Mansion Mentality, Apartment Reality
What I miss the most is the $5000 solid copper soaking tub. I literally had a house built around the Victorian replica tub, the second floor at least. My glorious tub was craned in before the roof was built. But alas, I never moved into that house. A series of bizarre twists helped me realize that I didn’t need another giant house at that moment just because society said that’s what success looked like.
Shifting from a mansion to an apartment was a wild transition. I grew up affluent without being rich. I still have hardworking parents with doctorate degrees. Dad was an Army doc, and mom earned her doctorate when she was around my age now. She was an adult learner with three half grown kids when she went back to school. Watching her accomplish that set a precedent for me that inspired me to go back to school after having three kids. When my childhood peers accused me of being rich, I confirmed that my dad was a doctor but reminded them that he was active duty military. You don’t get rich in the Army, and like most Black people in America, my parents didn’t inherit any money. That said, we were comfortable and like me, they knew how to make money go a long way.
There’s a joke in my family that when you turn 18, you get a nice set of luggage and a one-way ticket out of the house. We had no trust funds, so our parents gave us the best education they could afford and told us that we could get out there and do whatever we wanted with our lives. It was a solid start about which I have not complaints. There were definitely few hiccups when I was released into the wild at age 16. For one, it took me a while to understand why my apartments and dorms didn’t clean themselves when I went off to school or work. We did have hired help. I also didn’t really learn how to use a kitchen until after my third divorce and I didn’t want to starve. I was conveniently attracted to people who enjoyed cooking.
After a substantial period of poverty and one divorce, I got my life together and started a business. Granted, it was a subsistence business for the first eight years while I calibrated myself and my offerings — but I ultimately transformed a side-hustle into a bonafide enterprise. When I turned an economic corner, I moved from a nice house in the woods with my estranged second husband into a mansion in the city with my third-and-final spouse. Like the stunning houses I’d grown up in, my two amazing houses were rentals. We stayed in that eight-bedroom, five-bathroom, renovated historic brick manor for seven years. It’s the house my kids grew up in. Unlike me, who changed schools nearly every year of my childhood, they had a consistent home base despite the fractured family structure. I never secured stable sperm donors, but I did give them a decent upbringing just as soon as I was able to.
When the owners finally decided to sell that house, two of my kids had gone to college. I no longer needed that much house, so I started building my own, slightly smaller house. I called myself downsizing when I went from 5000 square feet to 4000. Of course the build out took forever. Then there was the copper bathtub debacle. We moved into an 1100 square foot, three bedroom luxury apartment just as marriage number three was falling apart. I insisted on the the new house being in my name alone because after having given my 3rd husband half of my company, I realized all of my assets were commingled with a white man. My last husband was white, and as my racial awareness increased, the delusion of white supremacy entered my consciousness and I was having none of that patriarchal nonsense. It was a massive point of contention, but it’s what I needed to feel secure. I’m no dummy. I knew the end was near. I could feel it. I regret nothing.
Then a funny thing happened. We had emotionally separated ages before we moved out of the city mansion. But with business assets commingled and my grade-school daughter at home, we hadn’t figured out how to let go. We finally did, and he vacated the apartment. That was the point when everything changed. Living single for the first time in ages was total freedom. No more tiptoeing around other people’s feelings and an ever-present peace settled in my household. It was magnificent. I had so many more spoons to allocate to myself.
My favorite clawfoot tub in the mansion was on the third floor. I lived on the second floor. As someone with chronic conditions and disabilities, that steep staircase ascent often prevented my descent into the relaxation of a warm bath, my preferred nightly ritual. My bathtubs are only a few steps from any point in my tiny space — a surprisingly welcomed luxury of living small.
My peace is now a non-negotiable. I realized that I loved my small space. There was a strange feeling of liberation that accompanied living tiny. I can confirm the veracity of the adage: What you own, owns you. When we left the mansion, I discarded or donated a third of my possessions. Another third came to the apartment. The final third was stored. I gave up the house I was building and leaned into tiny living. Minimalism hasn’t fully taken hold because I still like stuff.
Nonetheless, I commenced giving away as many possessions as I could. I whittled three storage units down to one. There was an oddly racialized response to my public downsizing. My Black friends checked on me because I was getting a divorce, I had shaved my decades long locs in the bathroom, Britney Spears style, and I wasn’t selling anything. Folks were making sure I wasn’t suicidal. My white friends were excited for me because I was living the dream: downsizing after sending kids to college and reinventing my aesthetic with the chop. My signature style, the blue-haired maverick, emerged shortly thereafter.
I assured everyone in a public Facebook post that I was, in fact, fine. I doubled down the following year and moved into a fancier, tiny apartment. I also traveled 80% of the following year, raising money for my third business — a diversity tech startup. Living tiny with a tween was easy when business kept me out of the house. The pandemic changed all that. Living with a full-blown teenager quarantined in a tiny space is a whole different matter. She has adjusted remarkably well. Technology probably keeps us both sane, despite the rampant racism in kids’ online games. My daughter hadn’t realized that she lived in a mansion because affluent kids don’t always experience their baseline as out of the ordinary. We laugh about it now. And we are grateful for the proximity that has brought us closer than we would have been with the option of retreating to our respective suites. My business morphed into 100% virtual offerings, so we are among the privileged percentage who can keep working despite the shutdowns. For that, I am deeply grateful.
I miss my epic closet that had a closet, five windows and a balcony. My bathtubs are very ordinary these days. My dreams of detailing my Tesla Model X in the driveway are on hold. For now, she’s parked in a deck and charged at supercharger stations on the rare occasion that I need to drive. Downsizing my love life was so worth it because I replaced the over-investment in someone else with a healthy investment in my own well-being.
Being able to stretch out would have been awesome during the pandemic. But getting cozy in our well-appointed tiny space has been so rewarding. Having a separate art studio was a saving grace in the height of the pandemic. I’m a fairly tall, clumsy humxn who started bumping into things 7 months into quarantine. I’ve damaged two toes, a foot, and a hand. Apparently foot injuries are on the rise as a complication of cabin fever. I’ve gotten to know my kiddo ways that would have been impossible pre-pandemic, and at such an important stage of her development. That has been the single biggest blessing of Covid-19 season. She can’t run away from me so there’s nothing but quality time! Six months into the pandemic, we welcomed a yorkie who has brightened our lives even more. But that’s an adventure for another post.