Going Tiny in a Very Small Way

In a few weeks I will celebrate the third anniversary of moving into my current home. This most recent move, from Salem, Oregon, was the fifth in my fifteen years of marriage, and I’m sincerely hoping it is the last for a while. I’d like to let my sons go through school with a consistent group of friends. I’d like to think that when someone asks them where they are from originally, they might know how to answer. And despite all the bad press of the last few years, St. Louis is a wonderful place and we are very happy to be living so near our favorite city.

But lately I’ve also been thinking about the one big disadvantage of staying put. Because I’ve become obsessed with the television shows that highlight the tiny house movement. There are several different ones, but each focuses in on a person, or couple, or sometimes even pretty good size family that is looking to either build or buy a home that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 square feet or less.

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Tiny house. Big bludgeoning risk. photo credit: IMG_6224 via photopin (license)

I’ve tried for a long time to figure out what appeals to me about these shows. I know for certain that I do NOT wish to live in such a home. As much as I love my family, if I had to live on top of them every minute of every day, someone would get accidentally bludgeoned to death.

I think the reason these shows appeal to me so much is because of the stories of the people. Almost all of them say the reason they want to “go tiny” is, in part, because they want to rid themselves of the extra stuff in their lives and live more freely with less.

Doesn’t that sound amazing? So I’m a little scared to not be looking ahead to a move now that it’s been a few years, because every time we pack up to move, we pare down. And it’s amazing.

Without a move looming, the drawers are getting a little cluttered, the closets a little crowded, and the tower of boxes in the basement of outgrown clothes and toys and books that should be donated is beginning to teeter dangerously.

I’m afraid if this goes much longer, we risk becoming like Homer and Langley Collyer, a well-to-do pair of brothers that lived together in their family’s 5th Avenue Harlem mansion, along with all the leftover equipment from their deceased father’s medical practice, the possessions from their deceased mother’s separate house, stacks and stacks of newspapers, and fourteen pianos.

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So my closets don’t look like this. Yet. photo credit: bric-a-brac via photopin (license)

On March 21, 1947 the police received a call about a smell of decay emanating from the house. They dug their way in and discovered Homer Collyer dead. Nearly a month later, workers uncovered the body of Langley Collyer, crushed under the junk. Around 120 tons of debris was eventually removed from the house. The few salvageable things fetched $2000 at auction and the dangerous house was razed, making way for the small Collyer Brother’s Park at the corner of 128th and 5th Avenue.

There’ve been attempts to have the park renamed, in order to honor someone or something perhaps more noble than the famous hoarders, but as then NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe pointed out, “Not all history is pretty — and many New York children were admonished by their parents to clean their room ‘or else you’ll end up like the Collyer brothers.’”

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A teetering tower of donations. But no pianos, so that’s something.

I think it’s safe to assume there were some underlying pathological issues that led to the lifestyle and tragic demise of the Collyers, but I’m going to try to learn a lesson from them anyway. I’m not facing an impending move, and because I love my family and would hate to have to bludgeon them, I am not going to attempt to live in 400 square feet.

But what I am going to do is make a concerted effort to pare down as if we were planning a big change. Call it my 2016 resolution if you will. I will sort out the junk drawers, reorganize the closets, and haul off that teetering tower of donation boxes.  I will rid myself of the extra stuff and live more freely with less.

And it will feel amazing.

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13 thoughts on “Going Tiny in a Very Small Way

  1. I live in a tiny house – not one of those really, really tiny – but something around half the size of anything I have previously lived in. It can be a challenge and it has meant on-going decluttering. Over five years I have divested myself of most of the stuff that is excess to a life style that is getting simpler and better organised. I still live with beautiful things around me – but everything is there for a reason. I did find it challenging at first and often wondered if I had done the right thing. But then my daughter arrived to stay for a year and that had the effect of the old folk tale of dissatisfaction, you know the one that goes ‘the house isn’t big enough’. Then add in more furniture, more food, a cow, a horse, the goat………. live with that a while, then remove them one by one and what do you have? A home of the perfect size 🙂 I do love living without all that excess stuff – it makes me feel free and light in the oddest kind of way……….

    1. I’m so glad to hear that is working for you. It does sound very appealing to me, but with a (kind of sloppy) husband and two growing boys in my home, I’m thinking I’m not ready for it at this stage in my life. Maybe someday…

  2. Egads. You got me counting up my moves. Nine during this marriage, ten during the previous one. Add two more in between and at least nine as a child. No wonder that as we have been here for 5 1/2 years now I feel a little wanderlust, unwelcome as it may be. I don’t want to leave St Charles per se but would like a little change. Maybe.

    We also watch all the tiny house shows. I have lived in very small tight spaces but now I like to spread out just a tad. Have my own office. A kitchen that offers some privacy for disasters and dirty dishes. Meals are better if I’m not distracted.

    I congratulate you on this anniversary. And I feel relieved that your family is safe, piano and bagpipes included!

    1. Oh my. You have me beat! We are feeling that pull, too, but like you, really do want to stay where we are. I think we will do so at least until son number 2 graduates. That’s the plan anyway. We’ll throw a big celebration when we make it past four years here, as that is our record.

  3. I have moved 11 times in the last 14 years – even changed countries twice. The first move, everything fitted into the trunk of the car. Last time we had two huge removal trucks! It’s not all my fault: I play the piano! It’s also the result of renting rather than owning: landlords put their houses on the market the minute you finish tidying their properties up!

    1. I would love to be able to move all my stuff in the trunk of my car. It’s always big trucks for us, though we certainly fill more space in them than we used to. We even sold the piano before our last move and then replaced it on this end. Still only one, though. And it’s tuned!

  4. hi sarah – thanks for reading and following my words. i really like your blog and look forward to doing the same. p.s. i am a tiny house show addict as well. i live in a pretty small house/cottage, but at 950 feet, my house is huge in comparison! best, beth

  5. Hi Sarah. An Irish singer-songwriter called Declan O’Rourke wrote a song about the Collyer brothers called ‘Langley’s Requiem’. It’s a very weirdly lovely song, if you want to look it up. I’ve been waiting for years to put this fact in a comment on the Internet, so you’ll understand how excited I am that the wait is finally over. I’m going to go to bed now.

  6. Pingback: On the Origin of Clutter by Means of Accidental Collection, or the Preservation of Favoured Artwork in the Struggle for Back to School Organization – thepracticalhistorian

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