Talk to Me About Tiny Living
November 13, 2011 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Have you downsized your possessions and "stuff"? Are you living in a small (very small) apartment, house, trailer, camper? Looking for tips, trick, hacks and general do's and dont's for downsizing and living smaller, simpler, cleaner.

Ten years ago I was living the suburban "dream" in a 3 bedroom house with a 2 car garage, all packed to the gills. I left that life and over the last 10 years, I've gotten smaller and smaller stuff-wise and am now down to a sub 1000 sq ft apartment i share with my kiddo (who is soon to fly the nest) and my wee dog.

For my next act, I'd like to go even smaller. Think a tiny little studio apartment or miniscule house, or maybe just a room in a co-housing situation, or maybe I'll live in a van for a while (mostly kidding on that one, but I'd love for everything I own to fit in my car).

Have you done something similar? Was it a positive move or did you regret it? What are essentials for keeping and things you found you didn't miss at all. I'd love to read real world stories and advice (keeping in mind I'm 50-something, not a college student or young adult just starting out). If you know of any links or blogs with good info that would be helpful too. (I can't help but believe something like this has to have been on AskMe before, but my I couldn't find it, if so).
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit to Home & Garden (46 answers total) 115 users marked this as a favorite
I used to know a guy who had tried to minimize his possessions enough that he could always fit everything he owned into his car. I remember him saying that every year or so he would throw away his bath mat, thinking that it wasn't really necessary. And then he'd always end up buying a new one once he figured out that it sucked to not have one. So... I guess keep the bathmat.
posted by vytae at 2:24 PM on November 13, 2011 [18 favorites]

Sounds like you'd enjoy reading about the small house movement. Some of my favorite looking tiny houses are made by Tumbleweed House Company.
posted by Brent Parker at 2:28 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Google search for "Vandwelling" or "Vandwellers" and meet an amazing, wonderful, sometimes crazy group of people! You may or may not be converted into van-living for yourself, but there's plenty of people who do, and more and more it's becoming a viable choice instead of a creepy thing.
posted by The otter lady at 2:32 PM on November 13, 2011

I've lived in my van for several months at a time, several times, and it was fun, my mobile room of my own with a view. I'm a little older than you. After my youngest left I downsized a whole lot. I spent years living in tiny places, sometimes just had one room, and usually could move everything in my backseatless minivan in one load. I did, however, sometimes rent the smallest storage locker I could get, 4x4, to put boxes of family papers and a few other things I couldn't throw out. Every time I moved I got ruthless and gave away more and more stuff. Furniture, I found, unless it's a family heirloom or a really comfy bed, is not worth keeping. I weeded my book collection, gave away anything I didn't have a pressing urge to reread. I kept some very old books, books that were given to me my people I love, childhood books.

I bought a house a few years ago, 700 sq ft, and it was perfect. Two tiny bedrooms so there was room for family to visit, and a living room/kitchen. I couldn't get a job there and moved to another city. Now I'm living in a big apartment, it belongs to a friend or I wouldn't have chosen a place this big, it's maybe 1,000. sq ft, and I find myself accumulating stuff, argh! Meanwhile, my tenants in my unsellable house have loved downsizing from a place twice as big.
posted by mareli at 2:36 PM on November 13, 2011

Did it once, years ago, moving from Seattle to San Francisco with new husband. Basically left everything behind and moved on a motorcycle. The only thing I've since regretted leaving behind was some artwork by friends; small pictures, mostly, of no commercial value, but I wish I had them now. And if I had to do it again, I think vytae's right -- bring your own bathmat.
posted by kestralwing at 2:37 PM on November 13, 2011

I have not done this personally, but have a close friend who did, and spent about eight months backpacking about and having access to only those things which fit in my backpack.

For myself, it was an object lesson in how much stuff is extraneous. I could have easily done without half of the stuff I was carrying with me, let alone all the stuff I didn't take. A few well-selected pieces of clothing, a netbook, iPod, mobile phone and some region-specific gear was all I really needed. (The biggest snarl was books, as reading material was always in short supply and books are heavy, but that probably could have been easily solved with a Kindle.) Seriously, I got home and thought "I lived without all this stuff for so long, why do I still have it?"

The aforementioned friend just recently had a "give away all my crap" party and now owns, I think, a few backpacks' worth of stuff. He's largely transient, as his job is mobile, so he also got rid of all but the essentials, which were pretty similar to what I ended up with while travelling. He's a rather spartan person by nature and so didn't have a whole lot of clothes or other possessions. He converted as much of his stuff as possible into digital format (music, films, photos, writing), uses his MacBook, iPod touch and an external HD for most media and entertainment/data needs, owns just enough clothing to cover all his sartorial needs and no more. He seems perfectly happy with the setup.

