Some Items You Can Probably Go Without (Part IV)

While it's great to share stories about designs and practices that help us live comfortably and contentedly in small spaces, I think it’s just as important to discuss the things that we can happily live WITHOUT. After all, making a home of a small space isn’t mainly about figuring out how to cram as much stuff as possible into your compact quarters— it’s about experiencing more by owning less. The following is just a very small sampling of everyday items you might want to reconsider. (Click to view Part IPart II or Part III of this series.)

As always, before we jump on in, here’s a lil’ disclaimer: To each her or his own. While these items might be easy for easy for some folks to forego, they might be gems elsewhere. You know your own needs and space best. Design and decor should be different and enjoyable for everyone. 

Photos from various gatherings at the Cottage. Over the years, we've used a mix of rental, repurposed, and/or everyday glassware and dishes. The setting doesn't need to be "fancy" to be beautiful & enjoyable. (Select photos by Monica Wang and Justina Blakeney.)

Disposable and/or Extra Dishes + Glassware for Parties
If you host large events regularly, it could be worth having extra plates and glasses around. But there are other ways to accommodate your guests WITHOUT owning tons of kitchen kitems, and without buying disposable goods.

 Repurposed candle jar, turned into a cocktail glass. Photo from the Cottage by Monica Wang.

Repurposed candle jar, turned into a cocktail glass. Photo from the Cottage by Monica Wang.

For several years, Adam and I hosted cocktail parties regularly. I avoid single-use items whenever possible, so we had a wire mesh basket over our fridge filled with 50 slim appetizer plates, as well as a couple wide-mouthed glass jars in out cabinet that held dozens of basic metal forks. We also washed and upcycled numerous candle vessels after burning through their contents, and those were our extra glasses for beverages.

 Spare plates a the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

Spare plates a the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

These days, we no longer throw huge gatherings, and we preferred to allocate our kitchen cabinet space to store our son’s kitchen goods instead of hosting wares. As such, the “glasses” went in the blue bin to be recycled, and the plates went to a local non-profit (The RightWay Foundation), which hosts a number of fundraising events and needed reusable dishes for those occasions. (We kept the forks.)

 Rental glassware at a cocktail party at the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

Rental glassware at a cocktail party at the Cottage. Photo by Monica Wang.

Now, we’ve turned to renting or borrowing dishes and glasses for larger events. Our neighbors are happy to help us out, so there’s NO extra cost. Yes, there’s some extra cleaning involved, but an hour of additional tidying is nothing compared to single-use plastics or recyclables (that might not actually get recycled), which could sit rotting on our worn planet until the end of time. If you’re going for a more coordinated, upscale look, research local rental companies. It’ll cost a bit more, but there's less cleaning time required, and there’s little-to-no waste.

Old or Duplicate Electronics
Stop buying or housing storage bins (or renting external storage space) for your outdated or duplicate electronics. If you have items that you no longer need, get rid of them responsibly. Nearly every town has a local resource for electronics recycling— just do some quick online research to find out about it.

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If you’re nervous about personal information contained on old devices, a basic computer repair shop or Genius Bar can advise you on how to transfer that data, or even just remove the hard drive for you before you donate or recycle your machines. Also, there’s no need to hold on to 12 versions of the same charger or cable—keep only what you need and donate the rest. (Look in your car. Do you have an old GPS? GET RID OF IT.)

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We store our necessary cables and small electronics / accessories in a leather Tech Dopp Kit by This Is Ground, and in a repurposed zipper pouch that one held a portable camping stool that I used to take to work on various sets. Both fit in a basket that sits in plain sight within our lil' living room.

Certain Books
I love our books, but I love the library more. We’re allowed to check out up to THIRTY items at a time here in LA. THIRTY! So rather than buying new books or making space to store titles that you've read, donate some and explore the offerings of your local branch. There’s no cost to check out books, and renting (or buying digital copies) can open up SO much space and eliminate waste. I still buy publications by my friends and colleagues, and we’ve kept any volumes we return to often for information or inspiration. But digital versions are a solid option if you want to buy but are pressed for space. 

As far as children's books are concerned, we bought (or accepted hand-me-down) board, bath and cloth books for West’s first 12-18 months. We did this because he was chewing on, drooling over, and attempting to rip everything possible. I didn’t want those germs ingested or spread, nor did I want to ruin community property. But now that West knows how to treat picture books, we borrow 90% of our inventory from the county and city libraries. 

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Experiencing a temporary overflow of library books? At the Cottage, we simply use a recent cardboard box for short-term book storage— no need to buy something new. If the box is printed on the outside, we simply untape it, flip in in-side-out so the exterior is blank, and then tape it back up, leaving an empty surface for West to draw and color upon. We use the box to return the books, and then pop the container into the recycling bin.

Coffee Table Objets
Ah, the coffee table. Styling this living room surface has been turned into a science by decor-related media outlets and home goods stores. Personally, the artfully-styled coffee table drives me a bit bananas in small spaces. You need these inches for daily life. Drinks, phones, propping up your legs, playing games, and more. (Our coffee table also contains our spare linens, so it’s constantly being opened.)

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Absolutely keep your necessities stocked on the table or close by. But, perhaps, consider skipping the objets. If they’re sentimental pieces or handmade, that’s one thing. But don’t just buy a thing to have a thing. Your room’s centerpiece can be made surprisingly beautiful with mindfully-arranged everyday items and simple greenery clippings in a jar. 

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Sandwich Presses and Mini Pancake, Waffle and/or Pizza Makers
Living tiny doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy miscellaneous tiny things. You can make tiny pancakes just fine without specialty miniature appliances. And unless your job is pressing sandwiches all day, a “sandwich press” is ridiculous— a spatula and a strong arm will suffice, folks. Of course, opt for compact versions of the smaller kitchen appliances that you deem necessary. (We have a Muji Toaster + Kettle, and a small Vitamix, as well as a wire basket to hold various components from these kitchen goods.)

Chip-and-Dip Bowls
What’s wrong with your regular bowls and ramekins? Don’t buy into the concept that you need dedicated serving items for certain foods.

Paper Towels and New Rags
I’m all for cutting disposable paper towels and napkins out of our lives. Reusable ones are more beautiful, more pleasing to the touch, and more eco-friendly. But you don’t need to go buy cleaning rags. Just use old shirts or old dish towels as cleaning gear.

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For me, considering the things we can live without is not just about decluttering and saving money. It's about stopping the seemingly endless production, consumption and disposal of unnecessary home goods, thus making the Earth a healthier place for generations to come.