60 Responses to “8 Lessons from Small Space Living”

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  1. We downsized from a huge 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment. I have definitely noticed number 6, Clutter is more obvious.

    To combat this we started a nightly 30 minute cleanup. Every night at 7:00, or after dinner on nights we eat late, we set a timer and start cleaning up. It doesn’t usually take a full 30 minutes to get everything put in its place. On the nights it doesn’t we either end early or do some cleaning tasks like vacuuming or cleaning sinks or bathrooms. Dedicating the time for this has really made a difference in maintaining a clutter free home.

  2. We live in a large house, and still I always feel like everything is bursting at the seams. I don’t foresee us moving, but I’d love to see my house feel more open and airy and less cluttered. I’ve been working on it bit by bit, but one thing I definitely agree with is the more containers you find yourself buying, the more you realize you’re just containerizing your stuff rather than really decluttering it. And it doesn’t take long for that stuff to burst out of the containers and onto the floor again. I still containerize some things but try to be more aware of whether I really need to be putting things into containers or whether it makes more sense to get rid of some of it.

  3. I am looking forward to move into my new home which is kind of small. Your entry certainly making an impact in my planning on how to keep my new place clean.

    Thanks!

  4. Love the apartment! I’m just 23 this year but in future I’d love to live simply just like you. Just can’t imagine all the housework I’d have to do if I stayed in a huge apartment, haha!

    “With less to maintain and worry about, it’s easier to work from anywhere, and spend time outside or traveling.” ==> 100%!

    That thing about having a transitional space. I don’t have one. That means whatever I bring in from home has to be either organized immediately or thrown away. I’m really loving my ultra neat room. Makes me feel good and awesome and in control of my life! :D

  5. We downsized from a house to an apartment 6 months ago. When we owned the house, I always made plans around this time of the year to work in the yard or take care of the house exterior on the weekends as the weather warmed up. This year I have no outdoor maintenance list. I really like having my spring weekends free for a change.

  6. janey

    We’ve lived in small spaces our entire adult life! A 900 square foot house has been home to our family of 4 for over 25 years. I totally agree with all your observations, but number 5 particularly resonated with me: more specialty discs for the food processor, attachments for the vacuum cleaner, files for “important” papers, “special” shoes, makeup for the “special” dress, on and on; the so-called little things, the accessories, that add up to clutter… now I’m learning to question whether I even need the original object.
    As you suggest, we need to resist the whole “nature abhors a vacuum” consumerist mentality, and instead embrace simplicity, open spaces, and surround ourselves, in our home, only with what we truly love:

    “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” William Morris

  7. Yes, with our family of five living successfully in 665 square feet, I can agree so much with your sentiments here!

    • Your comment gives me hope. We’re a family of four, hopefully eventually a family of 5, and I would like to think we’ll stay in our 1,700 sq foot home forever (a meager size compared to you). It’s unbelievable the pressure from family that even now they think we need to move into a bigger home. I’m determined this home is our long term home.

      • I mean yours is meager compared to mine…

      • Rima

        My husband and I moved into our first home, what I considered to be 5 year home. He announced, that he will never want to sell or move and he’s staying here for good. Well now i need to rethink my plans for a bigger place in the future. The idea of staying in our small first home has grown on me, I love the place, the vibe, the yard and the surrounding area. I’m excited to decorate an entire place to look like one of those cute cottages from the magazine. Also, I am a bit of minimalist, so I love to get rid of things and keep the house clutter free.

  8. I’m finding living small is very pleasant indeed! I recently downsized from a 1000 sq ft. townhouse to a 425 sq. ft. studio and I have all the space I need, with room to spare! I donated my large futon from my former place and will be adding a storage-added loveseat later on and another bookcase to put behind it and create a reading space in my “bedroom area,” and that’s all I expect to add as furniture goes. It’s so nice living a more streamlined life!

  9. Dawn

    Thank you for posting the photos of your home. It doesn’t look small at all and is so beautiful! I dream of having clear counter tops like that! This gives me a boost of inspiration.

