Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

What are grey water systems and how can you set up a system for your home?  Most people living in the average American household have no reason to contemplate disposal of the water that enters and leaves their homes, but more and more people are looking for a simple way to do a greywater system for their home.

simple grey water system for your home

What Is A Greywater System Used For?

A greywater system is used to take water that has already been used from places like your laundry, shower and sink and divert it to use in another purpose like watering gardens or landscaping instead of flushing it down into the sewer. Greywater is different from blackwater (aka sewage) because while it may have some residuals like dirt, hair, grease, etc from it’s first use, they aren’t toxic to the environment and the water can be reused in some applications.

what is grey water and how to recycle water

With greywater systems you are careful about what you put down your drain when diverting it to your garden or flower beds, but I’ve found that after your figure out some cleaning products that work for you, it’s quite simple.

How Do Grey Water Systems Work?

The concept is simple in principal: you want capture all the water from your sinks, showers and other drains into one place called a “surge tank” which is a fancy way of saying a tank that can take a lot of water at once and then slow down the flow. From there you want to allow the water to slow down just enough so any solids can settle out to the bottom and then let the cleaner water move on.

Grey Water System Diagram

In the below diagram you can see the basics of a system. You’ll see how the washer can be switched with a branched valve to either go to the sewer or the outside irrigation. The water then travels outside, into the garden and finally into drip points above mulch beds.

system diagram of a grey water system

Our Simple Greywater Setup For Our Tiny House

I certainly had never considered such things until Cedric and I went volunteering on organic farms. In the south of Spain a small olive farm where water is scarce and they were watering their flower garden with the water from their sinks and showers. It was the first time I’d ever seen a greywater system in action. As aquifers run dry and water becomes a scarcer resource, I see the proper recycling of it essential to transitioning our treatment of water to a more sustainable system and tiny house dwellers are on the front lines of this transition.

grey water in my garden

Living in a tiny house we have had to face the challenge of disposing our water safely since we weren’t hooked up to the city’s system. Our initial introduction at that farm inspired us to try a simple, DIY system that would use our greywater to irrigate a small garden.

We took 1 1/2″ pvc pipe, attached it to the plumbing of the house and buried it in the garden. Since we didn’t put in a filter we did not put any solids of any kind down the drain. We also carefully chose our bath soaps, used homemade shampoos and biodegradable dish soap so as not to damage the soil, plants or watershed. The PVC pipe was placed in a 2 foot deep ditch that had been lined with gravel and landscape fabric. Along the pipe we drilled many little holes to allow the water to escape. This technique is very similar to a french drain.

Are Grey Water Systems Legal?

is greywater legal

Depending on your city, county and state you’ll have different rules that govern the use of greywater systems. Building codes, zoning laws and the public health department all come into play here, so develop a rough idea of what kind of greywater system you want to build and then have a conversation with your local city hall. Alternatively you can do this under the radar, but understand you assume all risk.

In some cases you’ll need to install a branched drain system so you can turn the greywater on and off based on what your use is.

How Much Does A Greywater System Cost To Install?

grey water system install cost

Installing a greywater system depends on your needs, how your plumping is setup in your house and how much of the work you’re going to do yourself. For a rough estimate you can plan on spending $500 to $2,500 to install a greywater system in your home. Most of the cost will be labor as the materials are cheap, but the labor can be expensive. Often it requires a plumber which can run between $50-$150 per hour and then someone to run ditches to your beds which can cost between $20-$75 per hour.

Common materials are PVC pipes, gravel, landscape fabric, a capture tank and plumbing fittings.

How To Design Your Grey Water System

grey water system design

Here are some of the key steps to consider for your grey water system design:

  1. Locate all your main drain points and plan how you will tap into each
  2. Determine where you’re going to drain your system to
  3. Check that your drains are at least 5 feet higher than your destination
  4. Mark where you are going to bury your drain lines with spray paint
  5. Install a valve at each drain sources or at the main drain pipe
  6. Pipe from valves to exterior of home
  7. Dig ditches below your frost line
  8. Fill bottom with 6 inches of loose gravel
  9. Place your drain lines and perforated lines and check all connections
  10. Cover pipes with another 4 inches of loose gravel
  11. Cover gravel with landscape fabric to prevent dirt clogging lines.
  12. Replace dirt or carry the gravel all the way to surface (best method)

Best Filtering Options For Grey Water

grey water filter options

In some cases people will put a basic filter to screen out particles like food or hair mainly to prevent clogs in the rest of the system.Once the water is free of most of the larger debris, you can then pipe it underground to where you want to deposit it, making sure you spread out the volume of water over a large enough area to allow the soil to soak up the water quickly enough that it doesn’t get water logged.

You have a filter options:

  • Filter bag before it enters into surge tank
  • In line water filter
  • Settling tank
  • Constructed wetland or reed bed
  • Setting pond or bog

Here are my two favorite ways to filter out grey water

filter options for a grey water system

Tips For Your DIY Grey Water System

diy grey water systems

The biggest challenge people have when making their own system is getting your drain pipes clogged with food particles and hair from your drains. To combat that you want to employ two features in your system: a surge tank to settle out particles and a simple filter.

When the water from your drains comes from your house it’s carrying a lot of stuff like dirt, hair, skin cells, food particles and it’s moving pretty fast. We want to slow that water down and allow those things to settle out before moving on in the process. We don’t want that water to sit too long, no more than 24 hrs, but it’s a critical step.

From there we want to use a basic filter to grab any left over things that might be floating along. These don’t need to be a high grade filter that cleans the water, just enough to catch the particles big enough to clog things down the line.

The last tip I’ll give is make sure you consider how your drain lines will work in the winter. Freezing pipes can lead to major problems, so make sure your lines are draining to pipes buried below the frost line. You can consider putting in a valve at your branched piping inside so you can turn off this during the winter.

Grey Water Systems For Off Grid Living

grey water system for a off grid cabin

Grey water is the perfect solution for dealing with waste water at your off grid home, cabin or tiny house. I use this on my off grid tiny home into a modified french drain system since I don’t produce much water waste to begin with. Don’t forget to pair your system with a rain catchment system to collect more water for your garden.

The biggest tips I can give you is to make sure your soil drains well, you can do this by doing a simple perk test (a water infiltration test) on your soil. If you soil drains well, figure out about how many gallons of grey water you will produce in a given day and design the system to handle that plus a 25% margin.

Make sure you plan it so your drain lines are down hill from your point of use, digging ditches deeper and deeper if you need to get a steep slope for proper drainage. Having the water move away from your house is critical, so make plans to drain at least 30 feet away to avoid moisture issues.

I wouldn’t spend time trying to figure out how to treat the grey water or how to make it drinkable, it’s better to use it effciently at the source, then repurpose it into your gardens for food production.

My Favorite Grey Water Friendly Products

When you make the switch to grey water, you’ll need to control what goes down your drain and that includes things like soaps, shampoo, cleaners and more. Anything that goes down the drain needs to be environmentally safe when it hits your garden.

Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo

grey water shampoo

This was the hardest item to find for me, a lot of shampoos that are grey water friendly don’t clean that well. Many shampoos left my hair looking greasy, but this one cleaned well and didn’t smell too “earthy”. The smell is pretty neutral, a minty smell that could easily be used by men or women. It’s a little pricey, but it’s the only thing that I found that actually works.

Amazon is the only place I’ve been able to find this Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo.

 

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

This is an obvious and very popular option for those who want soap that is easy on the environment and just works well. Dr. Bronners is great for washing your hands, doing dishes, cleaning around the house, etc.

You can even bath with it and I found it to be good for body wash, but as I noted above, while it works for hair, it left my hair looking greasy. A lot of people use it as shampoo and it works well for them, so it’s worth a try. It’s also not terribly expensive and a little goes a long way.

This is where I get mine, click here.

Final Thoughts On Grey Water Systems

The majority of folks don’t think twice about these things and it’s wonderfully convenient to not have to. However, I’ve learned a lot about sustainable water practices by living with this system and I prefer it to sending this precious resource to a facility with black water where it becomes much more polluted and takes a lot of energy to introduce safely back in to the water cycle. It’s also a major plus for dry environments that see little rainfall and who at times must rely on their aquifers for water, as we experienced in Spain.

grey water system installed

To sustain and maintain these deep fonts of water we need to replenish them. Allowing greywater to be filtered by plants back in to the ground recharges the aquifers and keeps them from drying out. The beauty of greywater systems is they can be incredible simple to construct, use and maintain. The collaborative group Greywater Action For A Sustainable Water Culture is an incredible resource not only for learning to construct and maint these systems, they also have a wealth of information on composting toilets, rainwater catchment and pedal-powered washing machines!

As we prepare to move La Casita once again, we plan to build a more elaborate system that can withstand the Vermont winters. The Greywater Action website also has great reviews of projects and useful tips for winterizing these systems. In the South it was much easier to manage it and although it will be more of a challenge it is another opportunity to learn and create a regenerative system. I’ll be posting details of our next greywater project so check-in with the tiny life over the next few weeks to see the details of construction!

Your Turn!

  • Have any tips on water disposal in a tiny house?
  • How do you feel about the current disposal and treatment of water?
  • Do you think greywater systems are viable project towards changing how we think about water disposal?

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

The zero waste lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but everyone in the world benefits when we create less trash and cut back on waste. Not only does our trash take up room in our homes, but there are plenty of concerns about the environment as well.

how to start zero waste lIfestyle

Cutting back on trash is also important if you don’t get regular pick up of trash or recycling. Save yourself the time and energy of hauling garbage to the dump when you could simply make a few adjustments.

In my own life, I’m not yet 100% zero trash, but I’ve cut back significantly in the last few years. This what I’ve learned and how I’ve made a zero waste lifestyle (or close to zero waste) work for me.

Getting Started with the Zero Waste Lifestyle

getting started with a zero waste lifestyle

If you’re ready to get started with a zero waste lifestyle, there are a few steps to mentally and physically set yourself up for success. There are many zero waste products out there to help with waste free living. Items like bags, bottles, and food containers can be reused over and over. Storage containers can even be created from items you already own.

Here are my tips on how to go zero waste easily.

1. Be Realistic

be realistic when starting with the zero waste movement

Get yourself in the right mindset to before you even start exploring how to go zero waste. Focus on how you will make a zero waste lifestyle work and how you will deal with any anticipated roadblocks.

Most importantly, stay realistic. Don’t expect yourself to go completely zero waste overnight. We all see people in the news and on YouTube who commit to going zero waste 100% right away. While this works for a few people, most of us need to simply take steps over time to cut back on trash and waste. We’ve been living with our wasteful habits our entire so it will take some time to reverse that.

2. Do an Anthropological Study on Your Trash

study your trash to see what you throw away

If you’re ready to start, my first recommendation will sound a bit odd, but stick with me here. Go through your trash! Take your most recent bag of garbage and go through the items in the bag piece by piece. Approach it like an anthropologist—what will you learn from your garbage?

Your garbage will probably tell you a lot about what you eat. Many people find the majority of their trash comes from the kitchen. Food containers, drink containers, straws, bottles, bags…all these items add up quickly. As you separate out your trash, look at the items to recycle (typically, recycling isn’t counted as “waste”). Sometimes cutting back on your trash means recommitting to recycling as well.

Keep an eye out for items you could have repurposed. This isn’t to say you should hoard empty containers and jars to the extreme. A cupboard full of repurposed containers still takes up space in your home. Simply see what is recyclable and how you could minimize your current trash footprint.

Understanding what you actually throw out will let you guard against those things in your zero waste future.

3. Focus on Small, Meaningful Changes

focus on small changes to acheive the zero waste life

Once you’re ready to start the transition to a zero waste lifestyle, check out zero waste resources. Read zero waste blogs and books about the zero trash lifestyle. Find small waste reducing adjustments to implement without changing your routine too much.

Something as simple as carrying your own water bottle or reusable coffee mug makes a big difference without much effort. When you went through your garbage, did you notice many of the same items, like Styrofoam coffee cups or takeout containers? That indicates a good place to start.

Would your favorite takeout place let you bring your own container for food? Could you carry your coffee mug with you each morning?

Beyond your convenience food purchases, look at your shopping habits. Is your grocery store zero waste friendly? Some stores allow you to bring your own bags or jars, offering ways to minimize your food containers (more on creating a zero waste kitchen below).

4. Purchase Zero Waste Products to Set Yourself Up for Success

purchase zero waste products: water bottles, resuable bags, reuseable straws etc

There are many products available to help those who want to live a zero waste lifestyle. Metal and silicone straws are a great example of now-common zero waste products. Bags and food containers are also widely available.

You may also want to look at products with minimal or recyclable packaging. Some health and beauty companies sell products like “bar shampoo” without a bottle. For example, the company Lush promotes that 35% of their products are sold “naked” without package. Look for minimal waste or recyclable options for items like toothbrushes, deodorant, and more.

If you buy items like candles, look for ways to reuse the jars. If you read magazines, exchange or recycle them, use them for crafts, or donate them to a local school or library when you’re done reading them (better yet, switch to an e-reader). Whenever you make a purchase, ask yourself if there’s a less-wasteful alternative.

5. Find Simple Swaps

find simple zero waste swaps, there are lots of products to reduce trash

There are many simple swaps to help set you up for success with your zero waste lifestyle. On the blog The Greener Girl, she outlines many easy zero waste swaps. Straws and bags are two of the easiest switches.

Other items to swap for zero waste (aka reusable) items include fountain pens, razors, feminine products, and laundry soap. Change your kitchen sponge for a microfiber towel. Rather than using napkins and tissues, switch to washable handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. Once you explore the zero waste swaps out there, you may be surprised at all the areas where you can implement a simple change. In the long run going, zero trash will save you money.

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

create a zero waste kitchen

Hands down, the biggest area of waste is usually the kitchen. When I studied my trash, almost everything I was throwing out on a regular basis had to do with food. Many convenience food products come in plastic bags, bottles, boxes, and containers. What we’re saving in convenience, we’re making up for in garbage.

If you’re wondering how to create a zero waste kitchen, there are a few easy areas of focus to start to cut back on waste.

1. Bulk Buying

bulk buying to reduce trash from food waste

Many stores offer the option of bulk buying, especially natural groceries and health food stores. People might feel a little intimidated at first but buying items in bulk is simple. Best of all, bulk buying creates zero trash.

When people plan to buy bulk, often they bring containers with them to the store. Purchase simple mesh bags made to hold all sorts of items like rice, nuts, oats, and coffee beans. Bring a paper bag with you for items like flour. Jars are typically used for deli meats, cheese, and other items requiring a sealable container.

Get your containers weighed at the service counter before you start shopping. The grocery clerk will give you a printout or write down the weight of each container so it’s deducted from the purchase weight at checkout. Then all you need to do is fill up your containers. Shopping this way doesn’t take much extra time and you often save money because bulk buys are typically cheaper.

2. Store Items in Jars

store items in jars to reduce on trash

Rather than storing items in plastic containers, use glass or metal jars to hold the ingredients in your kitchen. If you live in a tiny house, this tip is useful anyway—often glass or metal containers take up less space than commercial packaging. Uniform containers help you maximize your storage space and look great too on open shelves.

If you cook meals ahead to freeze, use glass container to store your food. Leave extra room in the top of each container because food expands when frozen. Store your leftovers in glass jars and reuse them over and over—you can even heat mason jars and eat out of them. This makes food storage simple and there are no worries about chemical compounds in the plastic leaching into your food.

Even microbreweries get in on the trend of reusable containers. You can purchase a “growler” from many breweries and get your beer refilled over and over. This is a fun way to eliminate the need to recycle beer bottles or aluminum cans.

3. Compost

compost bin to handle kitchen waste

Composting is part of a zero waste lifestyle, and for good reason: so many of us throw out food we could instead compost. Gardeners know compost creates a rich, nutrient-dense soil for plants to thrive in. Even if you aren’t a huge vegetable gardener, compost is a welcome addition to any flower bed.

Now, all organic matter can be composted—including human waste. If you’re interested in setting up a composting toilet, it isn’t hard (but of course it isn’t for everyone).

Food composting on the other hand is SO simple, everyone can do it. There are great containers with charcoal filters to eliminate any smell. These bins are stored right on your countertop. Add food scraps, vegetables, coffee grounds, and even paper products to your compost. Most people prefer to avoid adding meat and dairy waste to their compost as it takes longer to breakdown and attracts pests.

When you’ve filled up your compost container, you move it outdoors to a larger composter, where it is mixed with grass, leaves and other organic waste. Vermicomposting uses worms (typically red wiggler worms) to break down the decomposing matter and turn it into harmless vermicast. This rich compost is excellent for gardens. Vermicomposting is an easy composting method for anyone and my personal favorite composting method.

4. Cut Out Bags

cut out bags by using reusable shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags are one area where nearly everyone can cut back on waste. Whether you make your own (make a no sew shopping bag from an old tee shirt) or purchase ready-made bags, fabric trumps plastic every time.

If you buy fresh produce at the store, did you know you don’t need to put it in the bags they provide? Add loose fruits and veggies to your cart and checkout without using plastic. The mesh bags used for bulk buying are also used to store fruits and vegetables, or you could use a paper sack if you prefer. No matter your choice, it’s easy to BYOB (bring your own bag).

5. Plant a Garden

plant a garden to grow your own food which means less trash from food packaging

One of the best ways to cut back on food waste is to grow your own food as much as possible. Now, gardening and homestead farming aren’t for everyone, but even planting a few herbs and salad greens will cut back on containers and waste. Put your new compost to good use by planting easy vegetables like squash in recycled containers.

If you’re ready to take farming further, chickens are often a great place to start. Not only will you get eggs aplenty, but chickens minimize bugs and even help you till the soil in your garden. As you start to grow your own food supply, you’ll see a huge reduction in the amount of waste your produce. Gardening and homestead farming are a great step toward the zero waste lifestyle.

6.Buy Local

buy local food

Another important tip for minimizing your kitchen waste is to buy local whenever possible. Farmers markets and fruit stands naturally produce less waste. Food doesn’t need transportation—there’s minimal packaging and you often pick up right at the farm. Check into your local CSA or farm-share program as well. You could get a bushel container of packaging-free organic vegetables every week!

Buying local also extends to meat, dairy, and baked goods as well. A loaf of bread at the bakery will need less packaging (and require less wasted energy to create and transport) than a commercial bakery. When you purchase from local purveyors, you build relationships and connections with your community. Choose your prime cuts, waste less, and request minimal packaging. Many commercial grocery stores won’t let you bring in your own containers for meat and deli products, but smaller natural food stores often will accommodate a zero waste lifestyle.

The same goes for joining a local co-op. Often, co-ops specialize in bulk foods and minimally packaged items. If your city or town has a co-op, consider becoming an owner. For a small fee, you’ll get access to a wide variety of foods and products, usually locally produced and minimally packaged.

7. Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

pack a zero waste lunchbox

Brown-bagging your lunch with zero waste is simple! There are so many products out there to help you pack a lunch and transport your food, it’s almost a no-brainer. I use a stainless steel box by a company called LunchBots. These containers are beautiful, simple, and so easy to transport. Your lunch is laid out in small compartments and it’s really appetizing.

bento box by lunchbots - a stainless steel lunch containerBento-style lunches have become very popular and for good reason. Not only are they a zero waste lunch option, but they’re aesthetically pleasing as well. In fact, a simple search on Pinterest will yield tons of ideas for making appetizing bento lunches your entire family will love to eat.

Plastic bags and utensils are really easy to cut out of your lifestyle because there are so many alternatives. Get rid of plastic wrap too. With beeswax wraps, you cover food airtight, wash the wrap, and reuse it over and over.

If all else fails, take a cue from your local deli and wrap your lunch in recyclable butcher paper. It keeps food covered and will help you maintain your zero waste lifestyle when you eat on the go.

8. Learn to Creatively Repurpose

creatively repurpose items that would otherwise go in the trash

Embracing a zero waste lifestyle means learning to creatively repurpose items whenever possible. Nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen. So many packages can be reused again and again. Spaghetti sauce jars are used as storage containers. Cans are reused to organize or as pots for plants.

A simple cutting tool will turn plastic bottles into strong rope to use in many different applications. You can recycle many plastic items into craft projects and gifts too. A simple search for repurposed or recycled crafts will yield hundreds of ideas.

Use your old toothbrushes as cleaning brushes. Reuse clothing as cleaning rags. The idea behind a zero waste lifestyle is to use up items as completely as possible. When you think an item has completed its purpose, ask yourself how to reuse it in another way.

FAQs About Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste faqs

When considering the zero waste lifestyle, people often have a lot of questions. Like living the tiny life, there are no set rules you need to follow. The main idea behind zero waste is to find what works for you and do your best. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to a zero waste lifestyle, but really, it’s pretty simple.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about zero waste.

Where should I start?

