There are no greater lessons I’ve found in living mindfully than going tiny. When you live in 120 square feet, every inch is prime real estate and understanding how you live in that space is crucial to maintaining sanity.
Rob and I were typical consumer Americans when we moved into the tiny house we occupy. We both grew up with the old adage “He who dies with the most toys wins” and we both equated more stuff with greater success. After living in this small space for a year now though, we can both see how wrong – and damaging – that concept is.
I heard it said in a movie once that eventually, the “stuff” you own, ends up owning you and now, I firmly believe this. It was only after we were forced to downsize and re-evaluate our consumerism and our way of life that we both realized just how “owned” we’d been. We both worked hard to pay a $1500 – a – month mortgage that took time away from the most important things in our lives – our children. What’s worse is that we were also teaching our children crass consumerism by going out of our way, and often in debt to make sure they had the “best and first” of everything from clothes to shoes to lessons. I distinctly remember that at one point in time, our son had a collection of one of every type of gaming system on the market! Now that I look back on the fact that he could only play one at a time, it seems so irresponsible and ridiculous to me.
Once we moved into our current tiny abode, Rob and I both realized that our way of living – and thinking – needed to change. These changes weren’t just because of our economic status, but because if we didn’t change, we’d crowd ourselves out of our already tight living quarters!
So, how did we start developing the rules of mindful living that we currently practice? It took a lot of trial and error.
DO WE NEED THIS? – Once your bills are consolidated to a single monthly payment, a little wiggle room in the budget can seem like a God-send. We’ve both learned, however, that this can be very deceiving. Having money left over at the end of the month isn’t a reason to splurge. Its a cause for questioning. Rob and I question every purchase we make – from groceries to household items to cleaning products and more. We ask ourselves:
- Do we need this? Is it something we can do without or do we already have something that will serve the same purpose.
- When it comes to food, are there going to be leftovers? If there are, will they be eaten before they spoil or will we have room in our dorm-sized refrigerator/freezer to store them until we can use them? We then shop based on our answers and try to prepare meals that don’t warrant a lot of storage of left-overs or freezer space. Americans are notorious for throwing away more than 133 billion pounds of food every year. When we looked at this number and the area we live in where poverty, homelessness, and hunger are prominent, we realized we did not want to be a part of contributing to such an atrocity.
WHAT PURPOSE DOES IT SERVE – Being a firm believer in the KonMari method of tidying up, and being an avid collector, I would never presume to tell anyone not to keep the things that bring them joy. The lesson comes when you ask yourself, however, what true joy is to you.
Fortunately, for us, the majority of the things that we thought gave us joy were no longer an issue. The gaming systems were gone, the collection of records and cd’s – many of which we hadn’t listened to in years – were gone.
Still, we needed to do some paring down. We began to ask ourselves for every item “What purpose does this serve?” Of course, there are certain things that will always be necessities that will only serve one purpose – deodorant for instance – but we don’t need ten containers of deodorant and while not smelling bad is a joyful thing – we decided that having one at a time will suffice.We did this for everything from toiletries to clothing to shoes to kitchen items, bedding and more.
Since storage is an issue, we rented a small (12 ft. X 5 ft.) storage unit and keep seasonal items that we need, but that takes up valuable real estate, in the storage unit. When season’s change or we really need something, we go to the storage unit and get it.
An interesting side note – Our storage unit was burglarized last year and almost everything in it was either destroyed or stolen. What’s left no longer warrants the amount of money the storage unit costs. We’ve been given the opportunity to move “up” to a bigger room (130 square feet). The bigger room would cost us an extra $40 per month and the storage unit costs $50 per month. With a larger space, we could take the few things that are left in our storage unit, store them creatively in our dwelling and still come out $10 to the good each month.
Do I Already Have Something That Does This or Serves That? – Dual purpose has become a central theme in our house simply because we do not have the luxury of space or the luxury of an economy to afford things that do not serve more than one purpose. Even our food containers that we purchase at the grocery store are evaluated to see if they can be reused to store things in. I use my coconut oil containers as canisters, old coffee cans hold beans, and rice and other items. Nothing goes to waste because we cannot afford that luxury but – and this is a big one – since we’ve moved into our tiny house we’ve surprised ourselves with how resourceful we can be in creating our home and just how much that resourcefulness saves us in both money and time. Which brings me to my next point – time.
Time Is More Than Money – There’s an old saying in business that “Time is money”, but time is so much more. If you really think about it, time is the only thing we all have in the end. Have you ever sat down and just asked yourself “How am I spending my time?” Going tiny gave us back some of the time we’d been wasting chasing the things we didn’t need and more often, couldn’t afford.Before we went tiny, our time was spent chasing a dream that really wasn’t ours, to begin with. We were chasing the bigger house, the fancy car, the closet full of clothes, the piles of cosmetics and jewelry and fast-food meals so we could run here and there and spend more and more. Seriously, crass consumerism is a trap that you almost cannot escape from. All of that time could have been better spent as a couple, with our children and serving our community.Now, we have time to spend together – something we’ve dreamed of doing because I had children when we started our relationship and alone time was a very rare thing indeed. We have time to help people whether it’s taking them to an appointment or repair something or just giving the gift of friendship and time to listen. We aren’t always exhausted and rushed from working 12 hour days, followed by 6 hours of evening activities like cleaning the house or rushing to this event or that appointment to spend more money that is going to require more time to make back.
KEEPING IT CLEAN – I can remember days upon days of looking around our big house and just not wanting to clean it because it seemed like there was always so much to do, and space itself was like smoke and mirrors. It was so big that even really messy areas didn’t seem so messy because space helped hide them. In this place, however, every little thing that is dirty or out of place blares like a siren. We are by no means OCD about keeping everything done to a T. Messes are made every day, but we do clean up everything once we’re done with what we’re doing. Dishes aren’t left sitting in the skink overnight, clothes aren’t left laying on floors, or sofas or beds and the floor gets swept every day. I still take my Saturday’s to do the “big cleans” like scrubbing the bathroom or cleaning out the fridge, but for the most part, now that we’re so aware of our space and how unkempt and even cramped it can be when it’s not clean or things are not in their place, keeps us on our toes about being tidy.
Keeping things clean and put away also helps us save money because should we think we need something, it’s easier to check and see if we already have it and because things are kept clean, they are better taken care of and don’t have to be replaced as often. We also avoid buying duplicates simply by being tidy and knowing what we’ve got at any given time.
In the end, the lessons’ we’ve learned over the past year of going tiny have been some of the most valuable lessons we’ve learned in life to date. We’re happier, a bit healthier, a lot calmer and more in tune with our lives and ourselves and each other. And I, for one, cannot imagine living in a full-sized house again. In fact, I find the idea a bit frightening – the fear being that we could so easily slip back into the way we lived before and risk losing all that we’ve gained for our selves.