Tackling a vortex of despair: my 3 step decluttering recipe (in a tiny house with kids!)

First, some things I believe: Everything in your home is speaking to you. It’s telling you “take care of me!” or “tidy me!’ or “put me away!” So when you have less stuff, you have more mental calm. (Minimalist Mom on youtube has a *great* video on this topic).

AND YET even though we live in a tiny house and I believe this firmly, I also have two children under the age of four, and the random junk just accumulates. For us, our cubby system under the stairs works well for some things that have specific spots. But some bins, like the boys… craft? game? random junk they don’t want to throw away? bin has become a vortex of despair. I literally throw anything in there I don’t know what to do with. And then it’s so hideous I just throw more stuff in there + hope it sorts itself out. I was feeling very productive yesterday + decided to tackle it. I started trying to sift through what was rubbish + what was to keep, and found myself aimlessly shuffling papers around completely overwhelmed and I realised: WHO AM I? WHAT AM I DOING? I was applying none of my tiny home philosophy to the way I was tackling this project. So I stopped, got ahold of myself, and did it right 😄 And the system worked. Applying the same philosophy we take with our whole house to even a small task like tidying the junk drawer went from overwhelm to purpose and productivity.

So, here’s my recipe:

STEP 1: What do you want? 

This is kind of a basic question, but everything you do next hinges on it. Another way of saying this is: “What do you value?” 

In general, I value creativity and free play. I value my kids being able to make messes and be creative on their own without tons of help from me. I also value an orderly home. 

In the case of the vortex of despair, I think it started out because I wanted a place for the kids to get craft items, which then turned into a holder for games (now that they are older) and random recycled junk, and precious treasures they don’t want to throw away. 

So I decided that I want: a place for random craft/recycling supplies so the kids can be creative, and some games. 

(Please note, my first response to this question was, “For there not to be junk everywhere!!” but that is not a good enough answer! 🙂 Dig deep, people!

STEP 2:  Start with a clear slate 

Picture Mary Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” just swiping rolls of wrapping paper and junk onto the floor to make way for the collection can at their Christmas party. (If you haven’t seen this movie- what have you been doing every Christmas until now??)

Just take EVERYTHING out. My mistake was randomly sifting through things and trying to pull out what I knew I didn’t want. When you do that, you end up just rearranging your stuff, and not actually dealing with it. 

So I emptied everything out of the crate and imagined the crate AS I WANTED IT: an easily accessible space for the kids to store their games and crafts. 

STEP 3: Only put back what is useful and beautiful (in line with what you want). 

There were certain things that I immediately put back: the games, the paint brush jar. Then, there were other things that were a bit iffy. 

One million toilet paper rolls? My kids can’t create if they can’t find the toilet rolls buried under the recycling paper. So I put in some and canned the rest, because, frankly, we can EASILY get more toilet paper rolls!  

Recycled paper … I want to obsessively save every piece of paper that only has writing on one side, but actually, too much of that (or too wrinkled) isn’t going to be used by the kids. If the crate is packed too full, they can’t actually get out what they want. So I recycled a lot of scrap paper.  20 sheets of drawing paper that can be accessed by little hands is better to me than 100 pages they will need mom’s help with! 

Former art projects: Some of these actually were quite sweet. But for *THIS SPACE* I wanted a spot where the boys could easily play and create, and they couldn’t do that if their old projects were also crammed in there.  These were beautiful, but they weren’t in line with what I said I wanted. So I put them in a different pile to either hang up, or put in the mail to family members. 

So, there’s the recipe! 🙂 Decide what you want for the space, clear your slate, and only put back what is useful and beautiful. 

Let me know if you use this recipe to tackle any vortexes of despair in your own home!

The counter when I finally emptied the crate!
And, the crate afterwards — easily slides in, with the kids able to get what they need

Tiny house + 2 kids + 21 day lockdown

I’ve become borderline obsessed with the New York Times parenting newsletter over this period, mostly because I’m desperate to know how other people are surviving – what are they doing? How are they managing to work from home with kids? Is everyone else having adorable family time and complicated crafts and enriched learning experiences? 

My online perusal is one part commiseration, one part desperation to feel superior to someone, and one part “If I put my kids in the bath in the middle of the day and tell them to wash the duplo, I’ve just bought myself 30 minutes??! YES PLEASE.” (Also, seeing how stressed John Oliver was about working from home really made me feel better). Continue reading “Tiny house + 2 kids + 21 day lockdown”

Tiny house living- 8 months in

Since we’re coming into a new year, and getting close to 9 months of living in a tiny house with a toddler, we’ve been doing a little reflecting on how we feel about the tiny house. Now that it’s daily life and totally normal, it’s easier to notice the small details that either make or break it. So here’s our take:


Cheap cost of living is still a major win. We installed a ceiling fan, and even with running all of our appliances and fan, our electricity bill is super low. Of course, rent is basically zero as well. This has allowed us greater flexibility in our time and work, which we’re thankful for!

