Challenge Update: Minimalism

Awhile ago I blogged about the challenge I’m taking on by moving into a 400 square foot house. I’ve never had to live in a such a small space before, and while living in the furnished bachelor apartment for the past six months was a good crash course on minimalism, I’m still learning loads every time I go to clean my house and find, yet again, that there’s no place to put everything. The one recurring theme to my house in the past month has been how quickly the clutter gets out of control.

This past weekend I dedicated to tackling the growing pile of stuff in every corner of my house. We’ve been completely unpacked for about a month now, but it seems like every trip we take, every time we go to get the mail, and every house project we take on, we manage to accumulate a few things that have no business being inside our house.

It took most of the weekend, but I’m happy to say that, at least for the moment,  my small house is organized with the majority of the clutter out of sight. It took some creativity on my part, and while I was at it I learned a few tricks to keeping my minimalist space organized:

Use Storage Creatively

My small kitchen design has very little storage. There’re two shelves, six cabinets, and one drawer. My laundry room, on the other hand, has loads of storage. As a result everything that isn’t directly used for cooking every day or isn’t food is now housed in the laundry room. This includes dish towels, rags, phone books, light bulbs, my huge stainless steel simmering pot and my crock pot. Even the bulk dog food that I bought has been banished to storage in the laundry room, with only a small container making it into the kitchen.

The result is a much less congested kitchen (hello counter space!) and a moderately full laundry room. I know I’m not going to get sick of walking back and forth because even though they’re on opposite ends of the house, they’re still only about 20 feet away from each other. Keeping my kitchen minimalist is a challenge, but unfortunately one that I have no choice but to accept or risk losing my sanity.

I Only Keep On Hand What I’ll Use

Although the house is small, we’re very lucky to have a large garage/workshop in the backyard and a loft space above the kitchen. So another rule I came up with: if I don’t use it everyday, into storage it goes. This freed up a lot of space as I (ok well my fiancée) moved wine making gear (carboys take up a lot of space!) suitcases, books, and leftover electric fence gear into the loft space. I also did a quick sweep and managed to fill a box of odds and ends that have migrated from the garage to the house including three hammers, a box of nails, a lantern, and two tape measures. The few times a year we need that stuff, it’s not far away, until then, away it goes.

I had two of those in my laundry room, that’s precious wasted space!

As for everything that I no longer use (and after having the entire contents of my apartment in storage for eight months, trust me, there was a lot), a few weeks ago my fiancée dropped off an entire Volkswagen full of boxes to our nearest charity. Everything we dropped off was in good condition, we just didn’t need it any more. Rather than dither about whether to get rid of it, we just bit the bullet and said goodbye. It felt great!

Think Vertically With Storage, Free Up Floor Space!

Nothing makes a small space look cluttered like stuff on the floor. Once all of those unused books were carted off into storage, I took the opportunity to banish some unusual items to my shelves, including a cat bed, a basket that contains remote controls and video game controllers, along with a big change jar and catch-all bowl. With those items tucked away into a book shelf instead of piled on every surface, the main living space just looked simpler.

Have a System for Day to Day Clutter

I haven’t quite figured this out yet but I know I need to address it if I’m really going to get into the minimalist groove. One of the biggest issues with clutter in my house (and I’m sure many others) is how to deal with the day to day clutter that creeps into my house. I’m talking about junk mail, letters, bills, magazines, leaf lets, and just general stuff that shouldn’t even make it across the threshold. It’s this kind of STUFF that makes me want to just pick it all up and chuck it onto the lawn for the crows.

I’m still working on that, but I suspect it has something to do with the “flow” of our house and some key bottle necks.

Staying organized in a small space is tough, but with the help of minimalism and some creative storage techniques, I’m proud to say that, for the moment, my house is organized.

How do you stay on top of the clutter? Have you ever lived in such a small space before? I want to know!

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  • Lauren Bee

    I LOVE any and all posts associated with clutter. We are trying to pare down our furnishing even more after a cross country move. Even though it can get expensive, items from the container store help corale our clutter and make me feel better. It also makes me feel like our house is larger. I spend the most money on hooks for the closet/bathroom walls…my answer for everything is to hang things on a hook. Great post!

    • JordannK

      I totally agree that buying storage is a godsend. It makes things easier and makes the most of what little space we have, the previous tenant at our house left behind a bunch of storage that had been purchased specifically for the place, which I’m very happy about!

  • Budget & the Beach

    Have you ever checked out They have great decorating ideas for small spaces. Anyway, I hate clutter too. My place isn’t huge but it’s always tidy. Sometimes my closet in my bathroom can get a little cluttered with product, but at least no one sees it. I even have a garage they I let friends use to store some stuff, and I rent out the main part as a parking spot. Win! 

    • JordannK

      I love apartment therapy! It always gives me great inspiration on small space living, even if I go a little green with envy over the gorgeous house tours.

      That’s awesome that you’re able to rent out the extra space, I’m not sure I’d be disciplined enough to do that, I’d probably find a way to fill it up!

  • frugalportland

    great post! I live in a small space, though it’s just me living there, so I don’t run across problems. My best advice is to always keep my bed made — that makes the whole thing look cleaner.

    • JordannK

      Definitely! The bedroom is 1/2 the living space so the bed MUST be made, it helps that Molly sneaks onto the bed when we’re gone so if we don’t want doggy hairs in the bed we have to keep it made.

  • Modest Money

    It sounds like quite a challenge to get a house that small clutter-free.  I don’t like letting clutter build up either, but looking around my desk I just have so much random crap laying around.  I don’t know if I’d be able to live in a 400 square foot house.  I just don’t know what I’d do with all of my stuff.  Can you see yourself living in a space that size long term?

    • JordannK

      We’re planning on living there for the foreseeable future, until we’re ready for home ownership which isn’t going to be for a long time, but I wouldn’t buy a house this size, too claustrophobic.

  • Miss T

    I am also a fan of vertical storage. The cool thing is with so many different options now you can make vertical storage a focus point in the room and have it look good instead of messy. I love those wall shelves that give you nooks to keep stuff in. 

    • JordannK

      Definitely! We have one big tall bookcase in our apartment and it serves as a shelf and the back is a coat rack,very useful!

  • See Debt Run

    I don’t think our house is too small for us, but clutter is still something I fight all the time with 3 kids!  If I’m doing laundry, for example, it ends up on the couch…because we don’t have a laundry room.  It drives me crazy.  Never ending…

    • JordannK

      That’s what happens to my mail/papers, I currently have no mail organizing system, so on the kitchen table it goes! So messy.

  • Debt Free Teen

    It’s great reading about how you are making this work. Thanks for your honesty! Most of my stuff fits in a couple of suitcases but I’m sure I will accumulate more as time goes by. I guess the key is to keep purging every so often.

    • JordannK

      Purging often is definitely the key, it keeps the clutter creep at bay. I wish all of my stuff could fit in a few suitcases! If I didn’t include furniture and kitchenware, it probably could.

  • Marissa

    I hate clutter. I hate it with a passion, so I’ve spent many hours at Home Depot looking at/ buying storage units to minimize clutter. 

    Vertical is the way to go.

    • JordannK

      I look up storage options on the internet in my spare time, it’s a weird obsession.

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter

    I’m on a kick to make more storage right now.  I should send you a list of my currently projects.  Here’s a few though: set a corkboard on the inside of a cabinet door, make one of those mesh and S-hook jewelry racks inside my bathroom cabinet door, and possibly make these drawers in the kitchen toekick space.–increase-kitchen-storage  

    • JordannK

      It’s little projects like that, that definitely help us get the most out of our homes, I wish I was as ambitious as you!