The Apartment

Setting up home is always an equally exciting and daunting prospect to me. The opportunity to start afresh seems to offer hope. That same hope I often feel at the start of a new year; a chance to clear the slate and start over. (Read: a chance to make my place impossibly ordered with the furniture perfectly coordinated and just the right mix of duck egg blue, grey tones and rose gold.)  But it’s also daunting. How can I be sure I will get it right? How can I make my place functional and aesthetically pleasing? (Baby friendly, toddler friendly, enough cushions to keep the wife happy and not aggravate the husband etc etc.)

The move to Japan provided just this opportunity. And in Japan no less. The place where everything is ordered and organised. The place of perfect storage solutions like saucepans in a hatch in the kitchen floor, secret shelves and drawers in walls, lounge rooms that become bedrooms and so on. So as we prepared to leave Australia, for once we managed to clear out our stuff. An example: My affectionately (disturbingly??) named”fetish boxes” (boxes of letters and diaries covered in magazine cut out pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio and Devon Sawyer) had travelled from the top of my wardrobe in my family home, to our first apartment in Sydney, back to my parents’ garage and finally into the shed of our house in Wollongong. Knowing that all the best storage solutions in Japan would not create space to house these superfluous boxes, I painstakingly sorted through them, saving just one box worth of teenage angsty memories.

The question that hung over us for some time was, just how small would our apartment be? We had seen some videos of studio apartments in Tokyo that were depressingly small, dark and dingy and to say I was anxious would be an understatement.

In the end, we got our own whole 73 square metres and undertook the equally exciting and daunting project of setting it up. But before I detail that, first let me tell you, there were things about living in a Japanese apartment that we expected. A toilet with a bidet, for example. (I accidentally used this for the first time a couple of days ago. It made me jump which sent water everywhere, including all over me. Still not sure how I feel about these.) And there were things that surprised us. For example, an overly large kitchen sink with no plug. How was I were we going to wash up? (Apparently you just wash under running water. A rather large adjustment for an Australian who has grown up with an acute awareness of water conservation.) There were also things that just plain confused us. The garbage collection here is next level. There are four categories – combustibles, non-combustibles, plastic bottles and recyclables which itself must be broken down into another three categories – paper, glass and cans. I’m just relieved that we live in an apartment so we don’t have to get the days right for putting out the right rubbish. I have visions of myself performing ridiculous routines to get the garbage out: Throwing it off the balcony and all our secrets rubbish spilling everywhere, running out onto the street with baby under arm and toddler in tow (all of us in pyjamas of course) screaming for the truck to wait, or just having piles of it accumulating in the kitchen with rats running around. Anyway, I think we’ve got the hang of it now. And if in doubt, throw it in combustibles. Anything will burn right?

Back to the setting up. The things we had shipped over (mostly clothes, toys, kitchenware) were delayed, so we spent the first two weeks living minimally. We carefully selected some furniture: two lounges and a small dining table, an Ikea storage cube for the toys, a bed for us, a day bed for Aria and a chest of drawers for the children. The apartment felt luxuriously large and things remained incredibly tidy. Until Tuesday the 4th October. The day our carefully selected possessions arrived. My concern began as I ticked off box after box brought in by the movers. 36 boxes to be precise. I had them place most of them in our living room starting at the window. It was too late by the time I realised that I no longer had access to the door, the balcony, the washing (sad face). I was boxed in.

Excitement to finally have particular things we had been missing quickly turned to despair as we went through boxes of things we had not missed and certainly did not need. We had been getting by just fine with one spoon and a pair of chopsticks each and now our 56 piece Stanley Rogers cutlery set seemed like a joke. Who actually needs eight dessert spoons, eight soup spoons and eight teaspoons? That’s 24 spoons (when all you need is a knife)! For two people and a toddler who has her own spoons anyway. Our kitchen had seemed surprisingly spacious, until we started unpacking. Eventually certain items made it out of one box only to be placed straight into another box to be shipped home.

And then there was the clothes situation. For some reason, I had packed every item of clothing I owned. Something about the excellent storage solutions available here. However, our bedroom comes with just one ‘walk-in’ wardrobe. And by walk-in, I mean step inside the door and look at one railing on which to hang your clothes and a large, deep shelf above it. Where were the drawers, the shelves, the shoe racks, the secret drawers in walls? Where would I put my four shipping boxes worth of clothes that I never wear? Much to Bede’s delight, inspired by Anuschka Rees’s The Curated Closet, I am in the process of purging the clothes I’ve hung onto for far too long or even the ones I’ve bought recently that are unnecessary, ill-fitting or just plain ugly. I may now be able to compete with Bede for who has the least amount of clothes. I think I am winning. (Quick note during proof read from Bede: so so delighted about this “Curated Closet” – I even upped the stakes by offering an ‘error budget’ to replace things that were thrown out that shouldn’t have been. That way, Nat would err more on the side of toss than keep when it came to the tricky ones.)

So, for us, our Japanese apartment does not have the amazing storage solutions we had envisioned. But it has been the motivation we needed to get rid of the unnecessary junk cluttering up our lives. And I think that is better.

The setting up home experience is ongoing. My favourite linen mint-coloured cushions that I sent from home clash with our new duck-egg blue coloured lounge. Unfortunately we accidentally shipped our cheapo Aldi rug that had been trashed by kids, but the need to protect the rental carpet means it has found a home in our living room (after a good strip clean). The toys are exploding beyond the toy storage solution we purchased and the curtains we bought for the window (apartments don’t come with curtains here, just the hooks) are too short and sit an awkward ten centimetres off the floor. But this is our home. The home of a 30-something year old woman who loves the idea of being stylish but lacks a sense of style, her husband who hates cushions and is all about function over form, a toddler who doesn’t know how to pick up after herself and a baby who likes to contribute with a vomit here or there. No matter how many trips to Ikea I do, or how many inspiring pictures I pin on Pinterest, the little quirks will be what make our apartment our home.

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