Posts Tagged Decluttering

The Purpose Of Stuff And The Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

Recently I came across a post about “The purpose of stuff” and I thought it was a really great way of thinking about the items in our lives.  To summarize, we have all this stuff in our lives and they largely fall into four distinct purposes: Functional, Aesthetic, Nostalgic, and Dream Placeholders.

posessions and clutter tiny house

 

I liked this line of thought and realized that this frame work is useful, but it contains a lot of pitfalls.  For example: Functional.  There are a lot of things that could be deemed functional in our lives. Kitchen gadgets are the first thing that comes to mind.

Many of us have drawers stuffed with gadgets that will peel garlic, steam broccoli and core an apple.  The kitchen gadget industry has come up with a solution for every possible problem.  The truth is, much of these purpose built items don’t make us better cooks and most of these things serve an outlier need.  How often do you actually core apples?

So I wanted to offer up some questions that can help you navigate around the pitfalls of each of these.

Functional:

There are things that we simply need to get through our daily lives.  We need a bed to sleep on, a fridge to keep food in, a towel to dry our hands and so on.  Much of what is in my tiny house has a very strong functional purpose, but it’s easy to say we NEED something.  What most people fail to do is examine motivations and take a step back and understand the motivations.

compact-can-openerA perfect example for me was: do I need a washer and dryer?  I was convinced I did, but I didn’t know how I was going to fit it in my house.  It was then I took a step back and said “I hate folding clothes, why would I want to have a thing in my house that caused me to do things I hate doing?”

Now it would be easy to say, well everyone wears clothes, clothes get dirty, you need to wash them, therefore, you need a washer.  That is a pretty logical argument, it’s how most houses are built, and how it’s been done for a long time.  But I was willing to ask myself, what if I didn’t have a washer/dryer?  So I said, well maybe there is someone that I could instead pay to do my laundry in lieu of buying an expensive compact washer/dryer.  Low and behold I found a company that will come to my house, take my laundry, wash/dry/fold, then bring it back to me… for $15!

Ask yourself these questions around functional items:

  • What assumptions am I making about this item and the “need” it fills?
  • What are other ways I could achieve this same end result?
  • Is there something I could use instead that does this in a smaller form or is multi-purpose
  • How often do I actually do this function?
  • What if I didn’t have this thing?  What would the impact be?

Aesthetics

There is a great quote from William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  Aesthetics is very important in a small space and for minimalists, we have very little so we must be intentional with all our decisions.  When it comes to minimalists choosing beautiful things for our lives, we need to be discerning.  This is the case where less is more, not out of some dogmatic adherence, but by have a few beautiful things we bring focus and honor to their purpose: enrichment through beauty.

have-nothing-that-is-not-useful-and-beautifulThe trouble with aesthetic items we can have too many of them, which leads us to have a cluttered feel.  Focus on a few select things that allows you to enjoy them without being distracted by other things.  If you find yourself not appreciating it’s value each day, it might be a sign it needs to go.

Ask yourself these questions around aesthetic items:

  • Where will this item have a home, a spot, in my house?
  • How do you want your space or home to feel?  How does this item help you achieve that goal?
  • Is there enough space to draw your focus on this item each day?
  • What items will distract you from enjoyment of this item?

Nostalgic

This is the most difficult of them all, because we are human beings and as such, we are inherently laden with flaws and complications.  Nostalgia is a powerful force of the human experience and its valuable, healthy and an important part of life.  There are times when it can weigh us down.

memories-posessionsIf you ever have watched a show of Hoarders, you hear over and over again how people don’t want to throw something away because it reminds them of their late spouse, passed away family member or some other part of their past.  While hoarding is an unhealthy expression of this need to connect with the past, we can all relate to these feelings.

I spent a significant amount of time sifting through my memory boxes and was able to organize into a few albums and boxes.  I then placed the whole thing into a large waterproof container for safe keeping.  I think what I really need to do is get better is spending a little more time enjoying these memories.

Ask yourself these questions around nostalgic items:

  • Is it possible to keep this memory from some other prompt?
  • Is this a healthy memory to keep coming back to?
  • Would a picture of the item suffice?

Dream Placeholders

I have a soft spot for nostalgic items, but when it comes to items that are place holders for our dreams, hope and even fantasies, I draw a pretty hard line.  Dream placeholders are things that nod to a life we wish to live. They are things that we want in our lives, but we don’t have them, so we instead have things that remind us of that.  Dream placeholders are toxic. Period.

We should have goals. The difference between goals and dreams is that we work towards goals. We remind ourselves that we don’t have the dream but enjoy thinking about it.

born to liveThis is the difference between someone saying they hate their job and going home only to do it all over again, versus a person that works 9 to 5, only to come home and work on their side hustle until midnight.  It is the difference between people who say they want to live in a tiny house and the people who say I’m going to do it and are building their dream home weeks later.

