Between seaside cottages, tiny homes, and even #vanlife, the real estate industry is taking the saying “less is more” to previously unknown levels. And while we can all get behind the idea of streamlining your life and shedding possessions that no longer meet your needs, you only need to watch (maybe) half an episode of Tiny House Hunters to realize that collectively, our desire to live in a smaller space is being eclipsed by all our possessions. (“I just wish there was more storage space!”)
The good news is that as we’ve become increasingly obsessed with small living spaces, we’ve also discovered (or recovered) strategies to maximize what you’ve got. Whether you already live in a small space, you’re downsizing to a second home, or you just want to be more efficient with the space you have, these tips will help you achieve your miniature-lifestyle dreams.
Look high and low
As humans, we’re socialized to see what’s in front of us -- and little else. Ask any hide-and-seek champion and you’ll learn that there’s a whole world of possibilities both above our line of sight and below it, where we rarely glance.
So take a walk through your living space and pay special attention to the space above your head toward the ceiling and the space below your knees toward the floor. If you’ve got high ceilings especially, you might find a ton of new opportunities for shelving or other storage options -- but close to the ground can be just as lucrative.
Make sure you’re focusing on “unusual” spots, too -- like under the stairs, for example. We’re not suggesting you turn that space beneath the stairs into a bedroom (a la Harry Potter), but it’s certainly possible that when you bypassed the stairs, you also neglected the perfect space to store out-of-season clothing items.
You’ll also want to consider your furniture while you’re examining your place from floor to ceiling. If space is at a premium, then you’ll want to find dining room seating (for example) that tucks completely under the table when you’re finished. Start making a list of furniture, decorative items, and other things that you may want to replace with more efficient options.
One great way to make your space look larger-than-real-life is to arrange all of your seating lower to the ground. Instead of a couch in the living room, you might consider a futon that folds into a bed -- or maybe even just some big, comfortable cushions that can be stacked in a corner when you’re not lounging or entertaining guests.
Transparency is key
One of the essential problems with living in a small space is that a “traditional” home is very much divided up by function. You sleep in the bedroom, cook in the kitchen, work in the office, and relax in the living area -- all of which are divided up by walls.
Smaller living quarters often try to replicate a traditional home, but if you’re living in a tiny space, then you might not want walls dividing everything up … and even if you do, maybe a permanent wall of brick and mortar is the wrong move. Glass doors and walls can functionally separate your space for living without sacrificing any of your line-of-sight vision, giving the illusion of plenty of room even in a smaller home. If you’d like to actually block off a space physically and visually, then hanging a curtain that you can fling open or draw closed can be a nice way to create a “room” within a room -- without the walls.
And sometimes trends can work in your favor: Those barn doors you see all over Pinterest and Instagram make great space-dividers when you install them as sliding doors or wall replacements in your home. You can reconfigure your entire living area by just sliding a door one way or another.
Hotel designers know this trick (and you won’t be able to unsee it now that we’ve told you about it): Hang a large mirror across one wall to give the illusion of twice the space. When you arrange lights around or in front of the mirror, you’re also brightening the room up significantly.
You can hang the mirror above a couch or a bed, or on the back of a door, very easily. And you can even find mirrored tile these days, so if you love the look of subway tile and also would like to take advantage of some mirroring in your bathroom or kitchen, then you can even consider a mirrored backsplash in one (or both) of those spots to capture light and brighten the room.
Work those walls (and ceilings)
Now that you’ve walked through your home with an eye toward the sky, you probably know where you are missing an opportunity to maximize your space.
Could you replace your kitchen light with a version that includes a rack for pots and pans, for example, freeing up some cabinet space below? Are you parking your bicycle in the hallway when you could install a couple of hooks and hang it up? Is there space to add a bookshelf or three for storing rarely used items? (Or books?!)
You might find there’s space above your kitchen cabinets where you can park small appliances that you don’t use very often, or maybe there are corners throughout your living space where you could install a shelf and use it. Remember: Your floor is just one surface; you can create many more if you need to.
And if you’re still sporting a television stand taking up unnecessary space in the corner, then consider the wonderful world of wall mounts, which can securely hold your TV without encroaching on precious floor surface area.
Lights, color, action
Natural light makes everything look bigger and brighter. Get greedy with yours! Consider using sheer curtains in any windows where light sneaks in, and place mirrors to catch and bounce it around your living space. And if you own the home and are able to install taller windows or even a skylight, it might be an investment worth making.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have a good source of natural light, then fake it. Use lamps (hanging lamps won’t even take up surface space in your pad), wall sconces, chandeliers, and other fixtures to brighten and enhance your living space.