If you still had to have a living space, and as such needed things like kitchenwares, furniture, et al, you could still employ this basic premise, but alter the basic principles to your lifestyle. How many glasses/dishes/etc. do you need? Do you entertain often? Would you rather just buy some recyclables for the times you do entertain? Then you can probably get rid of most of your kitchenwares. Buy some Ball jars (or just save your empty jars) and repurpose them as storage/beverage containers. Get a Kindle if you want to read but don't want scads of books about. Impose a rule, i.e. "If I haven't used it for 3 months/6 months/1 year/whatever it goes", and sort through all your stuff in storage (maybe give yourself a few free passes so you don't dispose of really sentimental items or somesuch). Does it only have one purpose? Get rid of it.

Also some good suggestions on the Unclutterer website.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 2:37 PM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I lived in a van for a while and this is the AskMe I made about it. Lots of good info.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:40 PM on November 13, 2011

The hard part is letting go of stuff. The Fly Lady's 27-Fling Boogie is designed for cleaning out clutter, but it's a useful exercise for down-sizing.
posted by KRS at 2:41 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a minority on MeFi--but get rid of any book that is replaceable. So, other than that signed first edition and the copy of Moby Dick from Dad's bookshelf, everything is a candidate for Goodwill. If you want it again, you can buy it or borrow it from the library later.

I've been moving almost everything to digital formats--e.g., scanning old tax returns and financial records, and shredding the originals. Until recently, I had boxes of tax returns dating back nearly 20 years. Poof! Gone. I am working on bank statements next, and that will liberate me from a few reams of paper.

There are lots of old chestnuts about getting rid of clothes--i.e., if you haven't worn it in a year, chuck it out, or turn the hangers around they hang backwards, and anything hanging backwards after X months goes to goodwill. Obviously, get rid of anything that doesn't fit unless you're actively exercising towards a fitness goal.

One other thing that's been helpful for me has been forgoing the "best" way to dispose of something--that is, how could you sell something for the best price, or give a book to someone who would really appreciate it, or holding on to that stuffed animal you bought in Peru for the next of your friends to have a grandchild. Purging is definitely a place where the best is the enemy of the good.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:50 PM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

I asked a question a few years ago which might be helpful in spite of me being a student at the time, and I've kind of found the right level of possessions since then. (After moving across the country and back with a carload of possessions, I lived in a small studio and am now in a room in a shared house.)

There's the big purge at the beginning, which it sounds like you've done, but I've found the bigger challenge to be in maintenance, because you really have to keep getting rid of stuff or being strictly one-in-one-out to avoid getting back to the starting point. I currently own 20 boxes of books, but that's with the happy acknowledgement that there's 6-8 boxes of academic/professional/rare books I need to own and 12-14 boxes that will fall below the 'keep' threshold if I'm moving a long distance - in the meantime, I like owning them, I like having a small room with three full bookcases dominating it. On the other hand, when I moved in here I only had a suitcase full of clothes and I think I've stayed within that capsule wardrobe 95% of the time since being reunited with the rest, so my relatively modest wardrobe is clearly still bigger than what I need.

I don't miss anything I threw away, and am ok with the memory rather than the object when I think of them now. That includes stuff that's literally irreplaceable. The only frustration I've felt was having thrown out a pair of old boots that would have been useful when plastering.

It's definitely about having thresholds rather than fighting with each individual object, then adjusting those thresholds up or down depending on your space, needs and comfort. It sounds like you're pretty aware of your habits and needs, so keep watch.
posted by carbide at 2:52 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fun thread, just popping in quickly to recommend Seconding vandwelling and tiny houses as well.

One thing I've tried recently (for a move and the aftermath of settling in to a new place) is to try to view your stuff as if it belonged to someone else. If this thing hadn't been with you, if you didn't have a history with it, would you keep it? If you had lost everything and all the stuff in front of you had been given to you to help you start over, which things would you actually keep, and which would you pass right on to the thrift store?
posted by attercoppe at 3:34 PM on November 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

aaaand missed tlpf's previous reco of unclutterer. Seconding that too, then.
posted by attercoppe at 3:36 PM on November 13, 2011

I traveled a lot for two years and noticed that I loved the freedom of living out of a carry-on bag. Then at age 50, I moved to another country by plane. I sold my furniture, rented out my house, and reduced my possessions to a bike, an overweight bag, and a carry-on. I've been in my new location for 6 months and so far have accumulated very little.

Things that helped me:
- Family heirloom but no relative wants it? Take a picture of it, then donate it to charity.
- Treasured artwork or other doojob? Take a picture of it, then give it to someone who will also treasure it.
- Books: I was most concerned about professional books, but most of them are available for Kindle, so I brought only one book with me.
- Recipes, photos, paperwork, manuals, journals: Scan them. This was a weeks-long project for me.
- Entertainment: EyeTV adapter for my laptop to get over-the-air or cable TV
(Bath mat: Dry off before you step out of the shower enclosure!)

Things I miss: I occasionally regret not bringing my little black lace skirt. I really don't care about anything else.

