10 Downsizing and Minimalism Tips for Tiny House Living

I recently contributed to an article on what can be learned about minimalism from people living in tiny houses. Up until now I have not written much at all about minimalism or downsizing as a topic of its own, though the sentiment is often mentioned or implied in nearly everything tiny house related. 

I’ve always believed that a tiny house goes far beyond its 4 walls and a roof, and is only part of a conscious personal choice to live in a more simple and sustainable way. I hope my house and continued tiny house outreach helps to catalyze a mass lifestyle shift in which more and more humans turn to common sense, human-scale housing solutions, and a psychological (or even spiritual) shift towards less consumption and achievement-chasing to more gratitude, freedom and peace. 

less House more Life

Obviously minimalism means different things to different people. Even before my tiny house journey began I was always somewhat anti-consumerist. I never understood people’s obsession with stuff, especially cheap plastic crap, or super expensive name brand items that served no purpose other than to show off wealth. I’ve always felt like material wealth is just a super small part of a person’s happiness in life and that the traditional goal of a large home as a family’s demonstration that they had “made it” and fit into society was a little off. So I’ve always been a bit atypical, someone who wanted to define success in a different way, with common sense and some creative problem-solving.

Then, going through the process of designing and living in a tiny house, I became more of a minimalist out of necessity. I’ve never been so hardcore as to try to minimize every single thing in my life, but I think overall I’ve tried to pare things down to really what is essential — to ask difficult questions about what I really need vs. what I might want, and what will ultimately bring me more happiness. I have written some about this, what I might call the spiritual underpinnings of the tiny house movement. See Tiny House Living: The Ultimate Un-Making Project and by far my most popular and controversial blog post, Are We Losing the Soul of the Tiny House Movement?

Now I give you my 10 Downsizing and Minimalism Tips for Tiny House Living. These are not in any particular order or necessarily in the order you may apply them in your life. Most are things to consider on an ongoing basis, no matter where you are and how small your house might be. I hope you find them useful.

#1  – One-in-one-out

Once you’ve pared down to what you know can fit in your tiny house, you don’t have much of a choice: when you buy something new, you must get rid of something old to make space. I think this applies to everyone in any situation as a great way to help keep possessions from getting out of control and to always have what you like around you, nothing that you no longer really want or need. Want to take it a step further? Think about this principle as applied to things other than material possessions, as a way to keep your entire life less chaotic and more balanced. Are there new goals, tasks, people, or passions that can naturally replace old ones that no longer serve you as they once did? Drop what’s no longer useful or enjoyable and feel the freedom of simplicity in all areas of life!

#2 – Quality over quantity

I chose more expensive, stainless steel appliances to look beautiful and to last a lifetime.

It’s very satisfying and calming to surround yourself with a few things of high quality, rather than a bunch of stuff that you’re not sure why you have, maybe just purchased because it was on sale. Invest in things that will last, things that are produced in accordance with your ethical standards, and things you use regularly to improve your life or bring you joy. For example, choose hand-made items made locally from natural materials as opposed to plastic alternatives imported from China. Yes, the local option may cost quite a bit more, but it will pay off in the long run as it will last much longer and will bring you more joy each time to you look at it or use it.

#3 – Have a uniform you wear everyday

Keeping the wardrobe simple

Steve Jobs had it right. Having a few staple articles of clothing you wear nearly every day keeps your life simple, frees up your time and energy for other things, and makes shopping easy. It changes seasonally, of course, but no matter what you are wearing there is great freedom in not really having to think much about it and always being comfortable in what you choose. I wear jeans and a t-shirt every day in winter, opting for shorts in summer. And that is including at my job! Not everyone has that option, but you can still have a goal that nearly every article of clothing you own goes with nearly everything else, so your choices are simple and you always feel comfortable and confident in what you’re wearing.

#4 – Keep what you need, not always what you think you want

Tiny Project Living Area

Every inch counts. What do you really need to be happy?