Living in a house built by us has been BOTH rewarding and frustrating. It’s been great to enjoy some of the design features we wanted, and it’s great to know we can add a shelf, or paint a wall when we feel like it. It’s also frustrating when the kitchen sink leaks, or we have a GIANT rain storm and have water seeping onto the floor and there’s no one else to blame (or fix it!) but David. I have way less stress than David does, since I did hardly anything construction-wise. But in giant storms or small issues, David carries a lot more emotional (and time) responsibility than I do. Continue reading “Tiny house living- 8 months in”

Tiny house Christmas

How to celebrate Christmas in a tiny house, with a toddler: 


  1. Keep the decor minimal: We put up twinkle lights, and had some Advent candles for him to blow out during Advent. We only hung up the stockings on Christmas eve.


2. Get an outdoor tree or a small tree: Our tree DID have more decorations, but toddler liked to play with them…


3. If you need more intense Christmas spirit — visit family with bigger houses (and more storage space) who have lots of Christmas decorations and a big Christmas tree.

4. (Probably most important) Live in the Southern Hemisphere, and spend all your time outside, playing in the sprinkler, playing soccer, visiting the beach, or digging in the sandpit. And only give outdoor toys (and edible snacks!) for Christmas presents. 🙂

But seriously, one of the wonderful things about a tiny house is you can’t go crazy spending lots of money on seasonal decor you then have to figure out where to store, or lots of toys and gifts. Christmas becomes a lot simpler and a lot more about making food and hanging out with family (and Jesus, you know) than about all the stuff. Sometimes I did feel a little sad we couldn’t have a bigger tree…but at the end of the day it was still Christmas and it was still fun. 🙂


More tiny house FAQs


Here are a few more FAQ’s about our tiny house… feel free to leave a question in the comments!

Where does your baby play?

Our one year old mostly plays outside. It’s winter here in South Africa, which means most days it’s between 55-75F and sunny outside. At night it can get down to freezing (maybe only 2 or 3 weeks out of the winter) and some early mornings we have frost. So early mornings are probably the hardest, since we’re cooped up inside before it warms up enough to play outside. Our 14 month old entertains himself inside with his toys and our tupperware/pots and pans cupboard mostly.


Continue reading “More tiny house FAQs”

Baby proofing our tiny house

Since we knew from the beginning we’d have a toddler when we built the tiny house, we tried to make it as child-friendly as possible. When you have a small space, you can’t just block off part of the house to make it baby-friendly…and spending your whole life saying, “No! Don’t touch that!” is not very fun either. So we tried to design things so we could minimize the amount of “nos” in the house. Here are a few examples:

All our plugs except for two are high up on the wall.

Continue reading “Baby proofing our tiny house”

Living in a tiny house with a one year old

We’ve officially lived in our house for 6 weeks now. We love it. We’ll see if we still love it 6 months from now, but I have a feeling we will. When we were researching tiny-house living, I didn’t see much about families in tiny houses. Mostly single people, or couples. I figured other people might be interested, since inevitably when people hear we live in a tiny house (with a one year old)  they say, “But how do you….(insert normal daily activity here)”.

So this is an attempt to answer that. It also feels very strange writing this, since we live in 16m2 house with two lofts and only one child… when very many people in our country live with more people in equally small (or smaller!) spaces, and no one wonders how they do it. Living in a smaller space than our income appears to afford seems strange to people… but living in a small space is the norm for lots of people, and we had the privilege of choosing this, when they don’t. Continue reading “Living in a tiny house with a one year old”

Baby Junk- the essentials

Snoozing in the wrap in the Dubai airport at 2-ish months.

There are very many pressing social issues that are far more worthy of a blog post, but I don’t have the emotional energy for them, so instead, I’ll tell you some more about our simple living journey. One of the things people often said when we talk about trying to value simplicity more in our lives was, ‘Yes, but wait until you have a kid. Your stuff will just multiply.” Which is true. We definitely have way more junk with a kid than we did without. But, we had life circumstances (some of our own intentional creating, others– it just kind of happened that way) that forced us to have less baby stuff. Continue reading “Baby Junk- the essentials”