One Room Living – Tips for young adults/student

I received this request from Nurchamiel a little while back -  Do you have any tips for young-adults/students who only live in one room (studio etc.)?

As I said to Nurchamiel in my response the first thought that popped into my head when I read this request was – That person that nags you about keeping tidy, sensible spending, good hygiene, eating properly etc (this person is usually a parent or older adult that has a vested interest in your future well-being. You know the one you do your best to ignore because you aren’t a baby any more and can look after yourself.) – listen to that person and appreciate their wisdom for what it is. (Spoken like a true mother 😉 )

The bad news is that self control and restraint is the only cure for this problem. In order to live in a small space you need to be organised and sensible about what you can fit comfortably into the limited area you have. Which can be broken down like this…

  1. Sensible spending – The old saying goes -Money burns a hole in your pocket. As a young person it is hard to refrain from purchasing that next frivolous item. Be it clothing that you don’t need, books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, make-up, decor items, computer games, tech gadgets.. need I go on. Limit your unnecessary purchases, be thoughtful and informed about the purchases you do make and the organising will fall into place because you don’t own more than you can accommodate.
  2. Plan ahead – if you plan for the next event such as early class or a work shift soon after class and have what you need set out ahead of time it reduces the possibility of leaving a mess in your wake. If you can put your hands on what you need quickly you will eliminate the need to rummage through your belongings causing unnecessary disruption. When we loose things in the mess we replace them and that adds more unnecessary clutter.
  3. Setting priorities – This one can be hard when you are young and social and have many things on the go at once. The only way to keep some semblance of order when living in a small area is to be realistic about what activities you can cram into a day and always set time aside for responsibilities.  Life isn’t just fun and games there are always chores that need to be taken care of. This doesn’t need to take long in fact just a minute here and a minute there to finish a task instead of leaving things dishevelled makes all the difference. I know a certain 21 year old whose room is always a mess and yet this person spends hours on the internet every night, chatting, shopping and watching worthless television shows. Yes we all need down time but we also need to set responsible priorities as well.
  4. Reduce/Rehouse/Recycle – If you are reading this you are already at a stage where you own more than you need or just haven’t eliminated the redundant items as you have gone along. Now is the time to start to reduce the unnecessary items in your space. You don’t have to turn the place into a war zone to do this just commit to removing perhaps a bag of items a week until you get to an acceptable level.  Rehouse good items that you no longer require either by selling, giving to friends or donating them to charity. If you live in an apartment block put out a box of stuff with a free sign on and you would be surprised how quickly the stuff disappears and you don’t have to go further than the front door to donate it. Selling stuff can take a little more effort but worth it for the extra cash. Ebay, Craig’s list, notice board adds and word of mouth are just a few ways to go about this. Any of the things that are unlikely to be useful to anyone should be separated into trash and recycling piles and disposed of. Being a student there will likely be a lot of paper to be recycled.

If this advice isn’t what you wanted to hear that is probably because you knew that was the solution all along but naturally didn’t want to conform because it sounds difficult and dull but remember you can reward yourself for your efforts by treating yourself to things that don’t contribute to clutter, like a meal out, coffee with a friend, iTune uploads, facial, massage, manicure…

For a little incentive, instead of wasting money on stuff that just clutters up your space, spend some money on items that will organise your space. Don’t rush out grabbing the first thing you see really put some time into investigating the best option to suit your immediate and potential needs.

Nurchamiel has already decided not to reward herself for her efforts that the satisfaction in seeing her space improving is reward enough. Also after reading last Tuesday’s post – Space Solution – she is going to set up a similar space solution near their door to keep track of keys etc. She has also offered to write a guest post for me about the perils of decluttering with allergies. I am looking forward to reading it as I have some ideas about that topic myself. So stay tuned.

Today’s Declutter Item

A pile of papers that were decluttered from Liam’s room. The new university year is about to begin so it is out with the old and in with the new.

Paper Clutter 18FEB2011

I am grateful from anything that brings me joy. Below are five things that gave me joy today.

  • I wasn’t keen to do my housework today so I decided to use the 365lessthings approach and only focus on one task at a time. In the end I not only did the general house once over but I also cleaned out the drawers in one bathroom, tidied, vacuumed and wiped out the shoe cupboard, clean the outside of the French doors  in our bedroom, cleared and cleaned my craft room whiteboard and tidied up my ribbon supplies.
  • I found out my good friend went for a job interview. She works where I used to work and it isn’t good for her either so I hope she gets out. She is a beautiful person and deserves to be happy.
  • Liam was in a cheeky and playful mood today. It did cause some hindrance having him tickling me while I was trying to do the housework but I enjoy seeing him happy even if it is at my expense. Just don’t tell him that!
  • The day is cool and rainy oh how I have longed for this day. The balcony outside out bedroom is being repaired and the air-conditioner is not connected and the nights have been sweltering. Need I say more.
  • Getting to the end of the day and knowing I have achieved what I needed to achieve and can relax and enjoy the spoils of my efforts. A clean house, a nice dinner and a happy family.
  • It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. An important component to your advice, Colleen, is attending to the clutter a little at a time. I live near The University of Texas, the largest university in the state, and the waste when the students leave is phenomenal. Everything that can’t fit into the car is abandoned, often without a lot of thought to what else might have been done with it. I know there are people who pull empty trucks and trailers around the alleys and jump into dumpsters looking for the many treasures the students leave behind. While I’m glad it’s not going to the landfill, it’s a shame that this is the “solution.” Paring down to a manageable level will keep those who move frequently from being so wasteful – wasteful to the environment and wasteful to their pocket books.

