The Tiny and Neat Challenge


What about living smaller, leaner and cleaner? What about clearing out most of the things in your house? What about clearing out square metres in your house? What will that lead to?

The first thing you probably think is: I need my square metres! I need a big living room and three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a garage. Better yet, I deserve my square metres, and my stuff! I’m a hardworking woman, I work long hours, and I earn a decent living. So I can spend my money on things and on living space. And I agree. You deserve your belongings and your space. However, do they make you happier?

Tiny houses with almost no belongings

Imagine the opposite: you live in a house of 20m2. That’s a floor space of 4×5 metres. And this includes EVERYTHING. From your bed to the closets, to the loo, to the garden, to the couch, to the kitchen and the dining room. All of this in 20m2! And then think about the stuff you can keep in a place like this. No 25 pairs of shoes (I counted my pairs to get an estimate of the shoes ‘regular women’ own). No 300 books. No extra toilet paper, washing powder and crackers, because they keep and you could get them at a discount. No spare bedroom for when you have visitors. You would think this will depress you beyond relief. However, I promise you, it won’t!



The chances are that you’ll be happier. Because having less stuff (and for now, square metres also count as stuff ;)) means working not as hard and still paying the rent. It means not spending (too much) time on shopping, but spending it with friends or loved ones. It means setting priorities and making choices about what matters to you in your life. And all these things increase your happiness.

Go radical?

Now, I can imagine that you will not sell your apartment to try this. That would be radical (but then again, what’s wrong with radical?). You could get the same effect, but in a different way. I read The life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo, who says that you should go through all your belongings (as in hold every item you own in your hands) and ask yourself this question: does this item make me happy? If you answer this question honestly, most of the things you own do NOT make you especially happy. You own most of your stuff because you own it, and for no other reason.

So, imagine that you only have clothes in your wardrobe that make you happy. It would reduce your wardrobe by half (for most women). That sounds scary, but when I tried it, I found I had many guilt-items in my wardrobe. Clothes I kept because they were expensive when I bought them (but I never wore them), or because I used to like them (but not anymore). And these always screamed at me: ‘you should wear me’. ‘You are a bad person for letting me hang here’. I used to feel really guilty for not wearing these clothes. But, when I cleared out my closet and kept only the things I WANT to wear, these bad feelings disappeared! And this works just as well for books, cd’s, kitchen appliances and jewelry.


Challenge yourself

So, this is my challenge: go through your belongings, and keep only the things that make you happy. And then feel the difference it makes. I bet it will make you feel lighter and less pressured by the world around you. It will give you room to breathe. Room to live. And then making other choices becomes easier. Taking up something you always wanted to do. Ending a friendship that is not good for you. Starting a new one that gives you energy. Maybe you even end up living in a tiny house with almost no belongings. And if this doesn’t work for you? You can always shop again for new stuff!

So, do me a favor, and let me know in the comments field below what you think about this. Did you recently clear out your house, and did it make you feel any different? Are you thinking about changing your life, but you don’t know how, and you are willing to see whether this would stimulate you? I’m curious to find out!

Ellen is a passionate and practical happy living expert. She teaches subjects like ‘Consumerism’ and “Social Innovation’ at Tilburg University and has her own coaching company to help people find their sparkle again. As a life-coach, she tickles people into changing. As a teacher, she invites students to think outside the box. As a person, she is always trying to find ways to live more consciously, happy and light. And she gets really happy if she can share this with people! Her articles are about her own life, about the way she sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails in changing small things (that eventually might make a big difference). She will share with you her lessons learned, mistakes made and successes achieved when it comes to happy living. You can find more information about Ellens coaching company on her website and you can find more articles written by Ellen (in Dutch) on her blog.


  1. Hi Ellen,

    i love your article. About a year ago i started clearing up my belongings and the book of Marie Kondo inspired me even more. I love the idea of only keep wahat you love and gives you joy. But it’s a process for me..still going 😉

    • Hi Desirée, same here! I’m going up and down between finding cute new things to wear or for our house and throwing everything out that I don’t need. Luckily, I live nearby a thriftshop… 🙂 Nobody’s perfect, and It’s not necessarily better to be very strict on yourself if you ask me… Keep up the good work!

      • Hi Ellen, haha i understand your process also…clearing and bringing new stuff in at the same time. I find it hard to organize my belongings and give them a good place and to keep it organized and cleaned up. I take your advice with me…don’t be to hard… thank you for that 🙂

  2. Hi Ellen, cleaning out is in the air! I also wrote a blog article about it in February: I also started to clean out stuff according to Kondo’s suggestions – and it works. With the approach of asking: does this “thing” make me happy? it became much easier to let go of stuff (believe me, I have tried tidying before :-)!). And stuff went to open book cases, flea markets, clothes-collection-boxes – or to people I knew would like it. For a while now, I did not have time to continue, but I will. The entire apartment is already much lighter and much more quiet – and there is room for improvement! 🙂

    • Hi Cora,
      Great to hear that it works for you! Do you also have categories of stuff that you find hardest to let go? I for instance find it very hard to get rid of books…


      • Hi Ellen, books used to be a big deal (could not let go), this time it worked quite nicely. However, I still have lots of them :-). What I find most difficult is all this itsy-bitsy stuff: like cables, stuff with sentimental value, CDs, things that I think could be useful at some point – just not right now.