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Minimize and Downsize with Tiny Home Living – 10 steps to reducing consumption

Sebastian von Holstein |
Monday, 8th October 2012

With the release of Michael Guerra's new Compact Living book approaching, we look at how Sebastian and his partner free themselves from unnecessary clutter and reduce their rent and utility costs by living in a small attic room and see how downsizing allowed them to explore their artistic interests.

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When my partner and I moved out of our modern, spacious one bedroom house to go and live in my parent’s cold, rooftop attic room, we had to seriously reconsider the amount of stuff we had accumulated over the years.

Our house was large and private, with plenty of room for our collections of books and furniture but over time, with work and university commitments, it became increasingly difficult to manage such a large space. With itchy feet and an urge to travel, paying the rent dropped down the priority list and we moved back home into the attic room.

With such a drastic reduction in space, we immediately realised we had to severely downsize. Our cheap thrifty restorations of furniture from the local dump provided us with ample storage space for necessary and essential items but everything else had to go!

Embrace Simplicity - Throw out Anything you don't Need! 

William Morris once famously said: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” In other words, most of us hoard too many dust-ridden items for no good reason. Inspired by these simple but wise words and a new found discovery of the increasingly large ‘small homes movement’, (pun very much intended) we struck a deal whereby we would sell, chuck or give away at least one item a day.

Pull-out bed design - Having limited space forces you to think about the possessions you have and need but you also have to be clever in your house design!Pull-out bed design - Having limited space forces you to think about the possessions you have and need but you also have to be clever in your house design!

Over the course of several months, we encouraged each other to get rid of the items we had built emotional attachments to. Some were incredibly hard to part with like old photographs of far-away relatives, the unused gifts of fading memories and other stored items. With the disposal of these, also came the healthy release of past burdens and unpleasant reminders.

Far from being a simple aesthetic lifestyle choice, it has been an extremely self-healing process. Until I reduced my collection of possessions, I had not realised how much of my present was being dictated by my past. When we get rid of the weight of the past, we actually make space for new people and positive things to enter our present and future.

Seeking Help and Inspiration 

Michael Guerra will soon be releasing a handy book called Compact Living: How to Design Small Interior Space, where he explains the importance of reducing consumption and personal clutter while designing ingenious space saving solutions for small spaces. This is a powerful guide to anyone wishing to live with less debt and more freedom. A great read!

Self-professed minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus run a superb website based on the positive personal and societal changes that can occur when reducing our consumption on all levels, it is absolutely worth a look if you plan on reducing your own household.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, another invaluable resource is the tiny house movement taking the world by storm. Easily maintained, sustainable and beautiful, these homes take on all sorts of aesthetic forms. Graham Hill, founder of TreeHugger.com, has recently set up LifeEdited, making the idea of simple, responsible living accessible to a much wider reach.

Hill explains: “Since 1950, the average American consumes six times more energy and carries 24 times more personal debt. He uses three times more living space, but still doesn’t have enough room to store his stuff, a fact made clear by a $22B personal storage industry. Despite this excess (or perhaps because of it), we find ourselves no happier than we were 60 years ago. Most of us realize it’s relationships and experiences – not possessions – that make us happy. Why don’t we design our homes, products and lifestyles accordingly?”

For us, the benefits are clear. We now have a clutter-free, manageable space that we have adapted to fit our needs. Living in the house is similar to living in a flat – the cost of heating is drastically reduced and we run a woodburning stove to save money on very cold days. We spend less time cleaning and more time growing food, reading and cooking for our friends. With our wasteful habits capped, we now only drive one car between us (we live in a rural area with few buses) and I cycle wherever possible. These are just a few of the changes we have had to make but already we are more happy and free, allowing us the time to indulge in our personal projects and goals. 

Organize your Past Now and Reap the Benefits in the Future 

There is a bounty of information out there – there is no time like the present. Here are 10 ways to get started:

  1. Sell, donate or throw away at least one item a day.

  2. Think before you buy (do I really need this?)

  3. Make a list of everything you nearly bought over the period of a month and work out how much you save.

  4. If you have several cars in your household, consider getting rid of one or more and replace with a bicycle... it's healthy and cheap to run.

  5. Get rid of your TV... if you still want to watch certain programs, use your computer. It will allow you to be more selective of the information you consume.

  6. Try apartment living... if your neighbours turn on their heating, you may not need to use yours at all as you benefit from being insulated by others.

  7. Digitize your life a little. Scan all of your old pictures sitting in boxes and opt out of paper bank statements, these will open up the storage space for the things you actually need.

  8. Eliminate debt. Most people work to pay off the money they never had, for things they don’t really need. Downsize, sell what you don’t need and experience some extra piece of mind.

  9. Be conscious of your health. Eat local, fresh food. By supporting your community, you cut your dependence on supermarkets and the weight of carbon intensive food products.

  10. Express gratitude everyday. When living simply, you have an opportunity to value the things that really matter in your life. Allow yourself the luxury of a notepad and write down everything that you are grateful for.

    Sebastian von Holstein is the online editor for Permaculture magazine and also the founder of the newly launched Von Holstein Group, which aims to restore health and balance to communities through the arts, design and architecture.  

    Coming soon! Pre-order your copy of Compact Living: How to Design Small Interior Space. Available late January 2013. 

    For inspiration, visit The Minimalists and have a look at Graham Hill's LifeEdited designs

    Permaculture Online is full of useful ways minimize and reduce consumption - have a look around!

    Lloyd Khan's books also provide very useful reference points when considering your own tiny home build it downsizing, have a look at Shelter, Home Work and Ben Law's Woodland House


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