Living Large, Small
A year or so ago, I was living a somewhat crowded life in 1800 square feet. Today I happily live in 500, with room to spare. I’ve donated and sold over three quarters of a ton of stuff, mainly this year. I’ve missed none of it for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t even remember ever having owned most of it for long enough to write a tax receipt.
My interest in smaller living was piqued when I stayed in a “camping cabin” for a week three years ago. I had a concrete floor, a bed, and about enough electricity to run the window AC or something else. My choice. I had an electric skillet, a suitcase, and an ice chest of food. And I had one of the best times of my life. After returning from my trip, I stopped by a hardware store to pick up some items for my house and found myself standing in a 10×10 wooden display shed, inhaling the scent of fresh cut wood, and thinking “Home!”
Within months I’d discovered the tiny house movement. The descriptions I read of small house living prompted me to downsize. It was a slow start, but after reading a blog where the writer challenged, “If it doesn’t make you smile and you don’t need it, get rid of it,” last year, I couldn’t shake the thought. What of my stuff made me smile? It certainly wasn’t the overstuffed closets. Or the enormous number of dishes. (I had two 20 place-settings of Corelle, three sets of pots and pans plus a few odds and ends and a set of Corningware.) Or the dresser full of fabric I might use “someday.” I began by getting rid of those. And the more I discarded, the more I smiled. It became a challenge to get rid of a ton of stuff. Within the next two weeks, I’ll have met that goal.
What’s it like living in 500 square feet? No different really than living in 1800, except my electric bill last month was only $12, I have more time to do things I enjoy, it only takes five minutes to vacuum, and I now know what I own and where everything is. I’m more organized, more relaxed, and healthier. I sit outside to write, swim and bike more, and wave to neighbors. Life seems somehow fuller.
If you were to enter my house, you would notice a few things that might seem odd. I don’t own a stove. My fridge is a dorm sized variety. There is no microwave in the kitchen. And I do laundry at the laundromat for now.
I haven’t missed the stove. The house is a rental… I just wanted to “try it on for size,” to know whether I wanted more or less space. (The answer is a little less.) It didn’t come with any appliances, and rather than purchasing or moving appliances in, I simply opted for other means. Temporarily, I thought.
I haven’t missed the stove. I live alone. The crock pot, electric skillet, and toaster oven are sufficient, and I actually eat healthier without the microwave.
The fridge shocked me. I purchased in bulk to save money. But I wasn’t saving. Three months ago, I was spending upwards of $75/month on food. This month, the total will be less than $50. I can now see the food I’m storing more easily, can’t squirrel it away where it will die of freezer burn, and can monitor what I eat more carefully. So I’m eating healthier, wasting less, and spending less. But I love the mini-fridge not for those things, but for the fact that when the power went off for hours one day, one bag of ice kept things cool and I lost nothing. I left the ice in the fridge, and a week later there was still ice. Amazing! The $12 electric bill and the $50 grocery bill have only added to my pleasure with the mini fridge.
Housekeeping is another love. I hate housekeeping, and there is SO MUCH LESS of it in my small house. It takes 5 minutes to wash the dishes, because I rinse and reuse dishes as I cook rather than filling the sink. It takes another 5-10 to vacuum the whole house. Kitchen? 10 minutes. A bathroom is a bathroom, and it still takes 15 minutes or so, but that’s less than an hour a week for the whole house. To me that’s near miraculous.
Taxes and insurance are nearly unfathomably different between a small house and a medium sized house, as well. The taxes and insurance on my medium sized house are nearly as much as the cost of the rent on the small house. Before the house payment.
My family worries. What if they come to visit? Where will they stay? I’ve checked price differences. I’m saving enough in costs by living smaller that if they come to stay I can get them a room at an up scale hotel for a few nights. And though I’ve always laughed at people who would rent a storage unit, after doing some calculations I realized that I was spending MORE on house storage space than the most expensive local storage unit would cost, and doing no more with the space. They were intelligent to have rented storage space. I was paying not only for storage space but for heating and cooling, taxes and insurance on that space. What did I gain? Nothing.
My house is really no different than anyone else’s in most other ways. It’s older, and for now I’m renting. There is no dining room, and my bicycle sits in the back entry. There is no bathtub, just a shower. It has some quirks, but it doesn’t really seem small. I’ve lived in small apartments before. I always wanted something bigger. I thought more floor space would give me more comfort, more living space, more organization. But organization is something I have to plan for. Comfort comes with satisfaction and being content with what I have, not with what I want. And surprisingly, living space isn’t designated by house size, but by house design. An openly designed 500 square feet will feel bigger with the right furniture (and organization) than a 900 square foot house with lots of small rooms, odd shaped rooms, clutter, or large furnishings.
It seems strange now that it took me 20 years to figure that out. What is it like living in 500 square feet? Peaceful. Comfortable. Relaxing. Home.
So what’s the plan from here? I want to build something or buy something smaller. Between 300-400 square feet.