What’s it about?

Tammy Strobel and her husband are living the voluntary downsizing – or smart-sizing – dream and here she combines research on well-being with numerous real-world examples to offer practical inspiration. Her fresh take on our things, our work, and our relationships spell out micro-actions that anyone can take to step off the getting-and-spending treadmill and into a life that’s more conscious and connected, sustainable and sustaining, heartfelt and happy.

About the author:

Tammy Strobel is a full-time writer and photographer. She is the author of You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too and self-published Smalltopia. She lives (in a tiny house) in Portland, Oregon

Introduction: a lesson we all need to know:

Whoever focuses his world around material objects and finds out that those objects bring him a little more joy than the small sentimental moments can will find “You Can Buy Happiness” a great life-changing book.

“Living simply isn’t about becoming an ascetic; it’s not about denying yourself pleasure or joy. It’s not about austerity. Instead, it’s about building a life steeped in the only precious gifts that can bring lasting happiness: time, freedom, and community. The focus is on life, not stuff.”

Tammy Strobel

If you think that you need a fancy car, a big house, a highly prestigious job, or a bunch of first-class oversea vacations to be happy, you are mistaken. All it takes is quality relationships, worthwhile experiences, and the capability to see the joy in all the little details in life.

Get yourself out of a hole:

At New Year’s Eve of 2007, our author Tammy Strobel had a lightning bolt moment when she saw a video by Dee Williams, mentioning how she felt much happy and fulfilled when she had successfully downsized her house.

At a time, Strobel and her husband were in a hole. They were in debt, working jobs they didn’t fancy, and we’re far from happy as a result. The video captured her interests, so they began downsizing their house and riding all the things they didn’t need. They felt achieved, and as time passed, the hole they kept drowning their selves in for so long gave away something much more satisfying and influential.

Downsizing had led not to dull and ascetic life but to a simpler, more satisfying existence.

We all fall into holes often, thinking that we can’t climb out, but looking for unexpected answers may lead you far more than looking for obvious ones, somewhere where you find joy and happiness.

Your “need to learn” life lessons:

As Strobel and her husband, Logan, downsized, they learned many life lessons:

  • You can’t find happiness in the things you own. You can find it in relationships you experience and the mutual connection that surrounds you.
  • The only happiness you can buy is a temporary one.
  • The real route of happiness is the one that you take on your own terms and in enjoying more in less.
  • You have to accept that change is a process that takes time.
  • Open your eyes to new ways of living.

The couple became aware of the state of well-being these lessons granted them.

Sure, you can spend fortunes on buying things that will make you happy, but the joy is not permanent, and sooner or later, you will feel a gap in your life. Learn how to live life to the fullest with little as possible and seek to discover new ways to live.

Happiness never lays in materialistic objects:

We live at a time where we can buy more than ever, but we are definitely far from happy. The USA has been placed by the New Economics Foundation at 114 out of 143 countries in the Happy Planets Index.

“People say we’re searching for the meaning of life. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive”

Joseph Campbell

Even if we are allowed to buy more material items, we never notice that we become less happy as a result.

Search for what makes you happy and keep doing it more. True happiness is where and when you do the things that bring you joy and not in the things that you bring money.

The unquestionable power of debt:

Before Strobel decided to make that radical change, she was almost $30,000 in debt. Like everyone, she loved buying things, but she then realized how the power of such an attitude can harm our lives. We go on and use our credit card because we can’t afford a certain thing, or go out to a fancy restaurant that will prevent us from paying rent. Sure doing such thing will give us a surge of joy, but it will not last long. Then, you are stuck doing a job you hate just to pay off the price of the thing you bought but couldn’t afford.

Despite credit card debt, don’t worry. There are other ways to be in dept. Most students start their careers already far into debt. The Project in Student Debt has counted that almost all US college students graduate with a debt of around $24,000 already. You can add the credit card debt to that.

One of the main reasons why we get into debt is that we care far too much about what people think of us. Strobel admitted that people’s opinions were a big reason why she fell in debt. She wanted a fancy car and a nice big house just to avoid people’s constant judgment. And thus, we get into debt only so we can be seen by people in a more pleasing way.

Spending isn’t going to solve your problems:

If you go on and spend your money just to keep up with the Smiths next door, it’s never going to work. Strobel herself mentioned that while she wasn’t really addicted to shopping, she did use it as an escape from the problems in her life.

The moment when Strobel thought about the downsizing idea and getting out of debt, she did get worried about what people would think. 

Regardless, the couple moved into a one-bedroom and quickly started feeling a weight getting of their shoulders, proving that money isn’t the solution to their problems.

When the couple was visiting Mexico, they made contact with the Zapatistas. They realized how small and straightforward paintings made them happy. They didn’t have much, but that never stopped them from building a secure connection within the community and doing the things that mattered to them.

Tammy Strobel decided to rethink her relationship with materialistic items and suggests you do the same:

  • Take less on your travels and see how you get on.
  • Whenever you feel the need to buy something, wait around a month to see if the urge goes away.
  • When you buy, give charity something in return.

