Here are some ways I’ve discovered to thrive in small spaces with a romantic partner.
We didn't have inner peace. No, what we had was crippling debt and serious anxiety.
When my husband and I were on the hunt for a cure, we visited the open house of a Vipassana center in an effort to bring a sense of calm to our little world via meditation. We spent the afternoon touring the tranquil gardens, learning the history of the practice, and hearing testimonies of its benefits.
On the two-hour ride back home, we had an impassioned conversation about how great it would be sign up for the 10 straight days of guided silence, eating only clean vegetarian food, unplugged from technology and the chaos of life. Unfortunately, we couldn't. There was no realistic way we could leave our hourly jobs for that long and still make rent, but we explored all our options for a way to take a piece of the tranquility home with us.
We didn't start meditating daily. We didn't eliminate toxins from our diets. We didn't donate all of our worldly possessions in a vow of minimalism.
No, we decided that half of meditation was just sitting on the ground. So, like normal people, we got rid of our couch.
As I reflect on this experiment, a part of me wants to hang my head in shame. While our creative efforts to apply something from the open house should be applauded, I can only imagine the look of disappointment the monks would have given us had we told them our takeaway.
Regardless of how silly (and not based in Vipassana meditation) the initial idea was, it was a lifestyle change that altered our lives. Except for a few awkward moments when guests came over and we had to explain why, in our decently sized living room, there was no seating besides the oversized pillows scattered around a coffee table, I'd have to say it was for the better.
We watched a lot less TV.
Our dining room table was from IKEA and our bed previously belonged to a friend's grandmother. But the smart TV plastered to the wall was something we were proud of. There were times we didn't even watch the shows we turned on. We simply basked in the blue glow while we sat on our couch.
Without the height of the couch, the TV was at an awkward angle for us to watch, forcing us to crane our necks unnaturally when we sat on the floor. After experimenting with different positions, we gave up. We turned the TV off.
It took physical discomfort for us to realize that we didn't even like most of the shows we watched. It was just something to do. More and more, we turned off our prized possession and started spending our evenings playing cards, cooking real food, and reading actual books.
Being gym-shy was no longer an excuse not to be active.
You know what a couch is really good at? Taking up a whole ton of space. Suddenly, with a quick slide of the coffee table, I had the space to do a cartwheel straight across the room. I'm not that into gymnastics, but I did take advantage of the space to do yoga and other workouts without colliding into furniture. And with no eyes but the cat's on me as I struggled with a downward dog.
We stopped being hermits.
There were times we would be sitting on our oversized pillows, surrounded by space and the promise of serenity, and complain about being bored. Nobody wants to play cards and read all the time. So we would mutter some insensitive phrases toward the couchless living room before walking out the door to meet some friends. When we might have called it a night and flipped on the TV, we were now making plans or going on spontaneous adventures for the sole purpose of not sitting on our floor.
Our mind-body connections strengthened.
A funny thing happened when we were trying to maintain decent posture. Because we weren't allowing our bodies to slouch into a totally useless position, our minds followed suit in remaining engaged. Our attention was sharper, our focus was improved, and our energy levels rose.
We realized just how great the connection was between our minds and our bodies. When we were constantly tuned into methods of escapism via screens and inadvertently ignoring our present state of being, we became out of touch with our own selves. The effort that it took to sit on the ground, using our own muscles to support our backs, gave us a greater appreciation for our bodies and encouraged us to care for them better.
We focused on each other.
The focus we obtained from the increased mind-body connection wasn't only an internal discovery. We connected more fully with each other as partners. In the evenings, when going out would have been far too wild with work the next day but we didn't have the desire to engage in a game or books, we talked. And — prepare yourself for a cliche — we listened. We sipped our bad wine or good beer as we told each other our stories, dreams, and fears that we had probably shared a thousand times in passing. But this time it felt like we were really learning about each other. It felt like when we were first dating, even though those days were far behind us.
I vividly remember sitting on the floor one evening. My husband was reading a book while I wrote, both with a glass of bourbon. A Middle Eastern Pandora station played quietly in the background. We were still saddled with debt and had regular quarter-century crises, but in that moment, I felt content. It was a feeling I hadn't had in a long while. It was the feeling I was hoping to get from the Vipassana meditation retreat.
But a home isn't meant to be without a place of casual comfort. So after a few months, we replaced our couch. While the experiment, now three years behind us, proved not to be a long-term cure for the chaos, it did serve as a strange alternative for meditation — one that we would do again. Just as the Vipassana meditation retreat we were hoping to go on was 10 days of disciplined meditation designed to give you the tools to find peace when you return home, our time without a couch was an experience with a lasting impact, even after we had furniture again. And both have a "shelf life" that requires you to repeat the process after the effects have worn off.
It might be time to haul our couch to the basement.