What the Tiny Life Means to Me

If I were to google “What is the Tiny Life?”, I would get a lot of sites about the building of and the living in tiny homes.  But living the Tiny Life is more than just having a small home.  Sometimes you will find it called Simple Living or Minimalist Living.  It often means being off-grid and self-reliant by not contributing (as much) to environmental degradation and corporate greed.  It also means using resources more wisely and naturally and having to do a little more work to live, becoming a more mindful part of the natural world that we live in.  Many people who are interested in the Tiny Life, adopt outdoor space into their living space in order to feel more connected to the world they live in.  It’s about living modestly and honestly and gaining financial freedom from bills and a life-long mortgage.  It’s about filling our lives with connections and purpose rather than floor space and “stuff”.  It’s about letting go of all the things we have been led to believe that we “need”.  It’s about figuring out what’s truly important in our lives and keeping those things in the forefront of our minds.

That’s what it means to me.  But I’m not exactly there yet.  I actually live in a suburb of a major city, have a car, a trailer and a three-storey, three-bedroom house filled with stuff.  I lead a pretty hectic life with work, the dogs, a part-time, step-son and cabin in need of a lot of repairs.  I’m involved in Search and Rescue and I try to be as physically active as time and energy allow.  Pretty average, I’d say.  But not very Tiny.

But before you call me a poser because I’m not actually living the Tiny Life yet, I will just say that it’s harder than it looks to get there.  I’ve been learning about the Tiny Life for over a year now, trying to see how it fits into my life and trying to make changes so that one day in the near future, I will be living a more intentioned life with fewer material or financial distractions.  Here are a few challenges that I’m working on overcoming on my way to the Tiny Life.

The tiny cabin is a fixer-upper.  I don’t live in my tiny cabin year round for the very simple reason that it is not ready yet.  It is still only three-season and in need of a new roof, insulation and a solid cleaning and inspection of the cook stove before it’s ready to be habitable during a Canadian winter.  So while we fix it up, we have our city house.  An older three-bedroom house with a finished basement.  Small by current standards but still a lot of space.  Technically, even our tiny cabin is too big to be considered “Tiny” since it is approximately 550 sq ft.  If you aren’t going to start from scratch and build your tiny home exactly the way you want it, then making a space the way you want it is going to take some time.  

You need to REALLY like who you are living with.  If you are going to live in a tiny house (or at least a smaller house), you need to be able to cope with always being in each other’s space.  In other words, you need to really like who you are sharing the space with, not just love them.  Since most people who opt for this life are looking for deeper personal connections with the friends and family in their lives, this is not as big a problem as it might seem.  But it is something that definitely needs to be considered and tried out first before making the commitment to get rid of all your belongings and jump into a 100 sq.ft tiny house.  (I don’t even think I could do a house that tiny.)  Luckily, Soldier Boy and I are both introverts and so are quite content to read quietly together for hours.  And we both love being outdoors so we are not always in each other’s space.

Downsizing is really hard.  We need a house this size right now because it’s still filled with stuff.  But we’re not alone.  Everyone has at least this much stuff in their houses, garages, storage facilities.  Storage facilities!  Someone is making money off of our cultural addiction to stuff!  It’s an outrageous idea, isn’t it?  I think that most people could honestly say that if you need a storage facility to store your stuff (and I mean house stuff, not business stuff or stuff from an elderly parent in assisted living),  you have too much stuff.  But here’s the thing:  it’s EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to get rid of the stuff that we have in our houses.

When cleaning, culling, editing and downsizing, I try to keep in mind this adage “Keep nothing in your house that you do not know to be beautiful or useful.”  The problem is that I can find a use for ANYTHING!  And when you have a lot of hobbies, it’s even harder.  I have boxes upon boxes of arts and crafts supplies, I have half a garage full of hiking and camping gear, I have bookshelves of teaching resources, I have a filing cabinet full of old bills and this is only a fraction of it all.  While I’ve never been too emotional when holding on to things, Soldier Boy is a recovering hoarder and music junkie.  He has stacks of records and CD’s, a number of guitars, piles of tools (okay, those are mine too), boxes and boxes of miscellaneous papers, things from his childhood, souvenirs from his tours of duty, and many of these things, as you can imagine, have deeply emotional connections.  If you started really looking at the things in your house, you’d find that you have the same sort of things.  And the emotional process of downsizing can take a looooooooong time.

It’s easy to get rid of a lot of the stuff we have because we aren’t emotionally connected to it.  All that tupperware?  Probably don’t need an entire cupboard of it.  Books?  Are you ever going to read them again?  Be honest.  Ask yourself questions like, “Do I really need this?” or “When was the last time I used this?” or “How can I solve this problem if I don’t have this tool/appliance/resource, etc.?”  Being an avid traveller, camper or hiker can also get you in the mindset for what is necessary and what is not, especially if you have to carry everything on your back, including all the garbage you create.  Downsizing your stuff is the easy part.

