Two Plus Years and I Haven't Gone Crazy Yet — Lessons Learned from Living Small
I moved into my 700-square-foot cottage (also known as an accessory dwelling unit or ADU) two and a half years ago. I have to admit, there are times when I dream of having another room or another closet, but overall I don’t miss living in a large house. If you dream of downsizing to a smaller place, there will be trade-offs as well as advantages. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
It’s a dream to clean
I have no love of house cleaning, much as I’ve tried. I’d rather someone else does it, but this place is too small to justify a housekeeper, especially when I can clean the place top to bottom in a couple hours. My strategy is to keep it simple. I only have one rug that I keep by the door and it’s machine washable. I don’t own a real vacuum or a broom, just a battery powered Swiffer Sweeper that works great on the hardwood floors. By limiting the number of decorative items I have out, it keeps the house looking uncluttered and makes dusting easier.
It’s saving me money
My utility bills are much lower, especially since my house is new and very well insulated. My electricity averages $56 a month and gas $21 a month. Water/sewer is split with my renters in the main house. Water is expensive in Portland and keeps going up. I pay around $70 a month. I pay the trash collection for both the main house and my accessory dwelling unit, which is $38 a month. So utilities total around $185 a month. (Keep in mind Portland’s typical utilities cost is roughly $24 above the national average.) Based on what I paid when I lived in the main house in 2018 and figuring in a five percent increase, I’m saving around $150 a month.
Less stuff is freedom
The biggest advantage of living small is having less stuff to store, organize and maintain. It’s freeing. Over the last two and a half years I have continued to downsize and streamline in every area. Consistent purging has become a ritual. I’ve gone from having over 250 items of clothing to less than 100 and as I’m losing weight and phasing out the color black, I hope to be down to 75 or less pieces by next year.
I’m still in the process of purging more old tax files, magazines, cards, letters and miscellaneous paperwork. Ninety percent of my financial and medical paperwork going forward is saved electronically, which takes up a lot less space.
There’s nothing I can do in a larger house that I can’t do in a smaller house
I can still have sit-down dinners for 10 and entertain even more on my patio. I don’t have a guest room, but guests are plenty comfortable sleeping in my living room.
There’s no dedicated space for crafts and projects, but as soon as I clear off the second desk in my office, I’ll have more room for temporary projects.
I don’t need a lot and I have less desire for more things
There must be some kind of law that if you have the space you will fill it. When I lived in a big house, I was a constant accumulator, shopping for stuff for the house — often stuff I really didn’t need. Pretty soon every space was filled including the attic, basement and garage. Filled with things I thought I might need some day and then completely forget about. It’s the reason I don’t want to build a storage shed.
I still enjoy a yard sale now and then, a trip through Ross and Home Goods and the occasional antique store, but I don’t come home with much. For one, there’s no room for bringing home another tchotchke. In a small house, my aim is to curate the space, editing it down to its essence — to what truly matters to me — and to leave space to breathe. If I do buy something it’s usually a well-deserved upgrade, like better sheets or a more powerful blender. The older item goes immediately to Goodwill.
Less house equals more life
The best part of living small is that with less to clean and maintain, I have more time to devote to friends, family and my writing.
Sure, there are days I wish I had one more closet, a dedicated space for craft projects and another bedroom for guests. But living small helps me keep life simple, and living simple is what makes me happy.
Have questions about downsizing or moving to a smaller home? Write them below in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer.