Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Dealing with 3 Common Roadblocks to Downsizing

Mark Twain wrote, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” In other words, it’s often the trouble in our minds that cause us the most anguish. This conceit can be very true for those of us looking to downsize. We create so many stories about all the trouble that could happen when we downsize, that we fail to realize these troubles are often stories or easily surmounted challenges. We fail to realize that many people through the ages have lived happily with far less than we have, in spaces far smaller than we live in. And not only might a smaller home with less stuff not be awful, we might even like it.

That said, there are a number of oft-heard arguments that can present barriers to living a life with less space and stuff. We thought we’d present a few and ways you might deal with them.

Problem: “How many square feet is that?” Sometimes the hardest part of downsizing is talking about it. Most people can’t comprehend that living in a smaller space with less stuff could possibly be a choice. It’s something you do because you’re broke and have no better place to live.

Things become even more difficult when other people’s questioning becomes our own. We start thinking, “Are they right? Am I crazy? I need more space! I can’t live without my ______. What am I thinking?”

Solution: Don’t bring it up as an issue to people who might not understand. If you go on Tiny House chat board, people will admonish you for living in a space bigger than 250 sq ft. Most Europeans live in a fraction of the space Americans do. Not everyone has the same orientation to space, and to many (read: Americans) a small apartment or home doesn’t mean intentional downsizing, it means downgrading. Don’t get into it. Don’t mention square footage. Don’t get defensive if you do. Talk to friends who understand. Read this blog more. We support you. You’re making a choice that’s right for you!

Problem: “I need my privacy.” This is obviously geared toward people who live with their partners or families. They worry that a small space won’t afford the kind of healthy distance needed to maintain a peaceable kingdom.

Solution: Some capacity to absent yourself in your home in a non-confrontational way–i.e. not storming out of the house–is probably a good idea, but this can take shape in the form of a bedroom, separate kitchen or room divider. This room need not be big.

The problem is people have taken privacy too far. It has become expected that every family member have their own retreat where (typically) they bury their heads in their TV, computer or tablet, free from the need to relate to one another.

Most homes around the world lack room to spread out. In England, for example, the average new home size is around 950 sq ft (compared to the 2500 in the US). Though we can’t prove it, living close to the people in our lives is more beneficial to relating to others than living with a “healthy distance.” The former have to communicate and deal with one another–a dying art in the era of the McMansion.

Problem: “There’s no room for that.” We look at a small space and contrast it to our current, bigger one. We see the impossibility of fitting our existing stuff into the new space. This can apply to big stuff like furniture or small stuff like sentimental objects and clothes. It particularly applies to our kids, who seem to carry a monumental amount of stuff.

Solution: There is room for that, particularly if there is less of that. The fact is editing one’s life requires a certain amount of removal. It need not be a wholesale removal–if there are certain objects you can’t bear to get rid of, don’t get rid of them. But at a certain point, we might need to get rid of a salad spinner or the trade in our sectional couch for a love seat or do with a few less pairs of shoes in our closets.

It makes far more sense to adapt the amount of stuff to our lives than making our lives adapt to our stuff. For example, if a small home in the city is where we want to live, we might have to get rid of a number of things to make that work.

While kids do typically carry a certain amount of baggage, it’s nowhere near as much as Kids R’ Us might have us believe. A curated, culled and contained toy selection is achievable and takes a lot less space than you think.

Also it’s important to focus on the benefits of editing our lives. When we focus on the freedom of having less to maintain, buy, clean and pay for, the penalty of letting our salad greens dry on a dishcloth seem a lot easier to deal with.

Have you downsized recently? Did you face challenges from within or without? How did you deal with them? Let us know in our comments section.

Miniature House image via Shutterstock

  • Isty

    My family (husband and two young kids) have been downsizing for the past year. Living out of a suitcase each in a rented apartment in one country and renovating a small house in another country. My kids are totally fine with minimal toys/stuff and not having to look after a huge house, loads of clothes etc means we have more time to play as a family and the opportunity to travel easily. It felt very weird/sad getting rid of stuff but once it went it, it was simply liberating.

  • LH

    Long time reader, first time commenter here…..

    Currently doing a “down-size”, trying to get rid of 50% of our small items (basically everything that isn’t a piece of furniture).

    The easiest thing to do was the kitchen. For example, we went down from five million wine/martini/juice/water/coffee/etc glasses to just 2 simple sets that function for any type of drink (inspired by seeing movies where Japanese people drink wine always from simple juice cups). Another example, why on earth did we have 6 wooden spoons? The most I’ve ever used at one time is 2. And that only happened ONCE. Get rid of all of them I say!

    Hardest part is the photos. My husband and I were photographers at heart since age 4, so we have a mountain of developed film. It’s not the sentimentality, it’s just finding the time to digitize them all and back them up somewhere. Never enough time in the day.

    I’d love to read a follow up post or find a link to an old article with examples to expand on things like, “A curated, culled and contained ___ selection is achievable and takes a lot less space than you think.”

    What are tips for getting things to be “curated/culled”? How much time are we talking here? Can you include more photos and examples in the blog? Would love to see data/budgets of actual savings people have from “editing” their life.

    • David Friedlander

      thanks so much for sharing. definitely check out this post i did a while ago regarding photos

      there are numerous services that’ll digitize that don’t cost a ton of money.

      in terms of kids toys, i’m going largely off my own experience. my wife and i have a couple small cabinets (contained) for our 1 year old son; they’re filled with his books and high quality toys (curated) most of which were hand-me-downs from family and friends with older kids. They in turn are being handed down to friends with younger kids (culled). i doubt we’ve spent more than $75 on the whole collection.

      i’m sure this ccc principle could applied to a number of other things, especially clothes. check out project 333 for a great example.

      we’ll keep looking for other examples as well.

    • Elaine Axten

      My favoured way of working quickly is to have three piles – keep, get rid, and ‘sleep on it’. Although you still have to work on the ‘sleep on it pile’ the next day, you’ll not only speed up the initial divide (saving all that pondering time) but it’s remarkable how quickly the ‘slept on’ pile is dealt with as well.

    • Merf56

      This is harsh but it needs to be said: When you die all your photos will likely end up in the trash bin – either the physical or digital variety. If you have kids maybe they will keep some of you and their childhood but their kids will be tossing most of the rest them. Do yourself a huge favor and take charge of getting rid of them yourself – now. Don’t go through and agonize over every photo. My much older sister took the bins of family photos my mother had stored and, because she thought it should be important to everyone, had them all printed and put in albums for each of her kids and one for me and also digitized them – at great expense of time and money. It also took hours and months of work. She is now a stroke victim and her children confided that they pulled out a few labeled pictures and tossed the physical albums and neither adult child could find the Zip drives she gave them with the rest of the pictures. They think they both were thrown away. I tossed my album as well after pulling out a few pictures and tossed the Zip drive as soon as she gave it to me. All that work for nothing. And she will now never reclaim those months of healthy time she wasted on it…. Live in the present. Not the past.

  • sfo transplant

    Our first year of marriage, we lived out of two suitcases and two carryons as we used the Star Alliance around-the-world tickets for a year. Then we upsized to a 36′ motorhome and traveled North America for four years. Those five years were spent wondering “why are we paying to store the stuff we’re not using??”. For the last 8 years we have lived in a 1100 sq.ft. condo and it feels mighty palatial. We only use the living room when guests come. Guest room has murphy bed and doubles as a library/exercise room. We do an annual purge and remove the stuff we don’t use. We feel very content and could easily go smaller, but in our city, the only smaller spaces we know about are more than twice the cost of our condo, so it doesn’t make sense economically.

  • Paul Stanley

    How about problem number 4: I slowly get rid of things, then my wife sees the space and fills it with something!

    Any tips for how to convince your spouse to have less stuff as well?

    • David Friedlander

      good question paul. i can’t speak specifically to your situation, but “inspiring” will probably be a lot more effective than “convincing.” truly walk the walk and show benefits to it.
      while my family is a little anomalous owing to the fact that i write and talk about this stuff for a living, i think changes in my life and having the conversation on the tip of our family’s tongue has affected my whole family. grandparents don’t give unsolicited gifts anymore. my wife has taken on “editing” with abandon and we’re intentionally downsizing our home very soon. it might not happen instantaneously, but it will happen with diligence.

    • Jenifer

      One of the things that I did in our household was “containment.” I wanted to go with simplicity, Dh loved his stuff.

      This was when we had a large place (3 bed, 1300 sq ft). So, first, we each had our own room to use as we saw fit. Common areas were kept clean and tidy, with each of us having space for our stuff. This was my space in the room, that was his space in the room.

      Dh cluttered his space. I left my space empty. DH wanted to expand into my space, but I told him no. He decluttered, and later went minimal. Now, he sees how great it is to live minimally.

