Thinking about downsizing and transitioning to small space living, but don't know where to start?
Perhaps you've considered moving to a smaller place. The problem is, you're overwhelmed by the idea of sorting through all the stuff you've accumulated since…forever!
It's tough to commit to such a monumental task without the conviction that you're truly doing the right thing for yourself and your family. The bottom line is that we're talking about changing the place you call home. That's quite an emotional commitment.
How do real people like you successfully downsize and embrace small space living?
Embracing Small Space Living
In this article, we'll:
- Introduce you to the benefits of downsizing to a smaller home,
- Give you tips for downsizing your house and guidance on how to reduce your belongings, and
- Help you develop a vision of your new, functional, and stylish surroundings by highlighting some clever and chic small space living tips and tricks, like installing a Murphy bed.
As you downsize, a positive vision of your new home will help you through the difficult decisions and actions to get there. Vital to your success is the mindset that you're not sacrificing, per se, but transitioning to a home that is more in line with your values and that will allow you to focus more on the things that matter most to you.
First, let's answer some questions.
What is Downsizing?
Downsizing refers to the action that individuals, couples, or families take to reduce the size of their residence and/or cut back on the things they own.
In a small way, every time you donate a box of gently-used clothing at the women's shelter or throw out neglected items from your garage, you're "downsizing."
Downsizing with the intent of living in a smaller space encompasses a more comprehensive, deliberate purge of possessions while preparing to accommodate your living needs with less square footage.
If it sounds like a lot of work, you're not mistaken:
According to Becoming Minimalist, the average American house is three times the size it was 50 years ago and holds an average of 300,000 items. Further, 10 percent of Americans pay offsite storage facilities to rent more space to squirrel away the stuff that doesn't fit in their house.
How much of your stuff do you need to get rid of? And why would anyone want to go through this tedious process?
There are varying degrees of "living with less." Minimalist living celebrates the freedom of living intentionally with significantly fewer possessions than the average American. Jenna from Tiny House Giant Journey blogs about her tiny house and the lifestyles of tiny homeowners.
In fact, according to Lorena Romo at Porch, the tiny house lifestyle is becoming so popular that you can even rent a tiny house. This gives you the benefit of doing a small space "test run" before taking the plunge.
But, you don't have to become a minimalist or buy a tiny house to reduce excess belongings and live in a smaller space. Whatever your goal, sorting through and getting rid of some (or most) of your belongings will likely be an enormous task.
Small Space Living & Downsizing: What Are the Benefits?
Let's take a look at the benefits of downsizing to a smaller living space.
Moving to a smaller home or apartment will reduce costs significantly through:
- Reduced mortgage payments when buying a smaller house, or reduced monthly rent
- Lower real estate taxes and
- Lower utility, insurance, and maintenance costs
Another favorable impact of living in a smaller space is that you'll buy less. Your limited storage space will discourage you from over-buying food, clothing, and appliances that you would rarely use.
Many people downsize their houses to help them get out of debt faster. According to financial advisor Dave Ramsey, three financial benefits of reducing housing costs include the ability to invest more into your retirement fund and reduce or eliminate a mortgage payment or other debt altogether.
Let's face it. Home maintenance is hard work. Household cleaning and lawn care for any home take time, energy, and money.
Smart young couples (like Sherry and John Petersik from Young House Love) deliberately downsized to break away from the entrapments of large houses and suburban living to seek long-term lifestyles that better fit their family.
Certainly, smaller homes need regular upkeep, but downsized homeowners enjoy home maintenance workloads that are less overwhelming or stressful, freeing up time for more fun. And who doesn't want more fun?
Sounds tempting, but is it really right for you?
(Check out several more tips for small space living in this post)
Here Come the 'Buts'
Sure, it's easy to acknowledge the financial and lifestyle benefits of downsizing.
But how will you make it work?
Let's get real here. It's probably going to take a lot of work, and you don't have a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and convert all of your extra stuff into your perfect little dream home, do you?
Whether you've considered downsizing your home before retirement at 55 or in your 60s or 70s, you might wonder:
- When is the right time to downsize?
- Do I have to trade style for size?
- How can I personalize a small apartment to make it feel more like a home?
- Will I have enough space to be comfortable in my new place?
- With less space, where will guests sleep when they come to visit?
Have no fear. Our best tips for downsizing and decluttering will help to get you started with the process. Then, we'll dive into our collection of comfortable and stylish "small space living" solutions that'll replace your doubt with amped-up enthusiasm for your new place.
Small Space Living 101: How to Downsize and Declutter
Take a deep breath.
It's easy to become overwhelmed by the thought of paring down most of your lifetime belongings, but it's critical to overcome this emotion when downsizing your house.
