How I Downsized to 500 Square Feet — and Why

Clearing clutter is both tough and oh-so-rewarding. There’s so much more attached to the process than donation runs. This week, I’m sharing a part of the introduction to my book, What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You in hopes of inspiring you to think about your unique template for life and to make some moves on bushwhacking the obstacles from the trail you want to blaze.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve downsized like a champ. I’ve gone from 2,000 square feet to 700 square feet to 500 square feet, all the while planning to live in a 240-square-foot tiny house (yes, like the ones you see on those TV shows).

I’ve done the sorting and purging. I’ve faced the difficult decisions. I’ve processed the guilt from giving away gifts and heirlooms. I’ve set challenging boundaries. I’ve said good-bye to draining friendships. And I’ve worked hard to excavate the stories in the stuff to understand what my clutter was trying to tell me.

Doing so has not only helped me create space in my life but also allowed me to learn about myself in ways I never had before.

I’ve never been a pack rat, but I’ve been known to get my fix from retail therapy now and then. And I’ve fallen victim to the idea of “have space, must fill.” In fact, when my wife, Melissa (that’s her in the photo up there!) and I made the move from a small apartment to a 2,000-square-foot house, my in-laws came over to help us set up and make the place feel like home.

My father-in-law, a genius at decorating, puts together magazine-worthy rooms.

“Before you go to bed,” he said, “leave out all of your home-decor items. I’ll be awake before you, so I’ll get going on decorating.”

Great! We were excited to see what magic he would work.

When we woke up the next morning, one room was beautifully set up. The others? Barren.

“Where’s the rest of your stuff?” he asked. “I used everything you had in that one room.”

Well, we had come from a small apartment.

“That was everything,” I said, as I shrugged.

“Guess we’d better go shopping,” he said.

And so it began. We had rooms to fill, walls to adorn, and windows to dress. With it being just the two of us, we certainly didn’t need a house with a living room and a family room, an eat-in kitchen and a dining room, or three bedrooms and two full bathrooms. But that’s what the world tells us success is: more and bigger.

After some years living in the house, I began to tire of the upkeep. A full cleaning took hours. Yard work was eating up weekends. This was not how we wanted to spend our time.

Deep down I knew this white-picket-fence lifestyle wasn’t for me, but I got caught up in “keeping up with the Joneses.”

For some, a large house or many belongings may truly bring joy, but I came to realize that that’s just one template for life. I had long subscribed to the belief that it was the only template.

I loved my house and neighborhood but felt my property and its contents owned me instead of me owning them. Many of the items no longer brought me joy. Instead, I often felt weighed down by my stuff instead of uplifted by it. That’s when I knew I was surrounded by clutter: physical, financial, and emotional. If this was success, I wasn’t interested.

It was time to simplify and simplify we did — not only our physical belongings but our house, too. Clearly, the universe was behind us because as we were selling things online, I stumbled upon a unique post in a Facebook yard sale group. Someone was inquiring if anyone in our town was planning on listing their house soon. What are the chances of someone looking for a property in a virtual yard sale site? Usually, you find a bookcase or a lamp in there, but a house?

I figured it couldn’t hurt to message the poster, so I did.

Two weeks later, we had a generous offer. One month later, we closed. Thanks, Uni! (The universe and I are tight, so I gave it a nickname.)

Moving is a real pain in the ass, but it’s also a great chance to clear out. And with plans to go from a traditional house to a tiny house, we had some serious downsizing to do.

To do so, we created a simple moving sale website and used virtual yard sale sites to sell some items, donated quite a bit, and gave some furniture and decor to family and friends. We ended up making about $5,000 in sales, plus having a whole bunch of tax write-offs. Most importantly, however, was that we reclaimed our freedom, energy, and power.

This is not to say it was easy. There were many times when I struggled to part with an item. Maybe it had been a gift or something I really loved at one time and had a hard time accepting that I no longer did. Or if something had cost a decent amount of money, I felt like I should hang on to it.

To keep my eye on the prize, I’d remind myself why I was doing this at all: to live a life aligned with my personal valuation of experiences over things. I liked having nice things, but for me, that joy was temporary, whereas the memory of a cool experience or fun adventure would stay with me forever.

As I sorted through items, I asked myself some questions to gain clarity. Things like:

  • Does this item represent who I am now?
  • If I saw this in a store today, would I buy it?
  • What feelings are triggered by this item? Guilt? Dread? Excitement?
  • Do I use or display this item?

Doing this helped me decide if the item was worthy of a spot in my life. I had only so much space and energy available, and I no longer wanted to spend them frivolously.

Sure, my situation may be extreme to the average down-sizer, but the experience allowed me to see what I truly needed to be happy and what I truly loved and wanted in my life.

I was surprised by how little that translated to.

As a lifestyle designer and coach, I’ve helped thousands of people see what’s stopping them from making a change, and it’s often not what they think.

Clutter clogs up more than floors, tables, and closets.

It blocks abundance.

It suffocates dreams.

It dims your light.

While physical clutter can be overwhelming and exhausting, it also holds insights and answers to some of your biggest blocks. By digging into your clutter and unearthing what it’s trying to tell you, you can understand the message in the mess. Then you’ll see the limitless possibilities and new opportunities that are yours for the taking!

It’s time for you, too, to break free, my friend — whatever that means to you! If you want help understanding your clutter in this new way, join me for my Radical Decluttering Video Course that starts on Monday, April 1.

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