Category Archives: Reduce/Recyle/Reuse

The Reality of Tiny House Living

Hillary's Tiny House outside

Could you imagine living in a house this small?

Small and tiny houses have increasingly become popular and known. Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters TV shows have heightened the public’s interest in this style of living.

Tiny houses on wheels are often compared to RVs. However, tiny houses are built to last as long as traditional homes, use traditional building techniques and materials, and are aesthetically similar to larger homes. A tiny house is often considered one that is under 400ft2.

So, what’s it really like to downsize and live in a tiny house? We interviewed our friend Hillary who’s been living in one for the last 6 months. Her space is under 200ft2. The footprint of the home is 8.5’ x 18’ and it sits on a trailer.

Why did you choose tiny living? Basically, the cost of living. It was a creative way to afford rent, and work to live instead of living to work. Also, I was interested in the environmental benefits and owning less.

What surprised you most about tiny living? How comfortable it feels. I’m getting along really well! It took a leap of faith but there have been more positives than negatives. I’ve realized I don’t have to own a lot to be content.

What has been an unexpected benefit? Buying less stuff. Even less food. I don’t go to home stores anymore for random décor. I’ve saved money and affirmed to myself I don’t need as much stuff as I used to.

What has been the hardest part? Finding the right place to put my tiny home took about a year.  I ended up finding my landlord through an East Bay Tiny House meetup. He has 3.5 acres in Diablo Valley area so I am surrounded by nature but also able to connect into utilities. My water comes from a hose line. I have a direct electricity and sewer line hook up. I have propane tanks for heating water and gas stove.

Another challenge is the lack of space for food and clothes. Clothing storage has been the hardest. I still use some offsite storage at my mom’s house but hope to gradually eliminate that.

What was the process of downsizing your possessions like to prepare to move here? I’m still transitioning through the downsizing process because I’m still storing some furniture at my mom’s. Also, most of my book collection. I’m an English teacher and I’d really like to have my books with me but I haven’t figured out how to integrate them into the space. I still need to sell or donate extra stuff. I feel like I haven’t yet had the cathartic moment of truly releasing things that didn’t fit. Other people I’ve talked to in tiny houses have described how freeing it is to let go.  That said, I do realize that there are lots of things I haven’t needed or thought about for 6 months. I still want to take on the personal challenge of only owning what will fit in my space.

Kitchen, sleeping loft and bathroom

Tiny House Living Room and Entry

Kitchen, Living Room, Entry

STORAGE

Let’s talk about storage – how do you get by without a garage? Right now, I’m not fully addressing that; I still store low use items such snowboarding & camping supplies offsite. There is some space underneath the trailer where I can store tubs – I have my backpacking gear in a heavy-duty tote as well as extra blankets & shoes.

How have you had to modify your shopping practices? I shop more often and buy smaller amounts of things when I do. I’ve had to become more aware of what I’m buying. I still buy a few things in bulk and use the storage area adjacent to my sleeping loft to hold low-use pantry items such as baking supplies.

How do you get by without a closet and a dresser? The home does have a really thin closet – 1.5’ wide. I have to be very selective about what gets hung. Reducing clothes was hard because I like to have options of what I wear.  I use open crates in the sleeping loft for folded clothes.

Has living in a tiny house changed your relationship to stuff? Not dramatically, but I feel like I have a higher level of awareness of nice-to-haves vs. have-to-haves. And I’m OK with that. I realized I’m not feeling the loss of giving up on the nice-to-haves as much as I would have thought.

LIFESTYLE

How has the move affected your social life? Not too much. I do have folks come over. I haven’t had big gatherings but I have outside space so that could be used in good weather for gatherings. Having 2-3 people within the house is tight. Having over one extra person is pretty comfortable. I find myself sitting outside more often both when I’m alone or with others. Seating inside a little cramped, especially for tall or larger guests.

Do you have a full bathroom and shower? The toilet and shower are separate and spacious enough. They are average size. I have an on-demand water heater and originally I had a composting toilet but then was able to connect into the landlord’s sewer line so I replaced it with a regular flush toilet.

What life circumstances would have to change for you to feel like you have to move? I feel like I could live here indefinitely if I was living alone. Cohabitating with a partner doesn’t feel very feasible to me here.  If I had a child it feels like it would be feasible maybe for the first year or so.