Dream placeholders can be toxic.  Living this lifestyle is one of purpose, of intention and of pursuit of your best life.  If you can’t actively pursue something, then it’s best to come to terms that it will not happen and move on.

Ask yourself these questions about Dream Placeholders:

  • What have you done in the last week to achieve this dream?
  • Why haven’t you achieved this already and are you creating excuses?
  • Does this item serve a function in getting you closer to your goals?
  • Should I lay this dream to rest and move on?

 

Your Turn!

  • How do you make sure the things in your life are meant to be there?
  • What tricks do you use to keep down clutter?

Things That Shouldn’t Impress Us Anymore

Recently I came across a great article from Joshua Becker (read it here) which captured a set of ideas that had been swirling around my head for a while.  The article was called 7 things that shouldn’t impress us anymore.  It talked about status symbols and how they shouldn’t be held up to such a high importance for us.

organizational-debtI think what struck me about most of the list is that ironic thing about the brand name of your clothing, big diamond rings, fancy cars and a big house is that most folks who these things are important to, can’t afford them.  Most – read 90% of Americans – folks achieve these status symbols through accruing debt.  I have a distinct memory of when my neighbors, who were very concerned with the things on Joshua’s list, one day fell on hard times.

The house of cards fell very fast for them. Their cars were taken because they were on lease, the home ended up in short sale and my neighbors lamented to me about all the credit card debt calls they got.  While this is just one story about a neighbor, it is really the story for many people today.   The truth is the average American household carries $15,762 (source) and 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (source).

What is more, conspicuous consumption shouldn’t not impress us any more, but it should evoke a very different reaction – sadness or empathy – because it is almost always done on the back of debt.  People are extending themselves in ways that has been shown to break up marriages, bring massive amounts of stress, and leave people in a hole they often can’t get out of.

Think about it – not only should they not impress us, but depress us.  What does it say about the status of our culture when people are willing to take on crippling debt just to impress a stranger?

Obviously I’m preaching to the choir here: tiny house folks focus on small spaces to get out of debt, we re-evaluate our spending choices and have taken steps to shed our consumer culture.  Inherently having nice things isn’t bad, even having brand names, nice cars etc isn’t a bad thing; we just need to know the why behind all of it.  The trap is when people say “that’s what I thought I was ‘supposed’ to do.”

Live your life with intention, with purpose behind each decision, each choice.  That choice could be living in a tiny house or it could be a 1,200 square foot house with a fancy car.

Your Turn!

  • What things do you think we shouldn’t be impressed about anymore?

 

There Are No Joneses

 

Back in March when I was interviewing potential volunteers for the 2016 Tiny House Conference, I asked a married couple why they were interested in downsizing into a tiny house, and why they wanted to help run our event.

“We used to be so concerned with keeping up with the Joneses, until we realized one day that our lifestyle had gotten out of hand,” they said. “Turns out there aren’t any Joneses.”

We hear the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” so much in society that it’s completely lost its meaning. I find that I pick up on it more often now that I’m involved in the tiny house movement, and it’s almost jarring to hear how flippantly people use it in conversation. Even more often, I hear something and I can tell that this insidious, invisible “Jones” character is behind it:

“We bought a house in a nice neighborhood in the suburbs, because that’s what adults are supposed to do.”

“Real men drive pickup trucks.”

“Oof, you still only have an iPhone 4? You should upgrade. Like, yesterday.”

“Buy one of our luxury Swiss timepieces for only $199 per month!”

The idea of constantly upgrading our clothing, our houses, our cars, our adornments, and our job titles reminds me of a race. There’s an urgency to spend every shred of time and money to strive for the next shiny toy, the next symbol of adulthood, the next proof to the world that you’re buying the things you should because you have your life together. You’re racing against everyone else who is trying to do the same thing. No one seems to ask why you’re doing it.

Then, when you approach the finish line, after leaving the losers in the dust behind you, the anonymous Mr. Jones will finally appear in his impeccably tailored suit, give a slow clap and say, “Well done. You’ve beaten me. Have some cake.”

But that’s not what’s actually beyond the finish line.

Gravestone

There is no finish line. There are no Joneses.

(The cake is a lie.)

Your time is your most precious and limited resource. Are you using it to spend time with loved ones? Help improve people’s lives? Create new things? Discover new places? Learn new skills?

Or are you endlessly consuming stuff you don’t need to impress people whose opinions don’t matter?

It’s perfectly fine to want and enjoy material items. We’re human – we use things in order to carry out our work and our daily routines comfortably. Sometimes we even get nice things for ourselves or from people we care about. No one is saying you should shed all material possessions to become a nudist and live in the woods (although if that’s your thing, that’s cool too).

But if you look up and realize you’re in the middle of the race, it’s not your fault. Businesses and marketers have spent billions of dollars to convince you and everyone around you that you’re right where you should be. If you’ve started noticing that you’re doing something ridiculous just because everyone else is too, it’s time to drop out of the race and start living your life. Don’t wait until you get to the end to realize that things could have been different.

Your Turn!

  • What have you done to step out of the race?

Five Things To Do Before You Build Your Tiny House

While that deciding to build a tiny house is exciting, I realized that I needed to get my butt in gear and accomplish a whole slew of tasks before I’m ready to buy a trailer for my tiny house on wheels build. Today I’m sharing my to do list with you, and I hope it can help you prepare for your build too – whether you’re starting next week or next year.

tips to build a tiny house

1. Be Sure It’s What You Want

This seems like a given, but there’s more at work here. If you want a tiny house because you think they’re cute, you might need to do a little more soul searching. If you want a tiny house because it’s the logical next step in creating a more intentional way of living, well…now we’re getting somewhere.

Me, on the porch of Jay Shafer's original tiny house

Me, on the porch of Jay Shafer’s original tiny house, wearing unflattering pants.

How do I know a tiny house is right for me? Well…

  • I’ve wanted to build my own house since I was eight years old.
  • I love small, cozy, confined spaces.
  • I’ve always been passionate about good design and creating homes full of personality.
  • I want to learn new things, because it improves my life and makes me a better person.
  • I want to feel the pride that comes with tackling a big project.
  • I care about my impact on the environment.
  • It does not make sense for me to buy a traditional home because I don’t know where I’ll end up settling down someday.
  • I’m a tiny person (5’2″) with very little stuff and few worldly needs.

Your reasons might be different. Be honest with yourself and trust your gut! You know yourself and your own motivations.

Tips:

  • If you are going into a tiny house build with your partner or family, agree going in that if anyone decides they’re done with the tiny house life, that you’ll both/all find another living solution. Not feeling trapped will work wonders when it comes to living peacefully together in a tiny house.
  • If you’re on the fence, there are other ways to live smaller without building a tiny house. Even just downsizing to a small house or apartment can dramatically change your outlook.
  • At the end of the day, a tiny house is just an object, and objects don’t change your life for the better. Only you have the power to do that.

2. Connect with Tiny House People

Connect with Tiny House People

Tiny house people love nothing more than sharing pizza and beer.

Even with the wealth of information available online, you’ll still have questions that can only be answered by people who have gone through the building process. Also, tiny house people are just plain cool and interesting and definitely worth knowing!

I’ve been lucky to meet so many wonderful members of the tiny house movement through my work, but to get here, I had to seek them out myself. As an introvert, this is much easier said than done. In the beginning, I had to do a lot of hunting to find other people who were just as excited about tiny houses as I was.

Tips:

  • Meetup.com is a goldmine. If you’re in a major metropolitan area, chances are high that there is a tiny house enthusiasts meetup nearby. If there isn’t one already, why not start a group yourself?
  • If there isn’t a tiny house meetup group, search for related groups about minimalism, gardening and permaculture, or prepping, and you’re bound to meet other people who are interested in tiny houses!
  • Tiny house events are popping up all over the country, and they’re a great way to meet cool folks. If you’re pretty convinced you’d like to live tiny, the Tiny House Conference is a great place to make friends and ask people your questions.
  • Don’t just hound people on the Internet, begging them for a tour of their tiny house. Form strong give-and-take friendships with tiny house folks just like you would with anyone else.

3. Pare Down Belongings

Downsize and declutter

I once owned over 300 books. I now own 30.

Paring down your stuff is a huge part of living the tiny life. Last summer, I moved to Charlotte from Boston, and I took the move as an opportunity to bring only the things that could fit in the back of my Honda CRV. I got rid of two thirds of my clothing and 90% of my books – something I thought I could never do – along with decades’ worth of accumulated crap from my school years. It was surprisingly easy to distinguish trash from treasure once I got in to a rhythm. Driving down the highway to my new home, with a trunk full of my most precious possessions, was a liberating feeling.

Tips:

  • “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
  • For analytical minds: try the box method. Empty the contents of a drawer, closet, etc. into a big cardboard box. Each time you use an item from the box, it can return to the drawer. Whatever remains in the box after three months is something you don’t need in your daily life and you can safely donate it.
  • For intuitive minds: If you have more of an emotional attachment to objects like I do, I highly recommend the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It has gone viral for a reason, and I couldn’t have decluttered without it. That book is worth its own blog post, which I will write soon.
  • Budget enough time for this crucial step. One tiny house family I know took a whole year to declutter.

4. Assess Needs

Assess Your Tiny Home Needs

Dee Williams’s petite vardo at the 2015 Tiny House Conference.

This is what Dee Williams from Portland Alternative Dwellings calls “playing anthropologist.” A lot of what we think we need in a home is marketed to us through building trends and realtors. A tiny house is a chance to shed the excess and create a home that fits you like a glove. For this step, I wrote a big list to brainstorm all my weird quirks and how they affect my interaction with my living space.

For instance, I noticed that I never use more than two stove burners at a time, but I do use my oven very frequently (roasting vegetables is the most reliable way to trick myself into eating them). For me, an oven would be a necessity.

I find that I spend most of my leisure time lounging around in bed rather than on the couch. Aside from sleeping, I do all my reading, drawing, writing, and music-listening in bed. I’ll probably forgo a lounge space in favor of a dining area, and design a luxurious sleeping loft that will double as my creative haven.

I also dye my hair monthly, so an open shower stall won’t work for me unless I want to flood my whole house as I rinse out the dye. I think a stock tank bathtub would work well for me.

Tips:

  • Try the Post-It Note Method: Stick a Post-It Note next to each doorway in your home. Every time you leave a room, write down what it is that you’re doing in each room. After a month or so, get a glimpse into how you actually use your space.
  • Design for the life you have, not the one you want. This is the equivalent of keeping “skinny pants” in your wardrobe. You want to feel comfortable in your home, not guilty.
  • If you have hobbies or accoutrements that require a lot of space, consider outbuildings or off-site storage, or outsourcing that hobby to a different location (e.g. an artist’s studio).
  • Remember: our needs are surprisingly few and easily met.

Step Four: Figure Out a Floor Plan

Tiny House Layout

My latest tiny house layout, which I have already overhauled completely.

Right now, I have a folder on my desktop with 39 scanned, hand-drawn floor plans. To be fair, I’m a big nerd and I’ve been drawing these for four straight years. But whether it’s digital or on paper, it’s important to translate your design ideas into a visual medium.

There are lots of great ready-made tiny house floor plans on the market. We’ve reviewed our favorite plans to help you pick the one that’s right for you – click here to check it out. But because everyone’s needs are different, don’t be afraid to modify an existing plan to better suit your lifestyle.

Tips:

  • Carry a measuring tape with you wherever you go. Measure chair heights, counter widths, the rises and runs of stair steps – it’s important to know common dimensions of different elements so you can accurately plan for them.
  • Measure yourself! Know how much space you need to feel comfortable. My needs as a 5’2″, 130 lb. woman will differ from the needs of a 6’3″ 275 lb. man.
  • Don’t forget to design space for your clothes hamper, kitchen trash can, recycling and compost bins, suitcases, bulk paper goods storage, brooms, and other cleaning implements.
  • Include empty storage space in your design. Because you’re alive, you’ll probably still acquire new things after you move into your tiny house. Give yourself some wiggle room.
  • Strive for an excellent design, not a perfect one. If you stress too much about getting things absolutely perfect, you’ll never get off the ground.

5. Work with an Expert

Great Ideas always begin on a napkin

Great ideas always begin on a napkin.

Optional, but highly worth it. Even if you have a pretty strong grasp on what you’re doing in terms of your design, it never hurts to have an expert offer their advice. At the Tiny House Conference after party, I hungrily listened to Lina Menard and Ethan Waldman as they gave me feedback on my tiny house design, which I drew on a napkin in pink pen. I’m currently collaborating with a professional plan designer and draftsman to hash out a solid layout and set of building plans, which is terribly exciting!

Tips:

  • Try to find experts who have experience building tiny houses. It’s important for folks to have the skill of translating theoretical designs into tangible structures.
  • If you can’t afford a consultation, buy or borrow a copy of A Pattern Language. It’s a great manual for learning the psychology of vernacular architecture (a.k.a. how to build a house you feel good in).

6. Create a Budget

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Ideally, if you’re ready to build within a year, you should have enough funds saved up to at least get started. If you’re not careful, a tiny house can become a money pit if you don’t budget and track your expenditures.

My plan is to build in stages. I’ll first finish the exterior, so that the unfinished inside is safe from the elements. I can then take my time finishing the interior and saving up for some nicer appliances. Since I live in Charlotte and it’s pretty warm here, I might even move in early and live in the house while I’m still working on it to pour even more money into the build. I’m planning for the build to take a long time, but I know I’ll have a more rewarding learning experience that way.

In terms of saving money, it’s important to have a savings account just for your tiny house so that your funds don’t get mixed up and accidentally spent. I know that I’m the kind of person that will spend all my savings if they’re accessible and unallocated. I use SmartyPig.com to keep my tiny house savings separate, which is free and easy to use and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Tips:

 

So what are the next steps as I move toward building my tiny house? Tune in next time for part two of this topic!

Your Turn!

  • Which step will be the easiest for you?
  • Which step will be more challenging?