Downsizing Stuff, Super-sizing Life

by Jenna Brown   |   April 14, 2014


Once upon a time, I was a suburban housewife. I lived with my husband in a pretty house on a tree-lined street on the outskirts of Chicago. It wasn’t huge, but it netted us a couple thousand square feet of space. Since we didn’t have kids or pets, it felt exactly big enough for us to share—until we decided we no longer wanted to share our lives together.

Before I knew it, I had traded in my spacious suburban lifestyle for a tiny apartment in the city, my car for a transit pass, and long hours in rush-hour traffic for reading on the bustling El.

My new apartment is much smaller than my former house—probably about 500 square feet. It’s a tiny one-bedroom in Logan Square. The building is a little old, it has some quirks, and sometimes it feels kind of like a dorm. Still, I unabashedly love it here.

While downsizing can be a painful process for some, here are some steps I took to help make it more of an adventure and less of a painful parting with treasured things:

Look Critically at Your Stuff

In a way, I was lucky. I didn’t have to really downsize a whole house—just half of one. Still, I tried to go through my things with a critical eye.

One of the best parts of starting a new life is that you can look at all of your “stuff” and really think about it. Is it something that defined who you were, or does it continue to define who you are? Is it something that you actually use and love, or is it a thing you held on to because you felt obligated?

Only keep what truly matters to you and what you know you will actually use at least once a year. Everything else can be donated or sold.

Embrace Minimalism

I took a slightly different tack than many others do when they downsize and have to rely on storage for the overflow. Often people will cram their apartments full and put only a few things in storage to “clear space.” I did the inverse of that.

I moved everything except a few basics into a storage unit. Here’s what I took with me to the apartment:

  • My bed
  • My couch
  • A small table and a couple of chairs
  • My television
  • A set of sheets and towels
  • Two weeks’ worth of clothing
  • A set of dishes
  • A set of cookware
  • The book I was reading
  • My personal media devices

That’s it.

As I settled in, bought groceries, and learned my way around the neighborhood, I thought about what I actually missed having on hand and what I missed out of habit.

I ended up moving in a bookcase and filling it with my favorite books, some extra cookware (I made room for my KitchenAid stand mixer, my most prized possession), all of my in-season clothing, and a few extra sets of sheets and towels. That’s it.

The trick to living minimally is planning ahead. I plan out my meals a week in advance. I make prodigious use of the library and my streaming media subscriptions. I can honestly tell you, I don’t miss the clutter and I don’t mind making the trip out to storage to get something (the key to this is a meticulously organized storage space).