It’s hard to believe it’s been a year (actually, over a year) since going tiny and moving from our 520 square foot luxury studio apartment into a 120 square foot motel kitchenette and our lives changed forever.
We’ve learned a great deal about living tiny in this past year, so I wanted to do an article that touches on the most important lessons.
In this article, I’ll discuss storage – both food and stuff – cooking, cleaning, saving or not saving money because well, we’ve done a bit of both, and building a community around you for support, which is incredibly important.
- Clearing Out The Clutter – Even though the studio we lived in before this was only 520 sq. feet, we’d still managed to accumulate a lot of stuff that we just didn’t use for whatever reason. We were so in the habit of just spending for the sake of “just having just in case” that when we moved, we ended up donating about six large boxes and bags full of clothing, extra computer components that were either broken, obsolete or just extras.Doing this was not easy.As I look back now, there are things that I miss having because they were fun, or convenient, but they weren’t necessary and more importantly, just wouldn’t fit into our new space.If you’re thinking of going tiny, I strongly suggest taking a full month to really examine your belongings and do a complete “needs based” evaluation. I’m not saying get rid of all of the things you enjoy, but I am saying make sure you have them and keep them because you really love them, and not just because you like having them. There is a difference.
- Quality VS Quantity -When you’re living tiny, having a lot of anything is difficult because of space, so choosing the things you do have and their quality, is very important. We actually did not have a lot of dishes or pots and pans, but of the few we did have, we chose to keep the ones that served more than one purpose – for instance, cast iron skillets that can be fried or baked in. We do have two very valuable Cephalon non-stick pans that were gifts to us. One is a 5-quart stock pot and the other is a 10-inch skillet. Other than that, our pots and pans consist of 1 large boiling pot, one medium boiling pot, and another non-stick skillet that is older than I care to admit but still serves it’s purpose. We have a glass 9-inch square casserole dish, a cookie sheet, and a muffin tin as well.Our dishware collection is small as well, consisting of only two cereal bowls, four plates and a small collection (fewer than 5) of coffee cups. Coffee is an important part of community living and I wanted to make sure I had at least enough that guests could come and have coffee. I’ve also been given a couple of mugs since we moved in. For drinking glasses, we keep Mason jars that we use. These were a gift from my mother to my son several years ago, so I did not want to get rid of those.Believe it or not, even with so few utensils and implements, and such small space, we cook every day. In fact, we’ve only eaten out three times in the past year – and one of those was for our 26th wedding anniversary.
- How Many Shoes Can You Really Wear? – I love shoes, and in particular, boots, but seriously, how many pairs can I wear at once? When we started going through all of our clothes and shoes, I did a drastic downsize and got rid of about 10 pairs of shoes and boots, and a couple of large lawn leaf bags of clothing that I just never wore, or didn’t wear often. I asked myself “How many months has it been since I wore this?” and if the answer was for more than two months, I didn’t keep it.For our winter items (this was during the heat of June and July), we got a small, 5 X 12-foot storage unit less than a mile from our new place, and put our winter items – coats, blankets, etc – there because there is literally no place here to store them. We don’t like the additional $50 a month bill, but we can justify the expense because we do use it both monthly and seasonally.
COOKING & FOOD STORAGE
I truly believe that had we designed our own tiny space, cooking and food storage would not be an issue. But the complex we currently live in was built to be a roadside lodge in 1955. It wasn’t designed for permanent dwelling, so the food and cooking situation isn’t really a normal one.Each room has a small kitchenette consisting of a 24-inch stove, a single, small sink, and a dorm-sized refrigerator. Cabinets and counter space are extremely limited, so finding a method of storing and preparing food has been a bit of a challenge and we’ve had to get creative.
- Plastic Bins – I’m not a fan of those plastic chest-of-drawer type bins. I’ve found in the past that they are poorly designed and come apart easily. They also cannot bear a lot of weight, however, they do come in handy in our space. We currently use two in the “kitchen” of our tiny home. One is a larger sized drawer unit that consists of three drawers. We use this one for storing things like aluminum foil, plastic wrap, baggies, and dry goods that are lighter in weight like tea bags, ramen noodles, crackers, etc. These have not held up well at all and we’ve had to creatively repair them several times. Once we get started with our own tiny house on Bliss Farm Ecovillage, we will be designing our own kitchen and this won’t be an issue. For now, however, we make do.A second plastic storage unit consists of four smaller, but taller drawers. In this one we keep our plastic bowls and lids, sorting the bowls by size from bottom to top, with the largest being on the bottom. We use the top drawer for lids only as their weight isn’t enough to cause the unit to collapse. The top of this unit serves as a place for our cooking utensil bucket, our salt, and pepper shaker, and our sweetener container.
- Make-shift Counter Space -Some years ago we purchased a used writing desk, with a drawer whose front folds down, at a thrift store for $5. It was originally used in my garage workshop as a place for me to craft and create. Now the desk sits opposite our sink and stove area and serves as both silverware and utensil storage and a prep and serving station and holds our microwave, toaster, can opener and vintage Oster Blender. It looks ratty even though we’ve tried to clean it up, but it serves its purpose for now. We keep one set of storage bins tucked underneath (the larger set) as well as a milk crate where we store cooking oil, a canister of sugar, and occasionally bags of potatoes or other heavy, bulky items.
- The Smallest Fridge -When we first moved into this unit, our refrigerator was very old, having a small freezer inside the refrigerator compartment that just didn’t work. It would frost over every other day so deep that we couldn’t even fit an ice-tray inside! When it finally died, it was replaced with a Haier 3.2 Cubic Foot refrigerator. This unit is a bit better, and having the freezer compartment separate from the main compartment is nice. Still, you cannot store much food in it and we’ve learned, through trial and error to shop small – as in small containers – and minimize leftovers because they will end up spoiling before we can use them. Another downside is the fact that there really isn’t room to store larger containers of water or tea to keep cold. We do upcycle our plastic milk jugs and use those as tea storage for Rob (the man loves his tea!). It would be nice to be able to have ice on hot days, or store larger jugs of milk, or leftovers so food isn’t wasted.
- Going Up – Since we do so much cooking, it’s important for us to have our spices, but the small jars were getting lost in the valuable cabinet real estate they were occupying. We found a very affordable, easy solution when we came across this Dollar Tree spice wrack tutorial and created a set of three racks to hold our spices, and placed them on the wall between the stove and the prep table. Then we followed this tutorial for hanging baskets and created a set that hangs directly over our microwave – toaster area. These hold things like bread, onions, and fruits that don’t require refrigeration (read as Bananas and Apples).We also use vertical space to store our crock-pot (a definite essential in a tiny house) and larger items by using the tops of our cabinets to store them up and out of the way. Since we don’t use these items as frequently as others, not having them at our fingers isn’t a big deal. I keep a step-ladder tucked under our bed and can use it to reach them when I need them.
In part two of this series we’ll discuss what going tiny has meant for our goal to be more mindful and live a life of purpose and intent.