Design Guide for Small Space Living

This website is about living well with less: less stuff, less space and less money. But that doesn’t mean your home has to be spartan or bare and uninspiring – on the contrary, when you make a point to only surround yourself with the things you love and need, you will likely find yourself feeling more motivated and comfortable in the small space you call home.

Below is the “big picture” overview of the underlying thesis of this website (living well in small spaces), with links given to more detailed Micro-Living posts when relevant.

Small home design and decorating

[via kahstan]

Small homes can be effectively decorated in any style; the design guidelines below can apply equally well to Victorian-era homes as well as mid-century modern decorating styles.

Interior decorating “cheat sheet”

Be aware of scale

Being aware of size and scale in your furniture and accessories will allow you take full advantage of what space you do have.

TIP: “Tape measures are your friend”

Good fits look high quality and intentional. Know the measurements of your existing furniture and bring them and a tape measure with you anytime you might be looking at furniture.

Residents in condos and apartments may also be restricted by the size of the elevators or doorways when bringing in their furniture. You need to know the measurements of narrowest “barrier” you will have to fit through, whether that’s a hallway, your front door, or an elevator.

If you don’t limit yourself to only buying new furniture, older pieces are often smaller-scaled, since older homes were usually smaller, with smaller rooms.

Buying used furniture guide

Also, don’t necessarily write off furniture marketed as children’s furniture, if it’s a style that could work in your home, such as dressers, desks and small tables.

Use attractive organization products

In small homes you often just won’t have the built-ins, closets, cabinets, etc, and some of your storage will have to be out in the open.

Repetition in your organization system can help the space look more attractive: use uniformly colored and/or sized boxes, jars, baskets, etc.

Take advantage of vertical space

In most small homes, floor space is at the highest premium, so wall space can be used to get some of your items off the floor.

Suggested uses of vertical space:

  • Floating shelves over work areas
  • Hooks in entryways
  • Hooks or pegs in the kitchen for pots, pans and cooking utensils

Minimize visual clutter

Clutter immediately makes a room look smaller, no matter how big the room us. Thus, it’s very important to manage clutter in small spaces.

Reduce clutter

Below, we suggest how to manage clutter inflow with lifestyle rules. However, most people could benefit from a de-cluttering session at the very beginning of this home organization process.

De-cluttering step-by-step guide

The general rule to apply to each item in your house is, “Does it provide me a needed service that I have used in the past year, or is it something that I find beautiful and brings me happiness?” If you can’t answer “yes” to either of those questions, it needs to go. If parting with items is difficult for you, keep in mind that by donating what you no longer use, a person who really does need this item will be able to get it affordably.

Where to donate your used household items

Conceal what remains

It’s difficult to make sure that every storage area of your home is completely organized at all times. Having closed storage allows you some “breathing room” and gives you a break from the necessity of every part of your house needing to be picture-perfect.

  • Closed cabinets instead of open
  • Box-shaped storage instead of open shelf storage
  • Opaque baskets and bins
Cohesive decorating themes

Small homes are not the place to have a wildly different decorating style and/or color scheme in every room. Allow all the rooms to “talk” to one another.

  • One focal point per room: don’t have pieces competing for attention. Choose one piece to be the focal point and allow all the other pieces to complement this piece.
  • Coordinating color and design schemes: don’t have clashing color schemes or decorating styles in different rooms of your small home.

Interior decorating style quizzes

Develop an organization plan

You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to benefit from an organized home. Having good organization systems increase the chances that items will be put away instead of left out, less things will accumulate into clutter, and you will have a less stressful home environment.

Everything in its place

Make or assign a “home” for every item in your house. This can be a very boring, tedious task, but it will make all future cleaning sessions much faster, and also make it much less likely that you lose anything.

Organize based on frequency of use

Generally, you want your most frequently accessed items within easiest reach. Think of grocery stores, where they put the name brand items between waist and eye-level, and the lower-margin items below or above that range. Your storage systems should function on this basis, so that the less frequently you need to access something (like Christmas decorations or ski clothes), the more out of reach it can be stored.

Lifestyle decisions

Living in a small space is truly a lifestyle decision, and with it comes several pros and cons. Here are some tips to “play the game” most effectively.

Consider renting instead of owning

Whether we are talking about small purchases like books versus using the library, or major purchases like a washing machine and dryer versus using the laundromat, it’s best to consider your ownership options logically to make sure you’re making the right decision for your lifestyle.

What would the item cost to purchase outright (include any ongoing costs to maintain the item, such as regular auto tune-ups for cars)? Divide by the number of times you would expect to use it * its lifespan.

Then, compare your “cost per use” to how much it would cost to rent each time. Are they close, or wildly different?

Also consider how much of a premium you place on saving the space in your home, versus the convenience of owning the item and having access to it at all times.

Apply strict rules to what you own

There are a variety of lifestyle techniques you can use to control getting too many things.

Would I pay to replace this?

If this item was stolen today, would you take the time and money to replace it? If no, it may need to go.

One in, one out rule

This system is designed to make sure you only keep the “best” items in your home. If you truly love something enough to bring it home with you, the price you pay is letting go of something else, like a trade.

30-day impulse control waiting period

Keep track of any non-essentials you are considering purchasing, and wait at least a month to re-assess the item and see if you still believe your life would be improved by having this item, and that its cost is worth it. Many times you will no longer feel the need to have this item. A side benefit to this method is that it can also help you control frivolous spending.

In conclusion, do what works for you

There is no single “right” way for small space dwellers to live. The best general advice is to understand the general guidelines for living well in small spaces, and then break the rules whenever and however it suits you best.

Photo credits: top photo