most girls feel that way about their bedrooms too.
Though I wanted to bring every single thing that I own (decorations, clothes, CDs, my cat) to college, I unfortunately could not bring everything. Because bringing everything would have made my dorm room insanely cramped. I aimed to only bring essentials: toiletries, season-specific clothes, a single pillow. Minimalism is basically a foreign concept to me, but I downsized to the best of my ability. Everything that I have now is either located in my desk, dresser, or closet.
A huge part of living in a tiny space is making sure that you and your roommates have at least come to an agreement — spoken or unspoken — to respect each other’s space. I knew not to expect to be best friends with my roommates. We can all have a good time eating pizza and watching Mean Girls, but we’re not close friends. And that’s okay. I get along with them, though we have our differences. We all have different sleeping schedules, separate social lives, and varying interests (one of my roommates is a visual arts major, the other is pre-med). Things that annoy my roommates (too many dishes on the drying rack, the shower not being bleached every week) don’t annoy me at all.
We did another thing right: we decided to talk about everything. From day one, I was completely honest.
“If food in the fridge has my name on it, don’t eat it please.”
“Yes, anyone is invited to sleepover just let me know in advance.”
“No, you can’t borrow any of my clothing.”
And I always remember to ask if they’re cool with something I’m about to do. If they’re not okay with me blasting Haddaway’s “What Is Love” on a loop while they’re trying to study, I’ll just put on my headphones. If I had just played the music without asking, that could have been a potential disaster. I can’t ever assume something about my roommates because even though I already feel like I know them extremely well, it’s just always better to ask about even the smallest things (example, “Is it okay if I use your dishtowel as a decorative scarf?”).
I thought 192 square feet was going to be nerve-wrackingly tiny (would I be like the little old woman who lived in the shoe?!), but it’s worked out to be more than just fine. My 64 square feet of space are just fine. Besides, when clutter arises, you can just just stuff everything into a drawer.
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