    Just wondering – does anyone have any suggestions regarding garage sale vs. donate? I have so many things that I would like to get rid of, “but it was so expensive” and we could use the money. On the other hand, a garage sale feels like an overwhelming hassle.

    • Dawn, I live in Texas and have at least one garage sale per year. Had one two weeks ago and sold all the small stuff. This time the large dollar items didn’t sell, so I donated them after the sale and have the tax write-offs plus the money from the items sold.

      I have two rules for garage sales: If it goes out the door, it does not come back inside. Never-ever! And I only do one-day garage sales.

      If you have a local shelter that will pick up your donations, call and schedule them late in the afternoon of your sale (if you decide to do just one day).

      Are garage sales a hassle? Yes. But so is anything worthwhile. I take one of the spare bedrooms and begin stacking items selected for the sale several weeks, even months, before the sale date. I go through closets, dressers, laundry room, kitchen cabinets, and the garage, if you have one, to lighten the load. And always end up wishing I had put more things in the “for sale” stack. Do it a little at a time and it’s not so overwhelming. And if you can get a friend to go in with you for the sale it helps when posting signs, crowd control, and collecting the money.

      Make simple signs: GARAGE SALE TODAY! ADDRESS with an arrow pointing the way to your home at the bottom. Use bright white posterboard folded in half so you can write on both sides and staple to 3 foot slats that can be easily hammered into the ground in your surrounding community. I usually make about eight to ten signs, being sure to post one in the driveway of our home. Be sure to check and see if your community requires a Garage Sale Permit. Ours does.

      Best wishes for a great sale. Hope you make lots of money. And vow, like the rest of us GSers, “Not going to ever do it again.” But, we always do.

      DiAne

    • Hi Dawn,

      I had a garage sale just a couple of weeks ago and after the experience swore I would never do it again! I made very little money, and invested a lot of time making signs, advertising and setting everything up.

      In retrospect I would have tried selling the larger stuff online and donated all the books, nicknacks and kitchenware to the local op shop. In the end, most of the stuff ended up being donated or thrown away anyway!

      Victoria

    • Dawn

      Diane and Victoria, thank you both for your replies. What great information from both sides of the “to GS or not to GS” debate to consider. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      Dawn

    • janey

      Just adding my 2¢ regarding garage sales: I think it totally depends on your neighborhood/community traditions whether it’d be “worth” it. Some communities have serial garage sales every weekend and have traditional, free forms of advertising, etc. Other communities get very prickly about folks setting up and holding a sale, and no one is interested in shopping that way. The most brilliant thing to do is what happened with us, a block sale, where you have multiple homeowners participating.
      If you would be in an isolated situation may/may not be worth the effort. However, you’ll spend mostly time prepping and doing the sale -so all in your tolerance level!
      When our kids were young we participated in the block sales, and I think it helped them develop a “release” mentality regarding stuff. Now, it’s easier to just donate.
      Alternatives to a GS include Craig’s List, Freecycle, consignment, setting out on the curb, schools, libraries, as well as your local thrift or charity shops.
      A GS forces you to get everything out at once, the other options allow for a more gradual process.
      All very therapeutic.

    • Marge

      When I acted as executor of my sister’s estate I learned that donation is the much simpler and in most cases more lucrative way to deal with divesting of ‘stuff.’ I found an amazing company that came in, gathered and donated almost every last belonging and this was a 3 story house absolutely stuffed with ‘things.’ They found organizations to take even scraps I would have trashed leaving me with only a small pile of garbage to send to a landfill, The result, I was saved the agony, emotional indecision and weeks of labor. AND I, my 3 siblings and my parents each received more than $5,000 in tax receipts. Unbelievable. Plus I got the warm fuzzies knowing the things went to a good cause. The experience of left me with the realization that donation is the easy (there is free software to estimate the value yourself) and quick way out. At 50 I learned it’s never too soon to let go of my own accumulation. It’s an ongoing process so I’m very happy to have gained the wisdom of Courtney Carver to cheer my efforts.

