We’re moving. Again. Each time, we get a little better about this thing called ‘minimalism.’ The first principle of minimalism is that our stuff should serve us, not the reverse. The second principle is that what we keep should be determined by its function and use in a particular space. The things we would use in a backwoods cabin would not be the same package as the things we would use in an urban loft or a suburban house with a garden. This is why we reevaluate every time we move: floor plan before stuff.
We just visited an empty apartment. What did we do? We took pictures for reference. I keep a measuring tape in my work bag, believe it or not, and we used it. We took pictures of the location of the power outlets. We took pictures of the insides of the cabinets and drawers. We measured the depth and height of the shelves and marked up the digital photos. The next step is to reevaluate our stuff based on whether it will fit the space available.
As newlyweds, we moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath suburban ranch house with a two-car garage and a yard. It was about quadruple the amount of living space that we have now. Every time we have moved, we’ve downsized. First we lost half the garage space and half the kitchen space. Then we moved, and both got cut in half again. Number of square feet has a little bit to do with how we use our living space, but it’s not everything. The function of the space has a lot more to do with closets, cabinets, cupboards, shelves, and drawers.
Most people, given a choice, would take more built-in cabinets and shelving over a larger living room. Am I right?
What we miss the most about our previous homes isn’t square footage. It’s having a coat closet, a linen closet, and a pantry cupboard.
The containers and dedicated storage that we need is determined by all the small incidental things we own. Sure, we’ve had to get rid of things like our ten-top dining table, when they physically would not fit in a smaller room. Sometimes the walls are just too short, sometimes the available space is broken up by doors and windows. Sometimes something won’t even fit through a door! This is a problem when it was originally moved in through a sliding door, or when it was carried in as a flat-pack shipping container and assembled in the room.
We almost had to get rid of our couch the last time we moved because it barely fit through the front door. By ‘barely,’ I mean that we had to do naughty things to the hallway light fixture to make it work.
In our new apartment, the floor plan does not allow for a dining table. It has a kitchen counter that works as a bar top. Our current arrangement is a bistro table with tall chairs. We’ll be able to use the chairs at the bar, while removing the legs from the dining table and storing it somewhere. Top contenders are flat under the bed or vertically in the closet behind our hanging clothes.
Okay, so we only keep things we actively use. They have to earn their keep. How do we know?
The most important thing to us is that we can live our lives in our home. Walk from room to room without turning sideways or stepping over anything. Cook in the kitchen, sleep in the bedroom, relax in the living room. Work at the desk, get ready in the bathroom. We’d rather live out of a suitcase in a basically empty room than have to live among piles of dishes, laundry, and papers.
That’s a false dilemma, though. It’s totally possible to live a comfortable, fulfilling, efficient life in a maximalist house. The priority is simply to be able to get around easily, to have systems that create the absolute most free time and mental bandwidth possible.
Second priority is that we can both be happy without annoying each other. Anything that causes persistent problems, quarrels, arguments, or irritation has to go. We’d be better off owning two dinner plates than having a maximalist kitchen and nagging each other about whose turn it is to wash the dishes.
We have pets, and they’re a consideration, too. It’s not fair to Noelle to leave a charging cable out where she can reach it, because it’s in her nature to want to put her beak through it. (Tally so far: five charging cables and one set of earbuds). It’s not fair to leave laundry in dog zone, because Spike can’t resist grabbing shirts or socks or underwear and running around whipping them over his head. Pet-proofing is the kind-hearted way to keep our fluffy little dorks out of trouble.
The thing about downsizing is that it’s not permanent. Stuff creeps up on us. We have the same cultural exposure to massive volumes of cheap consumer goods as everyone else. We buy stuff in bulk or on sale, we come home with souvenirs, we upgrade, we receive gifts. All of a sudden, the place is full again. It’s not like getting rid of a few boxes of clothes or books or plastic storage containers means we can never own anything again. It’s reversible.
We assume that the new stuff we might buy in ten years will be nicer and more attractive than what’s available to us today. That’s especially true for electronics! It’s also true, though, for the bulk of what most people store in their homes. Food, right? Clothes - probably won’t fit us the same way in ten years. Our mattress - probably won’t be nearly as comfortable in ten years. Entertainment - books, magazines, movies, music - probably won’t even be in the same format in ten years. It also raises the question of whether our interests will still be the same a decade from now. Won’t our favorite authors and musicians have put out anything new by then?
We think back to the stuff we owned when we were in our twenties. I had a rock-hard futon and a bookcase made from boards and bricks. My computer was an 8086 with an amber monochrome monitor! I was six, no, seven clothing sizes bigger back then. My hubby wore his hair in a mullet, and that’s all we need to say about that. We’re, um... mature enough now to realize that our stuff does not define us, and that much of it is even embarrassing for us to even admit that we ever liked or used.
Stuff comes and goes. We can wave goodbye to it. We can take pictures of our various living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms, saying “thanks for the memories!” If we wouldn’t want anyone to see evidence of how our rooms really look, that’s something to consider. Let’s reevaluate whether our personal belongings are really helping us to live happier, easier, better lives. Floor plan before stuff.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.