"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."
Living the life of your dreams begins with the dreams themselves. Six years ago, I couldn’t tell you what my goals were beyond the desire not to be so stressed. I was juggling a demanding job, daunting house maintenance, and single parenthood. I was overwhelmed and lost. After my marriage failed, I knew one thing for sure. I needed to reconnect with myself. I had been stuffing my feelings deep inside. It was suffocating me. As a result, my sense of self was murky. My state of mind was visually represented in my messy, cluttered house. Can you relate?
Like many things in life, the first step toward change is awareness. It was painfully obvious to myself that I was stressed to the max. Check. But how to become less stressed and hopefully more fulfilled? An excellent place to start seemed to be to reduce the stressors in my life. That eventually led me to begin the downsizing process. Realizing you have a problem is huge. But making the first step toward change is everything.
Beginning this process seemed incredibly daunting. My boyfriend and veteran downsizer, Christian, proved to be a significant source of support and coaching. After drastically downsizing many years before me, post-divorce as well, he found that he was happiest traveling with a backpack and camera. Christian encouraged me to focus on one room at a time and start with the easy stuff in each room, the real junk items. I spent most of this process alone, combing through my belongings after my son was in bed. I can’t say that it was always enjoyable, but it was definitely quality me-time. Often it felt like walking down memory lane. Remembering the good and bad from the last decade. Like sorting memories, I would hold each and every item. Pause for reflection then mark it has keep, discard, or giveaway. My keep collection was divided into two categories: can’t live without it or not sure. When going through a big transition, profound reflection is required to break through to the other side. Forcing myself to sit with myself and process my feelings about each of my belongings was just what I needed. I didn’t realize this right away. It felt like a never-ending chore for the first quarter of the process.
Item by item and layer by layer, downsizing started to become exhilarating. How good it felt declutter my space and unburden myself from the noise that was cluttering my mind. It was a healing process, an act of self-love. I was letting go of things that were holding me back.
The downsizing process enabled me to see and feel each item for what it was:
- something that resonated with me, similar to Marie Kondo's favorite question, "does it spark joy?"
- something that was critical to my daily living experience
- or just something that taking up space (mental and/or physical)
What I discovered was by minimizing my possessions, I began to uncover myself. I was learning what was most important to me and what wasn’t. "Things" were definitely low on the priority list. What I wanted more of was that exhilaration feeling. If something as simple as getting rid of stuff could make me feel this good, then making more changes could only feel better. Downsizing empowered me to see myself as capable of evolution.
The process helped me feel genuinely calmer because I was getting to know myself better. I ditched the clutter that was clouding my perspective, which in turn, helped me set aside the typical social pressures and conventional expectations. Every much like what so many others in the tiny house movement are doing. It is driven by growing number of folks ditching the traditional script. Choosing to ignore what the Joneses do by not making the same traditional life choices and the same consumption habits. There is much to be said for listening to yourself. Tuning into you, and shutting out the noise of society.
My world viewed expanded because I took direct control of my life, and navigated myself through the rocky waters of a big life transition. Ultimately the downsizing process prepared me to take risks. And there is no adventure without a bit of danger.
I took the most substantial risk of my life by leaving my steady job to pursue a passion project that led me and Christian to build our own tiny home on wheels. When we I made the decision to pursue our traveling tiny house and documentary filmmaking dream, I jumped in with both feet. I had unwavering faith that we would make this happen. The mindset shift around letting go of things that weren't serving me truly helped me build confidence in myself. Everyday I chipped away at the necessary research and planning. Somehow I was able to channel any doubt into courage.
Even without travel, I've realized that living tiny provides me with more opportunities for everyday adventure. The pleasant side effect of being more connected with my surroundings, no matter where we are parked. This connection means more time with nature and more spontaneous encounters with the neighbors.
Living simply and more consciously has given me greater gratitude for the what I do have. No more taking my things and my space for granted. What I do have are essential to my daily life and enjoyment of my life. Quite fulfilling.
My advice: downsize your possessions to uncover yourself and your dreams.
-Alexis Stephens, Tiny House Blog contributor
My partner, Christian and I are traveling tiny house dwellers. Together we’ve been on the road three and half years for our documentary and community education project, Tiny House Expedition. We live, breathe, dream the tiny home community every day. This is our life and our true passion project. We are very grateful to be able to experience this inspiring movement in such an intimate way and to be able to share our exploration with all of you.