    • Hi Cindy,
      this is a situation I was completely unaware of and it is such a shame. I must admit though the reason I started that post with a bit of a mother rant is because I know how inconsiderate (for want of a kinder word) young folk can become when there are so many other distractions in their lives. I am always so happy when I discover a young person is reading my blog and starting to consider the ramifications of their actions. It might just seem like a messy room to them but there is other factors to consider like…
      1. The waste that is being generated.
      2. The lack of hygiene associated with untidiness. (If you aren’t keeping it tidy you aren’t keeping it clean)
      3. The credit card debt that is likely accumulating.
      4. The strain on the environment created by supply and demand.
      5. The effect the distractions/disorganisation can have on the educational success of these young adults.
      6. The feelings of failure a parent goes through when they see that all those years of training seem to have gone out the window and the worry that generates. (That one was a little self indulgent I do admit)
      Need I go on.

      • I think this is the first time that I have to disagree with you! in number two you say, cluttered=unclean. But just because something is messy, doesnt mean it is necessary dirty, unhygienic, etc… I was always a clean but cluttered person. I made sure the trash, food left overs and stuff that can rot in general leave my mess. And I have seen places that are tidied up and not clean at all. I give you the point, that it might be harder to clean if the place is cluttered, but it doesnt necessarily go hand in hand.

        • Hi Lena,
          I guess my ideas of cluttered=unclean was because my children also have a habit of leaving dirty dishes, previously worn clothes and smelly shoes in their rooms all of which are not clean. The dirty dishes can attract insects in the climate we live in (cockroaches yuk) and clothes and smelly shoes carry all sorts of bacteria with leave odours in the room.

          But you are right clutter in general isn’t necessarily unclean.

  2. The reward really is a more livable space. Doing this slowly makes it so much easier and enjoyable for me. It seems managable.

    • Hi Megan,
      finding the task enjoyable is half the battle once you feel that way it certainly does make it easier to manage. Take your time, make good decisions as to what to keep and what to remove and once you have room to start organising things really fall into place.

  3. Yes, the piles of paper. I already filled two boxes with paper clutter which was out on the surface. I don’t want to think how much clutter is hiding in my closets.

    I really liked the second and the third tip, it is very helpful. I try to cut down on my online-time and try to do something else (reading a book, declutter). Unfortunatly, school needs a lot of online-time.

    I am finished writing the article in my own language fist (Dutch) and I am currently translating it, so it should be ready in no time now. 🙂

    • Hi Nurchamiel,
      I am glad you found the post helpful. I understand it is difficult to spend less time online as I have the same issue myself which is mostly due to keeping up my blog. I know that you also have a blog so just be careful it doesn’t eat into your study time. I am looking forward to reading your post but there is no need to hurry. Take your time on I am not going anywhere for now.

  4. Colleen, what a great summary of advice for everyone, not just students. This is like a mini-manifesto on acting responsibly plus getting and staying decluttered 🙂

    Nurchamiel, I am looking forward to your article. Several people in my house have dust and scent allergies. It can really limit when you declutter and do deep cleaning.

    • Hi Jo,
      thank you! You are right that these tips are helpful whatever your age or circumstance. There seems to be no age limit when it comes to unthoughtful shopping, feeling overwhelmed and not setting responsible priorities. We all have those days that’s for sure. The great part is that it is never to late to learn because we all can change our mindset not matter what our age. I find I will have been doing a certain thing one way for years and then by accident almost I will discover a better way to go about it and wonder why didn’t I think of that before. In some cases these AH HA moments can change habits of a lifetime. So being adaptable is key we just have to be open to the idea and realise that if we are not happy in our circumstance it is time to do something about it because it won’t fix itself.

  5. This was very well written. I especially liked the “mom” flavor to it. I sent this to my son who is a young adult living on his own. Hopefully he will find it helpful. Thanks, Colleen.

    • Hi Di,
      thank you very much, it was my pleasure. As you can tell by reading it that I have had plenty of experience with teens/young adults who aren’t that great at keeping they spaces organised. My son isn’t too bad but my daughter, well lets just say she missed out on that gene all together. Although she does manage a shoe store and I great pleasure when she tell me that she had to confront one of her staff about not keeping the store in top shape. I mean GREAT PLEASURE!
      I hope your sons takes the advice on board and improves his own space.