What are people most curious about? Mostly they just want to know – “Is this working for you? Are you comfortable?”  Anyone who comes to visit quickly sees how doable it is!

Want to watch the entire interview? Let us know!

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Filed under Decluttering, downsizing, Guest Experts, home organizing, Moving, organizing, Perspective, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse

Tools For Emptying Your Storage Unit

Storage Unit Tools (1)

Storage units have their place and can be a great solution for the right situation. Too often they get filled with the intention of being temporary, but end up languishing for years. Derek Naylor, president of the consultant group Storage Marketing Solutions is quoted in the New York Times:

“Human laziness has always been a big friend of self-storage operators,” … “Because once they’re in, nobody likes to spend all day moving their stuff out of storage.”


Also, according to the Self Storage Association, only 30% of renters say they will rent for more than 2 years
.

Here are some practical approaches to finally clearing out that unit and recovering that monthly rent back into your budget.

Come Prepared

Don’t make the mistake of setting aside time to deal with the unit and show up empty handed or with just a garbage bag. These basic tools will enable you to effectively sort, purge and pack both items you’re keeping and those for donation. Be prepared to keep the kit in your unit for use across multiple days.

  • Small folding table
  • Step stool and/or folding chair
  • Marking pens and tape for labeling containers
  • Small and medium moving boxes for containing loose items
  • Packing tape, box cutter or scissors
  • Notepad for listing items in boxes or making notes of to-do’s
  • Smartphone camera
  • Garbage bag
  • Headlamp
  • Gloves/dust mask
  • A friend or helper for motivation and company!

Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Just like organizing within your home, one of the first steps is to decide what you’re keeping and separate it from things you are not.

  • Borrow a rolling cart from the facility and load it with things to just make enough working space in the unit to set up a table. Or use the hallway outside the unit if that’s allowed.
  • If possible, start to physically create zones in the space to separate keepers from things going out. If it isn’t possible to literally remove items and take them with you that day, you’ll want to save yourself time in the future by staying organized throughout the process.
  • If you’re holding things for other people, use your phone to snap a picture and text it immediately asking the person what they want to do with the item.
  • LABEL, LABEL, LABEL! Once you’ve made a decision or opened a box to determine what’s in it, LABEL the outside so you can know at a glance the status of that box.

Storage Unit

What Next?

  • Arrange for a charity donation pickup
  • Load donations and take them yourself
  • Arrange for a hauler to help with donations and trash such as 1-800-Got-Junk, Eco-Haul, or Lugg.com
  • Deliver items to family and friends or arrange a pickup day when they come to you
  • Arrange for a mover or hauler to bring the keepers home (if they won’t just fit in your car)

Emptying a storage unit can be a laborious process but you get the ball rolling, it takes less time than you’ve been dreading. Don’t plan on getting it all done in one day or one weekend! Be realistic and you won’t set yourself up for disappointment.

Once you manage to get it empty,  don’t forget to reward yourself! Take ½ the monthly rent you’ve been paying and go out for a nice meal or treat yourself to a fun experience — you’ve earned it!

 

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Filed under artwork, Closets, Decluttering, downsizing, Garage, Memorabilia, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Seniors, Storage, Strategies

Lose the Psychic Weight of Clutter

psychic weight (1)

Do you have a room in home that when you walk into it you just say, “Ughh!”?

These are spaces that are enough out of sight and out of mind that they are the perfect spots to accumulate years of random items. Attics, basements, garages, guest room closets, dining buffet bottom drawers … every home has them!

So why bother? For the most part they don’t affect daily life – the few times a year you have to retrieve something from them is a hassle but rarely hassle enough to raise the daunting task of cleaning out the space to the top of your to-do list.

These spaces may seem benign…not a problem, no worry…but they actually do have quite a presence. Spaces that trigger guilt, shame, inertia, and paralysis contain psychic weight. We know this from the decades of working with clients. Our clients almost universally describe the feeling of clearing out old clutter as having had a huge weight lifted from their backs. They had become used to living with the problem and hadn’t realized just how much of a mental burden putting off dealing with the clutter was. Feeling the relief of the cleared, organized spaces made it crystal clear what a weight they had been carrying in the background of their consciousness.

Observe and measure how you feel in each room of your home. The spaces can be as simple as a drawer, a cabinet or an entire room. Identify where you are being drained:

  • Where do you find yourself sighing?
  • Is there an area of your home that you completely avoid?
  • What space triggers a sense of feeling trapped?
  • When you want to use a space that’s cluttered, is it a complete hassle to reclaim it?
  • Would you be embarrassed for someone else to see the space?
  • Does the thought of dealing with it make you want to take a nap … or go on a trip?

Take stock of how much mental weight you are carrying around. Where is your extra weight hiding?  Wouldn’t it feel great to be relieved of the heavy feelings of those spaces?

If you’re inspired to get started, choose a small project or part of a room that you can get through in about an hour. Getting to experience that wonderful sense of relief that comes from making progress will fuel your motivation to go further. If you get stuck, reach out!

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Filed under Decluttering, downsizing, Garage, General Organizing, home organizing, Memorabilia, Perspective, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Seniors, Strategies

Repurpose That Wedding Dress

 

large gown - 1

Wedding dresses can take on almost mythic significance both before AND after the wedding. Once the wedding bells have finished ringing and the party is over the wedding dress remains as one of the largest, most awkward pieces of memorabilia to deal with.

The pull of emotions and nostalgia are understandably very strong and it can make deciding what to do with your gown a challenge. A few years down the road you may be ready to reclaim the space the giant archive box is using in a closet.

A quick Internet search turns up lots of creative alternative ideas of what you can do with your gown:

  • Create a keepsake from the fabric – a nice clutch purse, a framed section of lace, a holiday ornament, a jewelry locket, a teddy bear…Pinterest is a great source to inspire you creatively to save an essence of the dress.
  • Repurpose the dress into something you can wear again. Have it altered and/or dyed to create a fancy party dress you can enjoy over and over. Have some custom lingerie made!
  • Share the wealth! Donate your gown to a charity. Brides Across America provides free wedding dresses to military and first responder brides who couldn’t otherwise afford one. Another option is Brides Against Breast Cancer, who use the proceeds from donated gown sales to help cancer patients. The Goodwill is also a fine place to make your gown available to someone in need.
  • Recoup some of the cost of the gown to celebrate a special anniversary. There are several sites specializing in selling pre-owned quality gowns. The Knot reviews their top picks here including options to rent gowns.

You might want to ritualize the departure of your wedding dress to get a sense of gratitude and closure. Reminisce a bit about the event, honor the role the dress played in making your wedding special and then feel free to transition it to a different existence – either in a different form in your life or intact to enrich someone else’s.

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Filed under Decluttering, General Organizing, Memorabilia, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Wedding

Perspectives on Letting Go

freedom release letting go

Ahh, attachments to our stuff. It’s really all a mental game. If we were truly able to assess our belongings according to our practical needs, we would probably be living with 10% of what we own.

Why is letting go so hard? How do we manage the psychology of releasing things?

Over the years, we’ve seen people find success with one (or a combination) of these three approaches:

Focus on how you can help yourself

Honor the life you want to live. Have a vision of how you want to be in the world and edit your stuff so you can match that and live your best life now. This is about releasing the past and creating your ideal future. You’re honoring yourself by letting that be your focus.

Focus on how you can help other people

Recognize that your excess is a form of abundance. Release your objects so they can serve their purpose in other people’s lives. Release resentment or other negative emotions that the objects bring up in you and put them out into the world to do positive things for other people.

Feng Shui expert Karen Kingston tells a story of a divorced woman had a pair of large, expensive decorative urns from her divorce settlement. They were beautiful but made her think, with bitterness, of her ex-husband.  She was encouraged to sell them and get a lot of money for them instead of having them foster bitterness and resentment and a constant reminder of a painful relationship.

Focus on how you can help the environment

Bringing in less can aid the environment, but disposing of things in a thoughtful way will help offset the environmental impact of consumption. Some people hesitate to clean out a closet or garage because they don’t want it all to go to landfill. Take advantage of living in the San Francisco Bay Area which is filled with easy options for recycling/reuse and responsible disposal.

Stopwaste.org is a quick way to find what is available near you. There are many places that accept e-waste, expired medicines, CFLs, hazardous waste, styrofoam, packing peanuts and air-packs. Partially used art and office supplies can go to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse or S.C.R.A.P., building materials and hardware can go to Urban Ore or a Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet. Plastic children’s toys, if not donate-able, can be recycled with hard plastic at most urban recycling centers. There are also resources for your unneeded medical equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, tubing, etc.)

