I’m almost living the dream. Well, my dream. My simple dream. In the land of super-sized homes (and almost everything else), I dream of just enough space to make the everyday magic happen. Sunrise Spot has definitely delivered on that dream. What I lost in space is made up for with day-long natural light from the large windows. The spring air wafts through the entire apartment effortlessly. So, whether I’m spreading out pages from our local newspaper on the kitchen floor to repot a plant or topping off our windowsill herb and vegetable garden with a handful of extra-rich homemade compost, or putting down a drop cloth over the rug in the living room in order to create a hand-made birthday or holiday card for someone special, there is always just enough space for the project. So when the thought crossed my mind to add new family members into the mix, I had no reservations that there wouldn’t be enough room for four of us.
Sawyer and I share our little apartment with two fluffy grey kittens. We rescued the brother and sister tabbies from an upstate New York shelter called F.A.C.T. (Fight Animal Cruelty Today). We brought them home with us in a single Sherpa crate that Sawyer had received as a hand-me-down from his father. Penelope – the quirky, dainty-pawed female – and Gatsby – the sassy pink-nosed rascal – quickly adjusted to their new home.
At ten months old, they are fuzzy little balls of energy, always on the go. Whether they are racing each other around the apartment, rough-housing over who gets to play with the hand-made catnip-filled carrot, or climbing on their kitty condo that I bought them for Christmas, they are always moving – which means that Sawyer and I are always aware of where we’re stepping, just in case.
Gatsby and Penelope’s addition to our little home held many little unexpected blessings, and their presence has taught us many lessons on how to live simply and purposefully with pets.
Keeping one cat happy – let alone two – in a small apartment is usually an adventure all in its own, as most cat-owners can attest. Gatsby and Penelope are strictly indoor cats, as there is a busy road to maneuver steps outside our front door. They are happy nonetheless. However, most happy cats are luxurious ones, and luxury is always hard work behind the scenes and even more difficult when trying to keep luxuries both simplistic and wholistic. Gatsby in particular detests dirty surroundings. He is much more content in a clean apartment than a dirty one.
I was not born with the innate virtue of cleanliness. No, my parents – and most certainly my mother – could sit you down and tell you all the horror stories from my childhood that wouldn’t wrap up even over a five-course meal served at Parisian pace and standard. Parents everywhere – you can breathe a sigh of relief – as I can honestly tell you that I grew out of my messiness. It was an abrupt change, during my first year away at college, when I finally had ‘my own space’ and the only caretaker was – suddenly – me. Now Sawyer can confirm that I am the taskmaster when it comes to cleaning Sunrise Spot and it’s nooks and crannies.
When living in a small apartment, a little bit of cat hair can become a huge amount of cat hair in the blink of an eye. In Sunrise Spot, I can proudly say that only a couple minutes a day (in general) are needed to sweep up and trash cat hair, loose crumbs, and other debris brought in throughout the day. Keeping my space clutter-free promotes a sense of wellbeing that I do not substitute for a lazy half hour on the couch. Plus, the few minutes I put aside for cleanliness each day allows me to enjoy my time more than lounging most days and then spending an entire Sunday afternoon deep-cleaning everything.
Let’s talk litter box. Cats – similarly to humans – don’t want to live or go to the restroom in fetid and filthy surroundings. With two cats and one litter box tucked away in a corner of the bathroom, I dedicate five minutes to cleaning out their box twice daily; once in the morning before work, and once when I come back home. Cat urine contains ammonia, which smells strongly to begin with, but becomes stronger the longer it sits out waiting for someone to scoop it. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia – whether it is an acute exposure or over time – causes immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract that can result in more serious conditions such as blindness and lung damage. While I do not assume that my eyesight has become poorer over the last ten months because of my cats’ litter box, even lower concentrations of ammonia can cause coughing as well as nose and throat irritation. Sawyer and I used to haggle each other over whose turn it was to clean the litter box, but it has now become a ritual that I enjoy doing: knowing that my cats have a clean restroom area and that Sunrise Spot is looking and smelling its best is knowledge that I treasure. Also, it takes an alarmingly short time for possessions such as your clothes, sheets, towels, curtains, and even the old paint on the living room walls to absorb the smell of the box. There is nothing wrong – in my mind – in taking pleasure from winning battle after battle against the odor (whether it be from the cat box or anything else that emits unpleasant smells). To sum it all up, when it comes to the cat box, I try to live up to the expectation that if I wouldn’t want myself exposed to harmful toxins, I don’t want my cats, my significant other, or my guests exposed to them, either.
