The First Step to Downsizing Your Life

Posted April 4th, 2009 by Christina Nellemann and filed in Issue 2: Downsizing

Downsizing, made notorious by bloated and struggling businesses is not always a bad word.  The quest for a simpler, more organized and fulfilling life may begin with downsizing and decluttering your own homes and schedule.  When you are feeling out of control, actively downsizing may be the best way to feel like you are taking back the helm of your life.

DownsizingIn the past, I was a big shopper. I didn’t always shop expensive stores.  It was mostly second hand shops and inexpensive box stores full of fun but unnecessary items.  However, if I had the money, I would spend it.  It never occurred to me that I would need savings or some sort of back up plan.  I just always assumed that I would always have money coming in.  The stuff slowly began to pile up.  I will never forget moving my dozens of boxes into my college dorm room while most of the students only had a suitcase or two.

I existed this way for several years, constantly looking for the next item that I thought I “needed”.  I never got into debt, but carried a different kind of balance.

Then I lost my job.

I had just returned from a camping trip to Oregon with my then-boyfriend that really opened up my eyes.  We stayed in a tent for two weeks, and on a night at the Heceta Head Lighthouse, we proposed to each other.  On the trip, we even discovered a small community of park model homes, both of us realizing that this type of house appealed more to us than our large, exorbitant rental back home.

As soon as we got back, my work laid me off.  I realized that I had been unhappy at the job and began to look closely at what I was doing, with our lovely vacation for reference.  It we could live wonderfully and cheaply for a few weeks in a tent, maybe we could apply that to the rest of our lives.

We moved into the bottom part of my mother’s large house in the country.  She needed lots of help to get it back in shape and we wanted to start over.  During a wonderful month of unemployment, I discovered my first tiny houses: the Ross Chapin cottages of the Pacific Northwest.  I was so used to living in such a large space my whole life, that I finally realized that this was what I have always wanted.  I just didn’t know it.  I also read the book, The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs, and became an active member on the Simple Living Network.

I envisioned myself living in a smaller space and then began to ruthlessly rid myself of all unwanted items in my life.  I discarded at least 75 percent of what I owned, clothes, shoes, books, videos, knickknacks, games, furniture, you name it.  Anything that did not fit our new life was gone.  I sold stuff on Ebay, at garage sales, gave away to friends and family and thrift stores.  Each item that was jettisoned, made me feel 10 pounds lighter.

Now I realized that because I was not shopping, I had more money.  I began to live on only 50 percent of my income and have been doing that for the past eight years.  Any extra money is now used for smart investments, savings and traveling the world.

Of course, downsizing does not always mean disposing of material items.  Maybe you have too many commitments, time hogs like computers or televisions, or too many scheduled events. I have also learned how to downsize my work and commitments and upsize time for myself, friends and family.  It also helps that I am not spending time shopping.

Downsizing is not entirely easy.  In this society of overindulgence and the “stay busy” factor, it is difficult sometimes to remove yourself from all the wants.  The wants are unlimited and staying downsized is a constant but rewarding job.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR DOWNSIZING

When deciding to purchase something, ask yourself: Do I absolutely love this item?  Can I afford it?  Can I do without it? Then wait a day, if you still feel you want it, then get it.

Go throughout your house and look at each item.  Do you love it?  Does it make you feel happy or guilty?  Can you see yourself in it?  If not, goodbye!

Be mindful of eliminating your excess.  Take it to a local charity or thrift store (and then walk away!).  Give it to a friend or sell it on Ebay or Craigslist.  I had a habit for a while of keeping digital photos of the items that I sold or gave away and when I went back to look at them, I couldn’t remember why I had them in the first place.  (By the way, those photos have also been purged).

Sometimes you have to see your stuff in a new light.  Move everything from one room into another room.  What do you see as excess?

Ask yourself if you would rather have stuff or freedom?

Imagine if you lost everything in a fire.  What would you miss most?

Imagine what it would be like to live in a tiny house, a boat or a trailer.  How would you fit everything in it?  Imagine what you would bring with you.

Christina is a graphic and web designer living in Washoe Valley, NV.  She also writes for local publications and for Kent Griswold’s Tiny House Blog. Her design work and blog can be found at www.felinedesigninc.com and her decluttering and organization blog can be found at www.declutterlife.blogspot.com.