5 easy rules that will downsize your lifestyle

When I talk to people about the process of moving from a 1,000 square foot apartment into a 250 square foot school bus, they often seem conflicted between being excited for me and worrying that this is a cry for help that will no doubt lead to me living naked under a bridge.. Occasionally they say, “I wish I could do that.” These people are the ones that seem stymied by their possessions- they feel cramped into living a life encumbered by stuff they no longer need or know what to do with. I know That Feeling all too well; That Feeling was the beginning of my quest to downsize. Downsizing has allowed me to have more fulfilling life experiences- experiences I value much more than I ever valued the things and square footage I parted ways with.

Should you move into a bus? Not necessarily. Can you do some fairly easy things to make your life a little less constricted by stuff? Definitely.

1) To live small, start small: Try simplifying one room in your home at a time.

If that idea is too daunting, try one area at a time (e.g., a bookshelf or cabinet). It’s important not to overwhelm yourself in this process since the endgame is to make this a life change.

Living small isn’t all or nothing. You don’t have to sell your brownstone and move into a tiny house in order to simplify your lifestyle. Try incorporating some day-to-day “small living” values into your life. One example: try to consider the permanence of something prior to buying it. Ask yourself, “Where will this live in my home? Do I have room for it? Is this something I’ll want to reserve room for in years to come?” If the answer is no, then don’t buy it.

There are varying degrees of living small, and all of them are valid. Yes, all. Just because I choose to live in a bus in under 300 square feet doesn’t mean that lifestyle is right for everyone. Be really honest with yourself about what kind of downsizing you can live with for the long term. Reducing your carbon footprint is the goal, and that can be accomplished by living small. No one is required to live microscopically to make a difference.

2) Test-drive a smaller residence.

Thanks to home-rental sites like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner, it’s possible to see (and stay in) a fully-realized dwelling similar to one you’re considering downsizing into. Airbnb is a great resource for finding tiny houses, treehouses, converted buses, and more that you can stay in to get a more realistic idea of what they feel like. It’s also a great way to see how your family might function (or not function) on a day-to-day basis in a smaller home.

Experiences over things. I’ve started asking my family to give me “experiences” as gifts rather than physical ones.

This way I get to share a fun and enriching event with someone I love (vacations, concerts and meals are memorable examples) without the guilt of worrying about where I’m going to put things.

3) Organization is vital to making a small space liveable

When you live in a small space, it is IMPERATIVE that you have a place for everything. Not only will this make your life simpler in terms of locating things, it will also prevent the occurrence of clutter stress. Whatever size your living quarters, I recommend having out-of-sight storage and designated methods to deal with areas that get cluttered easily and frequently. My husband and I realized one day that our mail always ended up scattered around his desk and, as a result, important things would go missing. We established a mail cubby next to the front door, and that’s prevented a slew of oh-god-the-gas-bill-is-missing-again catastrophes.

When organizing a small space, you should first go through your things to cull down any unnecessary items. After that, it’s possible to dedicate storage based on 2 things: 1.) How often is this thing used? 2.) Where is it most used? We have storage in lots of different areas of our bus, but based on those criteria we force ourselves to be smart about where we decide to put things. The goal in small space organization is to make life easy for yourself. If your only storage space is a couch that opens, make sure you have a clever organization system inside it. And if you’re wondering “Who would be dumb enough to have couch storage and nothing else?” , the answer is, “Me.”

4) Don't get rid of everything, but keep only what you (honestly) find indispensable.

When it came to sifting through all of our things, I found myself sorting things into three categories: 1.) Keep 2.) Donate 3.) Toss/recycle

Things to ask yourself when determining what goes where:

Do I use this?

Do I love this?

Do I seriously, really love this?

If the answer to one or all of those is yes, then that thing goes in the Keep pile. If the answer is no, then you should ask:
Could this item be useful to someone else?

If the answer is yes, I suggest donating it. If the answer is no, then the item gets recycled if possible. If not, it gets thrown away.

Something that people seem to assume with this lifestyle is that we don’t own things, like we’re compelled by dementors to get rid of all of our stuff when we move into a small home. That simply isn’t true. There are some things that I would never get rid of, like my great-grandmother’s menorah, or artwork by my mother, no matter how small my home. The question is: what do I do with those things? That can be tricky. I try to find space for everything I really, really love,, even if it takes a little more careful thought and planning. However, I definitely want to stress the importance of delineating between “like” and LOVE. Just because you like that West Elm fruit bowl doesn’t mean it’s earned a place in your home.

5) If you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it

My husband and I have moved around a lot in the time that we’ve been married (sometimes across the country, sometimes across town). This means that we’ve accumulated a small pile of ubiquitous brown moving boxes that never got unpacked and are sitting somewhere in our parents’ basement until they guilt us enough to come unpack them. The funny thing is that, if in the 3 years those boxes have been sitting down there we haven’t needed whatever’s in them, we can get rid of them. Life can continue as normal. Almost every room in your house probably has an area like this that could use a fresh eye (closets are great places to start).

Something else to consider: frequent use doesn’t automatically imply need. If you’re a household of 2 or less, do you really need 8 coffee mugs? This is an especially vital question when you don’t have a dishwasher. We always use all 8 mugs, but then they end up sitting in the sink for a few days until we get around to washing them, and this mess in turn creates unneeded stress, which is the opposite of the point of this lifestyle. If you only have 2 mugs, on the other hand, you have much less of an opportunity to leave a mess since those two will constantly be in use. The added bonus in this scenario is that we also only have to accommodate 2 mugs in our kitchen storage. This same approach should be applied when considering what to keep. You may wear all of your jeans at some point or another, but you probably don’t really need more than 2 pairs.