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Declutter & Destress: How to “Live Tiny” in Your Not-Tiny House

Tiny Home

“Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.” ~John Petit-Senn

I love the tiny house movement because it embraces simple living and diminishes the spiritual and financial burdens of materialism. However, I don’t really want to trade in the 1,700 square foot house I love for something that’s 200 square feet!

If you’re like me, you may have felt the same pleasure watching shows like Tiny House Nation, but not known how to apply the ideas they present to life in your larger house.

Well, I’ve found you really can “live tiny” in a not-so-literal way, and reap some of those tiny-living benefits in your bigger home!

Step 1: The ruthless pare-down

First of all, no one transitions to tiny living without trimming down the stuff they possess. I decided I didn’t need a living space reduction to inspire me to undertake an extreme pare-down.

I commenced systematically sorting through everything in my seemingly uncluttered and organized home. (Those qualities were really only on the surface.) I didn’t give a pass to spaces that never got assessed because they seemed fine as-is. I went through my house thoroughly, basement, garage, and gardens included—no drawer, cardboard carton, or crawl space was exempt.

A tiny-living-style purge requires something stricter than the usual “have I used it in the last year?” rule applied with frequent exceptions. For example, of course I hadn’t used my high school prom dress in the last year, but it always got spared in pare-downs due to sentimental value. This time I put the dress on, took a picture, and said goodbye to it.

Here’s a tip regarding clothing reduction: You can easily see how often you use items in your closet by turning hangers to point to the front rather than the back when you wear something. If you find a long time goes by with many pieces on unturned hangers, you’ll see what a small sacrifice it would be to donate them to the needy.

Now don’t be fearful as you purge! This process isn’t nearly the challenge tiny living requires. You have the leeway to take into account how your belongings contribute to your individual quality of life.

Most people have glassware or coffee mugs gathering dust, making them perfect candidates for chucking. Me, I kept a few of every kind of bar glass imaginable—because mixology is one of my passions and I actually use them. But I gave away the eighteen duplicate tools we had between our upstairs tool drawer and our basement tool chest—because you don’t need two drills to be a home handywoman.

The key is simple: As you evaluate each item, ask yourself, Can I have an excellent quality of life without this?

Step 2: Don’t buy new when you can enjoy the old

So, you’ve completed your purge and feel a great weight lifted from your soul. Now the task is to keep things that way! Again, look to the example of the tiny house lifestyle.

I used to love finding a way to justify buying something new—don’t we all? Well, tiny house dwellers don’t have room to expand, so they think twice before making new purchases. And if you do that too, here’s what happens: First, you save a ton of money. Second, you keep your possessions level down. And third, you discover just how great the stuff is that you already have!

Do you even fully know what you already have? I thought I did, but no. I found clothes, décor items, hobby supplies, dishes, etc. that I had forgotten completely but saw had real value. So now I use them! Odds are you too have a ton of possessions that could be a joy to rediscover and use, and it costs nothing.

So, maybe the workhorse old mixer you own isn’t as exciting as a new Kitchenaid, but the money you save by living with it could pay for a month of groceries, a weekend getaway, or fifty eBooks. And why not revert yourself to the wise lifestyle of your grandparents? Mend and repair whenever you can!

In those moments when you used to think, “Oh goody, we could use a new one of these!” ask yourself, Can I have an excellent quality of life without replacing this?

Step 3: One in, one out

So maybe you really do need that new item. You can still adopt the “one in, one out” principle employed by tiny homeowners. They literally have no choice but to make room for new items by removing the old, and that’s the way they keep their belongings at a steady level.

You can discipline yourself to do the same, by finding an unnecessary item to “open a berth” for something new. This is something I’ve traditionally done right before the holidays, to make space for incoming gifts. Even better to apply the principle all the time; you’ll never have to do an extreme pare-down again!

When you bring in the new purchase ask yourself, What can I spare to open up the space for this—who might make far better use of that item than I?

Step 4: Maximize your space

Tiny house dwellers have to get absolutely everything they can out of every square foot of space. They find hidden storage under beds and on the ceiling, and they have brilliantly clever furniture that does double duty as couch/bed or dining table/desk, etc.

Take a good look around your house and make sure you are using all the space you own. (You may even find this inspires you to move to a smaller house!) Your purging could free up a closet that could become a modular home office space. A kitchen can double as a crafting room—I have my crafting materials in rolling storage that I can bring into the kitchen, and the table folds out into a larger size for claying or painting.

One excellent way to gain storage space is by reducing your inventory of books. Keep a small library of special volumes to cherish, of course. Then consider collecting eBooks instead, which take up no physical space at all. Love to read books on paper? They are free at your local library! Or take a tip from Tiny Buddha founder Lori: buy used books and sell them back to the store later (one in, one out).