      So, it’s part “inspiration” and part also recognizing that you have different needs, and her need to fill is not greater than your need to empty.

    • MV

      I’m like that. So I use empty cardboard boxes to create look of a filled space.

  • I recently completed a very successful experiment on my clothes closet.

    STEP 1, RUTHLESS EDITING: Four months ago, I took every piece of clothing I had out of my closet. Then I put back one half. The other half went into boxes**.

    STEP 2, MORATORIUM: During the following four months, I was not allowed to buy a single piece of clothing for any reason. I could, however, look at clothing in stores or online to carefully plan my end-of-experiment prize. This actually grew old pretty fast.

    STEP 3, FINALE: After four months, I donated the boxes and bought myself one single, beautiful, and yes-expensive-classic elegant white linen shirt that I will keep and wear with great pleasure for many years to come.

    BOTTOM LINE: I have a modest closet full of my favorite clothes, all of which fit and look good on me. I weaned myself from mindless comfort shopping. I saved a LOT of money and feel a whole lot better about the image I present.

    **SAFETY VALVE: I was allowed to reclaim anything from a box, provided I knew specifically what it was (I couldn’t just browse). I only took out one thing and that was only to use it to make a pattern from, then I returned it to the box.

  • Jenifer

    I find myself in an interesting situation in this matter.

    We are preparing for our second international move (“back home” according to our families), and we are planning on returning with only a few suitcases. We have done exceptionally well living ‘edited’ or ‘curated.’ Part of this is because we were far from family pressures!

    We are currently looking for housing and family is helping us. we have run into some very interesting cultural issues:

    1. landlords do not want to rent small spaces to families. we have looked into several studio and one-bedroom places that are about 500 sq ft. We currently live in 480 happily, so we’d love to have something about the same size. But, landlords inform my family that such a space is “too small” for a family. A single or couple? Yes. But a family? no. It’s hard for us to even be allowed to rent what we want!

    2. family has very different ideas about what kind of lifestyle we ‘should’ have.

    we like to live in town — close to amenities, our son’s schooling (private, so it’s location specific), and work. we prefer to walk and use public transportation. we are fine with a “rougher” neighborhood than others. In fact, I’ve lived in “bad” and “dodgy” neighborhoods quite well — no real problems with our neighbors or what have you. We didn’t really notice the hoods were “dodgy” until someone else mentioned it to us. LOL

    Anyway, DS’s school is in a “not as nice” neighborhood. It’s a perfectly fine neighborhood, just not “great” — or suburban like my family is comfortable with. There is good, affordable housing all around, with ‘two bedrooms’ (which landlords seem to want to foist on us), but the family doesn’t like them, so they won’t contract any of them for us!

    They want us to live a 45 minute bus ride away, where we can get a suburban 4 bedroom house with yard. And, it’s less expensive so we can get a car, too! We said we didn’t want one, they said they would help us out buying one, since that was obviously the issue (not the issue!). I talked about “lifestyle creep” — that didn’t go over well.

    3. technically, we currently are “poor.” but, we don’t feel poor because we live an amazing life based on our choices.

    example — part of the reason why we don’t need as much space is because we live in a “japanese” style. Everything we own fits into our closet. At night, we have our bed and bedding out, and we all sleep in this one big mat on the floor. Then, in the morning, I roll it up and fold up the linens and put them away in their space in the closet. We eat our meals “picnic” style” on the floor on our special table cloth. We bring out our laptops, and we use them on small foldable writing desks so that we can sit on the floor with them. DS’s toys are shelved in the closet, and he brings them out to play.

    In the evening, after dinner, we tidy up — putting our day-stuff back into the closet, and bring out our night things.

    It’s a very simple, effective way to live. We enjoy it a lot — but I know people think that we are very poor and very crazy.

    • thanks so much for sharing this. it’s really inspiring to hear of people doing their own thing. i’d say that’s what you need to do regarding your parents as well. i remember when i was 21, i wanted a motorcycle, but i knew my dad disapproved. then it occurred to me: i’m an adult and i don’t need my dad’s approval. of course i crashed said motorcycle, but your actions are not buying a motorcycle; they sound very sensible and aligned with your values. stay true to yourself as you’re the one who has to live with yourself the most often (your parents have their own lives).