Start by going through your trash to see your biggest area of waste. Then set small goals to help you tackle each area. If you see a lot of kitchen waste, for example, focus your zero waste efforts there. If you seem to throw out a lot of toiletries and beauty products, then that may be a good area to focus on.

simple clothing to wearYou may want to focus on a zero waste wardrobe as well. Having a capsule or minimalist wardrobe is a great start. Pare down to the necessities and simplify. As you clean out and get rid of items, find ways to recycle, donate, or reuse them whenever possible.
For most people, a zero waste lifestyle begins in the kitchen. Tackle that area and chances are you’ll take a huge step toward become completely zero waste.

Is it hard to do?

It depends on the situation. It requires effort, yes, but if you already recycle and minimize your purchases, then zero waste is the next step. If you plant a garden and grow your own food, then you may find it even easier to transition to a zero waste lifestyle.

My biggest piece of advice is to take it slow. Move in small steps. Tackle one area of your life at a time, like implementing a zero waste kitchen first. Then move to the next area. Like all lifestyle changes, baby steps make it much easier.

Does it cost money?

It seems counter intuitive to spend money on more “stuff” to embrace a zero waste lifestyle, doesn’t it? I recommend using what you already own as much as possible. That said, there are items in the zero waste products section below to help you on your journey.

A one-time purchase like a reusable straw will cut out many future purchases down the road. Buying beeswax wraps or mesh bags might mean making an investment up front, but it’s a trade off when you never need to buy plastic wrap or Ziploc baggies again.

Does it mean giving up “normal life”?

People may raise an eyebrow at any type of lifestyle change. When I moved into my tiny house, people asked me if living in a tiny house meant giving up a normal life. When I’ve advocated for homesteading or minimalism, people ask if it means giving up their normal routine.

Anytime you change, it will mean giving up the conveniences and norms you’re used to. That said, there are zero waste options for almost any product you can think of. You don’t necessarily need to go without something, you just need to adjust your approach.

For example, while I don’t know much about cosmetics, I’ve been told there are beauty companies who allow you to bring your own containers and fill up your own products. There are also minimal packaging beauty products to fit with a zero waste lifestyle.

For clothing, you will find almost any item of clothing you need at a second-hand store. Check Craigslist, Freecycle, and other exchange networks. Borrow what you need and find creative ways to reuse and repurpose items to keep them out of the landfill.

What if I mess up?

Again, like living the tiny life, there are no hard and fast rules you need to follow if you want to live the zero waste lifestyle. There are people who minimize their waste to a mason jar while there are others who simply try their best to cut back on garbage. Join online forums to get ideas and support about living zero waste.

Just keep in mind, no one is perfect. Sometimes there are items that wear out or need replacement (for example, I had to buy a bathmat even though I was attempting a no spend challenge). If a zero waste lifestyle is right for you, do your best. Even making an effort toward reducing your waste is a step in the right direction.

Resources & Zero Waste Products to Help You Start a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste resources - websites, articles, posts, and videos

There are many zero waste blogs and ideas out there for living a zero waste lifestyle. Check out Pinterest and Google for resources to help you navigate. There are also many social media groups for zero waste.

A few popular zero waste blogs are:

Trash is for Tossers
Going Zero Waste
Zero Waste Home
Litterless

The items I’ve found really helpful for a zero waste lifestyle are:

LunchBots Bento Containers
Klean Kanteen Mugs and Water Bottles
CamelBak Water Bottles
Epica Countertop Compost Bin
Flip & Tumble Bags
Flip & Tumble Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
ECOSIP Reusable Straws
Glass Food Containers
Handkerchiefs
Microfiber Towels
Safety Razor
Biodegradable Toothbrushes
Bee’s Wrap Food Wrap
Wool Dryer Balls
Bar Shampoo

There are a plethora of reusable and zero waste products out there. Research and purchase items as you go along to help you embrace the zero waste lifestyle. It’s a great challenge to take on and really makes you think about what you’re buying (and the container it comes in). While we aren’t all ready to go completely zero waste, we can all take steps toward minimizing our waste and cutting back on trash.

Tiny House Plans For Families

Tiny House Plans For Families

tiny-house-plans-families

As more and more people join the tiny house movement, a lot of folks with families are looking to make the leap. But of course, fitting more people in a small space presents a big dilemma. Tiny home floor plans don’t always accommodate multiple people.

I get the question a lot: “How do I make a tiny house work with a family?” People want to know how they can enjoy the family life and still live comfortably in the small space of a tiny home. Plus, there are additional considerations that come along with children—toys, learning space, storage. Yes, kids are small, but they also come with a lot of “stuff.” It seems tough to live in a tiny home as a family.

Well, never fear! There are plenty of families who embrace tiny house living successfully. It’s all about having the right tiny home floor plans and doing some careful preparation before you move. Here’s what you need to know as you explore tiny house plans for families.

What to Consider Before You Start Designing Tiny Home Floor Plans

what to consider when choosing a tiny house floor plan for your family

Of course, moving into a tiny house requires planning. There’s the general planning—how to go solar powered, dealing with water and septic, and of course, finding land for your tiny home. The planning needs of living the tiny life are especially relevant if you’re moving with kids and multiple people. Before you begin designing tiny house floor plans and looking for land, there are some considerations to explore.

If you’re looking to move into a tiny home with your family but aren’t sure how to handle the logistics of tiny house living with kids, you have options you can explore. There are many ways to make small space living work with a family, here are a few methods consider:

  1. Rent or buy a small house with enough minimum room for the family to live comfortably. As you’re looking for space, aim to keep the per person square footage reasonable (and cost-effective).
  2. Build a slightly bigger tiny house; maybe expanding to 10-feet-wide and up to 40-feet-long. Remember, most tiny houses are well under 400 feet BUT, there’s no rule that says you MUST fall under that 400 foot house guideline. If you’re wondering how to live in a small home with a family, you may simply need a slightly bigger (but still small) space.
  3. Start with a single tiny house when your kids are small, then add on or move to a bigger house later as your kids get older and need more room. Babies need less space than older kids, and it could be a great time for your family to explore tiny home living with a starter house.
  4. Consider building multiple tiny houses: adults’ and kids’ houses, sleeping houses, or living and kitchen houses. You aren’t limited to only one structure. Create multiple tiny homes on the same plot of land or add another structure to accommodate the needs of your family.

The point here isn’t to get tied up in what a tiny house is supposed to be, but what works for you and your family. People email me all the time wondering what is considered a tiny home, or worried they must live in a traditional tiny house that’s around 150 square feet. Nope!

The “best” tiny house floor plans for families look different for each situation. Each tiny house family is unique, so if you’re considering moving into a tiny home, forget the square footage rule unless it’s right for your situation. Tiny houses have thrived because they are flexible housing solutions, not a rigid definition. There are no strict rules saying your tiny house floor plans must follow a certain square footage. Create your own guidelines for a tiny home that works for your lifestyle.

Considerations To Choose Your Tiny Home Floor Plan
Tiny house floorplan considerations

Whether you choose to go with a pre-designed floor plan for your tiny home or you customize tiny house floor plans for a family, it’s important to consider all your needs. When it comes to designing tiny house floor plans for families, there are unique factors to think about when planning the layout.