If you approach this process systematically and with a clear head, you'll be more energized and much less stressed throughout the downsizing and decluttering experience.
First of all, determine several "re-homing" locations for your stuff. Label big boxes or plastic bins with different "home" names, like:
As you're decluttering and downsizing, remind yourself of the vision of your future home (more to come on that) and decide if the item is necessary or appropriate for your smaller space objectives. Really visualize your new, clutter-free space as if you're already there.
Feels good, doesn't it?
An example of this mindset comes from professional organizer Shira Gill, who advises how to downsize your closet in My Domaine's decluttering tips. "Imagine if your closet was like a well-curated boutique filled with items you loved…and also fit and flatter your current body." If the item doesn't fit those criteria, it doesn't need to come with you to your new home.
Small Space Living Starts with a Broad Sweep
Approach your home downsizing and decluttering efforts in steps or phases, either by category or by room. It helps to set a time limit on completing each phase to keep you focused and making headway.
If you're organizing by category, you can work your way through a list like this, keeping in mind that most households have items in each category that can be donated, sold, or tossed:
- Clothing & Shoes
- Purses, Backpacks, and Luggage
- Sporting Equipment
- Kitchen Items
- Games and Puzzles
- Toys and Stuffed Animals
- Collectibles and Memorabilia
Find local charities (like churches or thrift stores) that'll accept furniture and other household items. Drop off your donations frequently to limit accumulated clutter and keep your momentum going.
If you are going to try to sell items online, take photos of the items as you're sorting so that you can list them ASAP on eBay or other online marketplaces.
A big part of household clutter is paperwork. Most paper documents, like statements, pay stubs, or medical receipts, can be scanned and saved electronically, then shredded afterward.
However, hard copies of important paperwork like deeds, wills, licenses, and identification should be retained in a safe place. If you're unsure of what to keep or how long to keep it, check out Suze Orman's website for her reference on how long to keep personal documents.
Computer hardware should be disposed of safely, with the assurance that personal information and other electronic data are destroyed. Some electronics can be refurbished or recycled, so check out reputable local services that'll take them off your hands.
Downsizing memorabilia is particularly difficult. Melissa, from the downsizing blog Simple Lion Heart Life, shares tips for decluttering sentimental items, including finding a way to repurpose these items instead of storing them.
A Little Help Never Hurts
Naturally, the amount of time you spend decluttering and clearing out your home depends on the number of items you have, how quickly you can sort through things, and how much help you have.
If you're having trouble staying motivated or are lagging behind, look for professional organizers or decluttering services in your area that will help keep you on the right track.
Some find the decluttering and tidying methods of Marie Kondo or Swedish Death Cleaning helpful (yes, that's a real thing), but remember to maintain your focus on your vision.
Corey Willis from Hey There, Home suggests a step-by-step DIY approach to decluttering your home. In her guided course, The Declutter Method, she stresses that the combination of an intentional mindset and holding yourself accountable is the key to your success.
A Glimpse Into Your (Downsized) Future
Now you've got a sense of how to scale down your belongings. So, let's take a look at some creative inspiration that will help drive you toward success as well. Read on for several realistically fashionable and practical design ideas for your new downsized place!
We've curated several small space living decorating suggestions from talented interior designers. They will help you plan and envision your new living space and give you the motivation to fuel your downsizing efforts!
First, some small space decorating tips and tricks:
- Select a light and simple color palette
- Allow for lots of natural light with minimal window treatments
- Add a mirror to reflect light
- Pay attention to the scale of furnishings
- Don't over-furnish a small room with too many things
Let's see some examples from professional designers who use these tricks to make small spaces shine.
Styling Tricks for Small Space Living
Source: Yvonne @StoneGable blog
Combine Texture with Neutrals
Designer Yvonne Platt offers simple, effective decorating tips for how to make a small space live large on her blog, Stone Gable. She combines carefully selected textural elements with a light, neutral color palette to keep a small room airy and interesting. Clearly, there's no sacrifice of style in Yvonne's elegant breakfast nook decor!
Keep Furnishings to a Minimum in a Small Living Space
Coco (of Cococozy) features a tiny 830-square-foot apartment to demonstrate her design tips to make a small space feel larger. Small apartment decorating ideas like minimal furnishings and window coverings prove that a no-frills, clean, and bright decor keeps a small space open and cheerful.
But, even if you know all the decorating rules, it's still possible to have problem areas.
When inspiration escapes you, don't rule out seeking professional help! Professional interior design help, that is!
