So I’ve had a surprising amount of comments about my man-cave post from a couple of weeks back, and I’m happy to say that the responses were universally good. Far from the “suck it up and quit whining” replies I was in slight fear of, I instead got some good encouragement from other bloggers and other men my age who live in even more cramped quarters with sometimes more than one child. These guys provided me some much-needed solidarity in my hunt to find a solution to the man-cave dilemma.
As it turns out, my hunt was over almost before it started, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I wanted to take this post to show you some of the ideas I found with regards to carving out a space for oneself in a small, shared living area.
First, and most obvious, is to convert a room of your house, a basement, or a garage into a sort of separate sanctuary. This would be the most ideal situation because it doesn’t take you too far from home base and doesn’t require much additional expense. To help you with the conversion, there are a variety of websites that offer furniture and ideas specifically tailored to the task. Some of these are predictable theme caves, while my own personal preference would be more like a Winslow Homer study. Lots of wood and leather. Oh well, this idea got tossed out for me straightaway because I have neither a basement, spare room, nor a garage.
Plan B is to rent a small space somewhere else. This is at once tricky and deceptively affordable, even in Evanston. Tricky because you’re leaving most of your prized possessions unwatched for large chunks of time, which I always shy away from doing because I feel like it invites vandalism or theft, especially in a communal or remote location. A storage locker would be an affordable storage solution, but a man-cave is about far more than just storage, so we need something that can at least hold the majority of our gear AND one or two people. In Evanston, there was a studio apartment for rent for $690.00 a month. This sounds horrifically prohibitive for those of us who have children who handle most of our surplus income management, but if you’re able to pay off a car, for example, you could cut the effective cost down into the $300 range, which is not horrible for a space meant for habitation. This was a 650 sq foot apartment with hardwood floors and an included kitchenette and bath. This is about as good as a man-cave would ever need to be in my opinion. If you can’t fit all of your stuff into 650 square feet, you need to sell some of your stuff.
But what about us regular guys? The ones who have a hundred bucks a month of extra spending money to ourselves (maybe)? I found a listing also in Evanston to rent an artist’s studio space, 200 square feet, for $145 a month. This I thought was very reasonable as well. It loses a lot in the downgrade, including the bathroom, but it did have a sink and electricity and lights so it has a slight immediate advantage over something like a finished basement. Disadvantages are, like I mentioned above, a somewhat communal building space with who-knows-what for locks and security. Just the same, if you wanted a space to do something like darkroom photography it would be pretty excellent. I’m a writer, so I don’t need a ton of space or bells and whistles, I just need somewhere comfortable away from too many distractions where I can sink into some writing for an hour or two. I’m imagining an artist’s space would be loud-ish, but that’s why God gave us earphones.
But alas, what about us guys that can’t even justify $145 a month to keep our sanity and personal sanctity? There are some other solutions for mobile, virtual, or micro-man-caves that I explored as well. The first idea I found, which I thought was actually pretty savvy, was to take photos of your prized possessions and make a laptop wallpaper collage out of them. I actually did this and I was surprised to note that it DID make me feel like wherever I was using my laptop got a little more comfortable. Just the images right there for your eyes to glance over inadvertently, images of you and the things that make you feel at home, had an effect. Another interesting, but slightly expensive idea I couldn’t explore was to purchase an old-style rolltop desk with a lock. This way when you step away from your desk you can just pull the cover down and lock it and you’ve got instant exclusivity and security from the curious hands of your children or the just-put-this-mail-anywhere carelessness of grown up family members. I do love different types of desk, but my home desk is pretty much perfect for me. It’s an enormous slab of mahogany with deep drawers and a wide leg space. I’d sooner leave the apartment and move away entirely than give up my desk. Finally, for the truly strapped, I found a neat little iPhone app on iTunes for $1.99 that lets you walk through a 3D virtual art gallery and on the walls of the gallery are the photos you’ve got stored in the phone’s memory.
So there’s some ideas to get you started. If you’re completely stuck and have no money to spend, I do strongly encourage you to try the laptop wallpaper trick. Even if it’s just for an instant every day, you can see the things you cherish. It makes them seem real, as opposed to just an inconstant memory or an unpleasant contemplation when you remember that these things are stuffed in a basement somewhere.
Tune in next week for the story of how I decided to tackle the man-cave issue, and how my wife became a surprising ally in my hunt.