The first step is to create a list of needs. What does your family need to function? To put another way, what does a house need to provide you with to live your life? What needs does your tiny house floor plan cover? Could you combine ideas using several tiny house plans for families?

I like to think of this room by room as I look over tiny house floor plans. When I’ve helped people decide on their tiny house needs, I’ll go around the person’s current space and look at what function and activity takes place in each area.

tiny house for a family of 4For example, when you assess the kitchen, you may want to consider: pantry storage (10 ft3), food prepping area (a sink, 6 ft² counter top, a trash can, a cutting board), dish storage, dish washing area (4 ft² for a dish drying rack, a place to hang towel, soap and sink storage). You see the idea here. Remember to consider: storage, number of rooms, and the needs of each occupant (including the small ones).

The goal is to operationalize every action in the tiny house, making sure to only write down the core functions, true needs, and the minimum space needed to achieve them. This is challenging, but it will give you a clear picture of exactly how much space you and your family will need to plan for in your tiny house.

Needs to consider as you look at tiny house plans for families:

  1. Play and sleep spaces for kids.
  2. Storage for toys.
  3. Food storage.
  4. Large enough prep and cooking space for bigger meals.
  5. Area for learning, quiet study, or homeschool space.
  6. Winter clothing storage for kids.
  7. Extra bedding and blanket storage.
  8. Storage for outdoor toys, sports equipment and bikes.
  9. Bathroom needs (washing out dirty diapers, for example).
  10. Laundry and sanitation needs.

For a full picture and examples of how to make tiny house living with a family work, check out this video. These two parents used smart strategies for designing tiny house plans for their family. They designed the tiny house they’ve lived in for the past few years along with their two young children. They’ve come up with many creative ways to make the tiny house lifestyle work with kids:

It’s certainly possible for a tiny home to accommodate all the needs of a family, but it will require additional planning and consideration (and probably some creativity). For example, if you live in an area with warm weather for most of the year, you may be able to have your homeschool lessons outdoors in nature’s classroom. If you need to store extra outdoor equipment or winter items, you could consider renting a storage space, or using a trailer to store extra items when they aren’t in use. Tiny house living means thinking outside the box.

Sample Tiny House Floor Plans for Familiessample family tiny house floor plans

Here are samples of small house designs with multiple bedrooms that might work for you and your family. These tiny house plans for families will help you get started with the brainstorming process and give you an idea of the layouts that are possible to accommodate multiple people.

Please note, these are just floor plans, not step by step instruction guides or building plans, but they should help give you an idea of the available tiny house plans for families.

8x24 tiny house floor plan for a family

This 3 bedroom tiny house floor plan includes an upper and lower level. It’s suitable to accommodate two twin beds AND a queen-sized bed. It would be a great tiny house floor plan for a family of four, with a dining/workspace that could be converted for play or study as well. The kitchen and bathroom are small but cover all the basic needs of a family. There is also some storage space and options to add storage under and above the beds, in the kitchen, and throughout the home.

Small-Home-Building-Plans-for-a-family-of-4

This 2 bedroom tiny house layout is one of my favorite tiny house floor plans for families. With bedrooms and a nice-sized great room, this space offers all that you would need for a small family. Best of all, there’s a covered porch, which is great for a little privacy to use as a learning spot (it could be a great option for homeschool). There’s a dining area and kitchen with prep space as well. This tiny house floor plan packs a lot of functionality into a small area.

bbb-floor-plans-two-bed-room

These tiny house plans for families offer a one or two-bedroom layout. The one bedroom would be perfect for a couple or a family with an infant. The two-bedroom layout gives space for families of three or four. This floor plan features a shared dining/living space that’s roomy and offers extra spots for storage of items like blankets, books, clothes and toys.

Two Bedroom Tiny House Plans for a family

This 2 bedroom tiny house floor plan is another option with a longer, narrow layout. The covered porch is roomy enough for reading, study, or play. There’s two nice-sized bedrooms, and with some creative bedding options (bunkbeds, or even a Murphy bed) there could be enough room for several kids in addition to two adults.

simple small house for a family to live in a tiny house

The footprint of this tiny house floor plan is squarer, but similar to the option above, with a nice-sized covered porch. The living room is roomy and the bathroom (with a bathtub) is right off the two bedrooms. The kitchen opens into the living room, which is nice for a busy family—one space for all your needs.

The Challenges of Designing a Tiny House for a Family

challenges designing for a family in a tiny house

If you choose to design your own tiny house floor plan (or work off a plan that you adjust for your family), the possibilities are endless. Decide on a layout that will accommodate your family’s needs and preferences.

I think the two biggest challenges when it comes to designing a tiny house for a family are: eating and sleeping. In the kitchen, you’ll need more storage and a larger food preparation and eating area. For sleeping, each kid will need their own bed and possibly even their own bedroom. There’s also clothing storage, toys, and other needs to consider.

When it comes to family-sized storage, realize not all your possessions need to get crammed into your tiny house. As I mentioned before, you can use a trailer or off-site storage if you need more space in your tiny house. You can read about my extra storage space, which is a cargo trailer, here. Families could easily do something similar with storage: maybe even sub-divide the trailer into compartments for each person.

wardrobe in a tiny houseAlso think about rotating wardrobes if you need more living space for your family in your tiny home. Many people keep a winter set of clothes and a summer set of clothes, which works well for families with kids. You can store bulky winter clothes like coats, boots, gloves, and snow pants out of your home to create more room. Store out-of-season clothing in another spot too, like a trailer or storage unit if possible.

Families have more mouths to feed, of course. Bigger meals mean you’ll need to consider extra cooking space for your family in your tiny house. Each family has different cooking habits and preferences, so design your tiny house kitchen around your needs. If your family enjoys freezer meals or you use frozen food storage, you’ll need to include space for a freezer. If you prefer canned vegetables, include a can rack and storage space. Design a space to accommodate your preferences.

The extra bedding spaces is a major challenge for families in a tiny house. When you design or decide on your tiny home floor plans, I think there are two approaches to sleep space: 1) Plan for bedrooms for every person (or a parents’ room, boys’ bedroom, girls’ bedroom). Or 2) plan spaces that are multi-functional and convert into a bedroom or sleeping space (see ideas for convertible spaces below).

Tiny House Plans: Convertible Spaces

tiny-house-convertible-spaces

Making a tiny house work for families means creating multi-function areas that can be used in many different ways. Beds take up one of the largest footprints in your home, so naturally, finding a way to make bedrooms convertible is a big space-saver.

When it comes to bedding and sleeping spaces for kids, look for furniture and designs with multiple functionality. Many of these furniture design ideas are commonly used in apartments and other small-space dwellings and they work great when adapted for tiny homes. You can often find convertible furniture at stores like IKEA, with multi-use pieces.

Think outside the bedroom too. Use convertible furniture in the living room or in an office workspace during the day. At night, using multipurpose pieces, the room can become a kids’ bedroom or sleep space. Homeschool parents can use a dining table as a workspace, or a porch as a classroom.

