Downsizing E-Course Kicks Off in January

Downsizing E-Course Kicks Off in January

If you're ready to take a good look at your Stuff, this e-course is for you. We'll address our relationship with Stuff, discuss needs and wants to figure out what really matters, set priorities, and evaluate our possessions. We'll identify old habits and clutter magnets and tackle problem areas in our homes. Then we'll develop organizational systems and new habits to reduce clutter. And the best part is you'll get to do this with the encouragement of other people who are embarking on a similar journey.

Downsizing E-Course Kicks Off in September

Downsizing E-Course Kicks Off in September

If you're ready to take a good look at your Stuff, this e-course is for you. We'll address our relationship with Stuff, discuss needs and wants to figure out what really matters, set priorities, and evaluate our possessions. We'll identify old habits and clutter magnets and tackle problem areas in our homes. Then we'll develop organizational systems and new habits to reduce clutter. And the best part is you'll get to do this with the encouragement of other people who are embarking on a similar journey.

Last Call for Downsizing E-Course


It has been so much fun to see students getting psyched for the upcoming Downsizing E-Course! If you'd like to get in on this round of the Downsizing E-Course, please register today so that you can get started on your first challenge! You'll find the course description below.  

02 Lina & Stuff


Special Deal: Sign up with an accountability buddy and you both get $10 off when you sign up and for each week that BOTH OF YOU complete the downsizing challenge, you’ll EACH earn a $10 rebate. This means that if you complete all 6 challenges you can earn $60 back in addition to your original $10 rebate! That’s right. This class will literally PAY YOU BACK if you do the assignments. But it only works if you BOTH do your challenge, so be sure to encourage each other along!

What if were surrounded only by the things and people you love best? What if you had just the right amount of stuff and liked it all? What if you were cheered on throughout your downsizing process?

If you're ready to take a good look at your Stuff, this e-course is for you. We'll address our relationship with Stuff, discuss needs and wants to figure out what really matters, set priorities, and evaluate our possessions. We'll identify old habits and clutter magnets and tackle problem areas in our homes. Then we'll develop organizational systems and new habits to reduce clutter. And the best part is you'll get to do this with the encouragement of other people who are embarking on a similar journey.

In this seven-week series, we'll cover everything from keeping track of our keys to developing a wardrobe of clothes we love. This seven-week e-course will include a weekly lesson, a weekly challenge, and a weekly check-in with your fellow downsizers. The January course begins on January 17 and runs through February 28. Check-ins are Sunday evenings at 5pm PST (8PM EST). 

Please note, the reading materials for this course's lessons will cost approximately $30 if you purchase them. They're great books and I still have them on my e-reader. Of course, you're encouraged to check them out from your local library to save money and space. (See, less Stuff!)

Hello Again, Less Is More!

2015-03-15 20.12.56I'm back in snowy Vermont for more Yestermorrow goodness. I spent my weekend in the Design-Building a Successful Design-Build Business class, taught by Adam Cohen. He was a wealth of information and wisdom and I learned just as much from my classmates who were quick with questions and ideas. Last night we started up another round of Less Is More: Designing the Small or Tiny House. I'm honored to be teaching with Dave Cain who is a creative designer, a bicycle adventurer, and an all-around great guy!

Last night we kicked-off class with introductions, complete with inspirational imagery and then we launched into our first design project. The photos in the gallery are the result of that exercise. We have an action-packed week lined up, including tiny house tours, programming, intro to drafting, presentations, and lots of (but never enough) studio time. Final presentations will be all day on Friday and I'm already eager to see what this creative bunch will come up with!

Follow along this week on our adventures! Meanwhile, you can read about last year's class here: Welcome to Less Is More, Less Time, More Drafting, and Less Is More Presentations.

Portland Tribune Article: How Hard is it to Live with Less?

a photo of me and Raffi taken in the Sweet Pea by Jaime Valdez of the Portland Tribune A couple weeks ago I was interviewed by Peter Korn of the Portland Tribune. (My first feature in the Trib in April 2012 was called Home Tiny Home by Jason Vondersmith.)

I met Peter while tabling for the Breathe Building at Portland's Earth Day Festival and we got to talking about micro housing and downsizing. He told me he's been doing articles that address these topics and wanted to pick my brain. (You can also check out his recent article about whether people living small give up their cars.)

So we met up in a coffee shop for a chat. Peter also talked to my friends and fellow tiny house dwellers Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens and Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings. Today the article we were interviewed for came out in the Portland Tribune. It's called How Hard is it to Live with Less? Here's an excerpt:

Two hundred things seems about right for Lina Menard. The Northeast Portland tiny house resident has tried for a few years to live with less stuff. She teaches workshops in downsizing. She thinks living with fewer material possessions is not only responsible from an ecological point of view, but frees her to live a happier, more meaningful life.

And yes, her “200 things” has a little bit of cheat in it. She counts her jewelry box as one item, even though there are about 30 pieces of jewelry inside. Her bike counts as one, though it has paniers, a water bottle and lights that could be considered separate items. A truer count of her possessions, Menard says, would be more like 577. But that’s not the point.

Menard used to live in a nice, two-bedroom house before she took the 200 Things Challenge, her version of the “100 Thing Challenge,” inspired by Dave Bruno’s 2010 book about living a simple life with only 100 possessions. So she had stuff she had to lose. And getting rid of stuff, she says, is hard.

For example, there was her grandmother’s fur coat. Menard had worn it to high school dances and the coat was associated with all sorts of pleasant memories. Still, it had to go. So Menard discarded the coat in a way that would attach a new meaning to it. Research revealed that the Humane Society of the United States accepts fur coats to help in its wildlife rescue program, the fur comforting cubs of the same species.

“It seemed like an appropriate choice because it kind of sent the fur back where it should have been,” Menard says.

Most of us are surrounded by thousands of material possessions, only a few of which deliver pleasure, say academic researchers and downsizing experts such as Menard. In her Less is More workshop, Menard has encountered young couples intrigued by tiny house living as well as baby boomers transitioning from houses to apartments and lives with more travel.

So why is it so hard to downsize?

Portland is part of the problem. Yes, the city is a national center for the tiny house movement and as an adjunct, the

living-with-less ethic. But that means there’s also a lot of free stuff here.

“Especially in Portland, you don’t have to buy things to acquire a lot,” Menard says. “Learning to say no to free things is actually a challenge.”

On the other hand, the popularity of tiny houses and micro-apartments here, and the many communal efforts such as the city’s tool libraries, make Portland a leader in living with less. One lesson Menard says she’s learned is that an Oregon-style conscience can get in the way of downsizing.

“The process wasn’t so much about tearing myself away from possessions as it was trying to figure out a way for them to be somewhere else,” she says. “I was responsible for these things, and because of my environmental ethic, I didn’t want to throw things away unless they were truly garbage.”

Downsizing became an emotional process for Menard, and an analytical one. Throughout each day, before moving into her 121-square-foot tiny house, she was mentally prioritizing every object she owned. She was just 27, not old enough, she thought, to have accumulated much.

“But it was still amazing to me how many things I had that I had never intended to own and how few of them had meaning and how few of them had a story,” she says. She took photographs of objects that did have meaning but were still destined for a new location. Among the items that made her 200 things cut: the blanket she had as a child, a hammock from Costa Rica, her laptop and cell phone, one mattress, one pressure cooker, and a favorite teacup she had brought back from Prague.

Niche Design & Decluttering Workshops

Two years ago I downsized from a 2-bedroom bungalow to a tiny house on wheels. A year ago I downsized again to a 12-ft diameter yurt and embarked upon My 200 Things Challenge. These days I live in a 130 square foot tiny house on wheels and I've made space-efficient housing both my livelihood and my lifestyle. I've quit counting my possessions, but I'm mindful everyday of What My 200 Things Challenge Taught Me. Now I'm excited to offer a 1-day Tiny House Design Workshop to help people new to design capture their tiny homes and a Decluttering Workshop series to share the tips and tricks that have helped me in my right-sizing journey. Please join me for one of these workshops if you're interested in the Little Life!

