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Small Living

A friend sent a link to a listserv I’m on about the idea of small living.  It’s a branch of sustainable living focusing on only taking the space and possessions you need.

There are a slew of these websites, all dedicated to creating and living in these tiny houses, some only 8 feet by 12 feet.  And when Jay Shafer says in the video that he wanted to do more than work for cash in order to live, and points out how little he needs to earn in order to get through the year, there is something massively appealing about small living.  Especially because this link came to me in the middle of my parent’s house move.

It would free us from constantly worrying about work, about employment, about paying high utility bills and a mortgage.  We would be ensured a place to live and room to float by until the next paycheck came along.  It would allow us to save an enormous amount of money, eliminating many of my fears.

Josh and I focused on the word “need.”  What do we actually need?  Obviously plates so we can eat food, and utensils, and a few pots and pans.  We need a place to sleep, and some clothing, and toiletries.  A telephone.  Though once we added things on the “need” list, we also spoke about how a person could actually live without these things until it got to the crux of this reductive argument; that people really only need some water and food and shelter from weather and we can exist–even happily.

If I looked at what I emotionally need–the photographs and computers, the boxes of old papers, the books and fancy kitchen equipment–then small living becomes downright impossible.  I would have to change my emotional make-up in order to live in such a small space.  I am in a constant state of reducing my possessions, but I always hit a plateau and then it builds up again.  There are too many things that seem as if they will be useful in the future, and they often are.

Could you live in a tiny house?  What items are stopping you from being able to move into a small space because you couldn’t take them with you?


1 HereWeGoAJen { 07.31.10 at 3:08 pm }

Oh, I don’t know. I figure I “need” about a suitcase full of stuff. Right? I mean, I survive with it just fine on vacation. (Although, that doesn’t include the food and shelter part.) But I really like my stuff.

2 Christa { 07.31.10 at 3:09 pm }

I think it would be possible, as long as I have my computer. I use my computer every day, almost all day. And all my favorite memories are stored on there through pictures, as well as my connection to the outside world. But I have a dog, though a rather small one at 16 pounds. I think myself, the husband and the dog might be a little cramped in such a tiny apartment. But as a single person with no kids or pets…I could definitely do it.

3 dana { 07.31.10 at 3:22 pm }

We “live small” – 1200 square feet, one bathroom, with the husband, four children and a dog. We moved from a much larger house in North Carolina to our bungalow in Del Ray. I could do with a second toilet but, really, I’m in love with our place (though not the mortgage). The community is vibrant, walkable, interesting and caring. Most people think we obviously “need” more space or clearly “want” more. But, nope. I don’t like clutter. I don’t like stuff. Definitely a fan of living simply.

4 a { 07.31.10 at 3:27 pm }

My husband points these articles out to me. I laugh at him and say that we couldn’t manage to live comfortably together in 700 square feet, so how on earth does he think we wouldn’t kill each other in less than 100? You see, there aren’t actual ITEMS that stop me. I just need a large amount of personal space. Intellectually, I know it’s possible. Realistically, I need some place of my own to get away from everyone in my family to refresh myself. So, what’s stopping me? My family. 🙂

We could probably survive in half the space we have now, but I don’t really want to. I know it’s not fashionable to say so, but conservation of space is not attractive to me. I’m not a huge consumer, but apparently my version of the American Dream is not stuff so much as elbow room.

Guess that’s why this is one of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock cartoons:

5 Erica { 07.31.10 at 3:57 pm }

My brother in law is studying architecture and when he last visited we had a great talk about how divorce statistics are higher for couples and families who live in larger homes – lots of factors, but one of the big ones was a less time spent together.

If I were alone, I could embrace small living very easily once I gave up some book shelves, but one of my emotional needs is space of my own, and I’m not sure small living can accommodate that, especially with pets and a child. On the other hand, my husband’s office is in our basement, and sometimes I feel kind of lonely for him even when we’re both at home, so maybe a tiny house and a garden shed would suit me just fine…

6 Rebecca { 07.31.10 at 4:41 pm }

I find some kind of emotional stability in ‘stuff’. I LOVE the idea of these small houses and would love to test drive one, but I doubt I could live in one permanently. I would also have to live by myself in it…

7 Heather { 07.31.10 at 5:28 pm }

Well, I can’t live small because of Jack, and I’m not going where he’s not going! 😉

I agree though…I’m actually in the process of getting rid of a TON of extraneous stuff. It feels good.

