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What I learned from living a bigger life in a smaller space

Less is best.

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HILA PELEG
  • Hila Peleg

I blame Marie Kondo.

I was sitting on the kitchen floor, surrounded by kitchen utensils. After deciding that I only needed one cheese grater, I held each of my three cheese graters up to my heart, as the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up advocates, and pondered which one brought me the most joy. It was a moment of truth, spurred by the sudden clarity that there is only so much joy a cheese grater can afford, and that it is not directly proportionate to the number of cheese graters one owns. I started to ask the Big Questions. How did I end up with all this stuff? Do I really need a garlic press? Is this really how I want to be spending my time?

Back then, my husband and I were owners of a large home in Halifax’s most cookie-cutter ’burb. When we bought the place, we cringed a little at the cliche but were won over by its proximity to schools and its granite countertops. Seven years and two kids later, though, we were feeling the itch: We seemed to be spending too much of our time cleaning, mowing and working to pay our proportionately sizeable mortgage.



Inspired by my KonMarie phase and all things minimalism, we decided to downsize. I wanted to be able to turn my side hustle into full-time self-employment. We both wanted to be able to spend more time with our kids, and we wanted to free up our finances for more travel and adventure. It took us an embarrassingly long time to realize that rather than trying to make more money, we should be exploring how we might spend less. The first thing on the chopping block was the cash we were shelling out to keep a roof over our heads.

Our new place is nearly 2,000 square feet smaller than our former suburban spot and we’ve learned that moving to a smaller space is a little more complex than the hip tiny home idyll would have us believe. If you’re thinking about downsizing, or reorienting your life away from the collection of material things, here are the things you need to know.

You’re going to have to get rid of stuff you actually like. Duplicate cheese graters aside, when you’re squeezing yourself into a smaller piece of real estate, you’re likely going to have to re-home some of the stuff you actually love. Even the most zen-like de-clutterers have more attachments to material things than they realize, or would like to admit. My advice? Go gently. Try putting some things in storage for a little while, and you may be more ready to part ways in a few months.

You’re going to feel claustrophobic for a while. Small spaces are, in fact, small. Before you discover the magical world of space-saving hacks, you’re going to feel like the proverbial bull in a china shop. You’ll realize you still have too much stuff, and you’ll be making offerings to the Febreze gods now that your entire household shares one bathroom. But here’s the thing: Living in a smaller space offers us the opportunity to spend more time actually with our co-habitants, and also a chance to get out of the house and be a part of the community or the land around us. This is the time to take advantage of it.

You might need to find some hobbies. With fewer floors to mop and a smaller housing bill to pay, you’re going to end up with extra time on your hands. This was the point, right? It’s time to grab the bull by the horns and get clear on how you really want to be living now that you’ve taken the first brave step toward rejigging the way you spend your valuable money, time and energy.

You had it all along, Dorothy. On your first post-downsize foray to your favourite secondhand store, it’s going to hit you. Getting rid of so much stuff snaps you into a visceral sense of abundance: It’s the ultimate cure for the consumerist mentality that we all fall victim to. Rather than feeling a nagging sense of lack or the desire for more or better, the process of downsizing will make you realize that you have more than you could possibly need. You had it all along, my dear.


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