Paint and color matter significantly, too. Some experts suggest painting everything white before you move into a small space to help maximize the feel and energy, and that will certainly work, but most of us don’t want to live in an eggshell; if that’s you, then think about pops of bright color that can balance out neutrals and draw the eye in. In general, try to steer clear of dark shades and instead opt for light neutrals and bright hues. (That said, most small living spaces don’t lend themselves to a lot of bright colors all together in one spot, so be selective -- paint just one wall instead of the entire room, for example.)
You can use drawers or other storage solutions to tuck away items that you don’t use all the time. Some tiny-home kitchens have mastered this art with retractable microwaves and stoves that slide out of a wall or cabinet when you need to use them and slide back in when you’re finished.
It’s definitely possible to take this concept to an extreme with fold-out dining sets that collapse back against the wall when you no longer need a place to eat, fold-out desks that appear and disappear as your day shifts from work to play, and wall beds (also known as Murphy beds) are a fantastic option for micro-dwellers who have to have that queen-size mattress but can’t stomach the idea of taking up precious floor space 24/7 with a big bed. Some of them even transform from a desk/office area into a bed, taking multitasking to a new level of awesome.
Stackable (or stashable) appliances
Yes, you can have a washer-dryer in your small abode -- but it’s probably best if you choose a set that stacks to help save some floor space.
Appliance manufacturers have been paying attention to the micro-trend, and they’ve been building products for smaller spaces that work just as well as their full-size counterparts. Before decking out your diminutive dwelling, do some research on what appliances are available and consider whether they would work for you and your lifestyle.
Elevate your furniture
Lifting up your furniture just a few inches can expose treasure troves of storage space. If you’ve got a traditional bed or sofa and need to maximize your storage surface area, then consider getting some risers for either piece of furniture and investing in some low boxes or other storage containers that you can slide underneath.
Or you can even find furniture that doesn’t have any legs. Floating desks and dressers can be mounted to a wall, taking up very little space and functioning just as well as their heavier (and larger) counterparts do.
Like that wall bed/office desk setup mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to maximize your space within small square footage is to require your things to multitask, and multitask well.
Most people don’t need a pressure cooker and a rice cooker, for example; you can use the Instant Pot you got for the holidays for both. And maybe that stand mixer still makes sense in a tiny kitchen if you have attachments that turn it into a food processor and juicer, too. But multitasking reaches far beyond appliances.
The hide-a-bed-style sleeper sofa that your parents had in the den is always one option, but there are sofas these days that will fold out into a full-size bed, ottomans and benches with lids that open up for storage space, collapsible and nestable end tables, and much more. The humble ottoman with a lid on it can serve as a coffee table, chair, desk, and more. And maybe a breakfast bar with some tall stools (that slide underneath when not in use) will make more sense for your living space and meal prep than a dining room set.
If you live in an area with seasonal changes, then you probably have at least two sets of clothing and activity gear: One for warm weather and one for cold weather. Trying to keep both sets in a tiny closet can be challenging, but an easy fix involves simply swapping out your clothing, accessories, and gear for the appropriate season.
Invest in a vacuum sealer, seal up last season’s stuff and store it (maybe under a bed or couch that you lifted!). If you’ve got a shed or another form of external storage space, then you can also stash it there, but we don’t necessarily recommend renting a storage unit for your “extra” stuff -- that can get expensive (and out of control) fast, so unless you’re only in this tiny space temporarily and need to hang onto other things, try to stay away from the storage unit solution.
Make your outdoors great
Maybe that space between your walls is officially “tiny” -- but if you’ve got the ability to spread yourself around outside, then consider turning your deck or yard into a bona-fide living space.
Patio furniture and hammocks can help you create a dining or lounge space outside, complete with furniture, and if you have room for a grill outside (and the weather is nice enough year-round), then you might even be able to turn your out-of-doors into a kitchen of sorts. And a storage shed outside can solve a lot of your storage problems, too, from out-of-season clothing to recreational equipment.
Keeping the lawn mowed and your flowerbeds blooming can also go a long way toward making your home feel serene and loved instead of cluttered and overstuffed with “stuff.” If you maintain the outside of your home, it will invite you to relax just as effectively as a king-sized feather bed with fluffy white pillows or leather sectional in front of a television.