This takes some introspection. We get so used to the way things are that we often forget to ask ourselves why we do something, what we buy, what we really use, what others expect of us. Keeping up with the Joneses means most people want what others want and what society tells them they should want. Don’t assume anything based on what other people have or what advertisements tell you is cool and sexy. Keep things with practical value and things that bring you great happiness. When planning your life, or your tiny house, ask yourself the difficult questions about what you REALLY need vs what you are just accustomed to. Challenge yourself to make conscious choices about everything you buy or include in your house.

#5 – Pay no mind to what others think

You don’t need this.

This relates to the point above. We are conditioned to think that possessions (a nice house, car) or status (a job, marriage, family) are important benchmarks or milestones we should aspire to attain. But looking around, I don’t see how these things are benefiting society at large. There is a lot of suffering, unhappiness and confusion out there. Maybe your parents who think you’re crazy for not embracing a boring 9-5 don’t have it all figured out themselves. Or maybe your neighbor showing off his new car is not as happy as you in your 10 year old rust-bucket. Maybe your sister who is always on your case for not being married (or for living in an RV down by the river!) is really wishing she had your freedom and spontaneity. For whatever reason, people you know and society at large may criticize you for taking a different path. Only you know what works for you and what truly makes you happy.

#6 – Embrace community

Open tiny house day, to share my house with my community

You don’t need to own everything personally if you know someone else who does. Be neighborly and lend things to your friends when they need them. Trust in them to do the same for you. Help out your neighbor, or a stranger, if they need something not just physical, but emotional or psychological too! Use the library, the tool-sharing program, your family. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Self-sufficiency, in some ways, is a quality I admire more than any other, but when it goes too far (the US with it’s rugged individualism) we forget that it’s OK to rely on others and share things. Doing so doesn’t mean you have less, but more. You have connections, you have each other’s backs, you have community.

#7 – Take it one day at a time, small steps for success

Practice makes perfect. Learning as I go, one step at a time…

This was easy for me, because I started in a place closer to minimalism to begin with. But I know people who are hoarders who want to live in a tiny house — and that may just be too large of a jump to make all at once. The process of building a tiny house taught me that I had to take things one day at a time. If I tried to think of everything I needed to do all at once, it was just too overwhelming! But if I just focused on what I needed to accomplish that day, it became very manageable. I’d say this is probably the easiest route for most to take when downsizing, when building a tiny house, or when making larger lifestyle changes.

#8 – Or, take a leap of faith

Forced to downsize: everything my partner I owned when we moved to New Zealand, April 2017.

Maybe #7 is not your cup of tea, or maybe you need something more bold and radical to really shift your life. If gradual change is panning out of you, take a leap of faith. I liken this to the idea many have that they have to know where they are going to park and live in their tiny house before they will consider starting to build. This is often nearly impossible. If you need absolute safety at every stage, taking small steps as not disrupt the status quo too much, then this may not be for you. But if you are stuck and need a change, try selling most of your belongings and moving to a new city, or clearing out 90% of what is in your garage in one day, or finally having that difficult conversation with a toxic friend you’ve been needing to cut ties with. Sometimes the only way to get started is to jump in with both feet.

#9 – Adventures, not things

Aoraki/Mt Cook, Hooker Valley track, New Zealand.

If you are accustomed to having things around you to keep you occupied or bring your comfort, it may be hard to let stuff go. Luckily, there is a magical antidote to downsizing depression: take more adventures! Studies show that those who report being the most happy are those who regularly experience new things, travel, and challenge themselves on a regular basis. If you have the time, spend your weekends hiking, forming new hobbies, meeting new people, volunteering in your community, or any other activity that gets you out of the house, out of your conform zone, and into the present moment. 

#10 – Bring the outdoors in

The Tiny Project house with deck, shade sails, and cold-plunge pool for outdoor living.

Consider the outdoors as part of your living space. So many people are holed up in their houses most of the day and want to have everything they need at their fingertips. Get outdoors, just breathe the fresh air. Build a deck, set up a sun-shade, eat meals outside. When you live in a really small space, this is essential, to almost double your living space in some ways. But I really think it’s key for anyone to be happy long-term. Humans have lived with a strong connection to the outdoors –to the more wild aspects of nature and non-human life — for as long we’ve existed. Bring just a bit of the outdoors into your daily life, even consider it part of your home, and you’ll be happier for it.


Author: Alek Lisefski