8 one-hit_wonder { 07.31.10 at 7:25 pm }

i think mother teresa once said that if it takes you more than 15 minutes to pack up all of your possessions, you have too much.

i never understood this quotation until DH and i moved from our modest 1200 sq foot house (plus basement) to a 400 sq foot apartment so that i could do my master’s degree. we put all our belongings, except for essentials, into storage for a few years. we told ourselves it would be a hardship but that in the end it would be worth it.

guess what? it was not a hardship. we loved living minimally and we never missed anything we put into storage. life was simpler and the best part: hardly anything to clean! we had a lot more time and we got along well.

now we’ve bought a house and brought our things back into our lives. i hate it. 🙁 i tried my best to convince DH to give it all away but he would not concede. he also liked simple living but he grew up with parents who hoarded and he also seems to be unable to throw anything out.

now i’m surrounded by all these things that i have no time or inclination to clean, wash, and dust.

9 Mrs. Gamgee { 07.31.10 at 9:20 pm }

This has been on my mind a lot recently, as we have been sorting through the spare and storage room in preparation for putting together the nursery. Do I really need to keep that box of NKOTB posters that adorned the walls of my highschool bedroom? Will my life change if I get rid of the baton I twirled 25 years ago? And yet… why can’t I let them go?

10 Sarah { 07.31.10 at 10:51 pm }

I like the idea of living in the space you can afford…and not working all of your life just to pay for your large house. However, there’s no way I could live in a “tiny” home. It would drive me nuts, as I’m slightly claustrophobic. I’d rather build an adobe house out of mud and straw with my own hands and have more room – not all houses have to be tiny to be affordable.
Moving every two years with the military forces you to purge your belongings, and living in one house for 3 years, we’ve accumulated more stuff than ever before. Now that we’re downsizing from a house to an apartment, another big purge is happening…and yes, it is liberating! Still, I would never toss photo albums, furniture we bought overseas, paintings from Hubby’s parents. Some things need to be passed on, not tossed out.

11 Rayne of Terror { 07.31.10 at 10:53 pm }

We lived smallish the first 7 years, a 1100 sq ft home with a $495 mortgage payment. It was fine for me but my husband has big hobbies and there’s only so much you can mount on the walls. We had band equipment and beer brewing equipment coming out of our ears. Once we added a baby on the way we decided we needed more space. But once the baby arrived, the hobbies disappeared. So we really probably didn’t need to upgrade had we known that the band and beer equipment could have been sold. But he’s a saver of objects/clothes/mementos and I’m not. I know I would have had a happier first year of motherhood if we’d stayed put, no matter the space constraints.

12 Kristin { 07.31.10 at 11:42 pm }

I could only live so small. Honestly, I am too into basic comforts and my hobbies. My craft goodies, our multiple computers, our entertainment system, and our kitchen goodies, not to mention our pets wouldn’t fit in a teeny house.

13 Myndi { 08.01.10 at 12:06 am }

I think if I lived alone, the climate was temperate, and the lot was both semi-secluded and decently sized, I could do it. The benefit of living small, especially if you need space, is that you are forced outside more, and that can’t be a bad thing…unless you live in a location with extreme weather of any kind that would prevent you from going outside. In that case, I would feel claustrophobic.

In terms of things, I like having them. I like being surrounded by my books and my photos and my memory boxes, but I also was homeless for a few months when I was 18, and lost a lot of those things during that time. From time to time, I miss them, but my life isn’t changed because I don’t have them. Once you’ve slept in your car for weeks on end, I assure you the little house in the video clip would seem like luxury living.

14 Kim { 08.01.10 at 12:14 am }

We live in about 900 sq ft, and while not quite small living by those standards, I think we do pretty well with it. We work really hard to keep our clutter to a minimum, and I’ve done a lot of work at seeing things as what they are: just things. I have learned that you can have things, as long as you tuck them away and everything has a place. That’s the key to living in the city, and it’s also a source of happiness for me. What’s not to love when things have a place?!

I’ve been battling this pretty hard with establishing what we need vs what everyone else thinks we need for the baby. There just seems to be an abundance of little things that I can’t decide if we really need or not! But, frankly, I’m too excited to skip out on them. Baby spoons? Yes, please.

15 Not on Fire { 08.01.10 at 2:52 am }

At various times we have moved and I always seemed to confound the Realtor by setting a maximum size of house. They could not believe that I didn’t want the maximum size that I could afford.

My purging of stuff is helped by repeating to myself “Just because it is useful does not mean that I should keep it.”

16 S.I.F. { 08.01.10 at 5:24 am }

I was just talking about his houses a few weeks ago. I have a small condo (780 square feet) and it is perfect for me, but I still find myself frustrated with the size of the kitchen. I’ve never been a big “stuff” collector, but I think I need more space. And I can’t even begin to imagine doing small living with children!

