There is a lot of overlap between the tiny house communities and the minimalism communities. But it’s mostly one way in that tiny housers are forced to become minimalist whereas a minimalist can live in whatever home suits them.
And I think that’s where a lot of trouble arises. I often see future tiny housers complain or worry about being able to fit all their stuff in a space that is about the size of the average bedroom. I’m here to tell you it can be done, unless you’re the type of person who needs every collection of knick knack and kitsch currently occupying your space.
I didn’t discover tiny houses until I was fully into minimalist living. For years I’d gone far in the opposite direction of accumulating stuff, and then made a decision that enough was enough and fairly quickly pared down to just one 32 liter backpack and a computer messenger bag.
That was by choice and by necessity. On September 1, 2009 I set off on an adventure. The life of a nomad. My flight from LAX to Sydney, Australia was long and I was a bit scared at what was coming. But the freedom was unlike anything I’d felt before. No longer burdened by rooms full of stuff I could live with intention and only accumulate what I needed. I could also move at a few minute’s notice and be comfortable wherever I ended up. I proceeded to travel to about 20 countries, mostly slowly, usually staying at least a month in each place. (Favorites: Poland and Thailand. Least favorites: Panama and Costa Rica.)
Today my backpack is 36 liters, my messenger bag is slightly larger than before, and I own more things than I did then, but in general my life fits in a bag. I can pack up in 20 minutes and be off. Though, after a few years of doing that I got a little tired of constantly moving and have had my home base mostly in Wrocław, Poland since 2012.
All that to say, I’ve had a lot of experience with the minimalist lifestyle.
My goal for 2015 has been to find a place to build a tiny house and live in it for at least a year as an experiment in extreme minimalist living. I’ll likely live in it longer, but I can’t see the future. Finding the ideal place to build and live in a tiny house has been much more of a challenge than I anticipated. Luckily, the tiny house community is very helpful. I know if I keep at it I’ll figure it out, just like so many others have before me.
Even though I’m not yet a tiny houser over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to live tiny. More than anything, I learned that minimalism is not difficult — have only what you use and what makes you happy — but, for whatever reason, it gets turned into a big hassle. It doesn’t have to be.
With that I bring you my beginner’s guide to minimalism, part 1.
Step 1: Commit
This is both the simplest and the most difficult step. Nobody ever made any change to their lives without committing. If you don’t commit to a minimalist lifestyle then there is little anybody can do to help you with your tiny house dream. You’re just not going to fit.
The simple part is this: write it down. “I live with only what I need and none of what I don’t.”
The difficult part is, of course, following through. Which brings me to …
Step 2: Keep the following items
Before you know what to get rid of you need to know what to keep. This list is not exhaustive because every situation is different. But this is a great start.
- 1 week’s worth of clothing. I know you think you need more, but you don’t. For 3 years I lived with 3 shirts and 3 pairs of socks and underwear and used a plastic bag as my washing machine. I promise it’s doable.
- Any small sentimental items that make you happy. Don’t keep something because you feel bad about getting rid of it. The memory is often more important than the item, in which case a few photos will do the trick just as well as the actual item.
- Whatever is necessary for your hobby. For example, I’ve been playing guitar for over 20 years and I get quite stressed when I don’t have one. Therefore, a guitar is a necessity for me even if it’s too much for most people. I also love to read, and I love the feel of real books. You know what I did? Bought a Kindle Paperwhite. It changed my life for the better. I used to read a lot, but since 2013 I have averaged more than a book per week thanks to Kindle always having a new book ready for me.
- A computer and smart phone. This really depends on your situation, but for people like me who work online and travel often it’s a must. For you maybe it’s not. I recommend buying the best you can afford to buy for cash and keeping it until it dies. Use ifixit when things get wonky. If you’re scared about fixing electronics, don’t be. Be patient, it’s just a thing and if someone out there can fix it then you can too. I’m currently on a 4+ year old Macbook Air that probably has at least 2 years of life left in it (after I replaced the battery).
- Kitchen stuff and toiletries. Or to put another way, your everyday life basics. Unless you’re a professional chef all you need is one good chef’s knife. It’ll do everything for you. Paring knives and all those other things? Nope, you don’t need ’em. (Ask Anthony Bourdain. Or read Kitchen Confidential. He recommends this knife.) If you’re an athlete or drink smoothies often (hello!) a blender or other small kitchen appliance might be necessary for you as well. As for toiletries, I replaced nearly everything with Dr Bronner’s soap, tea tree oil, and vitamin E oil (the best moisturizer I’ve ever found). I brushed my teeth with Dr Bronner’s for about 2 years (no cavities!), but eventually switched back to toothpaste due to taste. You don’t need shampoo or conditioner. Look up the no-poo method. I’ve been doing it for about 7 years. (Though I shaved my head last year so now I’m cheating.)
That doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re honest with yourself that list is all you need to be happy. And you won’t fit much more in your tiny house anyway so you might as well accept it now.
Step 3: Put everything else away
Meaning, take all of the stuff that is not essential to your life — everything left over after Step 2 — and put it in boxes or in closets or out of the way.
You’re not going to get rid of it yet.
You’re simply going to live without all of this stuff for 7 days. Just a simple 7 day commitment. After 7 days you’ll start to see what else is essential to your happiness. Add that back into your “keep it” list and go another 7 days. By this point there shouldn’t be much to add back to the keep it list. If there is, go ahead and add it and move on to …
Step 4: Sell, donate, trash!
Everything — and I mean everything — left over is unnecessary to your happiness. Put it into 3 piles: sell, donate, trash.
Then sell it, donate it, or throw it away. Depending on your lifestyle this might take some time. But Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist make it really easy.
To be honest, you shouldn’t have much trash, because there are always people who will take your stuff for free on Craigslist.
If you have electronics I highly recommend Amazon’s Trade-In Store. I recently got rid of an old iPod and received $76 in Amazon credit. That buys a lot of Kindle books! (I had the iPod for my app development business that failed.)
This is time consuming, but it can be fun. Especially when you see your bank balance rise, which will bring you that much closer to your tiny house dream.
That covers it for Part 1. See? If you break it down to a few steps it’s not as daunting as it seems. Take it as slow as you need to, but get started now.
In the Beginner’s Guide To Minimalism Part 2 I’ll cover exactly how to travel light, including my full packing list. No more checked bags! (Unless you get lazy or tired and don’t feel like carrying your bag.) Learning to travel light before you move into your tiny is a great way to commit to the tiny lifestyle before you move into a tiny house. That’s coming soon. Sign up for updates below so you don’t miss it.
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