by Francine Prose
I landed at the house of Vicki Robin in early February.
The plan was that I, in between apartments, would live in her island home, in a room with a mini-fridge, microwave, and a view of the garden. She didn’t know if I’d be ok living in such a small space, so I sent her my article about living in a 150 sq. ft. apartment. She was, of course, convinced.
The rent was a third of what I was paying in the city, plus a little help around the house, which Vicki was not used to needing.
On her 73rd birthday, Vicki shoveled dirt and three cubic yards of gravel to make herself a new parking space. Why not just hire someone? Because this is the kind of life that has freed Vicki from traditional work for the last five decades.
At 75, she was finally ready to accept a little help. I dug tree holes, took out the compost, and vacuumed, until I broke her vacuum and bought us a robovac.
What Tiny Rent Did to Me
My room was tiny, but I felt this wide-open space that was entirely mental. It was mental because it was financial.
I had noticed, back in my $1,000/month, 690 sq. ft. apartment I had shared, that in the mornings, it was hard to sit with my morning pages. The day’s work was calling. And the day’s work was calling because rent was calling.
At Vicki’s, with my rent temporarily reduced to a third of what I’d been paying, sitting down to write in the morning felt fully safe. I knew I could burn through those hours in the morning and still not be in financial trouble.
This was a tiny taste of how Vicki lives. Time is her medium.
What Every Writer Can Learn from Vicki Robin
- You can buy everything used. The thrift store is your friend. It’s good for the environment and your writing life.
- Don’t waste time climbing the social ladder. Avoid the fancy people and their fancy (expensive) habits.
- Cultivate joyful habits that also happen to be cheap. Seriously, make a list. Mine: easy hiking that also includes a beautiful view, having friends over for dinner, lying in a hammock reading.
- Reuse everything. Don’t buy single-use products. Use plastic food containers instead of Ziploc bags (these are my favs). Use rags instead of paper towels. Don’t bother with paper plates or fast fashion.
- Adopt a financial identity. Vicky says, “I buy my freedom with my frugality every day.” I want my financial identity to be like a bodyguard for my writing life. Back away, give it room, it can’t be bothered. Maybe my mantra should be like, “I buy my writing life with every dollar I save.”
My Writer’s Financial Identity
I want my financial identity to be two-pronged:
- Indignant. I know there are well-funded forces out there doing everything they can to get as much of my money as possible. (See: Brandwashed) And that if I spend all my money on things that bolster my ego, make me feel accepted, and that I would never even have thought of buying otherwise, I have lost.
- Self-respecting. I am an artist who believes in her work, its value, and in order to do that work, I need time, mental space, and creative energy. All the time, mental space, and creative energy I give to making rent on an apartment in the best neighborhood, dinners I was too embarrassed to say I couldn’t afford, and clothes that are supposed to make me feel prettier, I steal from my art.
It all makes sense on paper. Now to live it, live it, live it.
Step one: move out of the cool neighborhood, done.
Now I just have the rest of my life, which I feel will be just a little different, thanks to my time living with Vicki Robin.
Listen to the podcast here:
Vicki also wrote a wonderful post about our time together here.