The Little Life: Five First Steps
Posted on November 1st, 2010
I’m no Unclutterer or LifeHacker, but the One Room Living Experiment has taught me a thing or two about simplifying. I get asked about it a lot, so I thought I’d do a few posts on how we went from 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and 1700 square feet to one big room, one bathroom, and 750 square feet. And somehow ended up loving it.
This has been a journey for me. My father collects and my mother hoards (fortunately, in a mostly sanitary way). When my family of origin moved, we took up the whole 18-wheeler truck – and about half the truck was just my father’s library. As a kid, I used to be hugely sentimental about stuff. I felt sorry for all the unsold Christmas trees – so much so that I would have taken them all home with me if my parents would have sanctioned it. Or some sad little, beat up stuffed animal in a store: when I was pregnant with P, I bought a broken, ratty “talking” stuffed Smokey the Bear because I felt so sorry for it. (I blame hormones. And I did get rid of it later.) Now I can be selectively sentimental.
Simple living is not so much about stuff (or buying products that will somehow organize you), but about the way you look at your stuff. The month before we signed the lease on the loft (but after we knew we wanted to move downtown), I was panicked at the idea of living in a two bedroom, two bath, 1200 square foot apartment. The only difference between that panic and my resolution a month later to live in a much smaller space? My attitude about stuff.
Here are some easy first steps. They’re designed to put you in the right frame of mind for more comprehensive purges later on, and to let you feel some of the satisfaction that comes with getting rid of extraneous things.
- Make a list of what you must have. Not what you want to have, but what you actually need for survival. My list was something like: table and chairs. Beds. Couch. Towels. Sheets. Computers. Flatware. Dinnerware. Cookware. This list is important for later, but for now, just make the list and look at it from time to time.
- Keep track of everything you wear for two weeks. This is just another mental device, to show you how little of your wardrobe you actually use. (We’ll purge later.) Then, for the next two weeks, put those frequently worn clothes in a separate area of your closet. Every time you wear something outside that area, when you put it away add it to the “frequently worn” area.
- For just one month, don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. Shop the sales, sure, but if you find yourself trying to justify a purchase with “But it’s such a good price!” – then don’t do it. If you really want it in a month, still, then get it then. Costco is one of the worst places for impulse buys for me. (And IKEA, before I was disciplined.)
- Book purge #1. If you’re a bibliophile, purging books has to be done in stages. So far, I am the only one in my family who is able to purge books. The first stage is the easiest: gather up all the books you’ve read and are unlikely to read again (so-so novels, textbooks, etc.) and take them to your nearest second-hand shop – or sell them to Powell’s online. You can either get cash or store credit at Powell’s. If you’re more industrious, there’s always selling them yourself. I used to donate to my library (another good option) but many will just use the books for annual or semi-annual sales, and that bugged me.
- Get rid of all CD and DVD cases and put the disks in binders. This is a really easy first step that gives you immediate results: extra space! Less clutter! Fewer things to dust! IKEA sells some inexpensive disk binders, but if you want to be fancier, you can buy nice binders at an office supply place and the inserts for disks. Bonus: You go through all your films and rediscover favorites.
- Bonus 6th step: add Apartment Therapy to your RSS reader. You’ll see people living in smaller spaces and making it work – with panache.