    • Merf56

      I would love to know how you are faring back home. I imagine your family are going bananas and you will likely need to move far away again if you are harassed by them to conform…

  • So true – if you get a little creative and you have less, there is certainly space for almost everything. At least everything you need 🙂

  • joanna

    I’ve been thinking of this “less is more” thing for years.
    We moved abroad a few months ago, and our western european income allowed us to go crazy on buying everything we wanted when we 1st arrived. Now I regret and seriously think of downsizing. If we can afford to rent a 16,000 sq ft house here, I am afraid that when we move back to our country buying/ renting a flat bigger than 800 sq ft is going to be difficult. Besides, I don’t like the idea of piling up stuff that will just eventually become trash (old, unused and useless). Finally, this house is just too big, I feel unsafe and lost in it. I would like to move back into something more cosy and human size.
    Kids indeed keep playing with the same toys, they don’t have a problem to give away toys they don’t play with.
    But my issue is: WHAT to do with all these things we don’t want anymore? I am going to invite some collegues home and make them chose what they may want. But what to do with the rest of it? It would just be too stupid to throw it away.
    Any hint?
    What did you do with your stuff while downsizing?

    • Merf56

      A 16,000 sf house???? My god you went a little overboard didn’t you??

  • I am trying to down size, but I don’t have a clue on how to get started…. I want to try to use my equity to move with, but my credit is really bad, from my job loss a few months ago…. I have a good job now, but I don’t have a down payment. Any advice? ???

  • Merf56

    I know this post is old but I am reading it so perhaps others will as well! When I was 16 my parents and I moved for three years from The US to England for a job. We rented our US home – a large stone home full of stuff( not over full but still – a lot of things. We took basically just clothing. We rented a furnished home and had to buy all the essentials one uses everyday sheets blankets dishes, pots, pans, etc we bought only the basics though my mother was used to having a lot. These were the happiest years of all our lives. Instead of shopping for ‘stuff’ and then having to clean and maintain stuff we traveled around every weekend and term break. My mom met the neighbors who got together for tea a few afternoons a week and made friends she kept and visited back and forth with until she died thirty years later. One who became her best friend introduced her to golf. We traded stuff for experiences and it was awesome.
    Unfortunately ai did not really recognize this at the time and started down the path of more. It hit me in a blinding flash of recognition a year ago what I was doing. I am very clean and neat and have always gotten rid of stuff regularly as well as not been a big shopper but you can still aquire a lot of stuff and a big house!!
    This past year they know me at the thrift store and goodwill. Layers of stuff are going. At one point books were hard as I had a huge library full of bookshelves and books. It was who I ‘was’.. I kept them clean and in good condition – no smelly dusty books in my house. It took hours each month to keep it that way. I tossed a few. The a few months later a few more and so on. Again – all of a sudden I had a clear eyed view of the situation and tossed hundreds of books and plan to give a hundred more the toss when my daughter moves into her first house( she picked and labeled what she wants already!). When those are gone I will have 89 books left. Books I consult and reread with regularity. Down from 2500 at the start of last year.
    I always had a lot of family pieces and antiques( not the uber valuable kind!). Mostly dark woods and dreary country colors of Indian red forest green etc. lots of redware and salt glaze but not kitschy crap. Now in my late 50’s and still very active I want light and bright so all most all of the rest will not be here much longer – family pieces or not!
    This epiphany I spoke of at the beginning of this endless essay has resonated with my husband as well we are not getting any younger and we still want to do and see so much. We are moving back to Az where we lived for 11 years a decade ago. And we are taking only the bare essentials with us as my parents did when we moved to England though we are taking out dishes and bed etc and we will be buying or renting albeit a much smaller home than we have now. We want to instead spend our time apart from my husband’s work, going outside hiking, birding, volunteering at the botanical garden and traveling locally and around the country and world. We will not be doing any major remodeling as we have always done in our houses – so we have more money and time for out travel and activities. We have wasted too many weekends and evenings ripping out tile or putting in fancy lighting and other time wasters!!
    All that sentimental stuff you are saving is worth zip regardless of its monetary value. I used to visit the elderly as a volunteer. Not one of them in all the years I did this ever ever talked about their possessions. They talked about their families – for good or bad, and WHERE THEY TRAVELED TO AND WHAT THEY DID THERE. They never talked about the expensive China or antiques they owned or the designer purses they bought or the labels of their clothing. NEVER.. I wish I had internalized all the info I had long before my fifties.
    Hopefully someone much younger will read this post and wake up sooner than we did. It’s why I wrote it. Good luck. Sorry if this is rambling and boring and far too long …..