Buying stuff just to hide the problems will do nothing but build ones. The people in the world with less find much more joy.

Getting yourself out of debt:

You will never escape from the grip of debt if you don’t work to get out. You can’t get out of debt without time, effort, or a solid plan.

It’s necessary that you only use your credit cards when it’s really urgent. Or even better; cut them off if you can. Reduce your monthly spending and keep the essentials only. You can create a budget to live by but set some savings aside for emergencies.

If your income isn’t enough to pay off your debt slowly, find an extra job to cover the gap. Remember that this isn’t forever and give yourself a pat on the back whenever you take a step in your recovery plan.

Choose to think more clearly by downsizing your “stuff”:

“I am still letting go of my stuff and feel lighter every day”

Courtney Carver

Now, Tammy and her husband live in a 124 square feet house that they can call home.

To be able to move into that house, they had to let go of a lot of stuff. While sorting their belongings out, they often got pulled back to “I might need that one day.” The truth is, one day never really comes, and if you keep focusing on the day that might or might not come, you are losing focus on what’s here and now.

Sort through your stuff and figure out if you need it or want it. Once you realize what you really need you will feel better, lighter and you will immediately be able to think clearly.

Sure some of the things you don’t need will end up in the trash, but don’t forget that you can sell or donate some of them too. You can also challenge yourself by the 333 projects where you try and minimize your closet to 33 items and wear them for 3 months.

However, for every item you sell or give away, take time to reward yourself and maintain a self-care atmosphere.

Even your small house can be a home:

The small one-bedroom home Strobel and Logan live in might be small in size, but its big in character. You can easily turn your small house into a spacious one if you knew how to design it properly.

Strobel suggests that you keep a special place for everything in your home. Don’t keep things lying around to clutter the space and keep everything organized in its proper place.

“The primary asset that comes with a small house is freedom. The world gets a lot bigger when you are living small because I can afford to do a lot more things in terms of cash and time. Now the whole world is my living room.”

Tammy Strobel

Think outside the box and be smart with storage to keep more space.

Don’t spend your time obsessing about the size of your house; instead, think of all the happy memories you have in it, and the people you love that live there with you.

Does your job mean anything to you?

A big part of the downsizing journey is about you having a meaningful job. This will make you more concentrated and happier in general. 

Start searching within yourself for something you are passionate about and work hard towards achieving it. If this means you are going back to school, it’s totally fine. 

It’s essential to find a career that keeps us motivated and happy.

Tammy strictly advises you to start writing a journal and focus on the things that are significant to you. As a result, you’ll be walking down the lane of self-care, but most importantly, you’ll become aware of the patterns in the things you enjoy and the areas that you’d like to focus on with your future career. 

If you want to ensure your productivity every day, make a list of at least three things you have to do, and tick them off as you go forward.

The few steps you take towards your new job help you achieve your goals.

Once you decide to make a change in your career, make sure that you have a backup plan of savings before you jump into the waters. Also, you can find a mentor to guide you through such a transition.

Being in a job you hate will make you unhappy forever.

Make the most of your time:

The more you do things you enjoy in life, the happier you will feel. Tammy doesn’t own a television, and she found out that the longer she goes without one, the freer she feels.

Instead of wasting your time watching TV, spend your time doing something creative or getting in touch with nature.

Strobel also did a digital detox. The time we usually spend online is too long that we become unable to switch off.

At the end of the day, if it just comes down to making the most of your time. Try your best to cut off unhealthy habits and focus on maintaining a productive day. Take your time in riding those unhealthy habits and try to single-task rather than multi-task as that’s something that will lead to your confusion and nothing more.

Decrease the time you spend online and always stay connected to the real world that surrounds you.

Life is all about experiences:

The best experiences we might encounter cannot be bought; they are the little moments we spend with the people we love, the thing we always dreamt of doing, and a place we’ve wanted to explore for so long. 

“Life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills”

Clifford Odets

Even though money can’t buy happiness, having financial freedom isn’t easier. This all comes down to freeing yourself of debt and making smart money choices but not necessarily pilling up your savings’ stock.

Life’s too short, specify your priorities, create a bucket list of the things you want to do before it’s too late, and make time for helping others. Keep your focus on people and rewarding experiences.

Expand the little pleasure in your life:

You can find enjoyment in life’s small details, like the thing that draws a smile on your face, makes you eager to know more, grows your imagination and allows you to be mindful and peaceful. These all allow you to fulfill your basic needs in life: support, love, gratitude, satisfaction, and, most importantly, happiness.

Keep a record of the things that grant you pleasure in your life and keep increasing them. Live life’s experiences to the fullest.


A simple life is all we need to be happy. We don’t need endless piles of belongings to achieve happiness. All we need is the support and love of the people we care about, a motivational and fulfilling job that we are passionate about, and breath-taking life experiences.

“You Can Buy Happiness” makes us aware of the little power money has on our happiness and how the real key here is to hold on to the precious moments we live.

Try this:

  • Sort your closet and donate the items you don’t need.
  • Workout a practical budget to free yourself out of debt.
  • Work on your skills and take advantage of developing them every day.