Living in a very small room

Written in 2008. Unpublished.

After three years of freelancing I stumbled across a job. I wasn’t looking for a job but this was one of those ‘right time, right place’ things and too good to miss. Unfortunately, taking this job required moving back to Bangkok from ‘upcountry’.


I had momentary visions of new friends at the office saying, “Oh, I know just the place for you!” and getting on with life. No such luck. I tried a few of those house/apartment finding agencies but they usually hung up soon after I confessed I had less than fifty thousand baht a month for rent. In the end, I had to fall back on the only method that has ever worked for me: methodically trudging up and down every soi in the neighborhood looking for vacant windows, handwritten signs and knowledgeable som tam vendors.


I had my heart set on a little townhouse, but little townhouse owners in Bangkok mostly want to sell, not rent. I quickly realized that finding the ‘right’ little house might take some time, so I shifted my sights to the ubiquitous ‘room’. Only as a temporary measure of course.


There are thousands of these dormitory style ‘apartment’ buildings all over Bangkok. I think there was one original architect and every builder since has just copied. Room, toilet, balcony. That’s it. And the ‘balcony’ is usually a decorative feature. Rents range from 2500 baht a month up. Water, electricity, telephone and anything else the landlord can think of is charged separately.


Most of these buildings are designed for the proletariat, like factory workers, students and freelance writers. I was running out of friends to camp with when I discovered “Residence 35” on Sukumvit Soi 81. I fell in love with the real wood floors, the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors to the balcony, the owner and her four dogs. The three minute walk to the On Nut BTS station was a nice feature as well. This is a bottom-of-the-upper-price-range room so the rent is a staggering 5300 baht a month.


I think it was the wooden floors that made it look so ‘spacious’. In fact, my new room is exactly 15.5 square meters. That’s about 5 steps from one side to the other. The bed is 3.6 square meters, the wardrobe takes up a half square meter and the refrigerator nibbles up another quarter of a meter. This leaves me with roughly 11 square meters of ‘floor space’.


Upcountry in Udon Thani I live a rambling two-story house on a rai of land surrounded by rice fields. Moving into a room only slightly larger than a parking space at the Emporium requires some adjustment. Oddly enough, I’m rather liking it. The smallness of the space is imposing a subtle discipline. For example, I’ve become much neater. Rather than clutter up my precious floor space I hang things up and put things back in their place. And everything has a place. It’s a bit like living on a yacht that way. Also, I find I’m much more mindful in my movements. You don’t go barging about eleven square meters. I love fine furniture and enjoy decorating but not having to be on the constant lookout for exactly the right chair to fill a nook is a pleasant relief. In fact, living in a very small room makes you wonder about how many ‘things’ you really need to live comfortably. And I’m saving money because I buy less ‘stuff’. Where would I put it?


I’m not suggesting that living in a very small room is the key nirvana. It does offer a simple, Zen-like economy that can be rather calming and lord knows I can use that. Besides, it’s only temporary. By the way, does anyone know a relatively sane landlord with a nice townhouse to rent?