Minimalist Living vs. Your Stuff

I have a weird fascination with minimalist living.

I don’t want to be a minimalist, but I do want to keep my life simplified to the point where I’m not spending hours every month trying to find stuff I already that’s buried in the bowels of a storage room somewhere.

A friend of mine had a trick to keep his belongings pared down to just the essentials. Whenever he got something, like a book for example, he got rid of something.

This was a practical solution for him since he was a long-term traveler and carried all his belongings in a backpack. There was literally no room or strength left to lug extra stuff around. To my knowledge he continued to hold this philosophy even after settling down again.

With the holidays coming up, chances are that whether you want to or not you will end up getting more stuff. Either you will succumb to the slew of limited-time-only deals or you will have presents to deal with.

Go ahead and enjoy the new stuff, but consider getting rid of an equal quantity of things to make room for it. Re-gift, donate or sell. Keeping stuff around has a cost, even if it came to you for free.

Tiny House Living: Thoughts after 2 Weeks in a 200 sq. ft. Cabin

My wife and I are two weeks into a six-week stay in a Tiny House. Our little cabin in the woods is located on a horse pasture in the interior of British Columbia, Canada.

After spending the past year traveling around the world and the USA visiting national parks (and living in a small tent, tiny motel room or hostel bunk) we were excited at the idea of plopping down in one spot for more than a few days.

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We found this cute little cabin on AirBnB. We spend our days nordic skiing and practicing yoga (at the local Bikram Studio) and cooking awesome vegan meals.

What makes our experience even more unique, is that we are here in the dead of winter, where temperatures can drop to zero degrees (I’m talking fahrenheit not celsius!) and snow falls by the foot. So we spend a LOT of time indoors when we aren’t at the dog park or at the ski hill. This gives us a unique perspective on how livable the interior space is (or isn’t).

Our Tiny House is definitely “tiny” but it is not built on a chassis that can be moved around, as is typically implied by the term “Tiny House.” Instead, it is a renovated shed.

Yes, that is a miniature pony right outside! The Tiny House is located on a horse pasture, with a couple ponies. There are a dozen horses elsewhere on the property.

See the above pic? Yes, that is a miniature pony right outside! The Tiny House (~200 sq. ft.) is located on a horse pasture, with a couple of ponies. There are a dozen horses elsewhere on the property. The Tiny House is only half as wide as the picture shows…as a large portion of the right size of the building is a storage shed, not interior space.

The owners gutted it and rebuilt with tons of insulation and minimal yet sufficient and modern furnishing. There are tons of natural light through a few large windows and sliding doors, along with electric heat and a full bathroom with deep tub. The kitchen is minimal but complete, with a micro-fridge and a 2-burner electric hot plate and full sink. It is <200 square feet in size.

Inside the Tiny House. You can see the big windows. The sofa (on the left/front) turns into a queen bed, and the door at the end is a full sized bathroom with shower/tub.
Inside the Tiny House. You can see the big windows. The sofa (on the left/front) turns into a queen bed, and the door at the end is a full sized bathroom with shower/tub. We have a great view of a horse pasture and tall cedar trees outside.

Tiny House living seems to be a hot trend, and there is even a show (I think it is on TLC?) about it. I think most people are enamored more with the idea of not having to deal with their stuff vs. the idea of cramming a bunch of full-grown humans (and in our case, two good-sized dogs + two full-grown humans!) into a home smaller than the size of a typical unused spare bedroom in most Mc.Mansions.

  1. Can two full-grown humans and two full-sized dogs live in such a small space without going guts?

  2. What benefits are there to Tiny House living?

  3. What drawbacks are there to Tiny House living?

  4. Overall, would we recommend Tiny House living to you?

I’ll address these questions one by one based on my experience living in a Tiny House for the past two weeks. I’m sure my opinions will shift a little as we stay plan to stay here a full 45 days, so I’ll post an updated blog with thoughts towards the end of our stay.

1. Can two full-grown humans and two full-sized dogs live in such a small space without going nuts?

Yes! It took us about two days to figure out how to not only fit our stuff into the Tiny House, but also to “convert” the layout for sleeping vs. daytime activity. We learned how to stack the kitchen stools on the counter and move tables around to make it possible to pull out the sofa-bed and still get around if we needed to.

Perhaps the biggest learning was how to work around the kitchen, as my wife and I LOVE TO COOK AND EAT GREAT VEGAN FOOD! With a 2-burner hot plate and limited counter space and storage, we had to experiment with ways to store our stuff.

We also discovered where our dogs like to sleep and hang-out, and positioned their dog beds accordingly.

After a few days, we found a system that works for us, and now we are able to cook, eat, sleep and hang out without any issues. We have everything we need.

You might be wondering how much stuff we have with us……we have quite a lot….since we are ski bums for the winter, we have multiple sets of skis, tons of winter clothing, and a ton of food/spices and some kitchen appliances (like our Vitamix and some cookware). Imagine a Subaru Outback with a back seat packed with stuff, and a rooftop box also packed with stuff…..that is what we got!

2. What benefits are there to living in such a small space?

We only carry what we need, and that is very liberating even though it seems like we brought everything but the kitchen sink with us. It’s still a small fraction of what we had in our large house last year. We buy groceries that we will consume within three days, and tend to buy lesser amounts of non-perishables. This results in less stuff going bad or just going unused. There is no doubt that living in the Tiny House has saved us money on groceries!

It is easy to find stuff. I can’t tell you how often I would need to go hunting for some piece of equipment in my house when we lived in a 3200 sq. ft. monster back in Seattle, WA. In our Tiny House, it is pretty obvious where stuff is!

Heating and cooling….it’s winter here so the “cool” part takes care of itself, but I’m amazed at how a single electric baseboard heat keeps the place toasty warm! Our Tiny House is very well insulated.

Perhaps the biggest benefit, is that my wife and I (and our dogs!) feel much closer together. I’m not just saying physically closer together (which we are as well!) I’m saying that we feel like we are spending a lot more quality time together. We talk more. We cook together more. Being a small space provides a sense of intimacy that you don’t get when one person is upstairs and the other is downstairs or in the kitchen or in the basement, etc. There is nowhere to hide out…I call this a benefit but can also be a drawback (see below).

3. What drawbacks are there to living in such a small space?

The main drawback right now is the fact that we have to deal with a sofa-bed. This means converting and moving stuff around in the morning and at night when it is time to sleep/wake-up. It only takes us 3 minutes to do…but it is annoying.

The other drawback is that there is no privacy. If you need to work on something in peace and quiet, or perhaps have a private phone call or attend an online class (which I’m doing right now); you can’t go to another room…because there is no other room!

Lastly, the space is small (duh!) which is fine, but if we lived full-time in a space this small we would need a storage unit equal in size to keep our other gear (summer/winter camping gear, bikes, extra clothes, tools). Living in a Tiny House is definitely doable….but if we were to ever do it for a longer stretch we would need a good-sized storage unit or shed on the property to keep our other stuff….stuff that we use on a seasonal basis, or just on the weekends.

4. Overall, would we recommend someone taking the plunge and moving into a Tiny House?

Yes! I think people would learn a lot about their habits and how much extra/useless stuff they carry around if they moved into a Tiny House for AT LEAST A WEEK. Doing such an experiment would go a long way in helping folks shake up some bad habits and streamline their lifestyle. Check out AirBNB…there are a lot of Tiny Houses posted there – this includes sailboats, RV’s, cabins and actual “Tiny Houses” build on a movable chassis.

However, I don’t necessarily think that Tiny House living is the right thing for a lot of people for the long-term. I think small houses (e.g.  a 800 sq ft 2BR/1BA bungalow) NOT Tiny Houses are far more practical for most folks, as they have more storage and possibility for a private bedroom space. I think just going “Tiny” for Tiny sake doesn’t make that much sense. Unless you want to go Tiny to get around zoning rules….that is another story.

Do you live in a Tiny House?

Have you ever been in one?

What do you think?

Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker

Early Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial IndependenceEarly Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial Independence by Jacob Lund Fisker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is book is not like any of the other “retire early in 10 easy steps” books…it is a full-blown life plan for making it happen, and not for those who aren’t willing or able to take massive action to change their current consumerist habits.

I’ve read a ton of blogs and books on financial management and investment, but this one has a very counter-intuitive and yes – EXTREME – approach to retirement that can be achieved relatively quickly. The overall thesis is that by saving a majority of one’s net income (50, 60, 70 or even 80%!) on an annual basis, it is possible to “retire” in five years or so. This is the case not just due to the high amount of savings, but the low annual expenses needed to sustain a lifestyle where you live on 20% of what is earned. The author was a theoretical physicist and the attention to detail comes through (and at times the math equations get a bit extreme!).

