I was once told by a Shaolin Fighting Monk that I could live anywhere. At the time, I thought that he saw some resilience in me, a survivor with the ability to adapt and overcome. But twenty years later, I am more inclined to believe that he understood humanity does not need all of the extravagances we misunderstand as necessities.
He shared bits of his childhood, sleeping on the floor of a cave and performing in the streets to buy rice for his family, to help me understand why he chose to come to America to raise his son. He was aware that I was a single mom struggling to pay for a one bedroom apartment, sleeping on the couch so my daughter could have more. We were both working to give our kids more than we had, but my struggles seemed like a luxury compared to his upbringing in China.
Many years have passed since our friendship has dwindled with relocations and work commitments, but I still think about the ease of our friendship built on our commonality. The recollection that I “could live anywhere” fuels my drive in this Tiny Living journey.
Somehow, after measuring the space and planning out furniture options, we still had to make changes. Our artistic graph paper layout was good enough to fool us into thinking we had more space than we actually did. The reality that the three boxes on the graph paper in between the desk and the couch looked relatively spacious, but in fact were only three actual feet, didn’t compute until we actually stood in between the already moved in items. This forced us to rethink our options. Fortunately, we still had a few pieces in storage to play around with.
Selecting furniture that makes the most of your space is imperative. It is better to take advantage of the space that can go up, then use up valuable floor space. Your furniture selection also plays an important role on the other items you will choose. In the end, I chose one tall book shelf with glass doors for my personal items. The shelves are shared between current seasonal clothing, toiletries, jewelry, current books, family photos, and even current family paperwork set into convenient binders. It really does become a choice of what you can live with and what you can’t live without.
Once you have the big items settled in, it’s time to organize and move in the small necessities. We had previously combed through our stuff and minimized the collections of books, plush animals, cookware, blankets and pillows, clothing, and even pet accessories. However, once we determined the actual areas to store all of these items, they had to be cut back more. Thankfully, the choices weren’t too difficult since we just boxed up the extra stuff for storage.
I do feel we cheated a bit by acquiring a storage unit, but it made the transition much easier on everyone in the family. Don’t get me wrong, we had already downsized our belongings by about 75% before this move. Using stages and realistic goals has made it easier and more digestible, but it has also prolonged our journey. Time and separation do allow for easier releases of your hoarded belongings. There are many things my son believes he can not live with out, but had no problem putting in storage. In about three to six months, he won’t even care what’s in those boxes. By having a storage unit, we will have time to separate from those things we think we need to keep. In a matter of months, I’ll be back with the goal of cutting that ten foot square storage unit in half. You may be strong enough to cut ties with everything in a split second, but our family definitely needs stages.
The Squeeze-In Checklist
- Good storage is imperative.
- Make use of inactive space- ie; cabinets that go to the ceiling, drawers under beds/couches.
- Make spaces bigger by using movable furniture- ie; our tiny kitchen needed more storage so we added a cart with wheels that moves when more space is needed in an area for cooking or cleaning.
- Furniture can have multiple uses- ie; we use an ottoman to store extra blankets and pillows, as a table when sitting at the couch, and as a foot rest when we want to kick back and relax.
- Organization is key. You can fit more while making it look neater with plastic storage boxes and/or baskets.
- Going paperless never seemed more appealing! Before the move, I downsized a considerable amount of my files by shredding outdated and useless documents. (Why was I saving every car insurance policy sent to me every six months for the past four years?!) These items may not seem like they would make a difference, but in our small household it removed about ten storage boxes from our lives.
- Most companies (especially relating to medical, insurance and utilities) offer online statements, reports and ID cards. Information can be stored in your online account, your app, and even downloaded to your computer/device.
- Most documents can be scanned and saved for future use if the paper copy is unnecessary. Of course, you will still need actual paper copies of any documents requiring raised seals, birth certificates, licenses, passports, etc.
- Photos are also another guilty pleasure of generations past that use paper and therefore space. I was able to downsize my photo collection by more than half by tossing old and redundant pictures, their negatives, and their CDs if included. I’m not suggesting to throw out photos of grandma’s birthday, but if you have pictures that don’t relate to your life anymore or aren’t worthy of putting into an album or frame- toss. For example, I owned a small business for twenty years and had photos from every event and customer for that entire time period! I kept a handful that represented milestones and achievements, but the rest no longer had meaning so they had to go. Thankfully, everything since technology went mainstream is digitally stored. Photo albums were never as easy as a portable tablet!
- Don’t forget the small stuff. Everyday items often get overlooked when you need to find space- dishes, laundry, food. You really need to plan for these things when dealing with small spaces.
- Our smaller kitchen came with smaller cabinets and our full size dinnerware set would not fit. The large diameter of our big plates and bowls prevented the cabinet doors to close. We opted to pack up these larger pieces and settle for the small and medium plates and bowls in the set. (We’re clearly not going to entertain a formal dinner party anytime soon. However, an outdoor luau may be in our future. Perhaps we can persuade guests to learn how to bring their own utensils and straws. NYC is already prompting fast food guests to “bring their own” to avoid plastic waste.)
- Laundry is something you really need to consider if you’re used to having a washer and dryer. Your tiny home will, at best, have a mini version. Our home does not. Smaller amounts of clothes may mean more trips to the laundromat. Some liquid detergent and a foldable drying rack (or string line) are a great suggestion to help you keep things fresh and avoid laundry pile ups in between laundromat visits.
This move seems a bit overwhelming, especially knowing how much of our stuff we have already gotten rid of. Our storage unit is filled to the brim. We are probably breaking the fire code with the Mensa puzzle we created of strategically placed boxes, furniture and odd shaped items (ie; my 3′ tall plush grizzly bear!). Knowing that I will have to tackle this one day soon is something I have to put out of my mind for awhile.
I am the definition of “be prepared.” There’s never an instance when something happens or something is needed that I don’t have it readily available. It’s been yet another puzzle to figure out what I need to be prepared without having too much. Only time will tell if I can bandage every wound and entertain kids when the power goes out with whats on hand.
We’ve packed our tiny home with a minimum of items, but it’s filled pretty comfortably. What happens if we buy something new?! Maybe this will be an incentive to not buy anything new!
So far, this tiny space has brought us closer together, literally, but also spiritually.