Of course, we are not just accumulating stuff; we’re about to pick up a whole new person. In June, a new baby will be arrive together with a mountain of gear. We just moved our daughter H up to a twin-sized bed so that we can move the crib into our room for the new baby (if you saw our room, you’d ask us where it will fit). Her twin bed is really the bottom half of a bunk bed which seems like it will fill the entire room. While we were rearranging furniture, we started to wonder how we are going to fit baby clothes and diapers into dresser drawers that are now packed with our daughter’s shirts, pants, and sleepers.
We plan to stay in our current condo for at least five years (and we’d prefer to stay even longer), so in the interest of our continued sanity, we are trying to liberate ourselves from some of our junk. We started in the porch, which was the place that we threw anything we didn’t know what to do with. Now it’s a much tidier room that is holding the contents of our spring garage sale. After the garage sale, it will hopefully become an indoor garden.
Next, we moved into the kitchen. We had big plans for a kitchen renovation, but our dreams are bigger than our tolerance for chaos or our willingness to put forth serious effort. We still hope to buy a portable dishwasher, hopefully used. Right now, we are focusing on streamlining our kitchen and making it as usable as possible.
We also have plans to clean out H’s room and put in additional storage. We have a large number of clothes handed down from other kids. Those that are too small or too large are organized in bins in the basement (that’s the only organized part of the basement), but we are swimming in things that are the right size for H that she just doesn’t wear (H, like her mothers, wears the same 2-3 outfits repeatedly).
Then there’s our room, which needs both purging and additional shelving. Of course, our clothes need an overhaul (whose don’t?), and we have to repeatedly excavate the top of our dresser. After that we have to tackle the back porch (or the trash pit, as some would call it). Finally, we must wrestle with the basement. I don’t know where all of the stuff down there came from or how to convince it to go back. If you ever want to feel completely powerless, just go down and look at the stuff in your basement. You don’t want any of it (if you did, it wouldn’t be in the basement), but it all seems impossible to get rid of (what if we need that window AC or the paint or the old plastic dishes?) and the pile grows each month as you move stuff that you once thought was important down into the subterrainean clutter pile.
Honestly, all of these complaints are exactly what’s great about small-house living. Humans have a bad habit of collecting, and a small home gives you a natural limit on that tendency. We have to be serious about getting rid of stuff that isn’t important for us, because soon we’ll be down to 165 square feet per person. That also makes us serious about not bringing new things into our home and thus helps us live a sustainable life.
Small houses and condos are cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain. We have a small space to heat, illuminate, and cool. We can furnish the place cheaply, in part because we can’t buy too much furniture. We don’t buy too many toys for our daughter because we don’t have any place to put them. That helps our wallet and gives us a refuge from material culture.
A small house is also much easier to clean. Even when our house is a
wreck, we can get it into passable shape in an hour or less. If we have
two hours, we can give it a really deep cleaning. Having a small house gets us outside, even in the winter. This keeps us healthy and connects us with our neighbors.
So we love living little, but we still have more junk in our house that we need and we still get frustrated with the confinement. Here are our strategies for living cramped but happy.
- Purge repeatedly. Each time you can dig deaper and get rid of more. For instance, we had to purge books about five times before we got ourselves down to the 110-120 books we have now. That number seems outrageously high, so we’re due for another round of shedding. You also need to shed repeatedly because despite your best efforts, clutter will creep into your home.
- Have a place for everything, and keep everything in it’s place. We tend to have a pretty bare and sparse house (for instance, we just put up our first pictures on the wall after living here for almost two years). However, we have some neighbors that have a place just as small as ours that feels comfortable and homey and contains many more objects and knickknacks. Their secret is simply having a home for each object. This is not our strong suit, but we’re working on it.
- Pickup and clean daily. For instance, we clear our dining table every night of the clutter that has accumulated during the day. We spend much more time on daily maintenance that we do on deep cleaning, so if you come into our home you will hopefully be able to sit down at the table to eat, although you may notice that the carpet if full of mashed peas.
- Don’t bring new items into your home without getting rid of old items. We’re not always very good at this, but we’re working on it.
- Folding furniture is your friend. We have folding chairs that we can stash out of the way, a dining room table that folds down from large to medium to small, and a folding table that doubles as a play house for H. Non-folding furniture may look beautiful, but it is much harder to deal with in our space.
Now it’s your turn. How do you keep your small space livable? Do you love your small house or hate it (or both)? Do you aspire to shrink or to grow?