I do think it’s an incredible movement though, and I’m envious of people who can live like that!

17 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 08.01.10 at 6:58 am }

I have a very large house. Like A, it’s not for my stuff, it’s for us to have space. I love being able to entertain multiple guests and having multiple living spaces that are separate from our work spaces or our private spaces.

I never thought a house could be too big (one that I could afford, at least) until I visited another city and saw a friend’s house. She had rented a ludicrously enormous McMansion just because it was in her price range. Her closet was substantially bigger than my first dorm room (and her husband’s closet was equally large). There were 7 bathrooms. 7!!! More than half of their rooms sat empty all the time because people didn’t want to be away from each other. It was stupid and distasteful.

I wonder if anyone comes to my house and thinks it’s so big that it’s stupid. Hopefully not. After all, I only have 3 bathrooms, not 7.

18 Christina { 08.01.10 at 10:01 am }

It’s true- most of what I own I do not need to survive! Most of what I own though, I feel so emotionally attached to. (crap- I sound like one of those hoarders haha!) I really enjoyed looking at the blogs of those who have figured out how to live with less, something we could all learn a little something from!


19 Genevieve { 08.01.10 at 4:00 pm }

I would adore living like that. I feel very strongly about it, but I do have a lot of the emotional baggage, physical emotional baggage. And a lot of pets. But I try to be minimal. I often think that a catastrophe would gived me the chance to declutter the way I would like to, forced me to do it.

20 Denver Laura { 08.02.10 at 11:02 am }

We cleared out most of the clutter to prep for our foster home inspection. In 24 hours, we moved out enough stuff to fill a 10×10 bin. The boxes have been sitting in storage for about a month now. We’ve been slowly bring in one or two boxes at a time and cleaning them out. Because we had those things in storage for a while, we noticed that we didn’t need about 90% of it. It’s nice to be able to throw them away.

21 Bea { 08.03.10 at 6:35 am }

I liken the instinct to have a big house to the palate for sugary and fatty foods. It’s understandable – during centuries of relative scarcity, hanging on to as much as you could handle (and eating fat and sweet carbs when you could get it) helped to secure your survival and prosperity (there is a whole discussion to be had here about sedentary vs nomadic people which I would normally enter into with glee but will now gloss over for the sake of brevity).

These days we seem to have retained the instinct but the background conditions have changed. In much the same way as we are now seeing problems such as obesity (and related conditions) I think we are seeing “toxic” levels of large houseness and stuffification. I think it’s very ingrained and the amount of willpower needed to overcome it really can be likened to the immense struggle a lot of people have to control their weight in these relatively plentiful times (yes, even taking into account the recent financial upheavals).

Still, just as I wouldn’t really want to subsist on the minimum I need to eat to survive, I don’t really want to get rid of everything but the absolute essentials. I like a bit of luxury. The biggest thing for us at the moment is our books. I have been on an eighteen-month-long-and-counting de-stuffifying streak, but I just can’t bear to part with them. So they are almost all sitting in boxes at my MIL’s house, because I really just don’t have anywhere to put them. Obviously, this is silly, and we are in the process of solving it. Some cleverer storage would go a long way, but in the end I think part of the solution will have to be more space. The collection is not exactly getting smaller, and there’s only so many of our other possessions I can get rid of in order to fit in more books (although I am very much working on that angle, still, too).


22 loribeth { 08.03.10 at 12:06 pm }

Our current house isn’t tiny, but it’s not that large either — about 1400 square feet. I sometimes think something a little bigger/newer with larger closets & more room for guests/entertaining would be nice, but I don’t think I could justify anything more than about 2200-2500 square feet, with just two of us. I see young couples all around me going into massive debt to buy monster homes 3500 & 5500 square feet & up. I think it’s debatable whether we really all need so much space.

As for stuff, I know I have too much of it. (One reason I resist buying a condo — most of them hereabouts are pretty tiny — 1,200 feet is considered pretty large.) But if you’re buying a bigger house to accommodate the stuff you already have, your stuff will expand to fill whatever space you have. It’s guaranteed. ; )

23 Barb { 08.03.10 at 5:37 pm }

I couldn’t live in SUCH a small house b/c I have so much that I’m emotionally attached to because of family. I could live smaller than this though (1312 sq ft) if hub wasnt’ sucha pack rat.

24 flying monkeys { 08.24.10 at 2:43 pm }

I feel claustrophobic in my moderately small house, there’s no way I could make it 12’X8′. I need things, while I am not a hoarder I do cling to things that bring me somewhere other than where I am.

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