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My life in storage

Marketplace Staff Jan 29, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: Here’s a real estate story that’s not about the real estate at all.

Commentator James Braly has boiled his life down to the bare essentials. It’s a variation of the old argument about living to work, or working to live.

Braly sold his luxury Manhattan apartment and moved downstairs. To the storage unit in the basement. So he can live and work.

JAMES BRALY: The great thing about living in my storage unit is you don’t need an alarm clock.

My headboard is the door to the service elevator shaft, and my sloped ceiling the underside of the back stairs. So when the building wakes up, I do too.

Behind me, the elevator operator hoists construction workers up to renovate another castle in the sky. Directly overhead, the dog walker descends, pulled by her hyperactive little pug scratching his way outside for his canine toilette. While in the middle of it all, unbeknownst to them, nestled amongst the packing boxes, a writer opens his eyes. It’s another day in storage.

I didn’t always live this way. I used to make a lot of money, writing speeches for pharmaceutical executives to finance my dream of writing autobiographical stories. But the only thing I seemed to have time to write besides speeches were checks on my glorious apartment overlooking Central Park. Instead of becoming a writer, I’d become a lifestyle.

So I downsized to a place I could afford to write in. And on the day I moved out of my apartment, I moved in to my storage unit, stacking the contents of the luxurious life I used to live, concrete floor to concrete ceiling. Leaving just enough room for the essentials: an air mattress, and a desk.

It’s conveniently located a few floors down in the same building; it has a toilet and a sink, installed by the art dealer who once stored paintings here; and the lease doesn’t say anything about storing people.

And now, I’m writing. I’ve been living in storage for two years now, and it’s paying off. My monologue is opening Off-Broadway this fall. My book will be published next spring. So there’s actually a reason to get up in the morning, when I hear that little pug panting in the service elevator behind my bed on his way back up from the street — like a canine snooze alarm.

I do miss the money. Especially when I take a shower — twice a week, 10 blocks away at the gym. Or when I see my apartment back on the market, advertised in a glossy real estate magazine, and am reminded I can no longer afford to live there.

But I’ve got my little concrete chrysalis: 30 square feet of usable space. And that’s big enough to dream. And at 15 percent of what I used to pay, cheap enough to give me the time to pursue it. What more can you ask of home?

Braly’s bed is right under the stairs. He’s awoken each morning by the scampering and panting of dogs as the resident dog walker makes her morning trek outside.

The “bedroom” of Braly’s storage unit.

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