Chances are, you’re curious about the Minimalist Lifestyle. Netflix recently added "Minimalism : A Documentary About The Important Things". Even if you haven't seen the documentary, you've likely heard some chatter about Tiny Houses, The Magic of Tidying Up,Capsule Wardrobes, etc. Though these terms cover different areas, they all fall under minimalism.
A few years ago, my family of five began experimenting with minimalism and tiny house living. Two weeks after I gave birth to my third child, we moved from the country to the city. As is typical when moving from a rural setting to a crowded metropolis, space got traded for convenience. We packed up our 1,300-square-feet-worth of belongings and moved into our new home – a 500 square foot cottage.
The immediate challenge was our sectional sofa. After dismantling it and strategically fitting all the pieces through our new, narrow front door, it became evident that there was no way the pieces would fit back together. So we decided to donate a few sections, and our expansive L-shaped sofa became a cozy love seat.
This cozy love seat sat five feet away from the dining table, since the dining room and living room were essentially...one small room. Our nine by nine kitchen, which sat at the opposite end of this multi-purpose room, oddly enough, had an 11-foot tall ceiling, which came in handy for the floor-to-ceiling cabinets that provided much needed storage space. It was kind of annoying to repeatedly step up and down from my well-used kitchen stool, but on the plus side, cooking any meal did double duty as a workout routine.
It's been said that "necessity is the mother of invention." I found this to be true of tiny house living. Each of the two bedrooms had a modest closet about four feet wide. We used one for my husband's clothes. He wore a uniform to work and essentially maintained two separate wardrobes, so he got the closest to himself. That meant I had to find a way to fit my own clothes, two children's clothes, and a baby's clothes into the remaining closet.
The kids' clothes were literally small, so I installed a lower hanging bar and instantly doubled my space. Since there was no room for drawers, I used a fabric hanging shelf for additional storage. The real game changer, though: a strict paring down process. Now for a tongue-twister....
I culled my kids' clothing collections down to 10 outfits each, including one set of dress clothes for special occasions. I also designated a bin for each child that held one bathing suit, three pairs of socks, and 10 pairs of underwear. We all kept two pairs of shoes (okay, I kept five) and one jacket each. My family didn’t win any awards for "Best Dressed", but let me tell you, doing the laundry became much easier. And I spent less time arguing with my kids about what to wear.
We all know toys and crafts are part of children's daily activities. In preparation for our move into the cottage, we had given away several boxes of toys. I let the kids choose two stuffed animals each, which lived in their beds and were snuggled with every night. For their toy collection, I followed the "A Place For Every Thing" rule. Their room started out looking like a spare, upscale toy boutique, but slowly and surely – a gift here, a gift there – and suddenly the room looked like Santa's workshop after an earthquake.
In today's world of rampant consumerism, even when I refrained from buying anything new for them, my kids were constantly coming home with party favors, treats from Happy Meals, and gifts from friends and relatives. Since I couldn't completely control the tide of stuff that flowed into our house, I compensated by making weekly, routine drop-offs to our local donation center.
One perk of minimalistic, tiny-house living was that, although every single inch of our home and most of our belongings were constantly in use (and therefore mostly in disarray), cleaning up was quick work. I enjoy a clean house, but do not enjoy the effort it takes to get there. Cottage life brought my cleaning time down to minutes per day. Even if we had people over, our house could go from looking like a bomb went off to neat and tidy in less than 30 minutes. The scheduling engineer in me loved this efficiency.
One riddle I couldn't seem to solve was how to find the space to create peace and quiet. With five people (three of them gleeful screamers with high-pitched voices) living in close quarters, it was impossible to have a quiet moment. A closed door didn't do much, because you were still less than 10 feet away from each other. The only times peaceful enough to, say, concentrate on writing or get really absorbed in reading, was when everyone else had fallen asleep. This frustrating reality ultimately forced me, however reluctantly, to be very present during my children's waking hours.
My family of five spent two-and-a-half years living within 500 square feet. Since then, we've moved back to calling 1300 square feet "home" again. I won't lie. I do enjoy the extra space. The second bathroom and third bedroom provide much appreciated flexibility and privacy. And don't forget the basement, which is the epicenter of peace and quiet, especially since my kids are afraid to go down there.
I'm not ready to commit to the minimalist lifestyle. But I don't regret my cottage years. The experience taught me some valuable truths. I learned that we didn't need half the stuff we thought was essential to modern life. I also discovered that I'm the kind of person who'd rather have less house to clean and more time for leisure.
Most importantly, I know that, whatever our financial future may bring, my family doesn't need much to make a happy home.