The emotional stuff is harder.  Ask yourself whether something can be found online or whether it can be stored digitally (ex. music).  Perhaps you can take a photo of the souvenirs that are lower on the emotional totem pole.  Ask yourself whether you’ve actually given the item in question any thought at all since the last time you looked in that box.  No?  Then it’s not that important.  If it’s been in a box and you can’t even remember you have it, then just get rid of it.  You made it all this time without it, you can do the rest of your life without it.  Maybe you don’t need to keep ALL of your grandmother’s jewellery; maybe it’s okay to just keep the one piece you actually wear.  If you can’t find a place to put it in your home, then maybe it doesn’t need to be there.

The final stage is the sentimental mementos from childhood, life-changing events, loved ones who’ve left.  A simple “Do you need this?” is not going to cut it.  No, of course you don’t physically need the stuffed toy from your childhood that is threadbare and falling apart or the crayon drawings from your nephew that passed away ten years ago.  But the idea of getting rid of these types of things is like opting to cut off a limb and immediately makes my eyes well up.  I haven’t figured out how to downsize those things yet or whether I even need to.  Maybe getting a small storage locker for these things that make us who we are but don’t need to be in the house is an option.  If anyone has any suggestions, I’m totally open to them.

Learning how to live intentionally is even harder.  When it comes to downsizing our lives, downsizing our things may start to feel like a walk in the park.  Our lives these days are extremely busy.  So busy that we can easily lose sight of who we are and what our purpose on this Earth is.  How many of us have found ourselves with a few extra minutes to ourselves and have no idea what to do with them?  We get so wrapped up in the superficial things in our lives, in this society that the things we truly care about don’t even come to our mind that easily anymore.

The first part of living intentionally is to realize who you are in this world.  What do you enjoy?  What nourishes you?  What is the REAL reason you get up in the morning?  Is it your kids?  Is it your work?  (And that’s okay!  You are lucky if you love your job so much that you can’t wait to get back to it.) Is it to get outside and go climb a mountain?   What are your priorities?  Living intentionally means that the choices you make all lead back to your purpose.  If putting your kids in soccer doesn’t lead you back to fulfilling one of your priorities (ex. spending more time with your kids), then maybe it’s not something you should be doing.  (Just think about it, you put your kids in soccer because everyone else is.  They would rather build sandcastles with you.)  This takes an enormous amount of self-reflection and honesty.  And to get this depth of self-reflection and honesty, a soul needs time.

Take time.  Stop.  Breathe.  Look around you at the world you are a part of.  What parts of it do you enjoy?  Which ones could you do without?  If those things you don’t enjoy don’t fulfill your purpose, then stop doing them.  For example, I hate social events because I’m terrible at small talk and I get very anxious in groups.  I realize that there are some social events I have to endure in order to fulfill one of the priorities in my life – to stay connected with family and friends.  And usually, I enjoy these.  But there are a lot of gatherings I don’t go to because I realize that they add no purpose and would just add busy-ness and anxiety to my life. These same things might add purpose to someone else’s life but if it’s not something that makes you feel inspired, then why do it?

Realize that everything in your life is a choice.  And it doesn’t matter what that choice is as long as it fits into your values and beliefs.  All of the decisions you make in your life (and I’m not talking what flavour of ice cream you’re going to have) should be intentional.  Do you really want to be a slave to your house?  No?  Then get one you can handle. (Yes, selling your house is a huge decision but if it leads you to have more time to do what you enjoy, then isn’t it worth it?)  Do you want another pet but you worry about the commitment?  (Animals (especially dogs) are a huge responsibility but they can add a tremendous amount of joy, fun and love into our world.  Not to mention holes in the lawn.)  Weigh the pros and cons of each choice, think about the consequences and then make a decision based on what you believe to be important.

Nothing is permanent.  If you’ve made choices that have led you into a life that you are not happy with, then make new choices to change it.  When faced with new, anxiety-inducing choices, I always ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  Again, be honest.  What is truly the worst thing that could happen?  Usually, the worst thing that can happen is something that you can handle.

Living the Tiny Life is something I am continually striving for.  In our ever-connected and increasingly harsh and judgemental world, it is easy to become unnecessarily distracted and even easier to begin to think that this is actually “normal”.  I don’t want to live in the world this way.  And every time I find myself able to let go of something that doesn’t fit into how I want to live, I feel lighter and more authentic.

What are your strategies for living a tinier, simpler, more intentional life?

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