Here are some great multi-function convertible furniture pieces to consider:

Day bed for kids beds in a tiny house on wheels

A futon that lays flat to become a bed, then a trundle comes out for another bed.

trundle-bed-children-creatively-closes-private-tent-with-light

A trundle bed (I like the tent which is fun for kids, but also allows them to close the flap for privacy or alone time).

Here is a elevated trundle that has two beds and storage for kids in a tiny house

An elevated trundle that has two beds and storage.

A standard trundle bed for childrens bedroom

A standard trundle bed

A double bed, bunk bed Murphy style for kids in a tiny house

A double bed, bunk bed Murphy style

Two-Bedroom-And-Book-Storage-Design-For-Small-Space

Two bedrooms in a small space.

samll space pantry in a small house

Space-saving pantry and kitchen storage that folds away.

kitchen storage in a tiny house

Stairs that convert into extra kitchen storage.

classroom storage for homeschooling kids in a tiny house

Classroom storage for homeschool.

Is a tiny home possible for a family? You bet! It simply means thinking of new ways to use and maximize small spaces. While it requires storage strategies and creativity, much of tiny living success starts with your tiny house floor plan. Review the tiny house floor plans for families and consider what your family will need for their space. With planning and research, a tiny home can work for everyone!

Resources for Families Considering the Tiny Life

My most popular posts of families who live in small spaces are:

I’ve also posted ideas for small houses that could lend themselves to being used for a family or adapted:

Tiny House Builders – The Complete Tiny House Builder Directory

Tiny House Builders - The Complete Tiny House Builder Directory

tiny-house-builders

Looking for quality tiny house builders is an important step if you want someone to build you a tiny house on wheels.  In this tiny house builders directory, I’ve tried to share the best of what’s out there.

While I’ve listed this tiny house directory by state, don’t forget that since tiny houses are mobile, you can have your home built almost anywhere and then driven to its final home.  Builders typically charge between $1-$2 per mile to deliver, so the cost can add up, but if you have your own tow vehicle, you can pick it up yourself and save.

This also means you can shop for the best builder, getting quotes for prices, learning from previous customers and meeting the builder face to face.

What To Look For From Tiny House Manufacturers

what-to-look-for

Choosing a builder or manufacturer for your tiny house is a big decision and not something you should take lightly.  In my time working in the tiny house world I’ve continually heard horror story after horror story of how things have gone wrong.  Don’t let your dream home turn into a nightmare.

If you want to buy a tiny house, you must do your homework and be skeptical at every turn, because I’ve seen my fair share of tiny house builders come and go.  In fact I’d say it’s the norm, not the exception.  Many people are wanting to cash in on the trend and not all are honest about it.  So here are a few steps to make your tiny house buying experience safer.

Ask For References

It’s really incredible how many people don’t do this, it’s one of the best ways to safeguard yourself from a bad builder.  A good custom tiny house builder is proud of their work and encourages you talk with their past customers.  I once had a builder who wanted to come to the Tiny House Conference and I notified he had some bad builds, so I asked him “can you send me some references?”

He hemmed and hawed, gave excuse after excuse.  Red flag!  Its an easy thing to do, call several of the past customers.  Ask how their house is today, how was it like working with the builder, where they communicative, how did they deal with problems that arrived, etc.  Don’t just make one phone call, make several.  Tiny Houses are expensive and you should leave this up to chance the best you can.

Get A Contract From Your Tiny House Builder

Time and time again I’ve seen this, people don’t get things in writing.  They jump right to the build and they don’t spend time getting everything down on paper.  This is the best time to find out where you and the builder are thinking differently.  You want to make sure you have a solid plan laid out and agree on how you’re going to resolve disagreements.  Read my post here about Making sure you always have a contract

Have A Payment Schedule Tied To Progress

When it comes to building a tiny house, you want to make sure you just don’t write a blank check.  Make sure you spread out the payments over time and then tie those payments to milestones.  If you have 4 payments along the way, you can check in on it and then they’re incentivized to keep moving on the project.  Being very clear on when they get paid and what they have to do in order for you to pay them will let you safeguard them running off from all your money.

Spend The Time & Money To Draw Tiny House Plans

The first step in every build should be the design stage.  You need to be very clear on what you want and get that on paper.  Having real plans drawn up by an architect is critical as it is an addendum to your contract which allows you to better specifically call out each detail of your house.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people not do this and get a house very different than they were expecting.  All because they didn’t work it out on paper.

Include A Detailed Material List

Here is one area that scammy builders get away with things.  Let’s say you want a window in a certain place, you want flooring of a certain color, or a light in the loft.  What are the details of those things?  I can buy a cheap window that looks awful for $60 or I can buy a fully custom window that costs $1,000; how have you documented which it should be?  You need a full material schedule for everything.

If you don’t take the time to do this a builder can charge you a high price for something saying it will be “high quality”, but then choose a budget option to meet the requirement.  What does high quality mean, what were you expecting?  Define each material and quantify the quality as best as you can.

Learn How To Build A Tiny House

You need to actually know how to build a tiny house, even if you aren’t going to build it yourself.  Why?  Because I’ve seen a lot of “professional builders” building houses incorrectly.  In some cases I’ve seen “tiny house builders” build them unsafely!

You need to know and you need to check their work at every step.  Take photos of the process and make sure to get the details.  Develop a paper trail for your own records and to have a way to make sure the work is being done properly.

If you don’t live in the same location as your builder, require them to Skype or Face Time you with video each week of the process.  Then make the trip, no matter how far, to go see it in person after the framing has been done.  Ask for this up front.

Hire A Building Inspector

Yup, that’s right.  Hire someone to come in and assess the tiny house.  Do this at the end of framing and then right before delivery.  This lets you have a third party evaluation, plus it let’s the builder know that there is a certain quality expectation.

You want to know how to make a bad builder turn tail and run?  Tell him you’ll have a building inspector checking their work along the way.  A good builder will welcome the review, a bad one will make excuses or disappear.

Should I Get A RVIA Certified Tiny House

should-i-get-rvia-certified

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) is a association of builders that make RV and those with the certification means they meet certain standards.  Many people ask about this because they think it’s required, but it actually isn’t.  Builders like it because it sounds impressive and they can charge a higher fee, it allows some to get financing and in some cases it let’s you find a parking spot more easily.

There is a catch.  If you get an RVIA certified tiny house you are then officially a RV, sounds good right?  Maybe not.  In my city it is illegal to even park an RV in any residential area and you’re not even allowed to “camp” or live in it, even for 24 hours.  People who try to live in a RV in my city will get a fine and this is a very common thing across all of the US.

So being defined as an RV actually hurts you in many places.  It often means that you have to be in a campground, which many places limit your maximum stay.  Once you’re designated an RV, it cannot be undone or changed.  In my opinion it limits you to much and for most people in the USA, its actually a deal breaker because your city won’t allow it under any circumstance.

