In 2014 we sold our 2500 square foot house and moved into a 900 square foot apartment. A couple years later we went even smaller and moved into a 400 square foot guest house. Early retirement had been on our radar since we were in our mid-thirties and after taking a more detailed look at our finances we realized we were a lot closer to making that happen than originally thought. Making a few modifications to our living situation would give us even more flexibility figuring out the next phase of our lives. We liked our house and really liked our neighbors/neighborhood, but realized how inefficient it was for just the two of us to live in such a big place. So, we went through the painstaking process of going small and along the way learned a lot about downsizing and what it means to lead a simpler life. If I had to come up with a single take-away from the whole experience it would be this: It’s a lot easier to buy stuff than it is to get rid of it. So make sure the things you’re buying are really worth it.
“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex.” –Yvon Chouinard
At first glance this seems counterintuitive, almost paradoxical. It’s common sense that working your ass off to buy stuff is a lot harder than simply putting it all on Craigslist, giving it away to the first person who shows up. I mean, don’t most people spend a majority of their lives working so they can buy the things they want? You have to get a job, work long hours, put up with shitty bosses and cranky customers, and only then will you have the money required to buy nice things. So, if you boil it down that seems to be the struggle in the forefront of most people’s minds – acquiring the stuff we want.
However, with a few simple mouse clicks and a couple minutes, you can buy almost anything you want and have it delivered to your front door. If you don’t have the money, you can just put it on your credit card and worry about actually buying it later. In the US, at least, you get the feeling that buying a bunch of stuff to fill up a house is relatively easy. But once you run out of space or need to pack everything up and move, you’re confronted with a harsher reality – deciding what to get rid of.
Perhaps you’ve formed a type of emotional connection with some of your stuff and aren’t able to part with it. Sometimes it feels disrespectful to get rid of a gift or an heirloom you inherited from a deceased relative. Other times we fall prey to “sunk cost thinking” and are held captive by the idea that “we might need it someday.” We went through this firsthand trying to fit our 2500 square foot lives into a 900 square foot apartment. Staring at an office or garage full of shit, knowing you have to get rid of 80% of it is, at best, a huge pain in the ass and, at worst, an existential crisis. And even though most people we’ve talked to are stoked with the idea of simplifying their lives, they never will because making the hard, uncomfortable decisions about what to get rid of is, well, just too hard.
So what point am I trying to make here? Sell all your stuff and live in a tiny house like us? No, everyone has their own path through life and ours is no better than any other. But if you find yourself overwhelmed by the trappings of modern life, you can probably improve your situation by simply being more thoughtful about the things in your life. Ask yourself what you’re giving up to buy a particular item. Will it make your life simpler or more complicated? Is there something you currently own that you can use rather than buying something new? If not, is there something you can get rid of to make room for whatever it is you’re buying? And, probably the most important question no one ever seems to ask: How hard will it be to get rid of it when the time comes?
I know firsthand that being able to get rid of unused/unwanted stuff is a skill that improves with practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. But if you’re more thoughtful about the things you bring into your life at the outset, you’ll enjoy a life less encumbered today and will save yourself some headaches in the future.