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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 33 - The unexpected effect of decluttering

JSM, 2015

If you are serious about decluttering, this might happen at some point: 

You will realize that your house is actually too big.

As you should. House sizes have increased significantly in the past decades, and we would be silly to claim that this increase stemmed from a true need. More likely, it's a change in culture that has prompted us to go for the biggest possible house. Interestingly, we then proceed to acquire stuff in order to fill said house. Maybe it's the nesting instinct. I often wonder if a smaller house could fulfill the need for a cozy, nest-like environment.

In 2007, D and I walked into our bank to discuss mortgage options on our first house. I remember a big sign at the entrance: "40-year mortgage, no down payment required!". I am no economist, but that immediately hit me as a bad idea... the kind that can only lead to a disaster. Sure enough, between 2007 and 2009, a great recession was to happen, closely linked to the American mortgage crisis. Proof that everything in life has a cost. 

As for us, we opted for the more reasonable 25-year mortgage with down payment, and started making extra payments as soon as we could to get rid of the mortgage as early as possible. It wasn't about sacrificing everything - we still "have a life" - it was about carrying as little a financial burden as we could. We also opted for a house about 15% less expensive than what the bank was willing to let us buy.

Today, after 33 weeks of decluttering coupled with a shopping ban, I am noticing more and more unused space in the house, to the point where I'm questioning whether it might be too big.

Keeping in mind that the majority of humans on this planet make do with very modest living quarters, what are the factors to consider when deciding what size of house you need?

The number of people who will inhabit it. That goes without explaining.

The number (and size) of pets who will inhabit it. Crates, litter boxes, cages, and pet food and toys take up space.

The age of the people who will inhabit it. Adults don't need that much space. Children can share a room; as for their toys, they often own too many anyway. Teenagers, on the other hand, appreciate some privacy. My godmother had 4 boys and I remember her saying, while house-hunting, "I don't mind the size but I want each of them to have their own room". As for babies, the equipment they require according to our society does take up a lot of space: strollers, full-size cribs and high chairs are not small. If you "need" bassinets, swings, changing tables and such on top of it, there's really no way you can live in a tiny house or apartment. The question might then be: do we really need all that stuff? Other cultures make without most of what we consider "baby essentials". Food for thought.

The climate you live in. When the outdoors can be used as living space most of the time, the indoors don't have to be as spacious. If, however, the temperature is below freezing point six months of the year, it might be wise to invest in indoor space. Even though I thrive in a tent or small log cabin in the summer, I know I would feel claustrophobic in a tiny house during our long Canadian winters. (Also, we need a place to store our winter tires in the summer, and vice-versa.)

Your social life. People who like to entertain mention big entrance ways, kitchens, family rooms and patios as "needs". People who often have company over from out of town appreciate having a guest room. That being said, there are alternatives: my parents had friends in Hong Kong who couldn't possibly host parties in their tiny, Hong Kong sized apartment. Solution: they would meet at cafés, restaurants or parks instead. As for guest rooms, despite being "expats", we ourselves have never had a designated one. When someone sleeps over, we lend them one of our beds. Oftentimes, the kids end up sleeping on mattresses with sleeping bags. I have yet to hear a complaint.

Your hobbies. Some hobbies are space-consuming. Examples include painting and crafts, baking, making music, listening to music (my parents had a friend who devoted a big room of his house to that), collections (the same friend also devoted a room to his rock and mineral collection), sports, outdoor activities, etc. In our house, even if we try to keep it simple, the camping equipment, the sports equipment, and the books do require extra storage. We also have a piano. That being said, we have gotten rid of anything sports/camping that we did not use, we try and store the remaining in space-efficient ways, and I am in the process of rethinking by book ownership.

Your work. If you have a home-based business, you will need space for your work supplies. Although your home office might not have to be that big and that full. 

Perfect temporary "home office" for the summer.
JSM, 2015

Your property. Whether I like it or not, I need a place to put the lawnmower and other gardening materials. Land requires a certain amount of maintenance.

Your style. Well, if you enjoy big, tall furniture, life-size statues, medieval armors and the like, you will need space to put them! A more space efficient and still aesthetic choice might be to opt for small, decluttered space, with light colors and big windows.


With school starting in less than 3 weeks, we had to go shopping for school supplies. This year, I tried to reuse everything that had been salvaged from last year: backpacks, lunch bags, some pencils/crayons/erasers are still perfectly good. Why replace them? Same for clothes. It's a trend to buy back-to-school clothes each year, but why? My children's wardrobes are overflowing with good quality items that still fit; therefore, I will only replace the occasional piece they really need.

The main purchase has been shoes. Indoor shoes, outdoor shoes (two different pairs as per school regulation), rain boots, winter boots (some companies now conveniently make boots that can be used for both). Good shoes are important and one of the rare things I will not buy used (unless it looks like it was never worn).

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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  1. I definitely agree with you when you say " Good shoes are important and one of the rare things I will not buy used" ...

    The school holidays pass by so quickly, it will soon be Autumn (Fall)

    Have a good week.

    All the best Jan

    1. Luckily, few things "need" to be of the best quality/new/expensive! :-)

  2. Some people also consider what type and size of the house will sell better when buying a home.

    When I paid off my mortgage I started having extra money at the end of the month.

    I built a three bedroom house with a two car garage. If I was to do it again, I'd do a two bedroom house with a three car garage.

    1. Interesting! It's about your priorities AND resale value. If I was to do it again, I'd buy a sailboat and live on it. Maybe one day... :-)

  3. Oh, this, Julie --> 'I am noticing more and more unused space in the house, to the point where I'm questioning whether it might be too big.'

    What a delightful goal. It's reachable. That I truly believe.

    And your summer office is absolutely divine.

    I'm so resonating with you!


    1. Thank you for commenting Linda! One step at a time, toward a clutter free house... and life! :-)

  4. The decluttering continues, we had a garage sale this past weekend and what didn't sell when to the thrift shop. It always feels good to have a 'chuckin' out day'.,

  5. SO INTERESTING as that is exactly where I am right now.
    SO PARED DOWN the house feels loose.
    like a loose hug :-)

  6. We made the grave mistake of purchasing too big of a house. The baby's crib was in the living room at our old house so we were overzealous to have space! Taking a minimalist approach now, we have a mass amount of unused space and rooms. Definitely kicking ourselves now! You live and you learn though!