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When I Moved to a 480-Square-Foot “Tiny House,” I Followed These 8 Rules for Decluttering

You don’t need to dramatically downsize your house to want to get rid of unnecessary stuff in it. Here are decluttering tips that can simplify your life no matter how big or small your home is.

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The game-changing act of delcuttering your life

Are you drowning in stuff? Are you tired of never getting ahead on your bills? Have you ever dreamed of chucking it all to live in a cabin in the woods? My husband Dale and I did. Though our house is small—just 480 square feet—we are, in fact, Living Large. We don’t spend extra time cleaning and maintaining our house; we don’t buy things we don’t need; and we’ve grown emotionally (as well as physically) closer. We’ve found ourselves part of the tiny house movement, which has captured the imagination of the media and many others in our hurried, harried society. I believe that the tiny house movement is not about the square footage of the houses. Rather, it’s about the life you live in them. No matter what size your house is, you too can Live Large by following these principles for simplifying your life.

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iStock/Cameron Carlson

Give every item in your house its own home

Dale and I adopted the motto, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Last winter, which was especially cold and harsh, Dale and I were sick multiple times and we both had a busy work schedule. We really didn’t physically feel good enough to make sure everything was put back where it was supposed to go. By the time spring came around, our kitchen table was full of junk and our kitchen counters were overflowing with bottles of spices, the toaster, and other assorted things that needed to be put away. After we spent an entire weekend cleaning and organizing the cabinets and laundry pantry, our house felt lighter and brighter. Once it was back in order, we resumed our routine of being able to clean it from top to bottom in about an hour. These storage tricks can also help control clutter.

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Think “one in, one out”

If I purchase a piece of clothing, for example, another piece of clothing has to go. It might not hit the door immediately, but it will during the next rotation of the closet, which happens twice a year in conjunction with the major change of seasons. You can feel good about getting rid of these items in your closet.

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iStock/Catherine Lane

Scope out the pantry before you shop

I have a lot of pantry space considering we live in a little home, but we still cannot stock up for months at a time. Avoid buying things you forgot you already had by doing a quick scan before you go grocery shopping. Try this genius method to organize your pantry for good.

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iStock/Shawn Gearhart

Eliminate junk mail

When we lived in a larger split-level home, we would bring in the mail and either leave it on the stairs to be picked up later or pile it on the kitchen table. But in a little home, even a few pieces of paper or junk mail piled on the kitchen table can make the whole house look messy. I’ve tried to eliminate excess paper clutter by removing myself from mailing lists for credit offers, catalogs, and other junk mail we don’t need. Here’s more on how to opt out of everything.

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Don’t bring junk mail into the house

“When I check the mail, I put the junk mail into the side panel of my car and take it to work to shred,” says Ramona DeAngelus, who lives in a 200-square-foot home on seven acres near Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, Carlo. “Junk mail never even makes it into the house.” If you want to try out the tiny house life, these overwater bungalows will give you a chance. 

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Gift experiences, not things

The Gawtry family—who live in a 728-square-foot home with their twin 7-year-old daughters Evelyn and Nora—are glad their children are growing up in a little home. “They haven’t developed a ridiculous attachment to stuff,” says mom Bec. “Their lives are more about experiences. They don’t get a lot of toys for gifts, but they’ll get tickets to a play, for example.”

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Keep decorating simple

In my split-level house, our master bathroom was decorated in cats. The bedroom was in a nautical theme. Our family room emphasized Native American art. In a little house, one single theme works best throughout. Ours is decorated in natural greens and browns, with splashes of red for color. The running theme is black bears, which is represented on lamps, in the art, and on towels and valances.

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iStock/Brian Wancho

Never use a storage unit

Janine Adams, a certified professional organizer and owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, Missouri, almost never recommends renting a storage unit to store stuff. “You’re really just wasting money on rent for stuff, most of which never comes out of storage,” she says. She recommends going through belongings once, and then doing it again. If you know you need to eliminate more stuff and can’t do it, hire a professional organizer; this is what they’re paid to do.

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More Tips for Living Large in a Tiny House

For more of Kerri’s story on how she and her husband downsized to a 480-square-foot house—and totally love it—as well as other inspiring families who are thriving as part of the “tiny house” movement, check out the new book Living Large In Our Little House.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest