Minimalism is a popular concept. This is not the first time it has been, but in a world of extremes and excesses, the sheer relief minimalism brings to the eyes and the mind is gladly welcomed. Dare I even say that minimalism is extremely welcome? That it is sometimes taken to excess? Some people can turn anything into an oxymoron. The Tiny Home Movement is a natural conclusion in the progression of minimalism. It does not only satisfy the hearts of minimalists, but conservationists, extremists, and cheapskates as well. A Tiny Home is a haven for philosophers, students, extreme sports enthusiasts, minimalists, entrepreneurs, and families. I’m pretty sure Thoreau would have approved of a Tiny Home on the shores of Walden Pond. I’m not going to continue waxing philosophical at you for an entire blog post, however. That’s a bit much. My impetus for starting this way is to talk about some of the differences between living in a “regular” house versus a Tiny Home.
One of the main differences is the amount of stuff you can cram into the building, of course, which is why the minimalism came up. Am I a minimalist? No. I have always been a collector. I collect books, of course. When I was younger, I collected elephant figurines (I had several hundred, at one point). I collect cast iron cookware; it’s awesome to cook with, if a bit heavy. I have amassed a collection of aprons. I also collect quotes, recipes, high-quality tea, and people my children call grandparents. I am decidedly in favor of good amounts of quality food. I was raised in a family that did not have very much money, and am thus in the habit of squirreling away things that “could be useful someday.” Very little of this is conducive to living in a Tiny Home.
So how do I manage? Why did we choose this? What did I do with all of my things? Is it worth it (Why??)?
I’ll start with the easiest question first. What did I do with all of my things? I was seven and a half months pregnant and working full time when we entered into an escrow agreement to sell Nickerson, our 2600 square foot red brick school house. It was not the easiest time to sort through an entire home’s worth of belongings. We had friends come help, and I sorted. I think we probably gave away (I didn’t have the energy for a yard sale) about a third of our things. Blankets, dishes, couches, our bed, books, decorative items, appliances…anything was fair game. It got to the point that people would hold something up in my direction, and I would point to trash, donate, or pack. A year later, I went through all of the things we had kept, and dispensed with another third, color-coding boxes for donation, storage, or moving into our Tiny Home (and when we did eventually move in, I wasn’t able to keep all of the things I had hoped to put in it). It was a definite paradigm shift. Even now, I have trouble keeping my home clutter-free. It’s a process. But what about the things that we have that cannot just be gotten rid of? I have furniture from my grandmother. My husband has a dresser someone made for him, and a desk that had belonged to his grandfather. The little antique school desk my mother-in-law bought us when we moved into the schoolhouse isn’t something I’m willing to give up; Nickerson is a good memory, worthy of a few tangible memories. My children all have baby quilts made specifically for them, and a few special baby clothes that I want to save for them. The chairs my husband had restored for our fifth anniversary are non-negotiable. I’m keeping them. I dispensed with a lot of my kitchen things, but certainly not all of it. My husband has a very healthy collection of well-used tools. We camp and backpack, and have all the paraphernalia that goes with that. The list continues, but I won’t bore you with it. I’m sure you have your own list of items that you would be very hard-pressed to get rid of. We kept those things. They don’t fit in our Tiny Home, but we do have a building we keep them in. That building was always part of our Tiny Home dreams.
But, isn’t that cheating????
Rule number one (don’t hold me to that. I may give you a different rule number one another time) when it comes to Tiny Homes: You do it the way that works for you. for us, that means we need a space in addition to our home that houses project space, homeschool space, and all of the things that we couldn’t get rid of. I did spend a year nowhere near this extra building, and we’d shuttle things back and forth as they were needed. We also kept all the homeschool stuff (including the keyboard so our eldest could practice piano) in our Tiny Home, and made do with the space we had. I often held school out on the front deck. It was less convenient, but it worked. I have a lot fewer things than I did when we lived in the big schoolhouse. But I love that I am burdened with less stuff. I don’t have to dust so many things. I have less to put away when the kids decide the day’s game is to get everything they own out. After two rounds of refining my belongings, I’m still not a minimalist, but I enjoy the peace provided by less excess.
