Ideas for Optimal Living in Small Spaces: Living with Less

Tiny house, #vanlife, minimalism. These are the latest buzz words when it comes to having a stress-free home life. There’s a movement establishing itself and it’s gaining momentum as people begin to realise that ‘lack of stuff’ trumps ‘lots of stuff’.

This is not a new idea. You only have to look at the cultures where abstinence is considered a virtue to see that a simple life has been coveted since time immemorial. The monastic lifestyle followed by many devout groups often includes a vow of poverty from possessions and material items. It is universally agreed that consumerism is at odds with spiritual freedom.

Small Spaces Minimalism

If you’re still not convinced then consider this. Why do we use the word ‘cleanse’ to apply to situations where we’re making ourselves feel better? It’s always used with the intention of removing or taking away – digital cleanse, dietary cleanse, home cleanse – it’s all about removing that which isn’t wanted. Cleaning things up.

And that’s the key to optimal living in small spaces.

The reality is that if you’re downsizing or looking to move into a small space, you will more than likely need to ‘cleanse’. To get rid of things.

  • These are the concerns most commonly experienced by people embarking on a life in a small space:
  • They will fall over one another and that will cause friction potentially damaging their relationships
  • They will get ‘cabin fever’, longing for the space they were used to before
  • They will be unable to live comfortably or happily without the many things that make their lives easier
  • They won’t be accruing the value in their home that will provide financial security as they age

All of these fears are valid but there are considerable benefits that outweigh these challenges, such as learning to cooperate more with the people you co-habit; spending more time outside and experiencing new environments; finding creative ways to multi-purpose your things; and saving money on utilities, rent, mortgages, interest and insurances.

How much space to you actually need?

If you consider it carefully, two people who share a bed do not need a three bedroom house. They don’t even need a two bedroom house. The just need to put some money aside to put visitors up in a local B&B or hotel. Auntie Flo visiting once a year does not necessitate an extra 5 years on your mortgage repayments.

As someone who has downsized from living alone a three story town house with a 18 metre long garden, to cohabiting with my partner in a 7.3 metre motorhome, I have some perspective to share! Here are my top 5 tips for optimal living in small spaces:

#1 Understand that nobody needs 14 pairs of socks.

You will discover very quickly that it’s the accumulation of many little things that clutter up your valuable real estate, not the big useful things like a fridge. Half the clothes you have and temporarily house them somewhere else – ask a friend to look after them for a while. After 30 days recover what you missed so much it made you cry and get rid of the rest.

NB – you will forget that your friend has your stuff.

#2 Getting rid of things.

Spend some time working out how best you can dispose of the things you don’t need. I found this quite stressful. Not only was I conscious of the monetary cost of what I was getting rid of, the fact that they had so little value to anyone else was upsetting. Some things can be sold, some given away and the sad truth is, a vast proportion of your things will need to be taken to a recycling centre. Get over it. Do not hoard things you intend to sell at some point in the future because this defeats the object of the exercise and shifts the problem from a cupboard to a box.

#3 One in one out.

Once you’re living in a small space, employ the one in one out rule. This obviously doesn’t apply to food and consumables (it’s a bit risky to only have one toilet roll to hand) but for everything else, if you bring something new into your living space, something needs to go! Not only does this keep you from refilling your small space, but it provides a mental check on what things you real value. If you have a useless blunt knife do you need a new knife or a sharpener? Either way, something has to go. This has been the source of a lot of discussion, arguments and reflection in our life and that’s not a bad thing!

#4 You don’t need enough shoes to warrant a shoe rack.

And the same goes for all the specialist clothes you think you have. The trouble is the Jones. Keeping up with them (and social convention) means that I still have 4 pairs of high heels that are horribly uncomfortable and only match with one outfit each. Writing that down makes me feel silly so they’re going to the charity shop first thing in the morning.

If you need a shoe rack, you’ve got the wrong shoes.

#5 Just because you like something, doesn’t mean you have to keep it.

This is the hardest thing to wrap your head around and once you have managed to chuck out some things you really like for the greater good, you’ll be able to consider yourself a true small space aficionado.

The next step in the transition to living optimally in small spaces is organisation which you can read more about in part two.