The Upside of Downsizing

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

I think there is a moment in everyone’s life when suddenly, everything becomes crystal clear; when you realize that all those stumbles and falls and lessons learned along the way have been leading you up to one, magic moment. That’s what it felt like when I discovered the concept of living in a tiny home.

shipping_container_homeIt truly was like falling in love, or finding a hidden treasure that no one knows about but you. Everything around me just stopped, and I was left marveling at this gem of an idea. I felt like suddenly, I was holding a diamond in my hand.  That was six months ago. And ever since then, I’ve felt like I’ve fallen into a life of grace; impossibly lucky that I discovered a way of living that is so perfect for me, and even more impossibly lucky that my husband happens to love the idea as much as I do.

We’ve both fallen in love with the idea of living in recycled shipping containers. Our current plan is going to give us around 500 square feet of living space. I’d like to go smaller but with both of us working at home and sharing space with two energetic dogs, I’m hedging my bets and giving us some breathing room.

Still, 500 square feet is much smaller than the home we’re currently living in, which comes in at 1,200 square feet (not counting the basement and garage). We’ve never had a lot of “stuff”, but when you start looking at what you’d actually be willing to take with you to your mini home, you begin to realize that there’s a whole lot you can live without.

What I’ve Learned Downsizing For My Mini Home

I’ve been on a decluttering binge since I discovered small home living. As I said above, we’ve never had a lot of stuff, but it’s amazing how much you realize you have once you start asking, “Would I take this to my mini home?” For me, the answer is almost always, “no”.

So, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past few months, as I get by with less and less “stuff”…

1. Give yourself time to go through your stuff
You might not realize it, but you’re tied to your things. It could be an emotional tie (like a special gift, or an item that brings back a specific memory, time, or place), or a financial tie (“I paid good money for that sweater, even though it’s ugly and doesn’t fit.”)

These ties take time to break. If you’re planning on making the small home transition within the next year, then start going through your possessions right now. If you’re forced to go through stuff at the last minute, then you’re going to bring a whole lot more with you than you planned on, simply because you’re still tied to all that stuff.

2. Make downsizing a daily affair
I stay in constant decluttering mode now. Every day I get rid of something; I keep bins in my garage, and when they get full of donations then it’s time for another trip to Salvation Army. You’ll make countless passes through your home, passing over something one day only to realize next week that you really could live without it.

As you walk through your current home, living your life, start looking at everything. Ask yourself, “Do I love this enough to take it to my small home?”
Remember, your storage space is going to be minimal at best. Everything you take with you must be either infinitely precious, or inherently useful. If it doesn’t fall into one of those two categories, then it might be destined for a life with someone else.

3. It helps to identify what you WOULD take with you
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then start small. Go through your house, room by room, and start making a list of the items you would take to your small home. What can you absolutely not live without?

Figure out why you’re taking these items. And then start looking at what’s left.

You might be surprised that as you go down your own downsizing road, your “can’t live without” list gets smaller and smaller. That’s happening with me, and it’s a good thing.

4. Identify your weak zones
We’ve all got them; these are the things that you can’t help but love. It might be shoes, handbags, tools, art…for me, it’s definitely books.
Your weak zone is going to take longer for you to trim down. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken sacks of books to my local library for donation. I’ve gone over, and over, and over my books, and it’s been a slow process.

I was stuck for months on my books, unable to get rid of more than a few volumes at a time, until I came to an important realization: I was holding on to my collection because to me, reading was a major part of my identity.

Because of my love affair with books, I felt like the sheer number of volumes in my library made up an important part of who I thought I was. Which frankly, is ridiculous. I am more than what I’ve read.

And I shouldn’t need a towering collection of books to prove that.

This realization took months to finally hit, but only after it did was I able to start donating books in droves. Since then I’ve donated hundreds and hundreds of books. The ones that are left are my most precious, and they’re the ones I’ll be taking with me when I move.

If you have a collection of your own then you might want to hold onto it because you feel that those things make up your identity. Ultimately, these things are only that: things. But you probably won’t be able to get rid of them until you realize that you are not your collection. You’re way better.
Again, this will take time. If you’re anything like me, it will be hard. But you won’t be able to let go unless you start now.

Last Word
I have to admit that getting rid of 90% of your possessions to move into a home the size of some people’s closets sounds crazy. But, it’s a kind of crazy that I love thinking about.

And you know what I’m learning? I’m learning that the more I get rid of, the happier I am. I’m learning that I’d much rather sit with my husband and eat wine, bread, and cheese than go out shopping for stuff I don’t really need. And I’m learning that the emptier my house gets, the fuller I feel inside.
The best part is that this journey has only just begun. Good luck on your own.