For some, the choice to live in a small space is all about location, the chance to live on a busy city block in the center of the action. But for many others, it’s about the freedom of living light.
Nobody understands the ethos of small-space living better than proponents of the tiny-house movement. This sliver of the population opts to live in homes that average around 200 square feet. Their choices, much like those who live in a studio apartment, are often framed as sacrifices. But Vina Lustado, an interior designer in Ojai, Calif., who lives in a 140-square-foot home that she designed two years ago, says that thinking is all wrong.
“There’s a whole emotional side to ‘stuff,’” she says. “But living with less is not about what you lose. It’s about what you gain.”
Lustado adapted her philosophy about small-space living from Marie Kondo, a Japanese organization expert who has written four books about doing more with less. But what makes Kondo’s approach different from the scores of other decluttering coaches is its positive framing. Lustado explains, “Rather than saying, ‘throw this out, throw that out,’ she teaches you to find joy in what you own. If it doesn’t bring you joy, maybe you don’t need it.”
The obvious perk is her low cost of living. Lustado’s home cost $40,000 to build, including solar panels and interior furnishings, and the acre of land it sits on is an additional $400 a month (the average home in Ojai costs about $550,000). But she doesn’t find it stifling. She entertains frequently and said that, for a designer, decorating the space was the most fun she’s ever had. “This movement, ultimately, is all about smart design: light, materials, strategic layouts,” she says. “It’s the exact same principles, and it’s way more challenging to do it sustainably, affordably and beautifully.”
Of course, there are hurdles. Paring down her wardrobe took months and she’s become a very resourceful cook. And, more than a year into living in her home, she still returns a lot of things she buys. It’s worth it, she says, because of the peace of mind she has found.
After speaking with Lustado, I looked around my tiny apartment and wondered whether there were items I was hanging on to for no reason: candles I’ll never light, old laptops that don’t turn on, leaky rain boots that certainly don’t bring me joy and take up precious closet space. Kondo’s voice crept into my mind, urging me to weigh quality over quantity.
Inspired, I did a gentle sweep and set aside two full bags for donation and lugged them to a nearby drop-off center. It’s nothing compared with Lustado’s Ojai minimalism, but after a few days, I realized I didn’t miss any of the items I parted with. In fact, I was glad to have cut the cord.
“Maybe she’s onto something,” I thought.
This Lustado already knows.
“I’m building a tiny office as we speak,” she says. It’s 16 square feet, solar and on wheels, and will be the new headquarters of her firm, Sol Haus Design. “I’m not looking back.”