Seven months ago, I moved out of a spacious, shared three-bedroom townhouse to live with my boyfriend in a 275-square-foot one-bedroom apartment. I went from having extra storage in the garage to sharing a single dresser and a microscopic closet. Space is tight, but I’ve never been happier. Here’s why.
Why do we have so much stuff?
I’ve always had a tenuous relationship to stuff. As a child, I loved taking all of my books off the shelf and rearranging them. New clothes or toys were exciting, but I also loved a good closet cleanout. For years, I would spend an afternoon filling up a couple of bags to donate, only for things to quickly creep back in.
It wasn’t until my closet collapsed under the sheer weight of my stuff not once, but twice, in a matter of weeks at the end of my junior year of college that I finally had enough. While staring into the abyss of my possessions, I realized I didn’t want to live like this anymore. It wasn’t just exhausting to have to constantly put it all back in place. I was tired of moving it, digging through it, and organizing it. I hated feeling like my dorm room was being swallowed alive by me and my roommates’ stuff.
Over the next five years, I got rid of more than 75 percent of my stuff. The last big push came before my boyfriend and I moved in together. With each box I donated, and every item I sold, I got more and more relaxed and a little giddy.
Clearing the clutter and massively downsizing has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made. I’ll never go back to being buried by stuff. Downsizing has given me so much more than I have given up.
5 benefits of downsizing
1. I’ve gained space to relax and peace of mind
Clutter makes me anxious. A messy desk makes me feel unfocused, and my brain often matches the state of my bedroom floor.
I’m not alone. A study from UCLA found that women’s stress increased when they talked about the stuff in their homes and what to do with all of it. With a booming storage industry and best-selling decluttering books, it’s no surprise that our stuff makes us anxious. Clutter overstimulates the brain and makes it hard to focus, according to a study from Princeton University.
I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel calm and at ease as soon as I walk in our front door. The counter is clear, and the floor is picked up. Our home is a respite, not a cause of stress. There’s no visual chaos or overwhelming piles of things. It’s now a place to let go and rest.
2. I have more time
Downsizing and free time don’t seem related at first glance, but they are strongly linked. Our smaller home eats up less of our time. I spend less time cleaning, organizing, and maintaining our home than ever before. It only takes us 30 minutes once a week to clean the place top to bottom. My roommates and I couldn’t even tackle the downstairs in that amount of time before.
We also spend our time differently now. Instead of crashing on the couch for a marathon TV session, we read books, chat, and get out of the house more.
Our 27-inch TV and smaller couch are partly responsible, but we’re also much more aware of how we spend our time now. We move about the space differently and actually use it all instead of spending 80 percent of our time awake in a single room.
3. I’ve changed my relationship to stuff
I’m less enticed by new things than I used to be. I don’t get the same excitement and eventual letdown from buying things. We use almost everything that we own regularly. In doing so, I’ve realized that things are meant to be used, not kept in perfect condition. Our possessions serve a purpose: They are useful and bring us comfort, inspiration, or joy.
4. I’ve cut down on shopping
I’m not a big shopper, but downsizing has cut my shopping to next to nothing. I will often sit on a purchase for months before actually buying it. Space is at a premium, and I have to be absolutely sure it’s worth buying. To make things fit, something else usually has to go, and I’m just not willing to make the trade.
We don’t have room to store anything else, so we borrow what we need from friends and family more often and share what we have, too. Not only do we not have to spend money on an item, we also get to see our loved ones more. Everybody wins.
5. I’ve improved my relationship
My boyfriend and I are even closer than before. Sure, moving into a larger space together may also have done that to some degree, but living in a small space has taught us a lot about each other and our relationship. We’ve had to physically make room for the other person and what they want. And in doing so we got to the heart of our priorities and desires.
We’ve learned to laugh at the frustrating moments — like when the single 2-by-2-foot piece of kitchen counter isn’t big enough for both of us — instead of turning on each other. There’s no room to storm off or hide your feelings, no space for resentment or anger. We communicate better, mostly because we spend less time distracted by our stuff and more time actually listening and engaging with one another.
The bottom line
We chose to live here. The small space is a strong reminder of what’s important to me and what I’m willing to give up. This tiny apartment allows me to spend more time with my boyfriend, lets me pursue the things that I love, and gives me the ability to travel more. This feeling of intention, choice, and purpose gives me a greater sense of control over my life and its uncertainties.
Downsizing also made my priorities clear. My stuff speaks volumes even if it doesn’t take up much space. All of the things I chose to keep reflect what matters to me most — health and fitness, reading, writing, and time with friends and family.
The only downside? There’s nothing for me to organize anymore when I’m bored or itching for a quick project. Everything is already in its place.