I would like to begin by saying thank you to everyone who has taken the time to stop by Small Living Journal and read our first issue. Your warm welcome and thoughtful comments have been really wonderful for the writers after a couple of months of working in silence to prepare for our launch. We’ve been deeply touched by your enthusiasm for the project.
We’ve also been rather surprised by the volume of interest we’ve received from people wanting to participate as guest writers on SLJ. In this issue, we have included articles from three new participants: Heather from The GreenestDollar; Christina from DeclutterLife, and Jonathan, an educator who’s passionate about what he refers to as “mainstream small”. If you would be interested in participating yourself in a future issue, please refer to our Guest Submission guidelines.
While you may have noticed the same name on the top of the first two issues, beginning with Issue 3 you will see a rotating schedule of editors for each issue. The responsibility for choosing the topic of the issue, sorting through guest submissions, and formatting and publishing the actual issue will circulate amongst all of the key contributors at SLJ. The hope is that by taking this approach, each of the writers will help shape SLJ’s directon and voice, making the journal far stronger than it would be with any one person on the masthead.
With that, I’d like to turn to the topic of our current issue–downsizing…
I think pretty much every writer in the small home movement has had the experience of sharing with someone the details of where they live. Initially, the listener responds with enthusiasm about the concept of small home living. However, upon further contemplation–particularly in terms of the feasibility of a similar living arrangement for themselves–some combination of abject horror, terror, and nausea crosses their face and they wail the all-too-familiar question to tiny home dwellers: “But what would I do with ALL MY STUFF??”
This issue of Small Living Journal is an attempt to provide answers to all of you who have considered this very dilemma. We hope you find our collection of articles both useful and enjoyable. And we look forward to your comments and suggestions.
It was during the later 1990’s when I remember seeing the shelves of local bookstores begin to fill up with books on voluntary simplicity. At the time, I was too busy raising my two young sons to pay much attention to the contemporary writing on the topic, but I was aware of the fact that my own life was not getting any simpler. I didn’t buy the books and I didn’t simplify my life in the “10 Easy Steps” prescribed by countless authors on the topic. My experience with “downsizing” was much more expedient – and much more familiar to many Americans than the courses of action outlined in the self-help literature. It went something like this.
“A few months ago I warned you that my key performance measures indicate your failure to step up to the plate and think outside the box. I asked you to drink from the fire hose, start leveraging your core competencies, and get on the same page with the paradigm shift that you’ve thus far failed to recognize in this marriage.
“In response to your poor performance, I’ve stepped up my own customer relationship marketing efforts. The feedback from brain dumps with my colleagues has resulted in a decision to redeploy you in favor of a new, highly scalable enterprise solution. Trust me. What I’m talking about is a win-win, organically derived value proposition.
“As of today, your role in this marriage has been outsourced. No need to circle back to me on this one. We’re taking the conversation offline for good. You’ve been downsized. Got it?”
Okay, so I’m paraphrasing a bit, but my former business/marriage partner has a penchant for the corporate-speak buzzword mumbo jumbo that makes me cringe. Whatever the exact words were, I was given the matrimonial pink slip.
I’ve since done a bit of research on the prescribed techniques for simplifying one’s life. A quick review of the index in “The Simple Living Guide” yields results for “dating” and “romance,” but I couldn’t find a chapter on “divorce”. Post-marital acrimony may not be good subject matter for selling books on how to achieve the joys of a simple life, but I’m living proof that it’s a highly effective method for shedding a few pounds. After handing over the balance of my bank accounts to a lawyer, I found myself nearly broke and very much homeless. Life immediately became simplified (in the material sense). All it took was the stroke of a judge’s pen.
After the edict was issued from management (family court), I packed my personal belongings in a cardboard box and made my way to the front door – “redeployment” complete and ready for the next adventure.
To read more of Kevin’s small home adventures, visit his blog, “Building Gypsy Rose .”
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.
In 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.
A Normal life?
Five years ago, we lived the “normal middle class” suburban lifestyle. We were newlyweds with flashy rings, living in a two-bedroom apartment, driving two cars, commuting long distances to work and living well beyond our means.
At this time, we were living in Davis, Calif., which is notorious for expensive real estate and a negative vacancy rating (more people than rooms). In reflection, we had a life with too much stuff and stress.
Initially, we resisted the idea of moving into a smaller one-bedroom apartment because we were more concerned about appearances and space for guests than for our financial well-being. Realizing the source of our stress was our financial situation, we decided something needed to change. This “change” began by defining our values and prioritizing our needs over those of potential future guests.
After creating many long pro/con lists, the scaling down process began. We sold one car and moved into a one-bedroom apartment near the train station, the grocery store and downtown amenities. Driving everywhere was still a big part of our lives, but with lower rent we began chipping away at our debt. Our lives began to change for the better.
It wasn’t until last year that we stumbled across Dee Williams’s tiny house, the Small House Movement, and the concept of simple living. After doing a lot of research and making many to-do lists, we decided to move from Davis to mid-town Sacramento. We scaled down even further, to a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment within walking distance to my work. Dee inspired me to go small and start thinking big.
Thinking big required setting goals and decluttering. Slowly we began focusing on the quantity and quality of our belongings.
Downsizing can be stressful, but the benefits are tremendous. Moving to a smaller apartment in the city opened up amazing possibilities. Once we sold our one remaining car, life became even better because we saved money and worked less. It sounds like a cliche, but without the car and the TV we had the time, money and energy to prioritize our health, happiness and life goals.
Below are a few tips that worked for us:
1. Going small. Downscaling to a tiny one-bedroom was a slow process that required a lot of work and many trips to the thrift store. Moving into a 400-square-foot apartment forced us to declutter our lives and seriously question why we needed so much stuff.
2. Divorcing our car. After months of talking about the pros and cons of selling our car, we decided to follow in the footsteps of a Wisconsin graduate student and divorce our car.
3. Becoming debt-free is indescribably liberating. Discovering the concept of simple living helped us become debt free. After giving away the TV and selling our car, we realized how many hidden ownership costs we were paying. We also discovered an amazing book, called “Your Money or Your Life,” that fundamentally changed our relationship with money.
4. Happiness counts. Purging our lives of clutter and debt has not only made us happier, but we have purchased less stuff. Since we started the downsizing process, we feel psychologically “lighter.” Since we eliminated our debt, I know I have options to engage in activities that make me happy. For instance, I’m a lucky person and enjoy my job. But if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to be tied to the position. That is a huge bonus of being debt-free and actually having money in savings.
Downsizing is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I hope our personal story will help you remove clutter from your life, one step at a time.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.
Good luck in your own simple living quest. Above all, pursue happiness and not more stuff.
Downsizing is a common discussion point among those seeking a simpler life. Learning to live with less and reducing your impact and dependence on your surroundings can bring you more peace, freedom, and happiness. Many people seem to have chosen lives so complicated and costly that their surroundings actually provide more of a burden than a benefit. For these folks downsizing will be the direction they will travel if they desire a simpler life. Finding the balance between too much and too little is rightsizing.
Downsizing can not only be applied to the physical size of a home but to the complexity of life itself. The more you surround yourself with the more complex your life becomes because everything you choose to add requires more of your energy. The most obvious examples are possessions, debt, and your home. But it’s easy to extend this to commitments, hobbies, projects, and even people. I even decided recently to downsize my email by unsubscribing from email newsletters I don’t usually read. The less noise in my life the easier it is to focus on the things that move me forward and bring me the life I want to live.
Adjust Over Time
Rightsizing never ends because our needs constantly change. The trick is to stay mindful of your life’s changing requirements and find the right balance between burden and freedom. Staying focused on achieving the life you want to live is the key. This involves being on the lookout for things that add value to your life, things that take away value, and things that are just taking up space. For example if you can keep your home clean and organized on a regular basis you’ll find it’s easier to feel free and empowered.
Living in a smaller space can help because clutter stands out a lot more, but I don’t think living in a small space is essential for finding happiness and freedom. In fact the first step toward rightsizing isn’t about the size of your home but about lightening your mental burdens.
It’s also important to remember that few people can live comfortably without some stuff. Very few people could go through life with only the shirt on their back and live happily wandering the world alone. Most of us need each other, a safe and comfortable home, and a steady supply of food, and that’s just for starters.
When you take this approach anyone can start rightsizing immediately. Begin with your possessions; sell or give away the things you don’t use. If you’re concerned about a monetary loss try to remember that if these things don’t add real value to your life they are a costing you by cluttering up your space and weighing on your mind. Selling these things can actually pay you back in many more ways and the money they bring can go toward reducing debt.
Every dollar we owe also adds to weight on our lives. Taking on some debt may temporarily empower us to overcome hurdles but too much debt for long periods of time enslaves just like too many responsibilities and commitments. Finding ways to eliminate debt and save more money will always lighten your mental load.
In fact when I look around and see so many people firing blame off in all directions for the current state of the economy, I can’t help but think that everyone with a mortgage, car payment, and credit card is just as responsible as the rest. Debt is the enemy. Debt is what filled the bubble that burst. Everyone from kids to corporations to governments operate in a reality where debt is required and normal.
Choose a different reality. If those of us looking for a simpler life simply chose to downsize our own debt we’d instantly become much more self-sufficient and free. The only cost is we’d need to choose to live a lifestyle within our means instead of within our cash-flow.
Eventually you may decide to move into the right size house. Consider thinking of a home’s true value as it is defined by the safety and comfort it provides and not the cost or square footage. In today’s world the idea of a home without a mortgage seems virtually impossible but the truth is that creative and frugal people find ways of getting the most for their money. A small flexible home that serves your needs can often come at a lower cost if you’re willing to spend more time and effort on making it fit your needs. This can be a home you build, renovate, or rent.
We live in a time when downsizing seems to make a lot of sense to a lot of people. When money is tight living more simply is not only easier, it’s required. Adapt and focus on changing the way you think first. Question your values and focus on the real prize, happiness and freedom… or whatever the prize is for you.