Why I Traded In My Spacious L.A. Abode for an 88-Square-Foot NYC Bedroom

Updated 05/05/19

I miss the saturated pink sunsets and the lazy starless nights, the quadruple lane changes, the glimmer of neon lights, the bougainvillea, and the heavy hum of the Santa Anas. It took almost six years, but Los Angeles finally seduced me with its beauty by neglect and its sprawl. The truth is that I wanted to leave L.A. the moment I arrived in August 2012. But I didn't actually do anything about it until very recently, when it finally felt like a home.

Within the past year, I’ve gone from living alone in a spacious one-bedroom apartment with sweeping views of Silver Lake to living with my then boyfriend in an equally roomy space in Los Feliz—though there was quite a bit less privacy—and now I find myself in Brooklyn sharing a three-bedroom apartment with two other women (and barely enough room to turn around). Most would probably hope for an inverse trajectory, but not me.

Moving to a Smaller Space
Isabella Behravan;Hadley Mendelsohn ; Graphic: Viviana Duron

When I lived by myself, I usually didn’t know what to do with all the rooms—I would literally set timers as reminders to go make use of another area in the apartment… 30 minutes with Rachel Maddow in the living room, 10 in the kitchen to tidy up, 30 in the dining room to catch up with a friend, and 20 on the porch if I’d spent too much time inside that day. I even had two separate entrances, and I blocked one of them the entire time I lived there with a room divider. If I wasn’t vigilant about this game of musical chairs, I’d only ever retreat to the bedroom.

And, to be honest, that was all I really needed.

It took me a while to realize that, though, because I was just grateful to be in a neighborhood I liked. I didn’t want to be in L.A. after college—it was always New York—and because it felt like a bigger risk to stay where I was than to try something new, I knew I should at least feel at home in my apartment. Since I was in such a rush to get out at first, I never expected to build a life in L.A. For two years, all the artwork I collected leaned lazily on the floor, and I never even bothered to set up heating.

All because I had the intention of trading it in for New York as soon as I could.

Moving Across the Country
Hadley Mendelsohn ; Graphic: Viviana Duron

As hard as I tried to see Los Angeles as a temporary thing, living from milestone to milestone and telling myself I’d reassess after (Just give me until November, and then I’ll start making moves if that’s what I still want), I eventually found myself on the brink of a serious relationship and fully invested in my job, which was based in L.A. Late last summer, right as I could feel myself falling in love, I decided to share my New York career aspirations with our editorial director, my boss. I knew that if I didn’t ask then, I never would, and luckily, she fully supported the relocation, though it would have to wait until April.

So I continued living, deepening my relationships with the city and the people I loved in it. It was a long waiting period, so something shifted: The New York dream started to feel like someone else’s, and I put it on hold (though I still didn’t hang anything up on the walls and by then had convinced myself the place was haunted). I finally had a moment of introspection in December that pushed me to take the plunge. I’m not one of those decisive “quit while you’re ahead” types; I wear things down to the bone and never rip off the bandage.

David Foster Wallace sums up these tendencies well in Infinite Jest: “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” I’d worn L.A. out, and it was time to give up the comfort of the sunshine and extra space of Southern California for the grit of New York City—but not just yet.

Moving to New York
Hadley Mendelsohn

To save up money for the relocation, I moved in with my then boyfriend. Picking up shop and moving in with someone I loved despite our pending separation felt just stupid enough to be smart (it wasn’t and it was). It was jarring to go from a solo dweller to sharing a space with a significant other who, despite being in love with me, had very little respect for my things and my boundaries as a roommate. Though it was temporary, we made it feel like a home for me, sprinkling some of my favorite pieces into the living room and bedroom (my silver lamp was a must).

In retrospect, I can see that I do indeed want that life someday—a well-curated home and a shared space with someone I love in a beautiful neighborhood with dogs and families and trees—but that lifestyle just made me feel so much older than I was. I also now realize I had way too many things for someone as uninterested in nesting as I am at this point in my life.

Why I Left Los Angeles
Isabella Behravan;Hadley Mendelsohn ; Graphic: Viviana Duron

Then March arrived, and I was to pack up my things and go. Lucky for me, my New York–based sister’s second roommate was moving to Texas that month, so I was able to secure a bedroom before landing at the airport. But, unlike the other options out there, I had no part in choosing it or decorating it. My collection of rattan furniture, a very beloved Hawaiian-print chair, and a spunky midcentury-modern houndstooth sofa wouldn’t be making the cross-country trip with me. With only 88 square feet to work with, all I could fit was a full-size bed and a dresser inherited by the previous tenant.

I shipped a few knickknacks and keepsakes and the sliver arc lamp that came with me to each apartment, but other than that, I had to start anew. Purging all the items I had collected was the right move—it felt freeing. Instead of upgrading to more space with room to roam, I needed something smaller to give me more structure. My new bedroom in New York is doing just that. Like the city, my room feels a bit cramped, and the only way to pack anything in is vertically. So the first things I did were get curtains for a semblance of privacy and installed floating shelves to add storage and display space for my photos and artwork.

Leaving California and Where to Move
Hadley Mendelsohn

Then I focused on my bed since that was really the only place that offered a decorating opportunity to express my personal style. I decided to get California-based bedding from (Matteo Los Angeles) to carry some of that quintessential L.A style that I loved to New York with me. And while I rarely ever use the living room and there isn’t even a dining area to speak of, I finally feel at ease in a home.

There’s something about the smallness and once-removed-ness of my apartment here in Brooklyn that makes me feel younger, freer than I ever did in L.A. I can go to my room and not feel strange or guilty for making use of the other rooms. Plus, having less room inside makes me want to go out and explore more because, at the risk of sounding cliché, there is just so much opportunity here.

Moving to New York—Advice
Hadley Mendelsohn ; Graphic: Viviana Duron

Like many West Coast babies, I grew up with a very curated vision of New York City. It represented independence, ambition, excitement, freedom… I’d think of the quick pace of click-clacking heels, of the back-to-back meetings, of the passion in plain sight. So far, I haven’t been all that far off base—I interact with more people by 9 a.m. in New York than I did in an entire day in Los Angeles. And I feel much smaller here, though less anonymous.

While I left so much more than just cotton candy clouds and better produce in L.A., the risk and the challenge of downsizing feel worth it. Maybe I feel more at home in this 88-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn with an ugly view and only a small collection of my items because I’m a “nook person,” as writer Durga Chew-Bose calls us in Too Much and Not the Mood. "Nook people are those of us who need solitude, but also the sound of someone puttering in the next room. … Smallness primes us to eventually take up space," she writes.

Maybe I need to feel small and cramped to get out of my comfort zone and to learn how to fill larger spaces, to nest, and to love without reservation.

The Books That Brought Me Comfort During the Move..

Eve Babitz Slow Days, Fast Company $11
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Durga Chew-Bose Too Much and Not the Mood $10
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bell hooks All About Love $11
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Sarah Manguso 300 Arguements $10
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Tonight I'm Someone Else Chelsea Hodson $10
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Maggie Nelson Bluets $14
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Melissa Broder So Sad Today $10
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