Tiny House Design Workshop

If you want to design your own tiny house but you've never designed anything before this workshop is for you! In this 1-day workshop we'll cover programming, bubble diagramming, basic drafting techniques, floor plans, elevations, and design considerations for tiny spaces. You'll leave with a design concept for your tiny house and the techniques you need to capture the desired look and feel. Appropriate for design newbies whether they plan to do their own design or hire a designer. Register for the Tiny House Design Workshop through Niche Consulting LLC.

Unstuff Your Holidays: A Decluttering Workshop

Are you dreading the accumulation that always happens during the Holiday Season? Do you already feel like you have too much stuff? If you want to focus on your family and friends instead of your stuff this holiday season, this workshop is for you. We'll address our relationship with stuff, discuss needs and wants to figure out what really matters, set priorities, and evaluate our possessions. We'll identify old habits and clutter magnets and tackle problem areas in our homes. Then we'll develop organizational systems and new habits to reduce clutter. In this 1-day workshop, we'll cover everything from keeping track of our keys to developing a wardrobe full of clothes we love. Register for Unstuff Your Holidays through Niche Consulting LLC.

Taking Stock Without Stocking Up

my new fuzzy slippers One of the things I could really relate with as I read The 100 Thing Challenge book (on my Kindle, of course!) was the chapter about how we often own many different items that serve similar purposes because none of the items is just right. As I was Inventorying & Packing Up my things because I was Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House, I got rid of several items that weren’t quite right, hoping to eventually replace them with things that were just right. I’ve done a bit of that replacing but I’ve also realized that some of the things weren’t actually necessary. It seems that sometimes promising myself that I can replace it lets me part with something that I really didn’t need.

After doing a New Years’ Re-Inventory I realized that I wanted to do some clothes shopping. But I also knew that I was 14 items over on My 200 Things Challenge. In addition, over the past month I was gifted a travel spice kit by my aunt the gourmet cook, two beautiful hand-painted tiny bowls from my 10 year old cousin, a hand-printed Old School Stationers letterpress calendar, and a flax seed pillow which is My New Favorite Thing. I also bought myself a pair of cozy slippers to deal with the fact that my floors are chilly when the temps drop below freezing, even after Weatherizing the Yurt. (REI had exactly one pair of the slippers I wanted - they just so happened to be my size and on clearance. My lucky day!)

So today I decided to do a little CPR (categorizing, purging, and reorganizing) on my stuff. Here’s what happened:

taking the not so big life digital
taking the not so big life digital
  • I realized that I prefer having photos cycle through on my desktop to having photo frames sitting around the house, so I was able to part with a couple of my decorations.
  • I checked the Kindle store to see if any of my books were available electronically. I decided to go for a digital version of The Not So Big Life since it’s mostly text and very few pictures. I’ll pass my copy along to some tiny house friends and they can pass it on from there. I decided not to digitize Sarah Suzanka’s Home by Design even though it is available in a digital format because I love the pictures!
  • I noticed that I hadn’t worn my slacks very much this winter so I’ve decided to put them into purgatory. If I don’t feel like digging them back out I might not keep them!
  • I put the white board that has been living on my fridge into purgatory, too, since I usually keep my grocery list in my phone. But I didn’t get rid of it since it’s nice to have a white board when sharing a house and I hope to share a home with someone beloved again someday.
  • I purged my two sweatshirts since I rarely wear them. I ditched two pairs of shoes that were never quite right for me. I decided to replace a couple skirts and a sweater that didn’t suit me with something I liked better. (See The Minimalist’s New Clothes for more about my clothes shopping guidelines.)

things I've decided to keep even though I don't use them every week

I also took a critical look at some things I don’t use much. I suppose I could go down to one cutting board, but it’s nice to have two when cooking with a friend. I don’t use my travel mug often since I’m not a coffee drinker, but sometimes it’s awfully nice being able to bring hot tea or cocoa with me. I don’t use my yoga mat at home since I do yoga at the gym at the university and they supply mats there, but I’d like to have it for when I’m done with school in a few months. I don’t swim very often, but having a swimsuit and goggles still seems like a good idea. So after all this I got myself down to 197 Things. I decided that was good enough. I headed out to find The Minimalist’s New Clothes.

