Thinking small

Unlike a lot of office workers, and even some at Day Job, I have a private office with a door that closes. It isn’t big, but it is all mine, and when the hallway gets noisy I can close the door. It is big enough for an impromptu meeting, or if I have to train an intern.

I’ve been reading a design book about Japanese apartments called Tokyo: a certain style. It is essentially a photo essay of how everyday Tokyo residents really live: not the traditionalist minimalism of design magazines, but a pieced-together dwelling which in many cases felt more like nests than apartments. Even the biggest of the bunch were little by American standards, and the smallest were smaller than jail cells or cruise ship cabins. The usual way of describing a room size is by how many tatami mats fill it, and these are standardized to 90 by 180 cm. My little office is about the size of a 4.5 tatami space (without a bedding closet) — a 270 cm square — room, or about 78.5 square feet.

The tiniest lodgings, with a toilet down the hall, but hotplate, rice cooker and sink (usually), are three mats large and even with the added bedding closet were about 61 square feet. That half again as large as a king size bed, or half the size of a modern parking space. It is a fascinating (but not depressing) look into how people, when given choices, choose to live. We don’t meet the residents in the book, but more than a few are artisans choosing something other than a corporate-job life.

Why do I bring this up? Because more than a few of us would be willing to “live small” by choice when it comes to our religious lives. (Household lives, too, but this isn’t that kind of blog.) People who are happy to believe that when “two or three” are gathered in Jesus’ name that he will be in the midst of them. People who choose messy little situations, knowing that the “austere-ism” is not itself an indication of having the heart truths. (That, more than anything else, is why I’m suspcious of any zealot, on the left or right.) Most would rather have more than less — more options, certainly — but there will always be a place for those who know what they want and will have no more, thank you. I have “enough” for this.

That’s why churches “too small to live” often do live, and sometimes do extraordinary ministry, even if they don’t have the means to let others know.

About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 44, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

3 thoughts on “Thinking small

  1. I did a Google search to get a perspective on what size you’re talking about (since I don’t have the book) and got quite an eye opener! This final year of seminary we’re sharing our home between four adults and one teen (and three large dogs) — and from time to time we’ve felt a little “cramped.” I’m going to buy that book and look at it everytime I want to complain about only having two bathrooms. Thanks for the lesson in gratitude.

  2. The lodging that amazes me most it the independent leather-worker who lives in a three-mat room, with three commercial leather sewing machines. A lot of people would think that space barely large enough to store the sewing machines, much less work there, much less live there. (He sleeps in a sleeping bag.)

    Here’s an image of an almost-empty three-mat hotel room for context: http://www.japan-101.com/photos/showimage.php?i=55226

    I had a daydream after reading the book, something about even a house church of “two or three” having a hard time fitting . . .

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