Today marks the beginning. The beginning of a new chapter, that is, in preparation for our biggest adventure yet – building our very own Tiny House. A lot of thought and careful planning needs to go into such a project, and I know that one of the biggest challenges is always downsizing. And that is why I have chosen to start the Downsizing Diaries, to keep us motivated and on track with paring down to just the basic (and our most cherished items, of course).
Getting rid of stuff used to be very difficult for me. I have no idea why, if I was just attached to my things more so than I am now, or if I just didn’t care about clutter. But at this point in my life, I know I’ve come a long way because I am able to look at something I own and quickly decide if it is useful, and whether or not I love it. That is my go-to question when I am unsure if I should keep something. And that question might be a little different for other people, but that’s what it comes down to for me – usefulness and meaning.
If an item means something to me, it is always much harder to say goodbye. That’s why usefulness also comes into play. If I cannot use it, then perhaps it is no longer necessary for me to have it. Maybe someone else could make better use of it, someone who might even desperately need it. These are the things I try to keep in mind. It makes things a lot easier knowing something that no longer brings you joy could do just that for another person.
But where to start? That is always the hardest part, I believe. Luckily, I have a system set into place – which I usually follow.
Step 1 – The Bedroom
It’s the one spot where I spend the most time, even if a lot of it is while I’m sleeping. I need this place to be stress-free, and there’s nothing more stressful than clutter.
I begin by cleaning out my closet. That’s usually where stuff piles up – unwanted, unworn items. The closet needs to be emptied in order to really look at every item that’s been hiding in there. After you’ve created a giant mess, it’s time to start sorting.
There should be two piles, and two piles only: Keep and Give Away. Or you can sell it, which is what I’m currently doing.
You might be asking yourself how you can decide whether or not something is worth keeping. Well, with clothes, it’s pretty simple – have you worn it lately? Do you even like it anymore? If the answer is no, you know where it goes.
Our room doesn’t have very much in it, so after the closet is done, there’s only a chest of Arts & Crafts supplies, and stuff under the bed, so I go for whichever is the least organized, and then do the other. Mostly, I try to downside by donating anything I haven’t been using lately or that I know I will never have a use for. And today that means saying goodbye to loads of strings for making bracelets, as I realize I don’t do that for fun anymore. So why bother keeping it?
Step 2 – The Bathroom
The bathroom is another spot I spend a lot of time, other than the kitchen. But the kitchen feels a little bit too overwhelming to be this close to the beginning, so I do the bathroom beforehand.
Fortunately, bathrooms are normally small enough that they don’t accumulate very much clutter.
Things you should keep in your bathroom:
- Toilet Paper (I hope to God you don’t run out right before you remember you didn’t refill…)
- Feminine products (I always keep a full box or 6 reusable items in there)
- Shaving items
- Cleaning products
- Nail clipper
We don’t keep anything else. OK, sometimes we do. Like bath bombs. But I only own two, and they were both gifts. And it’s way too hot to use those in the middle of summer. But other than that, our bathroom contains only what is on the list, so it’s easy to keep tidy. The reason for this is because I’ve already done major downsizing.
Things we threw out:
- Expired stuff
- Medication we no longer use or did not finish
- Old contact lenses, because they aren’t even the right prescription anymore…
- Nail polish I have accumulated for years (mostly gifts – sorry to anyone who gave me some)
- Old towels we never used in the first place
I do also own make-up and hair products, although I have a small container and bag for those personal items that I keep in our bedroom – which we have already cleaned, organized, and downsized.
If you feel like you keep too much crap in your bathroom, you need to start looking at my list (or make your own) and realize nothing else matters, nor does it belong in your bathroom. So get rid of it, or store it somewhere more practical.
Side note: it’s way too humid in the bathroom to keep expensive make-up in there.
Step 3 – The Kitchen
OK, so obviously you all knew this was coming up next. It is my favourite place in the entire house, and I feel like I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to downsizing in this area. The reason being that I love baking and cooking, and that requires a lot of stuff. Stuff I know I will have to get rid of, because it doesn’t serve more than a single purpose, maybe twice a year. We haven’t finalized our kitchen list yet so I won’t publish it, but I will say that downsizing in the kitchen is always done on a separate day than all the other downsizing tasks. It’s gonna take a while.
Maybe your kitchen is smaller than mine, and if so, feel free to do a combo day. As for me, I know how much time it will take me to go through every single cupboard and drawer, and I know I won’t be able to close them until they are sparkly clean. (I mean come on, don’t tell me you’re downsizing without cleaning at the same time!)