Getting All My Docs in a Row

As I explained in Strategizing Digitizing, my New Year's Resolution is to go paperless. After conducting my New Year's Re-Inventory yesterday and realizing that I'm over on My 200 Things Challenge I decided to get to work. I was a little horrified when I took inventory today and realized I had The Only Existing Copy of various electronic files stored in the following places:

  • my laptop computer,
  • my personal drive at school,
  • two different USB keys,
  • my back up hard drive,
  • Google docs,
  • Dropbox, and
  • a small collection of CD-Rs.

I used to have documents on floppy disks and a zip drive, too, but I tossed those years ago when I couldn’t find a computer which still accepted them. It was definitely time to consolidate! It doesn't make sense for a minimalist to have this many Little Pieces of Important Paper.

I haven’t yet added the documents from my personal drive at school, but I started with the documents that were handy. I dumped everything from my USB keys, back-up hard drive, and CDs onto my laptop. This involved borrowing an external CD drive since my MacBook Air doesn’t have a CD drive. (Note to self: when your computer has evolved beyond a storage technology, it’s time to catch up with it!)

I’d used various organizing schemes over the years so it took a little while to get everything sorted into a new filing system, but eventually I got there. I was surprised by how much I could archive. I do still feel compelled to keep much of it, but it’s not relevant to my daily life, so I don’t need it available there at a glance in the left-hand sidebar. It’s now nicely organized within my Archive folder and I can still get to it quickly if necessary. The folders I do seem to use on a regular basis are these:

  • Archives
  • Journal
  • Little Life
  • Recipes
  • Tiny Houses
  • a folder for each of my classes (which I add to the archive at the end of the term)

I’m still Strategizing Digitizing. Scanners are notoriously unreliable. Working with them has often given me more headaches than it’s worth. A friend of mine has a scanner he loves and he offered to loan it to me. So I took it home and messed around with scanner drivers for a while, but I never could get it to work for me. I looked into buying the brand and model he swears by, but I’m not in a place to spend upwards of $300 on a scanner right now. I considered buying a used scanner off Craigslist, but I couldn’t find one that would scan both sides of the page and I don’t have the patience to feed pages through. I think it would take me a week to scan all my documents and if it’s that cumbersome I’ll quickly abandon the habit. Anyone out there have a digitizing strategy they’d recommend?

Just Stuff

sister's quilt
sister's quilt

This time of year, as we consider what we are thankful for, I realize that this year I’m grateful that my relationship with stuff has shifted to make more room for people. To help you understand what I mean, let’s peek back in time…

When I was six years old we lived on Fremont Avenue in Seattle in an apartment that was created when a big historic home was subdivided. Whenever I took my bath in the claw-foot tub my mother would rinse my hair with her beloved clay pitcher. The pitcher was a lovely shade of pale blue-green with ochre accents. It was handmade by a professional potter and Mommy said it felt right in her hands. I could tell she appreciated the sensory experience of scooping warm water up with the pitcher and pouring it over my hair, shielding my eyes with her other hand. The pitcher had a special spot on stool next to the tub.