I got rid of everything in 6 weeks. I posted the big stuff on Craigslist, which contrary to my expectations went more smoothly than trying to sell or give stuff to friends. Friends kept flaking out, wanting to reserve something and then not actually getting it, wanting me to deliver things, forgetting to leave a check when I dropped things off, etc. etc. Craigslist people came when they said they would come, cash in hand, and took stuff away by themselves.

I've lived in small places, but I actually prefer my current situation, which is a rather big house, because I like having room to move around. I don't mind nearly-empty rooms. It leaves more space for dancing!

You might like the Miss Minimalist blog.
posted by ceiba at 3:37 PM on November 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

I opened up a lot of space by ripping all my DVDs and CDs to a hard drive, and using a digital media system. You could do the same for books (e.g. Kindle or other e-reader), but it would be expensive.

You don't need a spare bedroom, you need an Aerobed for when people come round and need to stay the night.

You don't need a a big desktop computer, and then you don't need a desk. Laptops are your friend, and your dining table becomes your desk.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:08 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've moved internationally three times and each time I got rid of everything that didn't fit in two suitcases, except for a couple of boxes of my favourite books, which I shipped separately. After the first two moves, I knew I'd be moving again within a few years, so I rented tiny apartments (studios) and tried not to accumulate anything. For those years, I didn't even own a toaster, a kettle, a TV... I had only two sets of plates, bowls, cutlery, sheets, etc. It was fine.

I do not regret anything I got rid of. I don't even remember 95% of that stuff.
posted by lollusc at 4:13 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you done something similar? Was it a positive move or did you regret it? What are essentials for keeping and things you found you didn't miss at all. I'd love to read real world stories and advice (keeping in mind I'm 50-something, not a college student or young adult just starting out).

Since my first divorce at age 27, nearly everything worth keeping has been able to fit into whatever car I've owned at the time. And, last year I did live in an 18' motor home. But before that, I had kids to shelter so yes, I bought furniture and set up house here and there. However I don't get emotionally attached to furniture. Actually, I don't get emotionally attached to much of anything. I can count on one hand the few things that have made it through all 23 moves...

The electronic age has made moving and downsizing *a lot* easier. No more dvds, no more cds, no more books (okay, fewer books...). I'm now downsizing to two suitcases since I don't have a car and can't afford to ship anything to wherever it is I'm gonna move.

One tip to downsizing which I found on a lot of the RV forums, put some stuff that is not completely necessary into boxes and stick the boxes in a closet. If, in six months you have not opened the boxes, then get rid of whatever is inside (sell, donate, whatever). It's obvious that what's inside is not something you absolutely need. Lather, rinse, repeat until you've downsized to your necessities.
posted by patheral at 4:16 PM on November 13, 2011

Well, what really helped me was moving to Europe and having to chuck everything I owned. We've started over since Stateside, but can still move all our possessions in one car and a few boxes. I can literally come home one day and go "We're moving," pack the car, and be gone. Like in the movies. I know because I've done it before, multiple times.

In terms of: Books, movies, games, and other media. The only things worth keeping are treasured keepsakes, rare and out of print things, and the sort of thing you'll never find again. I've been considering getting a Kindle just so I can clear out what's left of my books and never have to move them again.

In terms of: Entertainment. You can splurge for a nice laptop with a big screen or even a nice corner computer nook with a good-sized monitor. We use Netflix/Hulu for movies and TV shows and the sports I watch offer streaming packages for various devices I use. And it's enough. There's things I'd like to watch that aren't on those services, but honestly, there's so much on those services I'd like to watch and never would get around to watching that it all sort of evens out.

In terms of clothes/apparel: My biggest problem here is my line of work sometimes requires me to go out of town for a week or so and have good, formal outfits as well as more casual outfits, so I have way more clothes than I would like. However, if you get some very sturdy hangers and your clothes don't weigh much, you can use each hanger to store a complete outfit rather than a single thing, buying you more space in your closet or clothing rack. For example, I usually only pack a garment bag for trips now and each hanger has a pair of pants with underwear and socks tucked in the pockets, an undershirt with a casual and a dress shirt draped over it, then a jacket on top if it's going to be that formal.

In terms of furniture: I have to have a good bed or my back kills me, but I usually find a close out or discount store with good models cheap so I don't feel obliged to move them, since renting a truck or shipping would cost just as much on the other end. Otherwise, I'm partial to very-basics from Target or Ikea, like wire shelving that can be repurposed into holding DVDs or books or whatever needs held, an entertainment stand mainly to keep the TV off the floor, and a nice desk for everything else. Everyone thinks we're lunatics, but we just buy some cheap pillows and use them to lay around on the floor rather than buying a couch.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:28 PM on November 13, 2011

I downsized to two suitcases when I moved to the UK.

My tricks were driven by cost. $75cdn for each 25lbs. So I basically went through everything I owned and determined what made the cut. In the end I traveled with clothes and my laptop.