If you happen to be like me, and you realize that this will be a gruelling task, you know that we still have to make a plan.
- Pantry with canned goods
- Pots & Pans
- Dishes & Glassware
- Other drawers
- Other cupboards
I always start with the fridge because guess what? No one is perfect and we all have crap we need to throw out from the fridge. So might as well start with the easy one.
You might be wondering, “Well why would I throw stuff out from my fridge? That seems like a waste.” Boy, do I ever agree. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a brilliant idea on how to minimize food waste.
Of course, there are still some canned items that go bad after I put them in the fridge. But usually, we try to plan our meals around what’s left in the fridge to avoid that. And when we make meals with too many leftovers, we bring some containers over to the homeless shelter a few streets down.
The pantry with canned goods is also a good place to start because there shouldn’t be that much to throw out. If it’s expired though, definitely throw it in the garbage. If it’s something you’ve had in there for months – for example that item you bought one time to make a very specific recipe and turns out it sucked – try donating it or giving it away to someone you know who will use it.
Next up is usually the pots and pans area, where you will somehow always find one thing that doesn’t belong. Take that thing and decide whether it is useful or not. Then, find it’s rightful place – whether that be in another spot in the house, or in the donation box.
Dishes and glassware are always tough though. Why? Because I feel like such a wasteful person to throw out that random glass that doesn’t match with anything. I mean, come on, there are poor children in Africa with no glass at all, so I should feel fortunate to have a glass regardless of its appearance. But guess what? I don’t even like that glass, and I never use it. I don’t offer it to guests, and I don’t even put my cat’s water in it, so I should not be keeping. I will donate it to goodwill, where someone else can make good use of it, someone who will appreciate it a whole lot more than me. And that way I feel a lot better knowing maybe I’m giving a glass to some poor kid or family, right here in my own town.
I usually open up the cutlery drawer at the same time as my dishes and cups because it’s easier to spot all the mismatching items. I actually didn’t pare down that much on cutlery, but that’s only because most of it belongs to my brother, and I’m not about to throw out or give away someone else’s stuff. But we did throw out some old (disgusting) wooden spoons, and we donated all the items we had more than one of, such as a peeler, a spatula, etc.
Then come the other drawers and cupboards. They always have random crap in them. And you just don’t know what to do with any of it. Well, that’s OK. We’re all in the same boat. Seriously, one of my drawers has always been, and will always be a mess. That is, until we build our Tiny House where everything will have it’s own specific place.
But seriously, where else do you put batteries? And the cat’s nail clipper? And the spare key? And yada, yada, yada.
Well, you gotta start off by emptying the entire thing and keeping only what is still useful. For example, that one spare key for that car you no longer have – throw it out, for God sakes. Those batteries? Are they even still alive? Maybe try them out and only keep a few in case you need them – it’s not like a lot of things run on batteries anymore anyway…
I think you get the point. But make sure you are getting rid of stuff – that’s the real point.
Step 4 – The Living Room
The abyss. That’s how I refer to living rooms in general. So many things pile up in the living room. I mean, it basically just accumulates everything you don’t have a place for. And then some.
Books, I’m sure you have plenty. Or magazines. Well, do you even read them? I know I don’t. So I finally downsized, and it was surprisingly easier than I thought. Basically, I made a pile of books I have already read or do not think I will ever read – those are being donated. Then, I made another pile of books that I want to read before I give them away – but they will be donated as soon as I’m finished. And the third pile consist of books that I am attached to, that have meaning.
Books I’m keeping:
- Into the wild
- E-mails from India
- Lonely Planet: Australia
- Haiti: After the Earthquake
- The Withern Rise Trilogy (still some of my favourite books)
- What To Listen For In Music
- Atlas Shrugged (I spent so long searching for it, it would feel weird to let it go)
- My grandma’s journals
- My personal journals
As you can probably tell, most of my keepsakes are all about travelling, and I think that maybe I feel a closer personal attachment to those things because of the memories I made during my own travels.
I think the main reason I was able to let go of everything else on that bookshelf is because I finally got myself a library card. It’s basically the best card I’ve ever owned – I can get books, for free (including e-books, oh em gee).
DVDs were a little harder to go through, because I would usually ask for a season of my favourite TV show every year for Christmas. I still proudly line up all the season of Lost and Smallville, but I think that after I’m done re-watching them this year (that’s the goal), I will donate them to goodwill. I watched them all when they came out, and it feels good to watch them again, seeing lots of things I had missed, still living moments of surprise when I forgot how things played out. Nevertheless, you can only watch a show so many times, so I think this will be the last time.
