Extra Challenges of Decluttering a Tiny House

I live in a tiny house. True, it isn’t what most people imagine when they think “Tiny House”, but at 100-150 square feet, depending how you measure, it is indeed tiny by most people’s standards, and even by some minimalist’s standards. Living in such a small space presents some unique challenges when it comes to decluttering procedures.

Stuff-To-Space Ratio

If I were to take everything I now own and put it in my old 1000 square foot house, I’d still have oodles of space. If lumped together, it would barely fill one room. If appropriately distributed throughout the house, it would probably look pretty minimalist.  But put it all back here, and it fills this tiny space quite thoroughly, and it is painfully obvious that I have too much of it.

The Task

There are probably as many ways to declutter as there are declutterers, but they tend to be variations on one of two basic methods: either empty the zone being decluttered (room, closet, drawer, whatever) and then put back only that which you are intentionally choosing to keep, or go through the zone being decluttered and remove everything except that which you wish to keep. In either case, some sort of staging area is needed for the removed items as they are sorted for discarding, donating, freecycling, or selling. In a bigger house, even if very cluttered, it is usually possible to empty part of a room, covered porch or patio, or at least clear off large table, or something, even if it means temporarily making a larger pile elsewhere.

My Problem

There isn’t really enough space in here to reserve any of it as a decluttering staging area. My bed and seats can be used very temporarily, but not for anything that lasts even overnight (especially the bed). I’m left with outdoor space, which means I have to hope the weather cooperates. And I certainly don’t want to leave anything of any value (although I may have decided that I no longer need something, it still has value and is worth protecting until it becomes someone else’s responsibility) out in the dust and dirt and sun and the various desert critters for very long.

If I knew exactly what to get rid of, and I was ready and able to dispatch the cast-offs instantly, It would be a lot easier. Trash (including various trinkets that are of such little value they aren’t worth the effort of doing anything other than trashing) can be eliminated quickly and easily. Items for donation can collect in a box or bag until my next trip into town. Items for resale are a bit trickier. They need to be tested, cleaned, and if they’re going on eBay or Craigslist, they need to be photographed and descriptions written. And then they need to be kept somewhere clean, dry, and safe for up to two weeks with eBay (or even longer if they don’t sell on the first try).

How I’ve Been Doing It

First I made an overall sweep for obvious cast-offs — stuff that I knew needed to go without any real thinking about it. I just pulled the individual items out and dealt with them as appropriate. Next, and this is the stage I am currently in, I go through small zones — perhaps a corner or a storage bin — that I can expect to complete in less than a day, using the bed or table as a sorting area. Since I don’t really have room for a “think about it” or “hide it and see if I forget about it” pile, anything I’m not certain that I am ready to part with goes back from whence it came, at least for now. Then I move to the next box, bin, or drawer. Once I’ve gone through them all, I start all over again, finding more things I can live without. It seems each round I have a bit more insight — becoming more attuned to minimalist philosophy perhaps. Often more of the “maybe” items go, but sometimes something that I thought was a definite keeper eventually gets the boot the second or third time around.

And So It Goes

Slowly I progress. Or so I hope. Sometimes I think this stuff multiplies all by itself while I’m not looking! WIth such a small place to work in I sometimes feel like I’m doing one of those puzzles where you have a frame full of tiles except for one and you must arrange them in a certain order by shuffling them one at a time in and out of the single empty space. I’m open to suggestions, especially from those who have already completed their major decluttering and/or are living in a very tiny space. Don’t be shy now, that’s what comments are for.

Towel Day

I almost forgot (and didn’t get this posted in time, either): Today is Yesterday was Towel Day. Do you know where your towel is?

7 responses to “Extra Challenges of Decluttering a Tiny House

  1. Hey Mike, I spotted you on Joshua’s Becoming Minimalist and slid over for the first time today.

    We almost bought a small rv for living in recently, but the sellers decided to hold on to it a little bit longer. Right now my honey and I are in a 1,200 square foot house but us and our stuff is pretty much restricted to a 100 square foot bedroom. We’re upgrading to a new 190 square foot tiny house soon and it’s going to feel spacious in comparison.

    The funniest thing about your post is your mentioning the tile puzzles. I just wrote a post today that got too long. I hacked off part of it for my next post and in the hacked off part I mention feeling like I’m living in one of those puzzles.

    It’s just like you said, everything is a step. To get to the computer desk first I have to close the closet door, locking the dog in there because that’s where her dog bed is, then I have to slide the computer chair out from between the bed and the wall, then I have to slip in front of it, pull the chair forward, reach over the chair to open the closet door (freeing the dog again) and then slide the computer chair up to the desk. It’s that or crawl over the bed to get to the desk.

    I’m looking forward to the upgraded square footage! It’s funny that 190 square feet seems “big” to me now. 🙂

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Thanks for commenting, Tanja! Sounds like you are already well downsized, not to mention extremely well disciplined. With that whole big house, are you ever tempted to “cheat” and use some of the empty space as storage, at least temporarily? Does the 100 square feet you are presently confining yourselves to include kitchen and bath? That’ll be nice when you finally get you “tiny” (but bigger) house… get to stretch out and luxuriate in all the extra space. I wonder how much of the extra space will be kitchen and bathroom, though. Still, I’ll bet there’s some extra left over.

  2. I live in 1200 square feet and wish we had less. I can see the problem of not having a decluttering staging area. The kitchen table was ours most of the time, and now I’m noticing we need to do some more decluttering. There’s still lots of junk here.

    I’m glad to see you blogging regularly. Come on over and guest post for me sometime, if you’d like.

  3. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    Thanks for the invitation, Gip. I’m flattered. Let’s get together via email.

  4. I traveled for about 9 months in a popup tent trailer. Trust me, that is minimal with a hey! nonny. I think each of us has a personal minimum number of square feet that we can comfortably live in. I find my minimum is over 2,000. And I am not joking. I discovered that I like space around me.

    However, back to the popup. The real key is an absolute minimum of possessions, and a weekly clean-out. With that kind of space, you can’t allow stuff to accumulate. The upside-downside of a popup is the towing vehicle. I had a minivan. You would be appalled at how much stuff you can get into a minivan, which kind of defeats the minimalist approach. So you have to declutter the tow vehicle weekly also, or it turns into a rolling slum.

    So my advice to you is: weekly, relentless, heartless decluttering. Don’t even THINK you might need it in the future. If you don’t need it now — today — OUT IT GOES!

  5. I know this is an old post but it’s never too late to do more decluttering in an RV. Here’s what we are currently doing. We have a RubberMaid type tote in the driver’s seat. That’s our donate to charity bin. Trash gets bagged and put on the floor in front of the driver’s seat. Next trip out it all goes to the appropriate destination making that space available for the next round. Things we think might be worth selling go into a tote in a storage compartment for someday. We’ve been known to give away things from that last bin to friends who express an interest in them. We’ve also sold things from that bin to fellow travelers at non-commercial gatherings. It’s a slow process working in limited space but we are getting there.

  6. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    Sounds like you have a good system set up, Linda. Once decluttering is done, I’ll need a good system to maintain, too. Thanks!

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