  10. couldn’t agree more Courtney! I live in s 800sq ft apartment with my 13 years old son and husband… and we are still decluttering… never quite seem done… but it does feel amazing to spend time outside or doing stuff you like instead of organizing and cleaning!
    lovely post once again!
    nath
    xox

  11. I started to write, but it disappeared, so here goes the second try.

    I think personal philosophy as well as age, health conditions, and location combine to make the decision between donating or having a yard sale. I have chosen to donate.

    At eighty-one and recently widowed, I am preparing to move to another state to live with my youngest son. There I will have one room for my bed, my computer, and my sewing machine plus kitchen space for equipment I often use that he doesn’t have.

    With only a few momentary qualms, I find I am able to let go of items I once cherished, knowing that now someone else will have the use and the joy of them. I take photos of mementos and then give them away. I’m digitizing favorite music from audio cassettes and “ripping” tracks from compact disks, all to be stored on my computer. At least three-fourths of my library has gone to a book sale; I have a Kindle and can obtain many of my favorite titles free or at small cost.

    It’s exhilarating to actually see empty spaces on shelves. I agree with former posts that argue that “organizing” is simply storing, not eliminating “stuff.”

    • Dawn

      Jean,

      I always forget about digital storage of books, music and mementos as a great way to eliminate a large expanse of my clutter.

      Best of luck on your move.

    • janey

      Yes, best of luck on your move!
      You speak to one of my driving concerns: Now, as a 60-something, and having dealt with parents’ and an older sibling’s horribly cluttered (think Hoarders) estates, I am focused on creating a home that will not be a burden to those who have to “clean up” after us. It’s been a joy to shed stuff, and I always say that we should be be able to easily live in an Airstream :) Even if we never move, we/I shouldn’t leave behind a painful task. Now, ironically, much of what is left are memorabilia and family heirlooms for our children. I am certain that what we really use could easily fit in a room with a view.
      Digitizing our memories has been particularly difficult, tedious, and slow. I wish I could find a quicker method to get all those photos collected over 25 years into the cloud!

      • Janey, if you’re holding on to memorabilia and family heirlooms for the children, think about letting them have those things now. When my children were here for their father’s memorial service, many such items went back with them. I’ve shipped several of my husband’s oil paintings to family or friends, an antique chair to one of my sons, and a spinning wheel to my daughter. Just remember to take photos of everything.

        • rachel

          With age comes wisdom. Jean Allen or Janey, do you have any advise for younger people on accumulating/keeping stuff? Do you wish you would have decluttered a long time ago or happy you still have things? Thanks!

          • janey

            As far as advice, I believe the William Morris quote says it all; and that Courtney nailed it with her 8 Lessons.
            What I really wish -in retrospect- is that we had never acquired 90% of what we have had at some point! What a waste. We do have certain things that have “stood the test of time”, but I have no idea how you hone in on what those would be except through experience/trial and error. I imagine, though, that if we had never had them we wouldn’t have missed them.
            I love my home, and it has been shaped bit by bit over time. It’s uniquely ours. If we chose to, or had to give it up, that’d be OK, though.The most important things are the experiences we have shared.

          • I don’t think younger people who didn’t live through the Great Depression or in the decade or so after it have as much compulsion to keep things as my generation does.

            As for wishing I had done it sooner, not really. Many of the things I’m donating now were bought to meet my husband’s needs or desires when his health was declining, so I don’t need them now. Other things were personal papers and small memorabilia that were meaningful only to him.

            It helps to be aware of de-cluttering web sites and blogs like this. Life Edited is another one and the Small House movement in general–although I won’t be going to that extent–raises awareness of how little we really need.

            May you be well, happy, and peaceful.

    • Peggy

      Wow Jean, from your writing I would never guess that you are 81!!! I chuckle that you are “ripping” tracks… I have heard of this but don’t know anything about how to do it (I’m a youngster – almost 60, lol)… I like that you are aware & accepting of what kind of space and equipment you will have at your sons house, that you are not planning to clutter his place by hauling everything you used to own there! Great comment and thanks for the chuckles :)

      • Well Peggy, I’m glad what I wrote amused you. It just goes to show that there’s a lot of life in this old girl yet!