Download Our Builders Directory PDF

TINY HOUSE BUILDERS DIRECTORY

Alabama Tiny Home Builders

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Alaska Tiny House Builders

alaska

Arizona Tiny House Builders

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Arkansas Tiny House Builders

arkansas

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

California Tiny House Builders

california

Colorado Tiny Home Builders

colorado

Connecticut Tiny Home Builders

connecticut

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Delaware Tiny Home Builders

delaware

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Washington DC Tiny House Builders

washington-dc

Florida Tiny House Builders

florida

Georgia Tiny Home Builders

georgia

Hawaii Tiny Home Builders

hawaii

Idaho Tiny Home Builders

idaho

Illinois Tiny Home Builders

illinois

Indiana Tiny Home Builders

illinois

Iowa Tiny Home Builders

iowa

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Kansas Tiny Home Builders

kansas

  • None currently: consider nearby states

Kentucky Tiny Home Builders

kentucky

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Louisiana Tiny Home Builders

louisiana

Maine Tiny House builders

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Maryland Tiny House Builders

maryland

Massachusetts Tiny House Builders

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Michigan Tiny House Builders

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Minnesota Tiny House Builders

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Mississippi Tiny House Builders

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Missouri Tiny House Builders

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Montana Tiny House Builders

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Nebraska Tiny House Builders

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Nevada Tiny House Builders

nevada

New Hampshire Tiny House Builders

new-hampshire

New Jersey Tiny House Builders

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  • None currently:  consider nearby states

New Mexico Tiny House Builders

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New York Tiny House Builders

new-york

North Carolina Tiny House Builders

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North Dakota Tiny House Builders

north-dakota

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Ohio Tiny House Builders

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Oklahoma Tiny House Builders

oklahoma

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Oregon Tiny House Builders

oregon

Pennsylvania Tiny House Builders

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Rhode Island Tiny House Builders

rhode-island

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

South Carolina Tiny House Builders

south-carolina

South Dakota Tiny House Builders

south-dakota

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Tennessee Tiny House Builders

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Texas Tiny House Builders

texas

Utah Tiny House Builders

utah-tiny-house-builders

Vermont Tiny House Builders

vermont

Virginia Tiny House Builders

virginia

Washington Tiny House Builders

washington

West Virginia Tiny House Builders

west-virginia

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Wisconsin Tiny House Builders

wisconsin

Wyoming Tiny House Builders

wyoming

  • None currently:  consider nearby states

Download Our Builders Directory PDF

Want to be on this list?  Know a good builder?

 

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life

Battle the Busy Schedule: How to Simplify Your Life


You’re late to work again. You forgot your niece’s birthday. You double booked yourself. You forgot three items at the grocery store…You’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule.

Here’s the deal: there are literally hundreds of decent time management tools out there to help you reclaim your time, get organized, and take back your schedule. And you know what? Not one of them will work if you don’t address the root of your busy schedule problem.

In fact, the advice you hear about time management (write a to-do list, download a scheduling app, buy a planner, set priorities) is completely WRONG if you don’t have control over your time in the first place. I mean, the tools aren’t exactly bad. In fact, many of them are quite effective (and I’ll tell you which ones are really worth it). But before you buy a time management tool, you need to address the real issue here.

The Root of the Busy Schedule: Saying Yes When You Should Say No

saying no to a busy schedule
In a given day, we all know we have 24 hours. Over an 80 year lifetime, you get 700,800 hours. That sounds like a lot of time, right?

Subtract out the time you spend sleeping. Figuring most of us get 7-8 hours ideally per night. We’re left with 16 hours, of which many people spend half at their jobs. 8 hours for work, an hour to get ready (prepare your breakfast and lunch for example), and an hour for commuting leaves you with 6 remaining hours in the day. For many people, the number is even smaller. Let’s say, 5 hours.

So, what do you do in those five remaining hours each day? If you exercise, cook dinner, watch a movie, or spend the average 2-4 hours on your phone…well, you’re left with precious little time. Becoming more productive and laser focused, is the answer, right? After all, if you only have a few hours of free time during the day, you must manage it carefully.

For many of us, myself included, the better time management solution didn’t work until I shifted my mindset. If you’re seeking a simple, minimalist lifestyle, chances are you’re trying to minimize clutter including the clutter on your schedule.

simplified life without a busy scheduleWhen I started to live more simply, my schedule underwent a big transition. To take back my schedule and simplify my calendar, I had to change my mindset and weed out the timewasters. This was long before I started using time management tools. First it was about getting into the right headspace and social practices.

We think if we had better tools, we could manage every second of our days. In reality, the answer is a little more complex. Going out and buying the latest planner, spending hours setting up a bullet journal, downloading and learning Trello or Asana, won’t help boost your productivity if you don’t address the root cause of your busy schedule. In fact, all these tools may leave you feeling overwhelmed and inclined to throw in the towel on your busy schedule (in other words, setting you right back to square one).

If you want to reclaim your time, you need to start saying no.

Getting Past the Fear of Saying No

get your time back and have a simplified schedule
For many of us, the thought of saying no grips us with fear. We don’t want to sound rude. We don’t want to miss out. Maybe we feel an obligation to our boss, our spouse, our friends, or our kids. We have a difficult time turning down the request to stay longer at the office, coach Little League, or attend a birthday party.

But realize every time you say yes, you are saying no to something else. Every time commitment you set is subtracting time from another commitment or activity.

  • Say yes to staying late at the office? You’re saying no to family time.
  • Say yes to happy hour with friends? You’re saying no to the gym.
  • Commit to helping your buddy out? You’re saying no to your personal time.

At first, this thought is jarring. Most of us don’t like choosing between, say, happy hours with friends or cooking dinner at home. But each day, and every time we commit to adding an item on our busy schedule, we’re making an either/or choice, inevitably. If you’ve never thought of saying no as a chance to reclaim your time, it’s an eye-opening realization.

If you want to take back your schedule and reclaim your time, you need to start viewing your time as a precious resource. Instead of focusing on the items you’re saying yes to, think about what you’re choosing NOT to do instead. Is it worth the extra commitment?

When we distill down our choice, not only are we tackling our busy schedule, but we’re regaining control over our time. Look at our time as a resource, we can start to figure out how we’re going to fit the necessities in and eliminate the unnecessary items. It’s not about saying “no” to your boss, your friends, or your kids, but about saying yes, to simplifying your schedule and finding time for the activities that are really important to you.

Understanding the Reason Makes it Easy to Say No

set priorities in your schedule to avoid being busy

Go through your commitments and start to separate them out into the yeses, and the noes. When you’re saying yes, what’s the flip side? What are you declining in the process?

When you change your mindset, it also helps ease the stress of saying no. You’re no longer saying no because you don’t “want” to do a task. You’re saying yes to another task instead. In fact, one of the best ways to say no easily, is to offer up a reason. If you’ve explored the yes/no question about a task, your reason becomes evident.

“I can’t stay because I’m doing something with my family.”

“I won’t be able to meet you tonight, I have an appointment at my gym.”

“My schedule’s full this week, and I can’t commit to another activity right now.”

Having the reason and rationale behind the “no” makes saying it much simpler. No guilt. Remember, your time is a resource, if there’s not enough to go around, there’s simply not enough.

