As a kid, I loved a TV cartoon called “The Littles,” about a family of tiny people who lived in the walls of a huge house – they were the epitome of “have less, live more.” I was fascinated watching the Littles make beds out of matchboxes and planes out of soda cans. They had wild adventures, despite their simple living and small size.
In college, I owned a pet-sitting business. All my clients were wealthy with huge homes and I would move in and care for their pets while they were away. In their enormous and amazingly beautiful homes, I always gravitated to the smallest spaces, the coziest rooms, as I felt exposed and uncomfortable living in cavernous spaces.
In 2005 I bought my first home and my sister lived with me. All was well with two of us living in 1,500 sq. ft. with two cats and a small dog. After she moved out, with bare hardwood floors creaking and echoing as I walked around newly empty rooms, I had the same feelings of emptiness and alone-ness. I had no idea what to do – I could get another roommate, or create a yoga room, a meditation room, or just leave them empty. I considered inviting a disadvantaged mom and her kids to live with me. It felt foolish and excessive to live alone in a three-bedroom house, and lonely. I also realized I was paying a higher mortgage for this excess space. The idea of downsizing took hold.
Around the same time, I met my now-husband Nelson. Our meeting was one of those cosmic things, right time, right place, right person. Suddenly, I had a concrete reason to sell my house. It felt great to sell furniture, my washer and dryer, and get rid of books, papers, and kitchen stuff that I simply didn’t need anymore. It was fun turning possessions into cash. At the same time I was clearing out, Nelson did too. He now had a good reason to clear his clutter – to make room for me to move into his 1,200 sq. ft. house.
An Epic Trip Can Change Everything
In 2013, we joined a private rafting trip on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon with 14 other people, on a raft for 16 days, covering 225 river miles. Those 16 days were life changing – we were able to slow down, have real conversation, and enjoy time uninterrupted by phones, social media, or email (no cell or internet service down in the Canyon). We were also living out of one bag each – a limited collection of shoes, clothes, and food for the whole trip.
As we floated during the day and slept under stars at night, one conversation kept coming up: we didn’t like where we were living. Every weekend we headed to the mountains or the beach and were spending a lot on gas. We began to ask: since we were both self-employed, could we pick up our current life and move somewhere else? By February of the next year, we did. Unexpectedly, we found the perfect renter and signed a lease on a smaller house (900 sq. ft.) in the mountains. We moved both our businesses. It became a three-month whirlwind of change.
The opportunity to downsize further and ‘go tiny’ came about six months later. Over beers with a new friend who owned a small farm, conversation turned to freedom and flexibility. The farmer said he hadn’t left his farm overnight for three years. “People would offer to farm-sit,” he said, “but then they’d cancel last minute or something else would keep it from happening.” Then he said it: Why don’t you guys move onto the farm?
We enthusiastically said YES and were soon looking at options. Did we want a camper? A ‘park model’ mobile home? Or would we turn ‘hipster’ and build a tiny home? We chose the 5th wheel camper for several reasons. First, the 30-ft., 2006 model we chose fit our budget better. It was also ‘move in ready.’ We were the third owner, but the unit was immaculately clean.
Also, building a tiny house (which my husband, a carpenter and home remodeler, could have easily done) wouldn’t fit into our timeframe. And buying an already-built tiny house would have been more expensive. We are thrilled with our camper and aren’t suffering or doing without. Friends have asked us if we have an outhouse and do we shower outside? Nope. We’re fully modern – hooked up to septic, water, and internet. We signed an agreement to live here for two years – it gives us stability and our farmer can count on us for farm-sitting anytime.
The BIG Purge
It took six months to sell most of what we owned in order to go tiny. We made full use of Craigslist, eBay, and had several garage sales. Just before we were ready to move, we made one single trip to Goodwill with leftovers. Admittedly, we kept a few categories of ‘stuff’ – the tools my husband uses for his construction business, and our outdoor gear: bikes, kayaks, climbing equipment, backpacks, etc. A few family pieces ended up with family for safe, long-term storage.
Moving into a 280 sq. ft. camper was a big change and we were nervous about how we’d feel with so little space… and so much togetherness. There was the added dimension, too, of having two 80 lb. Labrador retrievers and a cat. Would we get on each other’s nerves? Would we want to kill each other after a time? Turns out, my husband and I sit in our camper, look at each other, and smile. “We have everything we need right here, don’t we?”
Check out the Numbers
The newest craze seems to be minimalists who count their stuff. As in, “I own 103 items” or “my wardrobe consists of 33 seasonal pieces.” These are serious minimalists who keep the number small as a matter of pride. It’s their stand against people who own 100 ties, 50 pairs of jeans, 4 cars, or those who are trying to fill a 3,000 square foot home with stuff.
In 1975, the average size of a house (in the U.S.) was 1,525 square feet. By 2013, that number jumped to 2,598 sq. ft. Yet we aren’t the only ones feeling the crush of accumulating stuff in our modern world – and we aren’t the only ones choosing to radically downsize. Research is showing that people (especially in first world countries) are experiencing ‘consumer fatigue.’ People are literally tired of buying stuff! They are tired of dusting, organizing, and managing stuff they’ve already accumulated.
Researcher Tom Gilovich says, “We adapt to most things… things like a new material purchase make us happy initially, but very quickly we adapt to it, and it doesn’t bring us all that much joy. You could argue that adaptation is sort of an enemy of happiness. Other kinds of expenditures, such as experiential purchases, don’t seem as subject to adaptation.”
My husband and I moved through the fatigue phase and into action. We realized our stuff wasn’t making us happy – that having experiences was. Now, we have reduced our stuff to only what we use. Going tiny has really woken us up as consumers. Yes, we’ll pay a lot of money for a piece of technical outdoor gear. On the flip side, I am just as happy to shop at thrift stores for jeans, T-shirts, and professional clothes.
And now we have freedom from a mortgage. We live in a place where we replace a rent payment with farm-sitting. It’s allowing us time for more adventures and to focus on paying down debt. And in a few years, our next big dream is to travel. We’ve started living by the motto, “Have Less, Live More.”
And like that family of Littles from childhood, we creatively use everything we have. Our snug little home provides us with everything we need and nothing we don’t. It’s a glorious way to live.
Going tiny has led to a number of significant realizations for us:
- We only need 20 minutes to clean the whole place from top to bottom.
- We don’t miss ANYTHING we sold.
- We use fewer home products and are much more aware about choosing natural cleaners (in such a small space, any fragrance is too much).
- We grocery shop differently since our fridge and freezer space are so much smaller.
- We don’t impulse buy because we don’t have room – we buy for quality now and do it much less often.
Original article published in WNC Woman Magazine: http://www.wncwoman.com/2016/02/29/have-less-live-more-downsizing-and-going-tiny/