I began to answer the “how do I manage?” question within the last answer. How do I manage? One simple answer is: rather well, most of the time. Another is: I’ve always been a fairly level-headed, adaptable individual, and this is just another situation to adapt to. An answer with more relevance to those desiring practical information regarding the purchasing of or living in a Tiny Home is by necessity more complex. My absolute minimum kitchen consists of the following:
a large cast-iron frying pan with lid
a saucepan with lid or a soup pot with lid (go with the soup pot if you can’t have both)
a serving spoon
a wine-bottle opener
a can opener
a pair of tongs
a cutting board
a bread knife
a 10-inch chef knife
a paring knife
a spreading knife (optional, but very nice)
a 2- or 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup
a mixing bowl (also optional; you can use the soup pot for this)
a casserole dish
a cookie sheet with sides (jelly-roll pan)
silverware, plates, bowls, and cups / glasses /mugs (mugs are the most versatile, and can replace bowls if necessary)
Of course, there are a bunch of other things that are very nice to have (and I didn’t mention useful things such as Ziploc baggies and aluminum foil and that ilk), and you only need the casserole dish and cookie sheets if you have a functional oven (I spent about five months without one, but that’s another story, and is pre-Tiny Home. You may get that story eventually anyhow.). It’s important to be versatile. I deliberately chose to give away my (off-brand) tupperware collection when we went Tiny. I instead bought a nice set of Pyrex Snapware from Costco. Not only does it store my leftovers and not emit any potential nasties when microwaved, but it doesn’t stain, and I can bake in it. I’ve made some rather nice cakes in my four-cup Pyrex Snapware (four four-cup containers holds one standard two-layer cake recipe. Use two round ones, then split and stack them for an awesome four-layer cake to use for the party, and save the two square ones in the containers for later; they even have lids.). I do have a lot more than the absolute minimum list I mentioned above. I love to cook and bake, and while I can go minimal in the kitchen (and still come up with some rather fine meals), I prefer to have more options ̶ and so I do. The kitchen was one place I knew I wouldn’t go minimalist in just for the sake of living in a Tiny Home.
That’s something important, by the way: Know where you’re willing to compromise, and where you’re not.
I was certainly willing to compromise with my linen closet. Each of our beds has two sets of sheets; one is cotton for summer, and the other is flannel for winter. They get washed and put back on, and I don’t have to store a lot of extra fabric around the house. We each own one towel. I have half-a dozen hand towels in the kitchen, and a few totally awesome Norwex towels (an enviro cloth, a window cloth, and a dust mitt ̶ I may want more things to replace some of the other linens I have, but it’s a good start). My husband likes to wash dishes with a sponge, so we have some of those, but the bacteria that breeds in them and makes them stink makes me cringe and wrinkle my nose in disgust, so I have a silicon wash-thing with a bunch of little silicon cilia on it. Our linens went extremely minimal.
Each of us has between four and six large shoe-box sized bins to store our clothing in (I will admit to utilising the Kon-Mari (or whatever) method for folding clothes to ensure things fit neatly). I have a larger bin in the storage building that I use to rotate clothing in and out with the seasons. I don’t let the children accumulate too much clothing in any case. Our hanging clothes are on the closet rod up in our loft. Clothes have never been something I’ve felt the need to accumulate.
The kid’s toys were a little more difficult. We have some things that I feel are high-quality, imagination expanding toys, and I wasn’t willing to get rid of them. There are some others that I haven’t been able to “disappear” from under their watchful little noses yet. Also, in a word: children. Did you know that they are “stuff” magnets? Everything is a treasure, including the random nondescript rock from out in the yard, and the broken piece of curly ribbon from a gift given to someone else. And people like to give them things. It’s terribly hard to curate their things and keep the minimum, quality toys and games. I’m a little better with their books. I have very few qualms about ruthlessly weeding through children’s books and dispensing of those without adequate plot or artwork, or those that are really only commercials for some random toys. I’m picky about those, and largely successful with keeping that collection cleaned up, except when someone they love gives them a book that would otherwise not survive. That’s a lot more difficult ̶ so, we have some of those. I do love books, and believe children need a good variety of them, which means even before we were on the same property as our storage building (The Fort, we call it), we had more kids’ books than toys in our Tiny Home.
Management of the “things” is a continuous process of consideration, curation, and creativity. It becomes second nature to consider whether something is really going to be useful, or if it just looks that way. There is a learning curve.
The last two questions posed above are: Why did we choose this? and Is it worth it? I think I’m going to have to table those for a different post. Here’s the spoiler: we chose the Tiny Home lifestyle because we wanted to be deliberate about our life choices, and choose our path, rather than letting the standard American suburban life choose us. And yes ̶ it is worth it. I’ll get into the whys and (more) hows and wherefores another day. Meanwhile, a few questions for you to consider (and I’d love to hear what you think down in the comments):
Why do tiny tomes intrigue you?
Are you interested enough to look into purchasing a tiny home?
What part of your life are you unwilling to compromise on to live in a tiny home?
Can’t wait to hear from you, and I’ll talk to you all another time!!
Katrina Jones is a: Wife, Mother, Daughter, Believer, Writer, and the Chief of Strategy for Tiny House Tool- a business that exists for the purpose of helping attain freedom through frugal living, tiny house dwelling, and smart decision making. To Learn more, take the Tiny House Survey Here.