The only thing that saved Ken Freemont from insanity was his obsession with leaving the city and living in a small but stylish tiny house in the woods.
It was all that kept him going.
In the last eight months, he and Carol, his girlfriend of three years, had both lost their jobs, had health scares, and had been confined by Covid restrictions to a life largely inside their one-bedroom apartment on the East Side.
It had gotten ugly. Between the stress of the situation, their uncertain futures and the fact that they were locked in a 472 square foot space together everyday, their arguments had become more frequent and more bitter.
Carol spent increasingly large amounts of her time just walking around the empty city taking photographs. Ken spent his days ever more consumed with the details of his tiny house.
The tiny house was just a fantasy, of course. But it seemed to be exactly what he needed. He spent hours scanning the web for information and watching countless YouTube videos.
Eventually, he figured out exactly what he wanted. His own custom sanctuary. Something he could picture easily in his head and describe to people in detail.
The surroundings were essential. He went back and forth between a place on a rocky, deserted beach or in a dense, thick woods. Ultimately, he decided on the woods.
A mountain location. Remote. No one around. Yet, with easy access to a town with a grocery store, some bars and restaurants and maybe a movie theater in it. He still wasn’t sure of the exact, physical location. But he knew it was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Just the thought of the region’s cool, gray days made him happy. And the storms. It had been so long since he had experienced an actual thunderstorm. Pounding rain. Lightning. Booming skies.
He became consumed with the details. Which wood did he want for the cladding? Did he want a real staircase or were ladders enough to reach his twin loft spaces? A full-sized refrigerator or a mini-fridge?
He quickly realized he would have to carefully evaluate what items would actually be worth having. Everything had to be carefully considered. They had to be pieces for a calm and orderly life. No clutter. No distractions. Only what really mattered.
He was the sort of person who appreciated the experience of taking an LP out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable and listening to it the way it had originally been intended.
He had a similar love of books. Traditional, made-of-paper, books. So did Carol. Books were not just a means of doing something, they were beautiful objects in themselves. Cherished mementos.
The same could be said for Ken’s vast collection of DVDs. Many were special, deluxe editions he had paid considerable amounts of money for. More importantly, as with the books and records, they were reminders. Souvenirs of an experience.
All of which he knew was completely impractical in the small space he imagined his new life in.
He understood the capabilities of digital media. How they could provide him access to huge volumes of material without requiring almost any actual space.
He could listen to infinitely more, and different, music by streaming it. The Criterion Channel could give him access to a catalogue of great films which would have been inconceivable even ten years ago. No DVDs required. As for books, a single Kindle device could provide him access to almost every novel he had ever read, considered reading, or wanted to read in the future.
Physical items were almost irrelevant in a world with such complete access. Almost.
Which led Ken to his greatest joy of all. Choosing what he kept.
Ten books. Ten movies. Ten LPs. It became like a puzzle to him. A variation of picking things for life on a desert island. However, in this case, his desert was a tastefully designed, Scandi-inspired, custom-built tiny house somewhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
If it wasn’t used daily, you probably didn’t need it. Wasn’t that what they said about culling your possessions? You either really needed it or kept it because it “sparked joy.”
Eventually, after a great many rewrites and revisions, he had it. He had a list of the ten movies he would allow himself to keep as DVDs. A list of the LPs he would keep. A list of the books he would keep and proudly display.
It had been culled, revised and debated over for weeks in his head. But he had it. A list of things worth keeping.
When Carol walked through the door, she saw the expression of satisfaction on his face. She asked him what he had been doing.
She knew, in vague terms, that Ken had been interested in tiny houses and spent lots of time looking at them online. But she had no idea how obsessive he had gotten about it. How specific his vision had become.
He excitedly showed her the photos he had gathered of tiny houses similar to the one he wanted. Talked about the mountain setting it would be located in. Talked about the very carefully curated items which would he would allow himself to purchase or retain.
It all got him increasingly excited. He animatedly told her about his morning rituals drinking coffee on the deck, the quiet dinners prepared in his compact kitchen, the movies he would watch from his built-in sofa.
At first, she was thrilled. Carol hadn’t seen him so happy in a long time.
However, the more she listened, the more she became filled with a sadness that slowly crept through her entire body.
She felt it spread from her chest to her arms and legs as if it were a visible thing. A pool of flowing black liquid inside her, soaking her body one section at a time.
Ken stopped. “You OK?” he asked.
“Fine” she lied. “Go on, tell me more about the skylight above the bed.”
He reluctantly started up again with the details of his fantasy. A small, well-designed space with Scandi influence. Digital access to vast libraries of books, music and movies balanced with a few physical copies of his favorites.
His face lit up as he talked about his fantasy world in such detail. A world which would make him excited about life again. A world without her.