        Much of my thinking with regard to possessions goes back to Thoreau’s observation that too often our possessions own us instead of the other way around.

        Keep smiling!

    • Gail

      Jean,
      I am so sorry for the loss of your husband. At 81, you appear to be a brave, strong, and progressive woman. What an inspiration you are! I am 62, and one day I might be doing exactly what you are doing.
      I hope your move and the transition goes smoothly. With your positive attitude, I think it will.
      Gail

  12. I moved from about 2000 square feet to 900. I especially notice #5 and 6, clutter accumulating more obviously and the desire for more storage sneaking in. I think a lot has to do with getting the right space and right size for you. I’m not sure we have that yet, but getting closer.

    Where do you write, Courtney? Do you have your own office?

    • Courtney Carver

      Sandra … I write everywhere ;)

      I write standing at the kitchen island, sitting at the kitchen table and then go out frequently to the library or coffee shops to work.

      I used to have a dedicated office, but I didn’t spend much time there so when we moved, I knew I wouldn’t need a room for an office.

  13. ClaireH

    I moved from a 2500 sq ft home when I was married to a 1100 sq ft rental as a single mom with two kids 2 and a half years ago. I took about half the furniture but only about a quarter of the ‘stuff’ and I have decluttered several times since then. I love coming home to my cosy house which is organized and clutter free. It is my haven.

    I know the trend in many countries is towards home ownership (in the US as in my native UK and in Australia where I live now) but I find renting is so much easier and less worry. I have a great landlord who fixed stuff straight away so maybe that is why I have had a great rental experience. My friends who own homes spend much of the weekend cleaning their big houses and doing yard work and DIY…I spend mine having breakfast with friends and going to the movies!

  14. Jen

    #6 and #8 completely!

    I recently moved from an apartment to a house (renting a room), but purposely chose to move into the smallest bedroom in the house, which is somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 the size of my last bedroom. Even though I decluttered and minimalized an immense amount (donated and tossed out 10 trash bags of stuff just in my bedroom!) before the move, I still find that I have too much stuff since I have less places to “hide” stuff I don’t know what to do with.

    Moving twice in the last 2 years (and 8 times in the last 7 years – yay college) I stopped getting homesick for old places because I realized that it’s my dog and my loved ones that make a place feel like home right away. :)

  15. Thank you for sharing pictures of your space Courtney. I love how the kitchen looks with no clutter on the counters!

    I am de-cluttering and hoping to work towards the ability to live in a smaller space. We’ve downsized from about 1680 to 1080 sq feet for a family of 3 (due to an interstate move). I would like to hear more about how others handle “office” space and a dog in a smaller apartment.

    • Paige

      We are a family of 4 living in a 1250 sq ft apartment. Our “office space” is a small console table that has a small drawer to hold usb and cables. We have it in our bedroom. It is just big enough to hold the laptop and the wireless router, with a small writing space. The printer is on an old beer crate under the table. It works for us. When we were first married and in our first apartment, which was a 1bedroom, we had a tv tray as our desk. :) We have slightly upgraded…

  16. 2 years ago I moved from a studio apartment to a 4 bedroom house. Over that short time I am horrified at the amount of stuff I have accumulated! While owning my own home is immensly satisfying, much of my time is spent renovating and restoring and maintaing the garden. There is a lot to be said for downsizing!

  17. Love this post! “When you need to buy things for your things…..” really hit home for me. I am a container person; it provides me with limits I need to keep clutter at bay. However, after reading this, I might have to rethink this strategy. I live in a small cape home built in the 1950′s. You have way more counter space and cabinets than my tiny kitchen. None the less, I am determined to make it work as I scrutinize its contents while doing a partial renovation/facelift.