One evening when I climbed into my bubble bath Mommy told me she was going to make a phone call. She told me to holler when I was ready for help rinsing my hair. I’d recently entered kindergarten and as I learned what my peers were doing on their own I began trying my independence, attempting to do more things on my own. So I decided to rinse my own hair with Mommy’s special pitcher. So after washing my hair I stood up in the tub and reached over for the beautiful ceramic pitcher. It felt good in my hands, too. It was the perfect combination of smooth glaze and rippled edges, with a thick curved handle. I sat down carefully, clutching the pitcher with both hands and filled it with warm, soapy water. I tipped my head back to pour the warm water over my hair, but the pitcher was heavy and slippery and as a counter weight above my head it sent me shooting forwards in the tub with a squeal.

When the beautiful pitcher hit the back of the claw-foot tub, it broke into a dozen pieces and the water it contained splashed across the bathroom wall and floor. I burst into tears, clambered out of the tub, and began picking up the pieces. Mommy hurried into the bathroom and saw me there sobbing, holding the pieces of the broken pitcher in my tiny outstretched hands, water across every surface. She pulled me close and asked if I was okay. I kept crying, so disappointed with myself that in my attempt to be grown up and do something by myself I’d broken the pitcher she loved so much. My mother checked me over to see if my tears were an indicator of pain. When she realized I wasn’t physically hurt she clucked and shushed me until I could talk again.

“Why the tears?” she finally asked when I’d settled back down to a whimper.

I wailed: “You’re gonna be mad at me for breaking your favorite pitcher!”

“Oh, honey,” she said. “I’m disappointed the pitcher is broken, because I enjoyed using it. But I’m not going to be mad. The pitcher is just a thing. You’re much more important to me than a thing. I’m glad you’re okay.”

I’ve thought about this moment many times over the years, always a little in awe that my mother was so nonchalant about the broken pitcher. I think I’ve always been more materialistic than her. We moved around a lot when I was a kid and my things were very important to me because they helped to make each new and different place feel a little bit like home. I was especially attached to things that were one-of-a-kind and seemingly irreplaceable, like Mommy’s pitcher.

But recently I’ve begun to understand Mommy’s perspective better. The past year of living the Little Life has changed my relationship with material possessions. The downsizing process was difficult for me. It was emotionally exhausting and time consuming as I decided what objects I cherished and which I could live without. It was also a logic puzzle as I selected the objects that would be most important and functional in a small space. However, as I learned to let go of things that didn’t matter much to me I found that even my attachments to things I really love have loosened up. These days I’m more willing to loan things out and let things go.

Of course, there are some items that are truly irreplaceable. I would be disappointed if I broke the clay chicken my cousin gave me for Christmas and I'll be bummed when the quilt my sister made me becomes threadbare. But these are just things. I’ve come to realize that if I wear out a clothing item or break a dish I can replace it with something else that I like. Chances are it won’t be exactly the same, but that’s okay. I take good care of the things I own but I now recognize that objects have a lifespan, just like living things. Things will come into and leave my life the way people do. But now I really recognize that it’s the people who matter. The stuff is just stuff.

Inventorying & Packing Up

Since I knew I’d be moving twice this summer I figured the first move would give me a chance to do an inventory and the time in a new space would help me to evaluate what I really use. I’m now turning my attention to my second move, which means re-inventorying and beginning to pack up the things I won’t use in the next couple weeks. Since I’m Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House, I’ve got some tangible limits on what I’ll be able to bring with me. Here goes downsizing again! When I started My Things Challenge I initially planned to keep two separate lists of 100 things: personal items and household items. The guy named Dave who started the 100 Thing Challengeonly counted personal possessions among his 100 things. He counted his clothes, his car, his books, and his favorite pen, but he didn’t count any of the household items he shared with his partner and children. So, following in his footsteps, I was planning to keep a list of household items and separate list of personal possessions. (See my other rules at My Things Challenge: Who’s Counting Anyway?) But since I’m the only person in my household, I decided this week when I started inventorying that I’ll keep just one list. I’m curious to see what number I’ll pick, what my allowance will be. I've got a hunch I'll be picking a number higher than 100.

One hundred twenty-three things… and counting! (To find out what number I ended up with, click here.)