How did we transition from our comfy cozy 1,000 square foot apartment down to a 165 square foot bus conversion? Downsizing to accommodate our tiny living adventure was an illuminating and cathartic experience. We hope our tips help you out, whether you plan to live tiny or just declutter your home a bit.
We’ve gathered five simple tips and tricks we used to downsize and prepare for our tiny living adventure.
These downsizing tips can be applied to all sorts of living situations, whatever your goals may be.
Minimalism means living more deliberately with less fluff/clutter. Prioritization and detachment leaves only the essentials to feel content, productive and capable in doing what you love.
That mix of essentials in the end will be different for all of us since we all have different interests and passions.
You don’t have to sell everything you own and move into an old van in order to feel the positive effects of simplifying, downsizing and decluttering your living space.
Simplifying, downsizing, whatever we want to call it can help us in the financial health department. As you start to ask yourself, "Do I REALLY need this?", "Am I using this often?" you can work to divert more of your funds to savings, experiences or other goals.
Minimalism involves being more conscious of purchases so you can live a more deliberate and less cluttered life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to live in one room with white walls and no furniture, unless that's your thing!
We’re all guilty of picturing the stereotypical minimalist’s apartment that always seems like it’s right out of a Japanese samurai movie. But that’s not right for everyone, it certainly isn’t for us and that’s a-okay. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
Create a space you feel like you can breathe, live, and function comfortably. The less stress, complication and tediousness, the better. BONUS if you're able to make a few extra bucks along the way too.
From 1,000 square feet to 165 square feet
Downsizing for tiny living from our 1,000 sq/ft two bedroom apartment to a 165 sq/ft bus was the epitome of “easier said than done”.
At the time we already, and quite frankly prematurely, dubbed ourselves as minimalists. We thought, “This’ll be easy, we pretty much already live this way.”
Our goal was to keep only what we used and loved and to limit purchases to necessities.
While we might have been a step ahead of most typical households, when it came down to move into the bus, we were shocked at how much stuff we still had.
So. Much. Stuff.
Just a few short days before embarking on our first cross-country trip in the bus, we frantically filled our car with the excess and made multiple trips to our local donation center.
One of us would hold something up and the other would shout, “Ditch it!” or “Keep it!” It ended up being a stressful and rushed experience that could have been avoided if we were just a little bit more prepared.
Moose provided some key moral support along the way. 🙂
Five simple downsizing & decluttering tips for tiny living (or any living...):
1.) Let your space take shape naturally
When we were building our bus we didn’t say to ourselves, “We want it to look…(fill in the blank with something like, bohemian or art deco.)” Instead there was the space (in our case 165 square feet), the items we felt were important to us, and the building materials that bind the two together. Being married to a certain style can be limiting to a space and consequently might restrict items you would otherwise keep.
It’s important to stay open to different possibilities here.
More often than not a person’s belongings, at least the ones that are important, have things in common. Let your interests guide you.
For instance, Meag and I love hiking and the outdoors, therefore you’ll see a lot of natural elements to our space. A lot of the items we chose to keep are related to each other and are useful to hiking and they end up looking nice together. The things we love express the activities we love and thus manifest a style that is unique and true to us.
2.) Going tiny means starting small (no pun intended)
Attacking all of your stuff at once in a single weekend is going to be extremely overwhelming. Don’t do it.
If you’re used to living with ample SPACE and STUFF, give yourself a chance to acclimate. There’s a sense of comfort and security in your possessions, we can attest to that.
Speeding through a mountain of work can debilitate the decluttering process to the point where the space is left messier than it was at the start. You might even ponder completely abandoning the idea of downsizing. Eek!
Start with one room, one drawer, one shelf
Instead, break up the space into sections and start with an area that can be dealt with within an hour. I like to recommend starting with the place we’re all guilty of creating, the dreaded junk drawer.
We’ve all done it, opened up that drawer and said, “I really need to clean this thing out…” then slam it shut and forget about it until the next item gets squirreled away.
Pull the whole drawer out and dump it. The junk drawer is easy because it’s has the highest toss to keep ratio out of any other area in your house. Getting rid of things in it is less stressful, satisfying even. You’re winning! Give it purpose. When it slides back into its slot it should no longer be called the junk drawer.
Maybe it’s the utility drawer where handy screwdrivers, pliers, and fix-it tools are organized. Or maybe it’s your new electronics drawer where chargers and memory cards are stashed. Find those problem spots in your household and start there.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be 100% committed to whatever you choose to call it. If it isn’t working out, just change it. That’s just it, downsizing may include some experimenting. Don’t stress about it, it’s just part of the process.
3.) Staying organized is key
Here’s what we like to ask ourselves now when deciding to keep something or not:
- Is it useful?
- If so, have I used it in the last 6 weeks?
- Does it have sentimental value?
- Is it seasonal?
- Can I go without it?
After determining the items status we put it into one of three main categories:
- Toss (sell, donate, gift, trash)
We typically go through the keep pile and divide any seasonal items into their respective times of year. Group spring and summer items together, and winter and fall stuff in another spot. Store the off-season stuff in a few sturdy storage totes.
We organized our toss pile into a few categories:
- Sell (Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Yard Sale)
- Trash (absolute last resort!!)
One our favorite ways to enjoy the downsizing process is to think of people we know who would like or could use certain items. It feels good to surprise someone with a gift, even if it’s second hand.
