6 Solid Downsizing Tips from Tiny Home Dwellers

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

When going from a 2,200-square-foot traditional home to a 300-square-foot renovated RV, my family and I ended up getting rid of 80 percent of our belongings. Downsizing is an experience that I recommend to anyone—no matter the size of your home. While living in a tiny vehicle might not be for everyone, I believe that getting rid of all that overwhelming “stuff” can help you live simpler and sometimes even happier.

If you’re looking to do a major purge, you could get instruction from an advice column or ask a “helpful” family member who is offering unsolicited opinions on things they haven’t been through in 30 years… Or, you could listen to me and my community of tiny dwellers—all who have shed the majority of their belongings somewhat recently. These six tips for simplifying your “stuff” from me, a tiny house dweller of more than a year, and others will help you prep for a successful purge, whether you’re downsizing from a house to an apartment, an apartment to a tiny house, or just trying to live more minimally.

The “new in, old out” rule

My family has a rule that if we buy a new item—clothing, book, shoes, or toy for their kids—we must give an old item away. This prevents our downsized life from getting overcrowded.

50 items per family member, per season

We also limit our clothing items (under things excluded) to fifty items per family member, per season. We can also keep an off-season tote for things we find on sale for the next season or in the next size up for our kids without overloading their drawers or storage spaces.

The sticky note reminder

“The first tip that was very useful for me was from a book called ‘Little House on a Small Planet,'” says Laura LaVoie, who lives in a 120-square-foot tiny house. “It suggested to put Post-It notes on the door to every room in your house. For a month or two, write down the reason for entering every time you go into a room. By the end of that time, look to see how you’re using your spaces. I found there were rooms in our large house I almost never used. That’ll give you an idea of how you really use spaces.”

Use bins for measurement

When we downsized from our farmhouse with a playroom and individual rooms for each kid to our tiny home, we used square felt bins from a local department store to downsize toys. This gave our kids a visual and a better understanding that they had two bins each and if their stuff wouldn’t fit it couldn’t stay.

Just let it go

Sometimes you hold on to stuff because you think it has some larger meaning. “Books can make you feel smart if you have a lot of them on display, but books don’t make you smarter just by having them,” LaVoie says. “I started realizing that it was more productive to give away books I enjoyed to people who could also benefit from them.” If there is something you are sentimental about, that will serve a greater purpose in the hands of someone else, give it to another person to enjoy.

Don’t forget the S.O.A.P.

Carmen Shenk, known as “The Tiny House Foodie,” lives in a Skoolie conversion with her husband—their second tiny home. She recommends never forgetting the S.O.A.P:

Start small—but start. Even if it’s just going through that one shelf that’s been bothering you, a start to simplifying is still a start!

Only one right-sizing project at a time. Don’t jump into trying to downsize lots of things or many rooms at a time. This will likely cause you to become overwhelmed and unmotivated. Instead, start with one junk drawer, closet, or room at a time.

Appreciate the process and stay in the moment. Purging will teach you a lot about yourself, your needs, and your wants. Instead of being overwhelmed by future uses for an object or the meaning imbued in your things, ask yourself how it makes you feel right now. It may take you multiple passes at purging in order to actually make any headway in downsizing, but trust that each pass will bring you closer to that simple life of your dreams.

Practice gratitude. You might have a lot of things and that can be overwhelming. One way to get over what seems like an enormous task at hand? Focus on how lucky you are to have had a bounty, and how fortunate you are to be able to give things away.