Now in the UK for seven years I have kept my stuff down by always asking "Will this significantly improve my life?" before I buy anything. Almost nothing passes the significant improvement test (lots of things do pass the want test though). My wife and I use ReadItSwapIt and a sony ereader so our book collection doesn't grow. Stuff I do end up with that I don't use goes into the basement and if it stays down there it ends up on ebay once I realize it hasn't been used for a few months.

I often also think about what matters to me and what I would want to save from a fire. So far that list is just myself, my wife, the neighbour's cat and maybe my laptop if i have lots of time.

As a space saver I love my Ikea DAVE laptop desk that I use while sitting on the couch.
posted by srboisvert at 5:15 PM on November 13, 2011

Two methods:


* Get a box and label it, "Give away box". Put something new in it, every day, or every week. Then give it away, or tell your friends it's open game for anything in that box.

All at once (feel free to repeat):

* Divide and conquer:

Take a bunch of Stuff (the more stuff at a time, the better) and just put it in two piles: Keep and Don't Keep. Make the piles somewhat the same size at the end of the exercise.
posted by alex_skazat at 5:19 PM on November 13, 2011

Leo Babatua of Zen Habits just launched a Clutterfree course and ebook.

From his promo materials:
- It’s just you, and the life you love. Without clutter getting in the way.
- You live experiences, you do things you’re passionate about, you spend time with people you love.
- You don’t live through objects, you’re not passionate about things, you don’t spend time with possessions.
- You live, and the clutter that has built up over the years has been stripped away to the bare essentials.

In the book, and in the course, we’ll help you:
- Examine and deal with the emotional issues that keep your life cluttered.
- Deal with the “just in case” syndrome, and sentimental clutter.
- Figure out what’s important in your life.
- Get started decluttering.
- Clear out your closets, your kitchen, your living room, and more.
- Maintain your clutter-free status once you’ve created this new life.

My one tip on decluttering comes from a book on how to organize with ADD: do not obsess about the "perfect" way to get rid of something. Don't fantasize about the best ebay auction, or a big successful yardsale, or getting it to the most deserving charity. If you want to have a yard sale, purge everything into a staging ground beforehand, e.g. the garage. Hold the garage sale, and at the end of the day, load everything that didn't sell and drop it off at Goodwill or another charity. Do not let anything back into the staging ground, or god forbid, the house itself. This goes for giving your friends things too - it can sit for a day on its way somewhere, but no more.

For some reason, this was like a giant lightbulb moment for me. Previously I'd been obsessed about figuring out what to do with something, and not feeling like it will be "wasted" or it won't earn back what it could if the stars were perfectly aligned. Having that decision be removed from discussion - it goes in a giant pile to one place, and I am not a failure for not plotting the next best step for each item -- was incredibly freeing and helpful. It's like I could make the decision to get rid of something, but couldn't get past the next step: "Where? How? What needs to happen for that to occur?" The item would then be in "waiting for photos for ebay" purgatory, or in a box in a closet full of "things for friends" which, of course, would never be given to them.
posted by barnone at 5:51 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I slowly downsized over time until I was living in an apartment that was 450sqft. I now live with my SO in a much larger space, but after a year and a half, it still looks like we just moved in.

I absolutely don't regret it. I have learned to let go my attachment for most material things and in fact look forward to big home re-orgs where I move stuff around and give the various things away that I've collected since the last re-org. I think less clutter in my home has led my brain to feel less cluttered.

One thing I learned was how to be efficient. Space is everything. When I have a need for something, I contemplate where it will live and when I tidy will it have a 'home'. Multi-function furniture is key. Or actually, asking if something doesn't have a function, why do you need it?

The only regret I had was that my kitchen was too small for the amount of time I typically spend in there (I love to cook and do so often). And it's tough when well-meaning people buy you gifts like knick-knacks, etc. I try to display them for a bit and hide them to see if they notice and hold them for a period of time (always different depending on my conscience and the person) and then get rid of it (for the folks, I couldn't outright say "don't buy me stuff").

I love giving stuff away or selling, if appropriate. The only thing that has really changed since I'm in a larger space now is the book collection has grown again and well, I'm now accumulating more kitchen gadets...
posted by getmetoSF at 5:59 PM on November 13, 2011

At 25 I had enough furniture and STUFF to furnish a small house or 2-3 bedroom apartment. Then I decided I wanted to go backpacking abroad for a year.

I had six months in between deciding to pack up and leave and actually leaving the country. I set a rough goal of getting rid of ONE item -- big or small -- every day. THe options were "trash it, give it away, or sell it". Doing it at a slow and steady pace kept me from getting stressed about it.

I ended up reducing my possessions to those in my backpack, and some stuff that could fit in a very small storage unit near home.

After 16 months abroad I came home for a few months to regroup, and cracked open the storage unit. I found that I didn't care about most of the stuff in there. I tried to determine if I could get rid of even MORE stuff and downgrade to a smaller unit before heading abroad again, but that didn't end up happening.