  18. I love your place, Courtney! What a view! I wholeheartedly agree that you don’t have to fill up the space and should seriously reconsider your “stuff” if you’re getting containers to put it in. In January, we sold our 1,400 sq ft townhome and moved into a 700 sq. ft. apartment, rid ourselves of soooo much stuff, and have never been happier. We don’t have things on the walls because I’m so happy feeling the space! The only thing we bought for our new place was a microwave. After going from three to one bathroom, we realize we will have enough bath and handtowels to last us until we’re long gone! ;)

  19. A great question to ask is “How much room is in this room?” Maximize the room in your room and minimize the stuff in your room. Or life.

  20. I love your apartment.

    We plan to downsize significantly in about a year. We’re all about gradually decluttering, so it’s taking us awhile. On the other hand, it’s low stress that way and I get such a kick out of little things like the bookcase I finished emptying this weekend, which is now in the garage waiting for the next trip to Goodwill.

  21. Totally agree, especially #4 and #8
    We began downsizing last year and love our space. Less clutter, organizing, cleaning…it’s been great! But most important, we’ve learned to value the experiences we share with each other. It’s true, it’s not the things that makes a home warm and especial. It’s our relationships…they are our most prized possessions. Thanks Courtney!

  22. Kate

    Excellent post Courtney! We downsized some when we moved from NH to FL as we went from a colonial with 3 levels to a double wide modular house that is one level. We sold, donated and threw away more than I knew we even had and yet we are overfull now. Books are my real downfall. I have books that were published before 1900. I have a wonderful collection of primers also. My husband has many philosophy books. New books we have on our Nooks.Yes I do read and reread my old books… What do you do with items like this?? I do not want to get rid of these books but books have a habit of multiplying. Ideas?

    • Courtney Carver

      Kate, I stopped holding on to books and when I want to be around them, I go to the library or the bookstore. You could pass them on to people who will use them more frequently or keep them. Less is not nothing. ;)

    • Jess

      A delayed response, but I just wanted to share my two cents. I’m a BIG fan of functional decor. For example, my boyfriend loves guitars, so we hang them on the walls – they make sleek and simple decorations, and they’re easily accessible when he wants to pick one up and play. If you want to hold on to some of your books, perhaps you can incorporate them into your design? High shelving or floating shelves to hold your favorites, and ready for you to pick up the next time you want to read.

  23. You are so right about small spaces showing the clutter more. I lived in a 2400 sqft house and I only saw clutter in certain spots. I live in a tiny 700 sqft apt and I see it everywhere. It’s daunting and annoying.

    And unfortunately, I can’t give up my wrapping paper box and scrapbooking stuff, which I need a new storage unit for to make it easy to retrieve. That’s the only time I will buy stuff for my stuff.

  24. How ironic that I stumble onto your blog just weeks before we move into a much smaller space! These are good bits of advice to live by and make the transition easier.

  25. Help a momma out?

    I want to be free but am drowning!

    I have 2 toddlers and another on the way. I adore stuff to hold my stuff! Is there another way?

    A post dedicated to each room would be a lifeline. Consider it please?

    Sippy cups are ruling the kitchen,
    Roccie

  26. Michelle

    Thanks for the reminder about buying stuff for our stuff! It’s so easy to forget, especially with kid stuff!

  27. Paige

    Thank you for sharing your space with us! I have been patiently waiting to see it. :) It looks very nice and clean. I don’tthink my spacewill ever be as clutter free as yours, but I am making progress. When our family of 4 moved into our current 1250 sq ft apartment from our 1500 sq ft house withh attic and garage, we donated truck loads of stuff. Family thought we should holdonto it all, but to us it wasnt worth paying to store. In the year that weve lived here i have donated and sold truckloads of more stuff. We are no longer bursting at the seams, thought there is still work to be done. I recently cleared our 2 kitchen counters and what a difference! The kitchen feels so much bigger! And by cleared, i mean the coffee pot and kitchenaid are still on there, its too much work to pull those out each time. I think my biggest struggle is kid stuff. My kids are almost 8 years apart and I want to hang into things in case the young one might use them. I do not buy my youngest random stuff like i did with my oldest. I buy with intention and purpose for him, and he doesnt have so much that he is overwhelmed. I already see a difference in the way he plays.. Until both kids are about 10, i am going to have some kid clutter. I have accepted that.