Freecycle, Craigslist, Nextdoor, and other community neighborhood forums are great places to post usable items for free.  These places allow you to find people who want your cast-offs and will take care of the hauling!

If you don’t want to deal with the public, you can pay for a hauler to come. EcoHaul, 1-800-Got Junk, Lugg are companies that advertise responsible disposal of items the remove from your place.

There is no “right” approach. What is that key that will release you from the obligation to hold on to things you don’t need and really don’t even want? Not sure how to get rid of something? Just ask! As Professional Organizers, we’ve got ideas!

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Filed under Decluttering, organizing, Perspective, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Strategies

Tackle Messy Build-Up With Your Kids This Summer

organizing crafts

Everyone with kids knows that they typically come with lots of STUFF. And somehow it keeps coming in…if you have more than one kid the challenge is even greater.

This buildup is natural. More than any other time of life, the very nature of childhood is about growth and change. Your child’s abilities, interests, and sizes are constantly evolving  – and all the toys, clothes, learning materials change along with them. And young ones are magnets for toys and gifts from relatives.

This means if you aren’t keeping a constant vigil on moving out outgrown items (and how many of us are, really?) you’ve likely got some backlog of unused and unneeded kid stuff.

If your kids have a little more time at home during the summer, take advantage of that to do some weeding.

Break It Down

You’ll have a better chance at success if you focus their attention onto one category of stuff at a time. A general request to “clean out the playroom” isn’t going to get them very far. But a specific request to gather up all the DVDs and choose the ones they love to watch is much easier to get follow through on.

If you divide up the project into categories you’re teaching an important skill about grouping “like items” together.

Put out a big bag or box and have the kids weed some or all of these groups:

  • Board games
  • Clothes that don’t fit (can even break this down by type – tops, pants, jackets)
  • Sports equipment
  • Craft supplies
  • Art projects/ drawings
  • Books
  • DVDs, video games
  • Electronics
  • Toys (you can break this category down by type – electronic, stuffies, dolls)

Create a System and Motivate

Sometimes it’s easier to decide what to keep, rather than what to let go of. Clearly labeling 3 bags or boxes – KEEP, MAYBE, DONATE/SELL can help. Let your family know it’s like going shopping for things they love within our own collection. This helps kids get in touch with making conscious choices about what they really use and like.

Motivation strategies to get them going:

  • Help them visualize the end result – more space to play with their favorite items
  • Use a timer to bound the work
  • Offer incentives or rewards – a movie night after clearing out unwanted DVDs for example.
  • Create a contest or game around who can purge the most 

Enlist Help

If you’re paying for a babysitter or childcare, enlist their help to tackle 1 category a day. Even as little as ½ hour each week spent on weeding will go a long way to staying ahead of the next influx of new gifts or purchases!

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Filed under artwork, children, Decluttering, General Organizing, Kids, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Strategies

Untangling Electronic Cable Clutter

cable salad

Who hasn’t opened a desk drawer to see a snarled rats nest of cables and electronic devices from the past? An intimidating and unappealing cable and device salad?

We live in a time of amazing technological advances but one of the drawbacks is that devices quickly become obsolete. Our consumer culture pressures us to keep replacing things, which creates a constant stream of electronic litter in our homes.

The charging and connecting cords that go with these items create an extra layer of frustration and confusion around the issue. Hot tip: when you get a new device, take the time to wrap the cables! Purging old electronics becomes so much simpler when you can quickly grab the device and all it’s parts and cables.

bundled cables

Many people get rid of the electronics but don’t search for the cables (and even the CDs that that go with them) to dispose of at the same time. They’re left with a box of cables they are afraid to get rid of.  There might actually be a useful one in there for a device they still have. The box of chaos becomes a project for that mythical weekend when you’re going to organize your garage, sort your photos and finally deal with that box of cables. Yeah, right.

The simplest way to bundle cables is using twist ties. You can use the grocery store variety or a heavier duty kind – silicone twist ties, which are sturdy and easy to use. Ziploc bags work well to group accessories and software with the cables making it even easier to dispose of the group when the time comes.

It sounds like such a straightforward solution, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the most elegant.  And they can save you from future frustration. Your time is precious, invest a little bit up front to save yourself hours later.

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Filed under Decluttering, disorganization, Garage, General Organizing, home organizing, Office, organizing, Products, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Technology, Time Management