Very soon here I'll have paid more in rent on the storage unit than the cash value of the contents... not ideal, but I'm basically paying for the option to come home at any time and have some stuff that is annoying to replace (a comfortable bed that I know the history of, etc.)
posted by adamk at 6:57 PM on November 13, 2011

I moved from a stuffed to the gills house and garage into a 450 square foot apt. I love it. I downsized gradually. My almost achieved goal is to have no outside storage space. Everything is inside (except garden stuff) but I still am taking things to my favorite thrift store. I miss my kitchen the most and have kept all my cooking related gear. I second the laptop and the multipurpose table. I have two armoires that are excellent for storage and also look nice. Downsizing forced me to chose what was most important to me. It is an ongoing process.
posted by cairnoflore at 7:44 PM on November 13, 2011

My husband and I (both mid to late 30s) went from a 2000 sq ft house to a 475 sq ft studio in a matter of a few years, and really, I don't miss the big place at all. Of course, that was through a series of moves, many of which were overseas, which made it a bit easier. It's amazing how much stuff you're willing to part with once you figure out how much it will cost to ship.

Books? They have to go. Seriously. Get a kindle, they take up WAY less space. Same with CDs. You don't need them. Clothing? You need a lot less than you think you do. And for crying out loud, get rid of the stuff that doesn't fit anymore. Seriously. Even if you're working out like a fiend and dieting like crazy, by the time those clothes fit again, they'll be woefully out of style. Plus, after all that hard work, you deserve something nice. Go buy yourself some new clothes. For now, that stuff is just taking up space and probably making you feel a bit bad about having gained the weight in the first place. Get rid of it. Artwork - if it's signed and numbered, keep it. Otherwise out it goes.

Switch from desktop computers to laptops. They take up a lot less space, use less power, and don't require an extra piece of furniture. Yes they're more expensive, but think about how much money you'll save in rent by cutting out the unnecessary square footage that a desk would take up. That awesome surround sound system you had in your house is pretty useless once you're sharing walls with other people. Ditch the monster speakers and get wireless headphones. That way you can hear the dialogue AND the explosions and not irritate your neighbors.

Everything else depends on who you are and what's important to you. I had a TON of kitchen stuff, and I kept all of it. I cook most meals from scratch, so it made sense to keep the tools I need for that. It also helps that my teeny tiny studio has an awesome kitchen. You may be able to get by with service for 2 and a can opener. That's something you'll have to think about.

With the exception of things with deep sentimental value (a great-grandmother's wedding ring or similar) it's all just stuff. Keep that in mind at all times. It's just stuff. If it doesn't make your life easier or more enjoyable, you don't need it. Every few months I go through and cull out more stuff we just plain don't need. Like cairnoflore said, it really is an ongoing process.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 9:31 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not to derail but maybe to run a parallel track:
I'm never going to be a minimalist like many who have posted here, but I understand conceptually how it could work for me if I did want to try. EXCEPT for the kitchen. I would say I could toss 99% of my other possessions without a problem, but how does anyone live without a bunch of kitchen stuff and not either be rich enough to always eat out or only eat rice and beans?

You don't need every last gadget, but at minimum I need a couple sauce pans, a couple frying pans, various utensils, dishes to eat on, a casserole dish, a pitcher, spices, tupperware for leftovers, etc. Not to mention storing food. Buying food in small amounts is so much less cost-effective! How do you folks live such minimalist lives wiout having the most boring diet ever?
posted by Wretch729 at 9:33 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Patheral had a great tip w the boxes. I use that trick anytime I am wanting to make a significant dent in my belongings.

I have also found that the 'backwards hanger' trick helps w this as well. To do this, you simply turn all of your hangers 'hook-opening' facing outwards. As you use the item, turn the hanger around to the normal position. After a few months, you will be shocked at just how few articles of clothing one wears.

I then go through everything that I haven't worn, take it to a consignment shop, and make a few $$. At the end of the process, not only is my closet more lean, my wallet is a bit more heavy!
posted by GeekSpeak at 10:25 PM on November 13, 2011

We did this. It started with an international move six years ago that did not cover the cost of shipping. We got rid of as much as we could, via rummage sale, donations to friends, and Craigslist. The remaining stuff, which we thought was most important to us, went into two 5x9' storage units, and we departed with six suitcases containing mostly clothes.

We once lived in a 3 bedroom house with a dining room, basement, attic, and garage. We've lived in small furnished apartments in 4 different cities since then, and each time our move consists of only suitcases. Our smallest place was 500 sq feet, and we found that it suited us just fine. (It helped that it was a clever layout and furnished appropriately to the space.)

Recently we were back in the US for a while, and used that opportunity to check out what we had in storage. Like adamk, we found that we no longer cared about a lot of it, and were able to winnow the two 5x9's down to one. What's left is some antiques from my family (more sentimental value than anything-- and probably not worth the cost of storage if we really got down to it), musical instruments, and some books and paper files. We hope one day to be reunited with what is left, but we're not sure when that will be.

We've tried to digitize everything that we can. All of our financial stuff, music, photos, and reading material. We have a small number of kitchen things that we take everywhere: two high quality chef knives and a fancy stovetop Italian coffeemaker. Everything else we pick up at IKEA or asian markets or second-hand shops. I am a serious cook and make nearly all of our meals from scratch, but I have learned to cope with very small kitchens. Yes, it's much harder to make a soufflé without my beloved standing mixer, so I don't make those very often anymore. But with a handheld blender and a basic set of pots and pans and utensils, you can accomplish quite a bit. I've mastered wok cooking and have taught myself how to do more asian recipes.

So my suggestion might be to reduce as much as you can, and get a storage unit for the overflow of what you can't part with for the first year or two. It will give you a transition period to get used to the idea of being without your stuff. Once your treasured pieces have been sitting in storage for a while, you'll begin to see how much they really mean to you. Like everyone is saying, it's all just stuff.

We are in our mid-40's and have no regrets. We intend to remain downsized, and don't see ourselves ever moving back into a house. We enjoy urban life, and we have immensely enjoyed being able to sample a variety of cities. We're looking to get more settled now, but keep to apartment life. Occasionally I have a twinge of jealousy for our more well-stocked and amply established friends, but mostly they worry about us not having enough than we ever worry about ourselves. As others have said, there is an incredible sense of freedom and simplicity in not being anchored down by stuff. There is also a sense of adventure-- we can move easily and take advantage of opportunities-- and we have. Plus, I can't imagine ever going back to cleaning a 3-BR house again! Our house-related chores are a fraction of what they once were. That in itself is a huge argument for downsizing.
posted by amusebuche at 1:03 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make sure that your smaller space fits your lifestyle. I don't mind living in one room, but I do miss having a kitchen. I eat out or get takeout almost every night. Minimalism is nice, but I would like to be able to have an oven, maybe a microwave, and a giant pot for making giant soups.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:11 AM on November 14, 2011

1. Stop acquiring things now. Put away the credit cards. Give up recreational shopping. Collect nothing. Cancel all store catalogs. Set new or better savings goals that will encourage you to spend less money. Don't get another pet when the current "wee dog" kicks a wee doggy bucket.

2. Get rid of things you don't need. Tell family and friends, "I'm going to sell all of these [clothes, shoes, books, CD, DVDs, kitchenware, etc.] unless I find takers for them."

3. When you spend, spend on experiences: plays, concerts, trips, movies, museums, picnics, exercise, classes, etc. When you get home, all you have acquired is memories, happiness, knowledge, health, and maybe a journal entry.

4. Learn to borrow, rent, or contract out for. Books, music, cars, tools, etc., can be had temporarily, just long enough for you to do what you need to do. If a train or bus won't do, a car can be rented for a weekend, zoomed all over the place, and then taken back and forgotten. Lawns can be mowed by other people with lawn mowers and time on their hands.
posted by pracowity at 3:15 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Read up on and participate in Discardia. Though she schedules it 4 times a year, you can celebrate any time you want, for as long or short as you want. It's one of my favorite "holidays."
posted by IndigoRain at 3:33 AM on November 14, 2011

You don't need every last gadget, but at minimum I need a couple sauce pans, a couple frying pans, various utensils, dishes to eat on, a casserole dish, a pitcher, spices, tupperware for leftovers, etc. Not to mention storing food. Buying food in small amounts is so much less cost-effective! How do you folks live such minimalist lives wiout having the most boring diet ever?

You need one saucepan and one frying pan. (You can actually fry things in the saucepan in a pinch). You can use an ordinary fork and knife and spoon to turn things over in the pan, stir sauce, etc. If you have a saucepan without plastic on it, you can put it in the oven as a casserole dish. You can use a glass or mug instead of a pitcher. Spices come in packets. You can store leftovers in the fridge in the pan you cooked them in, or in an ordinary plate covered with cling wrap. You just have to eat them before you can use your pan or bowl again. You can buy food in bulk and just keep it in the package it came in. You just can't buy a lot of different kinds of bulk food. I used to have bulk rice and lentils and oil. Everything else was fresh from the markets and got eaten before I bought more. Spices don't count because they take up almost no room.

I love to cook, and of course it is easier now that I have a larger kitchen and more kitchen stuff, but it was never especially difficult with minimal equipment either.
posted by lollusc at 3:50 AM on November 14, 2011

Re: heirlooms. If it's not museum quality, sell it, or throw it away. If it is museum quality, donate it to a museum.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:50 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of good points here - I'm not a hardcore minimalist, though this Ask has inspired me to get rid of more of my books. I am pretty much minimalist about clothes, though. I basically don't have any clothes that I don't wear regularly (though some get worn less-regularly than others, i.e. fancy dresses, suits).

