The lady at my local charity shop looked at me incredulously. At first I thought it was because over the course of the last four months I have been a regular donator. But then I realised, as she stared at the single bag and box I had just deposited on the floor by the counter, this was the smallest donation I had made to date. What would she think if she knew that prior to my moving into the area I had been a regular donator to another Salvation Army shop on the other side of town.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a recovering hoarder who has finally turned my life around in a frenzy of decluttering. I am not really into clutter or keeping things I no longer need or use. But when my daughter moved in to a place of her own I was free to pursue a dream that would require the most stringent exercise of reducing my personal lifestyle footprint.
Allow me to digress for a moment…
Back in 2014, following a messy divorce (is there any other kind I wonder) I took a job opportunity that was to enable me to get rid of all the debts I was left with following my marriage breakdown. I paid off the solicitor, the kids’ school fees, credit cards and the like, while renting a family home in the ‘burbs so that my daughter could complete her high schooling as well as renting accommodation in a remote area near to where I was working. With the dawning of 2016 my contract ended and I was debt free, had a small amount of savings and had started to dream of finally being able to work towards once again having a home of my own. But the dream was/is not for a big home (with an equally large mortgage) but for a little place… a tiny place… a tiny home.
I had read Dee Williams ‘The Big Tiny’ and scoured the internet and library for any information I could find on the Tiny House Movement. I soon had a note book bulging with notes, ideas, sketches, magazine clippings and a basic set of plans. I almost ordered a trailer from a group in Victoria who were designing trailers specifically for tiny homes. But something stopped me. I had enough money – just. Surely it was best if I just screwed up my courage and jumped in. If I bought the trailer I would have to move forward with my dream. But still I hesitated.
Although I have always loved small, cosy spaces, I was worried about just how tiny tiny houses are. On average a tiny house is 2.5 metres wide; 7.5 metres long and 3.5 metres high. “Would I be comfortable in such a small space?” I asked myself over and over again. “Where would I fit all my books? Where would I find space for my spinning wheel and huge stash of wool and fabric? How would I cope with a tiny kitchen given my love of cooking up a storm for my family? How would my family and friends fit in for family dinners and high teas?”
Grabbing a tape measure I decided to map out the dimensions of my proposed tiny on my lounge room floor. I was in for a shock. My lounge room was much bigger than the entire tiny house I had planned. Trying to get a better perspective I moved to a smaller room – the kitchen. I was stunned to find that it was just a little bigger than the entire space I was planning on living in! The kitchen that frustrated me with its small complement of bench space and storage. With its cupboards crammed full of all the kitchen impedimenta I had collected over the previous two decades. Good grief! “Now what?” I asked myself.
My practical, no nonsense nature took over. I was obviously going about the whole process the wrong way… well the wrong way for me. Instead of planning the build of my Tiny from the outside, I would need to start from the inside and work out. So one Sunday, instead of working on a university assignment (yes I was nuts at the time trying to do too many things at once as was my multi-tasking nature) I made a soothing cup of tea and armed with a notebook I started wandering around the house listing all the things I absolutely had to keep and fit in to the tiny. The list grew longer and longer until I stopped writing things down, gave up the exercise as too overwhelming and went outside to play with the dog.
“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” (Lao Tzu – 631-531BC)
There are any number of books on the process of decluttering and searching online yields hundreds of thousands of results. I decided to go back to basics and hunted up my copy of ‘Affluenza – The All-Consuming Epidemic’ (De Graff, Wann & Naylor 2000). I first read this book shortly after it came out and it opened my mind to the realisation that the accumulation of stuff is only a symptom. The underlying causes of why people actively pursue the acquisition of material goods can vary, so there is no single solution to ceasing to do so. As I worked through the book again, I realised that I seriously needed to look at my attachment to the items that I had accumulated over the years in order to figure out just how much stuff was enough to provide me with a sense of home and support my interests. (My need for a sense of home or place turned out to be an important factor – but more on that later.)
Surprisingly for me I started with my books. Books have always been important to me. Some are like old friends, others provide a window on aspects or areas of the world I can never hope to see, others still are how to manuals from which I have learnt any number of skills. As good a place as any to start, so I waded in. Bookcase by bookcase I sorted through shelves over and over again. The first time was easy – any books I had read only once, had not liked, or had little or no attachment to. Boxes and bags started piling up in the spare room so I scheduled a trip to my closest Salvation Army store. I felt almost liberated after that first trip and was so fired up that is extended my efforts to include not only a second review of the books, but my wardrobe, my study/craft room and the linen press.
Although progress seemed to me to be incredibly slow, over the course of the next few months I ended up with one empty and two almost empty rooms as furniture joined the decluttering fray. It seemed the time was right to take the next step. Just as I needed to know how much (or little) stuff was enough for me to feel at ease with, I also needed to know just how small a space I could live in contentedly. Synchronistically an opportunity arose for me to lease of a tiny one bedroom cottage and on a wet August day I moved. The removalists pessimistically told me they couldn’t possibly fit everything into the tiny space. Somehow we managed it – but only just.
Four months later the results of my annual post-Christmas spring clean filled just a single bag and small box. The intervening months had seen all the surplus furniture, the clothes drier, large refrigerator and other odds and ends go to new homes with my children or to the long suffering Salvation Army store. I have space and little clutter (if you don’t count my desk) and can finally return to what started this whole decluttering saga – how small a space can I live in contentedly.