Consult a Virtual Design Service Before You Attempt Small Space Living
Wit and Delight lifestyle and home decor blogger Kate Arends test-drove the professional design services of Modsy using a common small-room decorating dilemma: furniture placement. This virtual interior design service offers design recommendations based on your decorating goals and submitted photos.
Make Your Small Space Functional
Sure, it may be cliché. But it's helpful to embrace the "think outside the box" mindset when looking for furnishings for a smaller space.
In an interview with Elle Decor about maximizing a minimal space, interior designer Bobby Berk advised that "Double-duty furniture is a small-space must-have."
Consider replacing infrequently used furnishings from your current home with more versatile, space-saving furniture that'll provide a dual function.
For example, tables with drawers or extra shelves provide more storage options than simpler styles. Opt for elegant and stylish dual-functionality pieces like coffee tables that convert to computer desks or ottomans with built-in storage.
Install a Versatile Murphy Bed
A fold-away Murphy Bed frees up valuable square footage when it's not being used but still provides a bed when you need it for overnight guests. Some models, like the Lori Bed, offer attractive shelf storage when the bed is in the upright position.
The Spruce reviewed several DIY Money-Saving Murphy Beds. These innovative, multi-purpose beds for small spaces can be built from plans or pre-manufactured kits only requiring assembly.
Create a Cuddly Reading Nook with Cabinets
Source: Avenue Lifestyle
Avenue Lifestyle (Avenue Design Studio) maximized the function of IKEA storage cabinets by arranging them into a fun cushioned reading area near a built-in shelf.
Make a Movable Kitchen Island for Small Space Living
Source: In My Own Style
In My Own Style design blogger Diane Henkler modified this small commercial prep table to create a movable island for her smaller kitchen. Her table provides functionality when she needs it. At the same time, its open design doesn't overpower the visual space of the small kitchen.
Need more space? Look up.
Use vertical space more efficiently with stacking appliances and floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinets. If you're going to build your new home, opt for high ceilings, custom closets, and pocket doors that'll help make your living space look larger. Mount sconces and televisions on walls to eliminate the need for bulky furniture.
Organization: Finding A Place for Everything
The prescription for organization in smaller spaces calls for some creative storage solutions. Your "epic purge" will get rid of a lot of your stuff. But you'll still need to follow a well-planned storage strategy.
Create More Storage Space with Shelf Risers
Follow the advice from Ann Drake, who boasts several successful kitchen storage and organization projects on her blog, On Sutton Place. She creates more storage capacity with inexpensive shelf risers for neat and tidy china storage in a small space.
Source: Style by Emily Henderson (Photo: Sara Ligorria-Tramp)
Fashion Some Simple Window Shelves
Emily Bowser recently revealed her 32-square-foot bathroom small space hacks on Style by Emily Henderson, which includes creative shelving nestled in the bathroom's window box.
Hang a Peg Rail Organizer
Source: Paper and Stitch
Something as simple as a set of wooden wall hooks can keep your entryway looking neat and tidy. Brittni of Paper and Stitch shows how to DIY this peg rail organizer for any space that needs some order.
Add a Shelf Over the Door
Home and decor site, Apartment Therapy offers a plethora of small bathroom organization ideas, including creating extra storage by hanging open shelves above the door.
Install a Functional Bathroom Vanity
Kris of Driven by Decor boasts about her small guest bathroom makeover, which replaced a pedestal sink that offered no storage. Adding style and function, this small but mighty vanity provides an elegant storage solution for bathroom necessities and guest towels.
In Summary: Keep Your Eye on the Prize when it Comes to Small Space Living
Hopefully, this collection of decor and organizing solutions sparks some inspiration and interest to explore more small space living ideas that fit your needs. By anticipating changes to your decor and pre-planning functional, space-saving solutions, you'll be motivated to continue through your downsizing process and ease into smaller-space living more gracefully.
Regardless of how you downsize your possessions, your vision of living more comfortably in your new, stylish, and chic smaller living space will fuel your ambition and keep you focused on your downsizing project.
And, your downsizing plan will give you the framework to systematically and deliberately move toward your small space living goal. Your small space living solution that saves you money, is organized and comfortable for you and your family, features innovative multifunctional furniture and decor that's stylish and chic, and fits your new low-stress lifestyle.
Get ready to enjoy that perfect living solution that will help you get the most out of life's well worth your downsizing effort.
Did you love learning more about small space living?
Here are three more posts to visit next:
- The Practical Benefits of a Murphy Bed
- The Best Examples of Murphy Beds in Tiny Homes
- Install a Murphy Bed and 7 Other DIY Ways to Maximize Small Spaces
This post about small space living was first published in 2020. It was updated in 2022 just for you.