One way I keep my clothes in check (because I like clothes as much as the next person) is I never get more hangers. I usually have maybe 5 extra shirt hangers, two extra trouser hangers, and 2 extra skirt hangers. If I don't have a hanger available, it means it's time to get rid of something.
posted by mskyle at 7:10 AM on November 14, 2011

What's helped change my attitude were things I did that weren't even connected to my vague positive attitude toward downsizing or my lifelong fight against inheriting what we've always jokingly called my mom's packrat gene. I quit reading magazines (I enjoyed them, but they just piled up and I hated the waste; if I could have found a magazine exchange or swap I might not have done this). And I quit watching most broadcast tv; most of what I watch is recorded now and I miss 99% of the commercials. It makes a HUGE difference; that whole "acquire" mindset is just so insidious. Upgrade - to be more efficient! Buy this to organize your life! A big hit to my income and lessening my exposure to advertising, along with a committment I already had to try to reduce/reuse/recycle made all the difference. Now, I get rid of things I don't use, and don't worry about replacing them. I take impulse buys to the thrift store. Even if I can't go right away, I bag stuff up and get it out of sight so I don't change my mind. It's a gradual chipping away, but it works for me.
posted by lemniskate at 7:32 AM on November 14, 2011

Repeat to yourself..."If everything is special, then nothing is special."
posted by teg4rvn at 7:51 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like to cook. Here's what's usually in my kitchen:

- frying pan, preferably iron
- big pot
- 2 smaller pots
- metal spatula
- chef's knife
- small paring knife (used most often to open packages)
- cutting board
- glass containers. In the US, they were can-and-freeze jars that were easy to store in a rack. Here, unfortunately, it's a pile of randomly sized glass containers with plastic lids.
- measuring cup
- measuring spoons
- coffee grinder
- French press
- stick blender aka immersion blender
- microwave
- stove with oven
- smallest "normal" fridge in the store
posted by ceiba at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2011

I am 45 and now live in a 850ft² two bedroom apartment having been downsized and lost an 1850ft² house ( with basement). I gave away a LOT of stuff and kept a few things:
computers and various related equipment (I am a programmer) BUT not my computer museum.
lots of the various cables I have collected, but only if unique.
important papers. Sentimental papers and things given to me.
a recliner, a bed, two TVs (new HD flat screens).
Refrigerator and washer/dryer (because I had too, will get rid of them)
kitchen stuff and clothes (two weeks worth only, and a suit).

Everything else had to go to goodwill. I don't really miss it..and probably wouldn't miss some of what I kept. I now read the magazines I get and then leave them somewhere (waiting rooms/lunch rooms/etc).

Ive been thinking that nowadays, it is easier to live small. You don't NEED a washer/dryer...laundry mats will do. Don't need a refrigerator, visit the store daily...heck they will cook the food first! Don't NEED a bathroom, join a gym and use their facilities whenever.

Books can now be electronic. DVDs and CD rip nicely into hard drives. TVs/Radios/computers are all downsized and can use less power than before. Most important papers can be scanned and stored electronically. Satellite replaces cable for entertainment. Free WiFi in many places.

Don't wanna stay cooped up? Then don't. I have a 24 hour bookstore nearby that I can go to. Just go home to sleep is fine...and good.
posted by CodeMonkey at 8:51 AM on November 14, 2011

Wow, what great responses, impossible to mark a "best." I've read them all quickly, but am looking forward to really absorbing the info on a second pass. It's interesting to see how much this topic seems to resonate with folks other than me. I don't want to mark the question "resolved" because I'd love to read more if anyone has anything to add. Thanks so much for all the tips and encouragement, I'm looking forward to getting to work on this project and am thinking of blogging my journey.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 1:31 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watch A&E's Hoarders. That will get you tossing stuff so fast...
posted by andreap at 4:36 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just want to touch on this part for a moment:

and am now down to a sub 1000 sq ft apartment i share with my kiddo (who is soon to fly the nest)

I find myself wondering how your kid feels about this.

I had a very close friend in HS who shared a tiny post-divorce apartment with his father all through school. As soon as my friend moved away to college, his dad did basically what you're contemplating ... got rid of just about everything (including family photos, holiday ornament my friend had made as a child, all the kitchen stuff, etc.) and took up the RV life.

My friend was devastated. He felt as though he now had no home to return to, and that his father had basically thrown out his childhood memories - some items the friend had lovingly crafted as gifts, some items that simply were irreplaceable (particularly things like his parents' wedding photos) without a thought.

Make sure your kiddo is on board with this (particularly if you go the co-housing or van route), and give him/her the opportunity to take things that have meaning to your child (or will just make starting a new life easier - for instance, if you're going to downsize the kitchen stuff, can your kid use it rather than buying new?) first, before you offer them up to others or throw them out.

But, I should mention that I'd never be able to do this. I live with things that my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents lived with before me, and that sort of continuity is important to me. Baking bread in the same bowl my great-grandmother baked bread in connects me to her in a very real way - in a way that just taking a photo of it never would. I find the idea of buying a new bed every time you move to be enormously wasteful.

