Downsizing to a tiny house brings consciousness to how de-cluttering your life in all aspects creates space for healing, expansion and new paradigms
When I tell people I sold a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house (as well as almost all of its contents) to live in a 240-square-foot house, they’re usually dumbfounded. Why on earth would I let go of a lovely home in a beautiful, coveted, seaside community to live in a tiny house on wheels?
The answer is because I long for freedom, travel, and adventure. The responsibilities and time commitments that come with owning and maintaining a traditional home, its contents, and the property on which it resides, are counterintuitive to my life’s vision. As lovely as all that sounds, it’s been quite a journey to get here.
One day, my wife Melissa and I were talking about the challenges of ‘adulting’: mortgage payments, house maintenance, yard work. “Do you ever think about cashing it all in?” I asked, somewhat rhetorically. “You mean sell the house?” Melissa asked. I was taken aback because I was just mumbling some frustration. “I guess, sure. That’s one idea,” I said. “We could totally do it,” she said. “Sell the house. Sell all the stuff in it. Maybe even move to a different country.” Clearly, Melissa had given this some thought. We daydreamed a bit more and then went about our night. A couple days later, she brought it up again. “You know, we could move to Belize. They speak English and use the U.S. dollar so it would be an easy transition.” OK, she really had thought about this!
And so began our exploration of a dramatic lifestyle change, which, by the way, would not include living in Belize — this fair-skinned, Irish girl can’t handle that kind of heat year-round.
I’ve never been much of a pack rat, but getting rid of that many belongings has its challenges.
Where do we begin? Should we save anything in case we decide tiny house living isn’t for us later on? When should we put our current house on the market? We decided the best way to approach this massive change was to work from big to small. We started with the house and determined what, if any, work needed to be done before we could list it for sale. A little paint here, a new walkway and stairs there, and we’d be good to go.
As Melissa coordinated the house projects, I moved to the next step: selling furniture and other large items. Enter online yard sale groups. Where we lived, these were a gold mine filled with extremely active members excited for good deals. Stuff went flying out of our house – dining room set, ottomans, couches, bar stools, desk, nightstand, patio furniture — you name it, we had it. Logistically, things were going along smoothly. We were caught up in the excitement of simplifying, making money off our things, and meeting lots of great people who were excited to get such great deals on some beautiful pieces.
Then someone bought the coffee table.
The void it left in our family room was shocking. I mean the physical void. The center of the room looked so empty. Barren. This is when the reality hit me. I had no emotional attachment to the piece. In fact, we had gotten it from friends of ours whom we had a nasty falling out with, so I was glad to see it go. But this was the first big item that a buyer picked up and took away. My gut felt as empty as the room.
As we got rid of physical clutter, the mental clutter built up.
Doubts arose. Are we doing the right thing? What are we thinking? Will we regret this decision? Why would we get rid of these beautiful pieces of furniture? Isn’t this what “success” is? We’re supposed to own a home filled with nice things. That’s when you know you’ve made it, right?
Designing a new template for life is scary when you’re taught there’s only one: go to school, get a degree, get married, buy a house, have children. We had already challenged the status quo when we got married (we’re one of the first legally-married same-sex couples in the United States) and by choosing to not have children. Now we’re selling our house with plans to travel the country with our little home in tow.
In my 15+-year career working with clients to help them fulfill their unique vision for their life, I am used to helping them clear the clutter and blocks that stand in their way. It’s a whole different ballgame when it’s me. But like I tell my clients, when resistance or fear comes up, sit with it and give it space to be heard so it can become your creative partner — your ride or die. And few things bring up resistance more than clearing clutter.
When doubts came up, I would look for signs to keep going.
And a big one came in one of those online yard sale sites. Someone posted asking if anyone from our town was planning on putting their house on the market soon. She listed what her family was looking for and their budget, which was way above our home’s value. I debated contacting her, but then thought, why not?
I teach the importance of putting action behind your intention, so I messaged her and told her we were in the process of finalizing projects to then sell our property. I listed each room and the respective dimensions and sent over some pictures. I didn’t think for a second that she’d be interested because her family was so large, as was her budget, but I knew just by reaching out to her I was putting energy in the right direction. She wrote back right away telling me she loved what she saw. Two weeks later, she and her family came to see the house, and within a week we had an accepted offer for much more than any real estate agent suggested we list it for. We closed the following month. Thanks, universe!
A crazy story, for sure. But I attribute the serendipity to our commitment to our dream, and, primarily, to our downsizing that showed we meant business. That’s just one of the powerful results of clearing clutter and removing items, thoughts, or even people, from your life that you no longer love, need, or use. By letting go of the old, you make room for the new. You stir up stale energy and breathe in new life. You invite in opportunities.
If clutter was just stuff, it would be easy to get rid of it. But it’s not.
The clutter in your life — whether physical, emotional, digital, or mental — is there to alert you to what’s working in your life and what’s not.
It’s like a temper tantrum of the soul and it’s time to pay attention to what it’s trying to say. If you reframe it this way, sorting clutter becomes a cool treasure hunt. You’ll begin to see it as a powerful tool for transformation — a catalyst for positive change.
I define clutter as anything that gets in the way of living the life of your dreams. This can be an outdated wardrobe that’s overtaken your closet. It can be piles of paperwork that need your attention or that you don’t know what to do with. It can also be your nagging inner critic, toxic relationships, debt, or extra body weight. Those friends who drain your energy? Clutter. Your belief that if you can’t do it perfectly then you shouldn’t do it at all? Clutter.
Stubborn clutter is almost always indicative of a non-clutter issue. All of this stuff is siphoning your energy little by little, leaving you with nothing left to put toward your goals. So why do you allow these things to stay in your life? That’s the big question, and that’s precisely how you can understand the role clutter plays in your life.
To begin to uncover your message in the mess, start with the physical clutter hotspot that bothers you the most. As you do this, pay attention to any mental chatter that comes up as it is in there that the wisdom can be found.
Here are five powerful steps to help you get started:
- Set realistic expectations.
Instead of waiting until you have a free day to clean out your bedroom, find a small window of time to go through one dresser drawer. Your resistance will always win if you expect yourself to do a large project all at once. With all or nothing thinking, nothing always wins.
- Use a focusing tool to keep your eye on the prize.
My favorite is the Pomodoro Technique®. It’s a fancy-sounding strategy that is actually quite simple: First, eliminate any distractions. Shut down your email. Silence your phone. Let your family know you’re busy. Then sit down to the task at hand and set a timer for 25 minutes. Begin your sorting and stay the course for the full 25 minutes. When you find yourself distracted (and you will), come back and remind yourself that a break is coming as soon as the timer goes off.
- Have a journal or notebook handy.
Often, the first clutter you need to clear is your monkey mind. Your resistance will chime up and tell you all the reasons you should be doing something else. Jot this noise down. Get it up and out of your body. This might be how you spend the first 10 minutes of your Pomodoro round, or it might end up being the whole round. It’s all good. You’re still clearing clutter.
- Sort into three piles.
When you begin going through items, don’t get caught up on finding homes for things. Just sort. Put items in one of three piles: Keep, Maybe, Donate. By using just these piles, your sort will go much more quickly and you’ll soon experience the satisfaction of progress. With clutter, the success is in the action, not the outcome, so starting in this way fuels your fire to keep going.
- Get rid of the “Donate” pile ASAP.
After your sorting (whether just one round or more), send your donation pile off as soon as possible. Put it in your car to drop off somewhere, schedule a pickup, or ask someone who might be interested in the items to come get them by a certain day.
Using this approach makes things more manageable, gets your resistance on board, and ups your chances of getting it done. And by just getting started, you will feel the powerful effects that you may think can only be found at the finish line.
Maybe a challenging task ends up being easier to complete.
Perhaps that job offer finally comes.
Maybe you meet an intriguing new love interest.
Yes, all of this can really happen when you clear things that no longer add value to your life because you open the channels for all sorts of gifts and opportunities to come your way. Take it step by step, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your progress snowballs. You needn’t sell all your belongings and build a tiny house to feel the powerful effects of downsizing. Start with that one drawer and you’ll feel the energetic shift almost immediately.