Fortunately, we don’t have lots of storage space so it’s just the bookcase and the coffee table that get piled up with stuff. So the last thing I needed to go through was the coffee table. Honestly, I have a hard time with it. I try to clean it every few months, but it’s never as organized as I would like it to be. I mean, the top of it is nice and tidy because we have guests coming and going through AirBnB, but inside the drawer is what’s always a bit hectic. Things get thrown into there every time I don’t have time to go put it in its rightful place. Random things get put into there and I don’t even know what they are.
So what shall I do with all that random crap? Either figure out what it is – it’s usually some paintball part that was misplaced or taken out of someone’s pocket – and put it where it belongs, or throw it out. Side note: it’s never a good idea to throw things out without asking others about it first. I know I would be particularly upset if someone threw out some of my stuff without asking me about it.
The only other thing we have in the living room is our files – although if you have the space, you would normally keep it in your office. Given that our office space is limited, and we also never go into there, I keep all our files in the living room in an organized filing box, underneath a little corner table. I’ve only had this box for one year now, so I haven’t had to go through it and throw things out, except for a few duplicate items – why does the insurance company send you like a billion copies of your car insurance? I swear we have 10 pink slips for the same vehicle and I don’t know what to do with them.
As soon as summer is over though, we will have to go through that entire box to see what’s what so it doesn’t start getting cluttered. And then again when tax season rolls around, we’ll do another clean up and then start fresh.
Step 5 – The Office
Some people might not have an office space, some people might just have a desk in another space or a filing box like us, but either way, there’s always something that can be downsized.
Our office space is kind of particular. Why, you might ask? Because it’s pretty much everything but an office. It’s a gun and ammunition room. It’s the sewing room. It’s the storage room. It’s the printing room. It’s the knitting room. And it’s usually a little messy, because a certain someone keeps his bagpipes in there, which need to be taken apart after every practice. But it is generally organized, and we do a lot of downsizing as often as possible.
I think the hardest part about downsizing in the office is always going to be craft items. I just love doing those types of hobbies and it’s hard to have a hobby that doesn’t require a lot of stuff – especially knitting and crochet. I have so much yarn in there, it’s actually a little crazy. I bought it all on sale, so it was definitely worth it. But I think the only way I will be able to downsize is by motivating myself to keep creating and then selling my products. That in turn means less clutter, and a little bit of a profit! Win-win situation.
Step 6 – The Basement
For those who have one, this might be something you avoid cleaning – all the time. For us, it’s not a huge issue because my brother actually lives down in the basement and he keeps every very, very tidy. The only space we use in the basement is the spare bedroom (which was being rented out on AirBnB) and the closets in my brother’s lounge.
Fortunately for us, there is very little downsizing. We know that there is limited space for storage since it is shared with another person, and we try to only keep non-perishable food items in there (I’m a big fan of stock piling), as well as household or kitchen items that we have bought in preparation for our Tiny house. The only time we ever go through everything is when/if we realize some cans or boxes have been untouched for a while, and then we double-check all the expiration dates.
But regardless of whether it is a small clean-up, or a large one, it’s important to go through everything.
Step 7 – The Garage
This, for me, is always a dreaded spot. There is no easy way to clean the garage. There just isn’t. So let’s not lie and pretend this is gonna be pretty.
The worse part is that we technically have two garages. But the second garage belongs solely to Max so I take no part in cleaning that.
Honestly, I never really know where to start when it comes to the garage. Here is the main reason why – it is where I keep everything I have downsized from the rest of the entire house. It basically stays in there, as organized as it can possibly be, until I am able to sell it, give it away, or bring it to a thrift store as a donation.
I am constantly working on getting rid of our downsizing items, and I would much rather be able to make a little bit of money on all of this stuff – you should see how much, it’s actually pretty crazy to see it all piled up in one place. Well, actually, you can take a look:
The thing is, I know I can do better in my downsizing. I know that in a month or so, when work finally calms down, and we aren’t short-staffed or visiting family on all my days off, I will definitely be doing a second sweep of the entire house and keep adding to this pile. But I think I also need to motivate myself to do better at getting rid of all the items I already decided to downsize.
And that’s the last step! If you have any tips you would like to give concerning minimize personal possessions or if you have any questions, please leave me a comment below!