4 Steps to Downsizing Your Space and Living Bigger

November 16, 2014

I’m generally a strong advocate for minimalism and in fact have spent most of the last year thinking about how to streamline my life to be more balanced and manageable. But when I recently moved into a new studio apartment that is–get ready–half the size of my old studio, my pared down world was all of a sudden far too cramped. At first, I felt I had two options: live with just enough room to slither like a mouse between my furniture and piles of books and jump into bed off a kitchen table-to-sofa trampoline, or get rid of everything. Neither really seemed that appealing, and when I stared into my new tiny rectangle of a home, unable to see the floor, I wanted to cry a little.

Once I pulled myself together, I realized that there was a rather large grey area between being a hoarder and a monk. I thought about what it really means to have less space for material things. I also came to terms with the fact that even if my belongings all couldn’t stay, or at least enjoy the display and breathing room they once had, that didn’t mean that somehow had less of a right to take up space. Once I could separate myself from the things I surrounded myself by, I could make peace with doing with less.

If you find yourself in a similar situation–whether it’s living somewhere smaller, working somewhere smaller, or just looking to clear out the pile of unknown objects at the back of your closet–keep these things and mind to maintain your sanity and sense of self-worth.

Take Inventory: If I had a nickel for every time I bought something only to come home and find that same item already tucked away in a drawer or a cabinet, I’d be rich. Now’s the time to really be hard on yourself with duplicates and unused things in your life. Unless there’s some great sentimental value to a particular thing that’s rarely used, give it a new home. I have a (slight) fetish for bowls, and even though I live by myself (with little room to entertain) I have 12 bowls in 4 different sizes/patterns. Okay, that’s not so slight, so you can see what I mean. I eat mostly out of bowls, but I could easily do without one set of 4, so out they went.

Now, Find that New Home: Getting rid of your things doesn’t have to mean throwing them in the dump. Donating clothes and housewares is a perfect way to trigger your altruistic endorphins. You can also try to sell things at a garage sale, online, or to friends/coworkers. Knowing that a real person will be enjoying your things will no doubt lessen the blow of their not being yours anymore. And with the money you’ll get–either from a sale or a potential tax return–you’ll be able to buy something else that will suit your new needs better (though not a replacement!) or go into savings for the future or toward a long-term goal.

Don’t Rush: I really, really like when everything is put away just as it should be. Living in a dorm for four years in college was great for that, because the standard issue furniture was always identical: I could simply transfer my clothes, books, etc. to the same spot one year to the next. But the real world is nothing like college, and sometimes it takes a while to figure out where everything in your life belongs. If you are in a new space that has a different layout, you won’t be able to put on autopilot and arrange things as you had them before. Instead of getting frustrated and rushing into an imperfect replication of the old way, take a few weeks to see where traffic flows naturally, or where you instinctively go to grab a utensil or other commonly used objects. This also means not rushing out to The Container Store and buying a dozen random boxes and baskets because, well, they’re just so darn cute and you’ll definitely find a way to use them, right? Wrong. More often than not, storage containers invite more clutter and excess. When your things are more visible, and more accessible, you’ll be reminded not only of what you have (therefore less likely to buy duplicates), but of how much you have (therefore less likely to buy things that won’t serve a specific purpose).

Decorated office space

Embrace Change: When I had to choose between two pieces of furniture that both couldn’t stay, I was distraught. I couldn’t tear myself away from either of them and hated the idea of having to do anything different or new. Not only was it a reminder of my downsizing, but it’d likely cost more money–money I didn’t have. Eventually, I realized that I was thinking more about how these pieces upset me than why I wanted to keep them. It was easier then to see which one I really needed to keep–for function and enjoyment–and which one I could replace for something more useful. The new piece I bought wound up costing very little money (even with a small profit from the sale of the old one–victory!) and was a satisfying challenge. When you adjust your mindset like this, the problems that seem unsettlingly different can become rewarding and exciting, and the markers of a new beginning.

In our society of all things excess, it can feel unnatural to not associate more with better. But in the end, what really carries meaning is not what we have or how much, but how and with whom we spend our time. Once you can distill your values in this way, the material things you surround yourself with are instantly curated into the necessities: the things that are needed to make you truly happy, not what you think should make you happy.

Related: Minimalist Challenge – What I Wear

Also by Jen: Part Time GF – Making Peace with Gluten


Photo: Unsplash

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Features Editor Jennifer Kurdyla is a New York City girl with Jersey roots and a propensity for getting lost in the urban jungle. An experienced publishing professional, yoga instructor, home chef, sometimes-runner, and writer, she adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in 2008 and became vegan in 2013. She has written for The Harvard Review Online, The Rumpus, and Music & Literature and maintains a wellness-based website, Be Nourished, which features original writing and recipes. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @jenniferkurdyla, Twitter @jenniferkurdyla, and Pinterest.


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