If you’re short on closet space, look to the challenges met by tiny homeowners. Use an old trunk as a coffee table, under-bed boxes for clothing, and shelving added to vertical spaces. You don’t need to move to a larger home in order to have the space to meet your needs.

Ask yourself, in HGTV parlance, How can I Love It rather than List It?

Step 5: Discover the zen in being minimized and organized

Living tiny in your big house isn’t just about reducing expense and consumption. You’ll be amazed at how following tiny house principles enhances your relationship with your belongings.

Here’s a lesson from our cat toys. Previously we had cat toys in two drawers, two baskets, and four closets—they are now purged, mended, and organized. Now it’s easy to put away stray toys, I know where our stock of new ones is, and I’m not tempted to buy more. And better than that: I’m also more inspired to play with the cats!

In other words, I’m more in tune with my home and all who dwell within it. With distractions reduced, I am more mindful of my environment and how I interact with it. Meanwhile, I don’t miss out on what I already own, and get more enjoyment out of my belongings.

For example, I created a meditation corner with objects incorporating the feng shui elements. I found nearly everything I needed among my current stuff (I did treat myself to a Himalayan salt lamp). Not only do I now have this inspiring, Zen space, but things that were previously hidden away now have a purpose.

Every day or so, find something in your house you haven’t engaged with in a while. Ask yourself gratefully, What is it about this that I really love—and how can I enjoy it even more?

No pain, all gain

If you’re like me and find the tiny house movement really inspiring, the reasons why are clear. Tiny is a great way to live! And in a bigger home, applying these ideas to your lifestyle is all upside. You won’t sacrifice necessary items, space, or privacy. All you give up are things like this:

  • Not knowing what you own or where it is
  • The stress of clutter and crowding
  • Not making full use of your stuff and your space
  • Unnecessary consumption and expense

And you gain things like this:

  • Sharing your abundance by giving away what you don’t need
  • Gratitude for and appreciation of your possessions
  • More complete utilization of what you already have
  • Increased peace and serenity

So join me in discovering the wonderful aspects of tiny living that we bigger home-dwellers can enjoy. Think tiny…and live large and well!

Tiny house image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Diane Lau

About Diane Lau

Diane Lau is a multi-published author (also as Diana Laurence), occasional freelance life coach, epicurean, and crafter.

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  • Dee

    Thanks, I’m going to start this this weekend.

  • Diane Lau

    That’s great, Dee! I think it will really make a difference for you.

  • Diane Elayne Dees

    I live in a minimalist-style (not minimalist) house. There is nothing in it that I don’t use or from which I don’t receive pleasure. The only thing here in abundance is art, hung at gallery height, and the furnishings are low and non-bulky. I always lived this way until I married, and when the marriage ended, I went back to my “real” ways, only I pared things down even more. I got rid of most of my books, about half of my kitchen accessories, some unused linens, and some furniture. There is no junk drawer, but there are some empty drawers. The little items I like remain behind glass in cabinets.

    Getting rid of things is an ongoing project with me because I can’t stand clutter and I love space! De-cluttering comes easy to me, but it doesn’t seem to come easily to most people. This essay is an excellent guide for those who don’t know where to start. It may be scary at first, but your space will look much better and cleaning it will be so much easier. And you will be surrounded by space, which is the best part of all.

  • Leah Silver Graves

    I love Tiny House Nation. Thanks for a great article. The hardest thing for me in terms of staying clutter free is when each holiday season arrives. We end up with a many gifts just getting squirreled away (often they are things we don’t need). Some family members have done a great job with gift giving and others just really tend to overdo it. They mean well but it’s hard bringing more clutter into the home.

  • Diane Lau

    I’m obsessed with the show, Leah! I know what you mean about the holidays, which is why I mentioned that in particular. But it’s rough when the new gifts aren’t really necessary, and you can’t exactly give them away immediately! That’s a situation that has to be handled with some diplomacy all right.

  • Diane Lau

    Diane, I’m sure I’d love your house! I too have art in abundance and it’s nice because things on the walls really don’t take up much space. I actually have a stash of art work I rotate, because I find I can actually go kind of blind to what’s there and swapping it out gives new appreciation. I agree that I think the majority of people don’t find de-cluttering easy. Thanks for your kind words and I hope you’re right that the article helps!

  • Mark Lowe

    Really good advice in this post. I live in a modest apartment and really like it. But I do really like tiny houses too.

  • Diane Lau

    Thanks so much, Mark! There’s definitely something wonderful about small accommodations.