And, whatever you do, if you go the scan/digital route make sure you have very redundant backups. Keeping all your scanned family photos on a thumb drive = disaster waiting to happen.
posted by anastasiav at 8:09 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I find the idea of buying a new bed every time you move to be enormously wasteful.

People have different levels of comfort, but I ended up questioning the need for a conventional bed. For example, I slept for some time on what was essentially a nest of quilts from Goodwill (and I had a healthy romantic life in that nest).

I now sleep in a Mayan hammock and love it -- it's easy to move out of the way; you don't need a mattress pad, fitted bottom sheet, top sheet, yada yada; and it's easy to bring with you if you move. I live in the tropics, where a standard bed is too hot, but I've also slept in a hammock in the north, where I wrapped myself in a comforter before getting in.
posted by ceiba at 12:47 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The last time we moved, my wife came with me to the dump. She had never seen a municipal dumping ground before. It was massive, smelly, and fascinating. She's never been the same; her attitude towards stuff-ownership changed dramatically that day. If you've never been (or haven't in a while), I'd suggest the trip.
posted by blahtsk at 3:55 PM on November 15, 2011

My solution to the problem of potentially being wasteful with buying and dumping furniture when moving is to go secondhand. If you sell or give away your old furniture instead of taking it to the dump, and you buy anything you need secondhand, you aren't contributing to the waste cycle at all. In fact, you are part of the solution.
posted by lollusc at 5:27 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

My husband and I lived in a 700 sq. ft. 1930's cottage for three years of grad school. I grew up in a massive ranch house that has recently become more massive, so I was not used to the small and compact lifestyle. I found it actually quite liberating once I came to the realization that I didn't need a whole lot of stuff to be happy. On the other hand, I have a hobby called knitting, which, if you know a knitter, can grow into an enormous and uncontrollable stash of needles, yarn, patterns, winders and other odds and ends. For the three years of school when my house was small and my hobby grew into obsession, I learned how to organize my hobby and all its accouterments into a single IKEA Expedit bookcase with fabric drawers. Someday, I will outgrow this bookcase, but I will keep it organized and in a small space that doesn't take over the house. When we moved after grad school, we had a throw out party. We assessed everything in our house and made a plan that if we hadn't touched/worn/looked at a given item that it would be donated/thrown out. This will be our approach the next time we move. I highly recommend this and watching Hoarders. Hoarders makes me want to go on a cleaning spree every time I watch.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:42 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're American (or indeed, Canadian) it can help to understand that you have a uniquely North American perspective on what constitutes sufficient or even minimal living space. Other people in other countries where there is literally less land mass have very different view points, and yet live (in terms of western culture) very similar lives.

As an example, this thread has made me smile because my husband and I and our 42lb dog live in a 550 sq foot house perfectly happily - no plans to trade up, no plans to sell, only the vaguest plans to maybe one day convert the attic. We chose it because it has two bedrooms and we could get a kid in here if that was ever needed (it will not be.) We knew we could raise a kid in this house because my husband's grandmother raised five children in a house up the road with the exact same footprint. That sounds cramped. This feel spacious. We've had 20 people in here for parties and host 12 sitting down for holidays.

The keys to me are:

Maximise your space and storage design. (The fact you can walk into our shower helps our tiny bathroom feel bigger, for example. A wet room would have been even better.) Do not cram your house full of stuff. Buy correctly scaled furniture.

Here's a video of our downstairs before a trip to the dump.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:20 AM on November 21, 2011

You might benefit from glancing over this question. I quoted Paul Graham's bit on having too much stuff in it.

Also I've always found Pastabagel's point of view on stuff to be helpful.

For me the catalyst was moving overseas about 4 or 5 years ago, in general, and moving to live in the third world, more in particular.

The first forced me to pack up everything in my NYC apartment and stuff it into a 10x10 storage unit. You'd be amazed how much stuff you can fit in a 10x10x8' space. I was. It all spent its first year in there and then I came back and immediately got rid of half of it. I still have the things I'm not so good at parting with (mainly books and a professional wardrobe that I still may need some day), but now in a 10x5. Its sat there for 3 years that way now, I have only seen it once. At some point it either has or will cross the threshold where just bringing it with me would have been both a lower cost and a lower carbon footprint than leaving it behind was.

The second forced me to see that the majority of people on the planet will never have the luxury of having stuff on multiple continents, let alone having so much stuff you pay someone to keep some of your stuff for you. Let alone having enough stuff that you have insurance on some of your stuff. Let alone having enough stuff that you keep a fricking vehicle which you can move your stuff around with. Let alone etc. etc. etc.. Seeing people who will never even ride in a car, who have no concept of the word insurance, who don't know what storage space really is, who will never leave the tiny corner of the tiny country they and their family have always occupied. This has helped me need a lot less stuff.

Also, the Kindle has helped with the book problem. A lot of my stuff is becoming digital and I can't underscore the importance of that enough, I suppose.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:24 AM on November 21, 2011

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