How can a litter box be made simple? Gatsby and Penelope are green, eco-friendly kittens. I purchase a brand of litter made by Purina (Yesterday’s News) that uses only recycled newsprint pellets, mixed with unscented Arm & Hammer baking soda – safe for animals and humans alike – to soak up moisture and scent. Many cat owners opt for clay options when it comes to litter because of its accessibility and cost benefits. However, most clay-based litters are acquired through strip-mining and contain bentonite or attapulgite/montmorillonite, both of which take several decades to biodegrade. Knowing this, tossing a bag of clay litter into the garbage can to have it shipped off to a landfill where it would sit there for years upon years just doesn’t sit right with me. Not only that, but the dust that the clay kicks up when shifted around by kitty paws trying to bury their unmentionables could damage Fluffy’s upper respiratory system and lower the effectiveness of her immune system. Biodegradable kitty litter was my go-to option, as I attempted toilet training but only garnered a sopping wet bathroom floor as a result. A simple, eco-friendly litter corralled by a bin inside a sleek reclaimed wine box does wonders for the appearance of our bathroom. There are so many eco-friendly, health-conscious litters out there now that I am hard-pressed to find a pet store – even a box store – that doesn’t carry several different kinds of earth-in-mind litters. To find the perfect litter for Fluffy, try out the different options. Cats are finicky animals and will pick-and-choose their favorites out of a proffered grouping.
With cats, every space is a shared space. The counter, the table, the pillows on the bed, in between the open dresser drawer and the back panel, even the top of the refrigerator is fair game for curious kittens. This is where living simply has made our lives much easier. With two cats, the risk of something being knocked over, broken, or otherwise upended is much higher than a normal household’s.
Cats will go where they want to go – even if it’s behind a shut door or what any person would think would be ‘too high up’ to be within a kittens’ reach. The healthiest way – mentally – to cope with a broken piece of pottery or a tipped over end table is to accept that your space is shared with your cats’. Besides, is one shattered planter more important than the life of your pet? I always try to take into account what is worth getting upset over. I came home from work today to this little ‘disaster’ on the bedroom rug. Neither of the kittens nor Christmas cactus were harmed in the incursion upon the windowsill, but I am thankful that nothing serious has ever happened when or when I am not at home. I feel it is important to note here that I have always sealed away my eco-friendly cleaning products in an air-tight bin, and I am thankful for that habit, because even though the products are ‘eco-friendly’, that doesn’t mean I’d want my pets lapping them up off the floor should they knock one over. If you have pets of your own, and you come home to small misadventures like this one, I recommend stowing away your chemicals and cleaning products in a bin or cupboard as well.
On a happier note, I must admit that I splurged on the kittens last Christmas when I bought them a kitty condo (Sawyer says its more like a mansion or palace). I bought the condo without the square-footage of Sunset Spot (or any living space) in mind. While the Vesper series of cat furniture is somewhat space-consuming, especially for an apartment, its simplicity and attractiveness of design definitely appealed to me. The kittens are definitely spoiled with their condo and their wire-and-linen basket of toys taking up at least an eighth of the floorspace in our bedroom, but sometimes – I believe – you don’t have to cut back on the things you love for the sake of saving space.
I am able to tuck the toy basket onto the base of the condo, fitting perfectly between the floor compartment of the condo and the wall. The kittens are free to take their toys out to play with whenever they wish and ease of access is still readily available.
When we decided on rescuing these kittens, Sawyer and I agreed that they would also live the simple, sustainable lifestyle that we enjoy. We are rapidly approaching the kittens’ first birthday, and – so far – they couldn’t seem like happier, healthy cats. Not only are the kittens joyful, but they bring a certain joy to Sawyer and I as well. I couldn’t be happier to share a purposeful life with creatures who are almost as meticulous in their actions, as pensive about their surroundings, and as drawn to the simple pleasures of a cotton blanket as a cat.