Never Waste Your Precious Time

don't waste time and free up your schedule
When we’re too busy and frazzled, we often cease making practical deliberate decisions about our time. If you’ve ever felt you’re running around, or find you’re forgetting the purpose of an errand, you’re probably not deliberately managing your time resource. In fact, the more we multitask and take on too much, the higher the likelihood we’ll miss something, make a mistake, or run late for an appointment. If you want to boost your productivity and free up your busy schedule, stop packing in extra tasks.

When we narrow our focus to the activities that truly matter, we’re able to become much more efficient. It’s about eliminating the extra steps and processes that don’t make sense. For example, when I started a new job a few years ago, I was training and noticed we were running the same report over and over. I spoke up and asked why we were running a report that seemed redundant.

The woman training me stopped dead in her tracks, and said, “I have no idea. No one’s ever asked before.”

focus your life and your calendar on what matters

After an exploration, they determined the report was truly superfluous and a waste of time. There were many other tasks like that on the to do list. Whether it’s simplifying your work life and office, or deciding to take back your time at home, always explore the reasons why you’re doing something. If it doesn’t make sense, or seems unnecessary, don’t be afraid to ask!

If You Say Yes to This, What Are You Saying No To?

Eventually, it will become habitual to ask, rather than simply perform a job or do an activity. Each time you’re presented with something to complete, ask yourself:

  • If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?
  • Is this worth using my time resource?
  • Could this be done more efficiently?
  • What is the reason for this task? (the reason may simply be fun!)

Once you’ve really clarified the necessity of a task and deemed it worthy of your schedule, mindfully commit! Block out time, to dedicate solely to the task at hand. This will help you really simplify and pare down to the job in front of you. You’ll complete the task faster and more efficiently.

If you’re fighting the battle of the busy schedule, adopting this strategic approach will help you parse your schedule down to the items you really want to do. You will feel at peace when you say no, and you’ll get the items on your to do list down faster and more efficiently.

The Best Time Management Tools For You

best time managment tools for you to master a busy schedule
If you purchase a planner, adopt the Pomodoro method, or download an app like Asana, before you’ve simplified your schedule, the tool becomes more of a distraction and an excuse. That’s why it’s so important we understand our priorities first.

We may spend hours writing items down, organizing our to do lists and planning out our tasks without really achieving anything. When we’re unproductive, we place blame on the tool. It’s important to remember each tool is only as good as the user. If you’re prepared and narrow down the items you need to tackle to what’s really important, any tool is useful. If you haven’t addressed the underlying mentality that comes with a jam-packed schedule, then any tool, no matter how great, becomes a procrastination excuse.

In reality, almost every commercial tool out there is pretty useful. They’re intuitive and user-friendly. It’s really about finding a tool you love and will stick to using. As long as you’re committed, a paper planner is as good as a robust program like Trello.

Here are a few of the better time management tools I’ve found:

Paper Planner

What it is: A paper planner may seem a bit old school, but for many people they’re easy to carry and give a nice, clear overview. Typical paper planners include a calendar and a daily/weekly/monthly agenda where you block out your time. A planner may also include goal setting tools and other helpful pages.

Who it’s best for: Those who are comfortable with paper, but like structure. If you love having something tangible to refer to, then a paper planner is a great place to start. The drawbacks of a paper planner is that it’s bulky and it’s harder to erase/change/move appointments. Paper planners to check out: Panda Planner, Erin Condren LifePlanner, Franklin Covey Classic Original.

Journal

What it is: Journaling is a different style of planning—more free-form and customizable. Some journals offer prompts or grids you fill in to track a variety of habits and activities. Journals are as simple as a notebook, or much more involved.

Who it’s best for: Goal-setters, creative planners and those who prefer a visual interpretation of planning. If you’re artistic, paper and list-oriented, and plan using mind mapping, then a journal planner could be a good fit for you. Look at resources on Pinterest for bullet journals, goal-setting journals and daily journals. A few journals to check out: The Habit Journal, The Mastery Journal, The Morning Sidekick Journal, The 6-Minute Diary.

Electronic Calendar

What it is: Google Calendar is available through Gmail. MS Outlook also uses a Calendar program. These calendar programs sync with the respective email programs and are accessible from nearly any handheld device or desktop. Both calendars offer multiple calendar options, automatic scheduling, and are very user-friendly.

Who it’s best for: People on the go, who don’t like carrying paper, and those who need a relatively simple calendar planning program to manage their schedule. If you always carry your phone with you and are comfortable with an electronic calendar, then these are two very easy-to-use programs. Outlook is available as part of the Microsoft Office Suite, and Google Calendar is free for Gmail users.

The Pomodoro Technique

What it is: The Pomodoro Method or Pomodoro Technique has been around for decades. This productivity method uses time blocks (typically 25 minutes) to work on a task. You decide on a task, set a time, work for 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break when complete (and a longer break when the full task is complete).

Who it’s best for: Procrastinators and those who struggle with distraction. If you enjoy working in short bursts and feel more focused “under pressure” then the timer is a big productivity booster. You will still need a calendar or a paper to track your tasks and block out your time. The method is explained in Francesco Cirillo’s book, Pomodoro Technique; there are Pomodoro apps and online tools as well, such as: Tomato timer and Focus Booster.

List Making Apps

What it is: When it comes to list making apps there are a huge variety out there. Most list making apps offer an opportunity to manage your to-dos, sync with your calendar and set follow up reminders. Certain apps are collaborative, allowing you to share tasks and projects with a team, while others are best for a single user. While, all list making apps aren’t created equal, at the end of the day, they all do a similar task: help you manage your lists.

Who it’s best for: If you’re a list maker, you may find any of the list making apps quite helpful. From the palm of your hand you’re able to access to do lists, receive reminders and keep track of all the tasks on your plate. Many of the list making apps are great for helping you break down goals into small, manageable steps. A few list making apps to check out: Wunderlist, Todoist, Remember The Milk.

Productivity Apps/Project Management Programs

What it is: A more robust and work-friendly project management tool, these apps are great for teams. For personal use, they’re helpful for families and for big projects with a lot of moving pieces (like building a tiny house). Some users simply prefer the interface and find project management tools help them really set goals and keep track of many different parts at once.

Who it’s best for: Those who use project management software at work, have large projects to manage, or really enjoy digging in. There are plenty of comparisons online between project management programs, but two of the most popular are Trello and Asana. Both have pros and cons but are worth checking out. One word of caution with project management software—if you’re new to planning, and simply hoping to manage a busy schedule and take back your time, the software is often too robust. Remember, you don’t want to use the project management software as another excuse to procrastinate (“I’ll get a handle on my schedule as soon as I figure out how to use this software.”)

At the end of the day, the tool you use is really about finding the best fit for your lifestyle. If you prefer an app, paper, or a timer, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you stick with it and apply it to your time management.

Taking back your time and getting a handle on your busy schedule, doesn’t need to be a battle, but it does mean shifting your mindset. Remember, if you only have 24 hours in the day, you need to use them wisely. Once you decide to prioritize and take back control of your time, you’ll find yourself more relaxed.

If you want the peace that comes with a simple schedule, start saying no to the extra tasks and commitments weighing you down!