What I liked:
1. A significant amount of the book is devoted to the MINDSET needed (philosophy /psychology) around the early retirement approach. It really goes deep and Jacob provides examples (from his own life), frameworks to help the reader understand character types and plenty of hardcore data.
2. There are specific strategies and tactics that can be applied on day 1 by the reader to boost savings and cut expenses. Some may not apply to you, but many will.
3. There is a very detailed blog Early Retirement Extreme that provides more examples, Q&A topics and links to an active online forum to go deeper into various topics.

What I didn’t like:
1. Many times the books dives too deep into a topic (e.g. in taking about character archetypes, detailing math equations) or seem to be going off on tangents and rambling. I am good at skimming/skipping this stuff so didn’t mind it too much. Overall, there is much more good about this book to love so I was willing to put up with these parts.

View all my reviews

The false hope of minimalist living

The secret of life unfolds when one acts not to become happy, but out of happiness

– Swami Viditatmananda

There is a rage sweeping the blogosphere and it’s all about minimalism. I stumbled onto an extreme variant of minimalist living after reading the 100 thing challenge in Times Magazine and first started thinking hard about minimalism after a conversation with my friend Darrick 5 years ago. If you do quick Bing you’ll see dozens of popular blogs out there talking about this topic.

Several years ago I was definitely in a phase of thinking I needed more stuff. This was in part because I had recently graduated from college and literally had nothing but a few suitcases, and old futon mattress and a couple of bicycles. After a few promotions at work and a positive balance in my bank account, I moved out of the small room I renting in a house and into a bigger place in downtown Seattle as gift to myself, complete with nice views of the Space Needle and Elliot Bay, and filled it with furniture and a bunch of other random nonsense and nice electronic gadgetry.

Darrick came into town and stopped by for a visit, the first time we had met in a long time. He walked into my apartment and set his large backpack down on the floor. He joked that my place was super nice, very “cushy” and full of stuff…a lot of stuff for a yogi...I joked that for an overnight stay he brought a more stuff than a Hollywood actress….especially for a guy that was supposedly “living the simple life” as I knew he was downsizing his lifestyle. He mentioned that this was literally all he owned! Everything else had been sold: his cars, homes, business he founded, everything. Over the course of a few years he totally simplified his lifestyle. It blew me away.

If he wanted to get a book, he would give one away since he only had room for 1. Same rule held true for clothing and other stuff, if he wanted to get something new, he had to let go of something old. I thought I had a pretty simple life, but looking around at my over-sized apartment I realized that he took things to a whole new level of simplicity. Darrick went on to travel around the world, and is still living in this way. I think he is on an island in the Pacific eating durian fruit at this very moment 🙂 .

Since then there have been a whole host of bloggers coming up that talk about the benefits of minimalist living. There have been stories in the mainstream media about it. Many minimalists even have lists of all their possessions, with all kinds of rules around how they count the number of items they own (e.g. do you count socks as 2 items or just the pair? do you count every utensil or just count them all as 1? do you count every razor you own or just treat the batch as 1? etc.). It almost seems like living with few things is the goal, but I find that to be a shallow goal, one that can make it harder to be at peace and really happy over the long term.

I think that minimalist living carries with it a false hope. The hope is that getting rid of things and not wanting to consume will somehow make you happy.

This is the problem. You can never get rid of everything. You can get rid of all your possessions and even then you are left with your own thoughts! You can get rid of thinking and then you are left with your emotions. You can try to control your emotions and then you are left in the grip of needing to control everything. You can get rid of controlling tendencies and then you are left with a gaping void…the gaping void of not feeling complete because you think there is actually something that you can still rid yourself of that will make you even more happy, but you can’t find anything left to jettison. You continue to search endlessly. Minimalism becomes a crutch.

The false hope of minimalist living is the expectation that it will make you happy. Nothing can make you happy. You can only just choose to be happy.

Happiness is really just your true nature. You can be happy and content as a billionaire with lots of toys just as you can as a monk living in a cave in Bhutan.

What amazes me about my friend Darrick is that he got rid of things not to be happy…but out of happiness. He wanted to see the world and experience new places and people, and realized that the things in his life were just not needed for him to do that. They got in the way, so he got rid of those things. That’s a smart way of going about things. Minimalism should therefore not be a goal, it at best is a potential outcome one has in the process of realizing some deeper purpose. It is a side-affect that may come along as you move along your path.

Instead of trying to get rid of things to be happy and content…be content with whatever you are doing…and then if you have an intention to buy less and live more simply…fantastic…go for it by all means, but let go of the expectation that it will lead to nirvana, you are already there if you are willing to see it.