The tiny-home movement has become popular because it allows people to dream of a life of freedom — from expensive housing costs, clutter, and sometimes even neighbors. (After all, a noisy neighbor is much easier to deal with if your home is tiny and mobile so you can pick it up and tow it somewhere else.) But if you’re not ready to drastically downsize your square footage, you can still apply the ethos of a person who lives in a tiny house to make an impact in your own place, no matter its size. Case in point: Whether you rent a huge house in the suburbs or buy a three-level townhome, chances are you’ve been inspired to declutter and downsize your belongings, looking to tiny homes for inspiration — and a few tricks — on how to live that minimalist lifestyle. Here are several tips from renters and homeowners who have lived the tiny life firsthand that can be applied to any space, big or small.
Don’t rush to buy “organizing products“
At least not right away, says Felice Cohen, a professional organizer who briefly achieved internet fame after a video of her 90-square-foot New York, NY, apartment went viral. (She’s since upgraded to a spacious, 490-square-foot one-bedroom apartment.) “One mistake people do when they want to organize their space is that they go to The Container Store and first buy a lot of supplies,” she says. “But why organize or store stuff you don’t need? Look for supplies only after you’ve culled everything down.”
Downsize your wardrobe
Cohen says that the lone small closet in her old apartment worked well because it forced her to narrow down her wardrobe to what she truly loved. “When clients have trouble letting go, I will ask why,” she says. “‘It was expensive, it was a gift, what if I lose the weight’ … there’s always a reason. Yet clothes you do not wear take up valuable real estate. Plus, if you did spend good money on them, wouldn’t you feel better if someone was wearing (them)?” Think of clothing donations as an opportunity to help others — not give something up. If you end up decluttering your closet in the meantime, and shedding what can feel like a daily reminder of a goal you haven’t yet achieved? All the better.
Curb clutter, pronto
Francis Camosse of Tiny Household lives in a custom-built, 155-square-foot home that allows him to live the dream of traveling with ease. He did find one surprise — a tiny house isn’t synonymous with “low-maintenance” as far as chores go. “The biggest adjustment that I had to make was the constant upkeep of tiny living,” he says. “Your house can look so good or so bad very quickly. Yes, it is very easy to clean up, but it is also very easy to create a disaster area in such a small space. I had to develop the habit of putting everything away immediately after using it. Sweeping and vacuuming very often (keep) the limited floor space you do have nice and clean.” Clutter can increase stress levels, and getting rid of excess belongings is one of the big draws of the tiny home life — but decluttering can be freeing and relaxing no matter what size your home is.
Take advantage of outdoor space
In tight quarters, an airy escape just outside your doors can do wonders — especially for entertaining. “Having a space to entertain is practical,” Camosse says. “There are no illusions of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house, but it does not mean I can’t have my friends and family over for a BBQ.” Study after study has proven that spending time in the great outdoors can help with better sleep, keeping stress levels down, and improves overall health. But there’s one more benefit, courtesy of those who live in tiny homes: the key to entertaining large parties is to take the party outside, says Camosse. Who doesn’t love a backyard cookout?
Have a kitchen storage strategy
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, blogger and author of Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet With Six Dogs, a Husband and One Remote, made sure her small kitchen fit her lifestyle. It has recessed upper cabinets and a pantry for maximum storage. “Our plan included as much counter space and cabinets as we could fit in, with a Lazy Susan in the corner so there is no wasted space,” she says. “There is also a special cookie-sheet cabinet for tall cookie sheets and small appliances (such as mixers and choppers). Built-ins are the key to a good design in a tiny house. Also, we did not put in a dishwasher. Really, there are two of us. We can handle washing dishes by hand, and it gave me even more cabinet space.” Sure, if you rent, you might not be able (or want) to invest in a kitchen remodel or adding built-ins. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put Fivecoat-Campbell’s idea of a storage strategy to work: There are many temporary ways to add storage in a utility space like a kitchen or laundry room, from investing in baskets and containers to taking advantage of wall space and putting up shelves. Unsurprisingly, organization and planning is especially important in these kinds of spaces, large or small.
Think memories, not things
The challenge of parting with sentimental items was also a timely one for Fivecoat-Campbell, because her mother died five months before she moved to her current space. “I had thought all of my life that many of her precious antiques would be displayed in my home,” Fivecoat-Campbell says. “Instead, I kept only what I loved and what I could fit into the house. I’ve taken photos of the rest and have the memories of those things in my heart. It was really a transformation realizing that my mom and dad weren’t defined by the things they owned.” The lesson for the rest of us? If you want to live the tiny home lifestyle, keep what you truly love and let go of what you don’t. You’ll feel lighter, your home will feel more open, and, hopefully, you’ll be filled with a sense of appreciation when you look at your carefully curated belongings.