by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Heather Sundquist
I have to confess a fantasy of mine.
Although I live in a house that comfortably fits three children and four dogs, I am obsessed with small spaces.
I first noticed this propensity for small spaces when I myself was rather large. When I was pregnant with twins, my ex-husband did something exceptionally intuitive and thoughtful; instead of a minivan, he bought me a two-seater convertible coupe. Not practical maybe, but necessary. I could haul ass, blast music and let my hair blow wild in blissful solitude with no kids in tow.
Fast-forward several years to my first ultra marathon. I trained with some friends, Jon and Nancy Hill, and we traveled to Huntsville together for the 50K race. They own a trailer so we pulled that behind Jon’s truck and set up camp at the park. I assumed I would be so nervous that I would never sleep, but once I tucked into my tiny, ship-like bunk, cocooned in my sleeping bag, I slept better than ever before. I woke up rested and happy, ready to run.
Nine years ago we bought a house in Santa Barbara that is 1,900 square feet. My parents, my brother, his wife, my three kids and me plus a menagerie of dogs all pile in there and are happy as clams in our little stone house. We are definitely on top of each other in our cozy space, but our finest family memories have been crafted by being crammed together.
Today my life and my children take up plenty of space, so I indulge my secret fantasy of living small. My version of online porn is a website called Pop Top Heaven, and I frequent it when I can’t sleep or when I am procrastinating on a deadline. The site is for a store in California that sells Volkswagen campers. I particularly lust after VW Eurovan Campers. They are about the size of a normal van, but when you look inside you marvel at the incredible use of space. They are pop-tops, so the roof pops up to create a sleeping space for two, and you can push the sofa seat below into a bed. The kitchen consists of a mini refrigerator and a stove top, with a few cabinets for storage. A tiny hanging rod creates a closet in the back. My kids would have adored this when they were little, and I regret not buying one then. We could have put a rack on the back and toted their mini mountain bikes to campgrounds all around Texas, built campfires and slept under the stars. Don’t talk to me about the heat, mosquitoes, filthy public restrooms and associated inevitable whining, because this is my fantasy.
Today my fantasy does not include my children. We missed that window. They are too big and too teenagery, and my Eurovan likely does not have enough charger outlets to power their phones. They wouldn’t leave their sports or their friends for time in the woods with me, anyway, nor should they.
Without excess, my small space would curl around me like a shawl, keeping me safe and warm.
In my fantasy I see myself flying to Los Angeles, having a driver take me to Pop Top Heaven, and buying a VW Eurovan right off the lot. From there I drive to Highway 1 and head slowly up the coast, stopping anywhere I feel like stopping and staying as long as I feel like staying. I have brought with me: my boyfriend Matt, one small dog, a mountain of books and journals, my readers, copious bottles of cabernet, my Uggs, my trail shoes, my yoga mat, my French press coffee pot, an ENO hammock, my clip-on reading light, some flip flops and a hoodie sweatshirt. I see myself parking in a campground on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. I imagine we would stay in Carmel and Big Sur for quite a while—writing, reading, thinking, hiking, toasting sunsets, sitting by campfires and sleeping. I see our days bookended with steaming mugs of coffee in the morning chill, and a glass of red by campfire light in the evening. We would fall into a natural rhythm, waking up early with the sun and going to bed with the stars. With my life streamlined and simplified, the important matters would rise to the top and the debris would drain out the bottom. Without excess, my small space would curl around me like shawl, keeping me safe and warm. The clutter in my head would align with the clutter in my life—there would simply no longer be room for it. Instead, contentment would fully inhabit my space and me.
My fantasy ends when I realize that I miss the noisy, messy, beloved people who take up so much space in my home and in my heart, so I turn my van and head for home.