  28. I loved reading this list and seeing what you’ve gained from your move. We’ve lived in our small inner-city apartment for nearly 9 years and we get so much from it. We call public parks and cultural destinations our backyards. We bump into people we know when we toilet our dog, and can enjoy a spontaneous dinner out or just walk further because the weather is nice. We often stumble across free public events and marvel at the great things available to us. Or hear new music from a park or as we walk past a bar. A small space forces you to always keep clutter under control and not let things creep in for too long unnoticed. We can lock the doors and go travelling without any maintenance needed. So many good things have come from it…

  29. Jennifer S

    I INHERITED some stuff from my cousin when she died … I doubled the size of locker space to store some of the stuff her brothers didn’t want. emotionally I was attached to some things and after moving from the condo we shared and moving twice into other peoples homes I now see how much simpler I will make my life by giving more of her stuff away . It HAS BEEN 2 YRS since her death… so I,m in a better frame of mind .Thanks for this encouraging article

  30. Malkah Hochman

    I love living in my 780 foot apartment! Sometimes people look at me funny when I say I rent, but I don’t mind! I don’t look at it as “throwing my money away”. With no property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, or maintenance costs, I’ve been able to build up my 401K. My place is clutter free with light aqua walls. It is my haven! I love small spaces! Thank you for all of your articles. I get so much out of reading them and get excited when I see new posts! Go Courtney!

  31. Hope

    My hubby and I went from a 2500 sq. ft. home to living full time on a 49 ft. sailboat! We totally emptied our home of all furniture and belongings by having a huge “estate sale” and also calling our children to tell them to come and claim what they wanted before “the sale”. My one rule, which I stick to, is nothing new comes aboard the boat without something going off the boat.

  32. thanks for the inspiration and interior photos

  33. FL

    Hi, the whole thing is going well here and ofcourse every one is sharing facts, that’s in fact excellent, keep up writing.

  34. H Martin

    I enjoy your site, ideas and reader posts! Thanks for the motivation!

    Just today i was counting how many places there are to sit in my home ; 6 on the front porch, 6 on the back patio, 6 in the dining room, plus 3 barstools in the kitchen, 7 in the liv room, 4 in the guest room, 3 in my bedroom, vanity stool in the bathroom and 4 random chairs in the “I don’t know” room.

    I live alone.

    I was widowed at 39, ten years later my adult son moved out, and mom moved in for a few years.
    I just lost my mom last year…
    .
    So its me and the dogs and piles of papers to be “organized” now. (re:shredded and turned into an art project)

    But I have somewhere to sit!

  35. Judy

    We moved seven years ago from a 2000+ square foot home to a 750 square foot cottage with three kids, who soon became three teenagers and are now becoming young adults. Our original plan was to build a new (big) house on our large rural block. However, my husband’s cancer diagnosis soon after we moved made this impossible…and (although it wasn’t our choice) we have actually really enjoyed our little house. We have, by necessity, had to reduce the clutter and make do with less stuff and less space, and overcome the difficulties of two growing girls having to share a room (not always harmoniously). I think that living in close proximity has kept us closer. Many of the extended family,teenage friends (and adults too) choose to “hang out” around our kitchen table, enjoying the home cooked treats and lack of television – making it a very crowded but friendly and fun place to be. Lots of good memories…

  36. Awesome! I discussed this with my husband and he said it makes so much sense. Hopefully, in the next two years we would want to move to a smaller space.

  37. Esther

    I’ve found that it’s easier to make a place feel like home in a smaller place. Having recently downsized from a 5 bedroom house (which we didn’t need) to a 3 bedroom duplex I find that because I have to be more minimal with what I put out on display I am only choosing the things I really love. (Everything else goes….) With a larger house it felt more empty and I found myself accumulating things just to fill up the space. The smaller space pulls things together more and it feels more cosy without being cluttered.

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