Downsizing to live in a tiny house space: The Realities and A Lifetime of ‘Stuff’ Accumulation

Late fall last year is when Renee and I decided to officially go tiny. We currently live with Renee’s parents saving “until it hurts.” Most families do annual spring cleaning and “purge” of unwanted material items, only to re-accumulate stuff they either don’t need or forget they have. My in-laws built their own home 30 years ago with lots of heart and hard work. In that 30 year period, they never did a spring cleaning like others do and finally decided it was time to clean out the garage and crawl space. Since Renee and I also just made the decision to build a tiny house, we thought it perfect timing to try to downsize our living quarters and what we own to make the transition easier. We were told by our in-laws that whatever we own would have to fit in the tiny house, and understandably, couldn’t keep anything as storage in their home once living in a tiny house.

The following pictures are to illustrate two points: 1) we are all guilty of keeping things that we think we need but don’t really; in other words, you have more stuff than you think, and 2) learning to live with only what you “need” and nothing more can be tough if you never knew any other way, but is completely achievable! Learning how to think tiny doesn’t need to be anything drastic like below- it can happen slowly within a realistic time frame until you’re fully and mentally prepared.

Our family rented a 30′ dumpster and had exactly a week to ‘clean house’ of anything we didn’t need. It’s important to note we donated whatever items we could give away (e.g clothes, books, etc.). The container was HUGE but you would be surprised how easily one can fill up:

The 30′ dumpster we rented for our family to purge 30 years accumulation of stuff. You begin to realize it’s too easy to fill what at first seemed like a huge container.

Dumpster after 1 morning…

Dumpster day 2…

day 2

In the meanwhile Renee and I used to have our own closet space of about 5’ in separate bedrooms. We decided to move all clothes we own into one closet and get half of a closet space each. We assumed that we wouldn’t have any other space to store summer/winter clothes. Although we periodically donate clothes we don’t wear in over a year, it can still be tough keeping only one of certain items. If you are serious about going tiny, I highly recommend going through this exercise as it’s hard to put dedicated full-size closet space for clothes in a tiny house (we’ve seen it but takes A LOT of space):

We went from having two 5' closets to half of one per person. Closet space is extremely limited in most tiny houses.
We went from having two 5′ closets to half of one per person. Closet space is extremely limited in most tiny houses.

Renee and I love books. All our books alone would *literally* fill half of a tiny house. We knew we needed to depart with any books we have read or possibly could live without (We also plan to go fully digital with books, so plan for that in a future blog post). We were able to get rid of half of our books so far, but we still have another full bookshelf not depicted here, and I have a graduate office full of textbooks. In the wildlife/forestry field, not all books, especially older field guides, are in digital form yet. Keep this in mind when buying new books to only buy in print if no other option. This will be a difficult transition for me, as I think and enjoy a book better I can feel, hold with crumpled pages, and write in with a pen:

We got rid of half of our books, but still have plenty to go. Keep in mind not all books are available in digital, which means you need to allot shelf space for it.
We got rid of half of our books, but still have plenty to go. Keep in mind not all books are available in digital, which means you need to allot shelf space for it.

What do you do about sentimental items? Photos take up significant space too. We are currently trying to scan old family photos onto a computer since we simplify don’t have the room. I also have sentimental pieces like a hard hat I’ve had (but not used) for 7 years. The hard hat reminded me of the first Point Park University sponsored alternative spring break trip I went on. We were creating a house for Habitat for Humanity in Biloxi, MS where residents were still affected by Hurricane Katrina. The hard hat reminded me of that experience, and our main on-sight supervisor was a former NFL player (with his signature on the hat). Did I have room for this in a tiny house? No. Could I have made room? Possibly. I had to depart with it:

Point Park University students who volunteered to help with rebuilding efforts for residents still affected years later from Hurricane Katrina.
Point Park University students who volunteered with rebuilding efforts in 2009 for residents of Biloxi, MS still affected years later from Hurricane Katrina.
Everyone received a hard hat as part of participating in Habitat for Humanity, Biloxi, MS in 2009.
Everyone received a hard hat as part of participating in Habitat for Humanity, Biloxi, MS in 2009. Can you depart with sentimental items like this in a tiny space?

On top of that, I used to be a paid professional magician, but from grad school had no time to put into it, even as a hobby. I had to depart with wishful thinking and be realistic that at no immediate point in time will I be able to get back into it:

Twenty-five lbs of magic from being a professional magician and into magic since the age of 5
Twenty-five lbs of magic from being a professional magician and into magic since the age of 5. If you have hobbies that take space, try to incorporate room for it in your tiny house plans.

A final realization for Renee and me was that big house plants can’t fit into a tiny house. For example, we have a split-leaf philodendron named Biggie Smalls we raised from an inch tall that now needs a home (and btw still looking for a home!). We love our plants like people, and simply can’t pitch them:

Our plants are like children. Where can these 'big kids' go in a tiny house?
Our plants are like our children. Where can these ‘big kids’ go in a tiny house?

After a week we easily filled up the dumpster with ‘stuff’ from a period stretching over 30 years. We probably all have more stuff than we realize. When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind:

After a week, we very easily managed to fill up a dumpster with stuff we didn't even know we had, or simply sat in storage and didn't need.
After a week, we very easily managed to fill up a dumpster with stuff we didn’t even know we had, or simply sat in storage and didn’t need.

So what to take from all of this? Take an assessment of all your stuff at home:

What do you need? What do you think you need but really don’t? If I go tiny, can I actually fit that in my house? When making future purchases, how often will I use xyz? I recommend to start asking these questions and downsize early before reality sets in about what you can and cannot take with you.  Make living simple… simple!

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