Having a yard sale at the end of it all is also a great way to make a little extra cash and find a good home for stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Anything that doesn’t get purchased can be brought to a local donation center.
We put any undecided items in a box somewhere out of the way. Let a month go by and go through it again. Did you miss it at all? Probably not. If you still can’t get rid of it after that, consider keeping it.
4.) Repurpose sentimental items
There are some things that are intrinsically important to us whether they serve a purpose or not. The secret to the items we imbue with sentiment is that they don’t lose their power if they’re made into something else.
Turn an old table into some shelves or a cutting board, or your first snowboard into a bench. An item's value doesn't diminish one bit if we make it into something we need. Sometimes it actually makes us love it even more!
Up-cycling is a great way to learn new skills and save money, too. There are countless items and materials in our bus that we’ve put to good use rather than throw away.
Examples from our Bus
Extra flooring was transformed into cabinet face frames and shelves. An old kitchen cart top (yard sale find!) became the granite base for our wood stove fireplace. We recycled some stainless steel handrails that were in the bus when we bought it and turned them into our ladder out back!
Get creative and have fun with it all. Thanks to Pinterest, you'll never be short on clever ideas on how to repurpose something.
5.) Practice Makes Perfect. Lifestyle experiment, anyone?
This is specific to those who are downsizing their living space. Going tiny or even moving into a smaller apartment/house is an awesome way to save money and simplify, but it can sometimes be more of a challenge than expected.
Tiny living can appear effortlessly alluring, perfect and whimsical per social media, but there are significant work and challenges to face. A partner or family adds to the considerations but also to the depth of joy in sharing experiences!
It's entirely okay if you find out in the end that it’s not for you. We’re all different! It’s important to at least try, right?
A teacher of ours believed that before a couple gets married, they should go backpacking for one week together. He said if they can still stand each other after that then they should go for it. Perhaps we can apply this camping test to tiny living as well?
Having to carry everything you need for survival on your back is a great lesson in resource management. Hiking miles a day brings out new smells and new pains never before experienced, too! That said, it's our favorite activity! 🙂
Pretend a room or two doesn't exist
This requires a little bit of playing pretend but I feel like it helped us! We shut the door to our spare bedroom and tried to forget it was there, in theory. We sold a lot of our belongings months before moving into the bus, too. So we started using MUCH less of our living space long before we had to. It's an idea to explore!
How does it feel a week later? A month later?
Leave the door open
Hear us out. This one seems a little extreme and takes stepping out of the comfort zone, but trust us on this. Living tiny means being on the front lines of each other’s business. Privacy is a thing of the past.
Smells are closer, sounds are louder, messes happen faster. Everything is amplified, including emotions. Getting more comfortable with the uncomfortable things sooner than later can really going to help in the long run.
In our case, sure, we give in the privacy department BUT we’re able to enjoy the mobility and travel capabilities of our blue, one room beast of a bus.
Ration your resources
If you're planning to install off-grid systems on your tiny home, it's important to establish a connection with and awareness of your water and electricity usage.
Water is easy. Before we moved into our bus, we used a 6 gallon bucket and placed it next to the kitchen sink in our apartment. We pretended that was the only water we were allowed to use, and measured how long it lasted us.
By the end of one week we had a pretty good idea of our water usage and kept up with that awareness while living in the bus. It was a huge help!
During our last summer building the bus, we purchased a cheap solar shower bag and tracked our usage while we slept in the bus. I had no idea before this experiment how much water I used while showering. It goes quickly!
Electrical Usage / Solar Power
To get an idea of your electrical usage and future needs in your tiny home, check your electrical bill. The fun part comes from trying to lower your usage to the smallest number possible.
Our bus is powered primarily by solar. To better understand the electricity we were using we measured the watt-hours in a 24 hour period. Most appliances have their wattage printed on the label.
We wrote this number down in a spreadsheet next to the appliance name then tracked how many hours a day we used it. It’s as simple as watts multiplied by hours of usage, and that equals the watt-hours per day. Each item is then added up to give the total daily electrical use.
Reduce your Electricity Usage
Switching to LED lighting and energy efficient appliances really makes a difference.
Using five 75-watt incandescent light bulbs an average of 4 hours a day equals 1500 watt-hours per day. Switching to 9-watt LED bulbs and used the same amount of time reduces the watt-hours to 180w per day. WOW!
Final Thoughts & Extra Tips
Remember your WHY behind pursuing decluttering or downsizing.
We were liberated in many ways through this downsizing process. Oh, life goes on without an attic full of "maybe" junk?
We found a lot of value in the mobility and flexibility derived from letting go. We passed our stuff on to other people and homes where it'll be used. That's a great thing!
Clothing is another really easy place to start. I used to try things on over and over and wear 1/10th of what was in my closet. Now, we wear EVERYTHING in our little clothing drawers. Stress lifted.
We made over well $5,000 selling stuff (furniture, gear, kitchen items, etc.) before moving into the bus. How cool is that? That'll pay for diesel for SO MANY MILES!
Remind yourself of the benefits when things get frustrating, because chances are at some point they will.
Hopefully these tips can help you on your journey so you can crush your goals just a little bit easier.
Tim Yaotome says
Thanks for the heads up that minimalism means that one should live only with the essentials that can make one productive and capable of doing what one loves. In my opinion, if one wants to get a pre-built tiny house, one should look for people who had one made before. Doing this will not only create a shortlist to do the job with but be able to learn more about what to do when transitioning from a large house or unit to a tiny house.