More of us live in smaller homes due to affordability and practicality. Here are some small space living tips to make the most of your space.
As Australians, we love our big houses – four bedrooms, a study, a guest room, ensuites, an entertainment area and a formal living room, a backyard with plenty of lawn…
Instead, we (two adults, two kids) live in a three-bedroom townhouse – not super-small, but a lot smaller than your average home and with no backyard.
I’ve had people come to my house and say, ‘I don’t know how you live like this; I could never live in a house this small.’
Gee, thanks, it’s not that bad.
A fellow school mum told me once that they were going to live in a ‘tiny’ home while they built their ‘real’ home. I gushed about watching tiny home shows on YouTube, and she said, ‘oh no, by tiny, I mean three bedrooms, one bathroom.’
Um, since when is a three-bedroom home not a real house?
The tides are turning on the big house, no yard trend.
Affordability, practicality, environmental concerns and an increasingly urban population are shifting towards smaller homes.
This has some benefits and challenges and requires clever planning and construction (like soundproofing).
Benefits of Small Space Living
Let’s look at the benefits of small-space living first.
- a smaller home is usually cheaper to purchase
- a smaller mortgage reduces debt stress
- the less space you have to heat and cool, the less your energy bill
- there is less cleaning to do
- there is less maintenance, saving money and time
- if you live under a corporate body, they take care of major external and structural repairs
- you have to share (yes, this is a benefit! sharing seems to be a forgotten skill these days)
- apartments and townhouses are generally closer to amenities and public transport, reducing or eliminating the need for two vehicles, saving a considerable amount of money
- being closer to work means less time commuting, and more time with family
- you’re forced to keep stuff to a minimum, saving you money on crap you don’t need
- you spend a lot more time enjoying public spaces
Challenges to Small Space Living
If you have a growing family, small-space living can present challenges you don’t get in larger homes.
Our lounge room is so small we have to move furniture around every night to eat at the dining table.
If I do a big cook-up for the week, I often have to put dirty pans on the stairs to make space on the kitchen bench.
My work desk is in the lounge room. It’s not unusual for me to juggle client work while my son is watching TV right next to me and my daughter is trying to talk to me.
- lockdown was particularly hard for those living in small spaces with no yard (hopefully, we never have to go through that again)
- lack of storage and counter space; families generate a lot of stuff, and it can be hard to find storage space for it all
- getting some private alone room can be difficult
- no home office space if you work from home
- finding space for large projects is hard, and you can’t leave projects lying around
- if you live in a built-up area, parking can be a problem
- noise can be an issue (although this can be an issue anywhere you’ve got crappy neighbours).
Small Space Living is an Artform
One important concept in art is negative space – the space around the primary objects and the shape that negative space takes.
What does art theory have to do with small-space living?
Often what we lack isn’t space but the ability to perceive the space we have in a problem-solving way. We fail to see the negative (or, in this case, the underutilised) space.
Think vertical space. Hanging space. Wall space. Roof space. Dead space. The unused space under the bed. On the landing. Even up the stairs.
Think floating shelves. Hooks. Ceiling racks.
The aim isn’t to fill every negative space because that would be claustrophobic. The aim is to creatively maximise the space you have while strategically minimising the stuff you have.
More Space or Less Clutter?
When you look at the things you own, you might be surprised how much stuff you have that never gets used.
Despite decluttering regularly and getting rid of unwanted stuff, I still come across things I realise we no longer use or need, not to mention all the free things we have picked up off the side of the road over the years.
And it’s amazing how much space you can free up once you get rid of all that clutter.
Living in a small space forces you to think about the clutter you bring into your house, saving you money and time organising and caring for all that clutter.
Before looking at more storage, organisation strategies, or a bigger home, it’s worth having a serious declutter first. You might just find a whole heap of extra space.
One tip is to digitise as much as is practical. Instead of having a filing cabinet, digitise your files. Instead of keeping DVDs, use a streaming service. Books can be read on Kindle or borrowed from the library. Music and games can be streamed or downloaded. Recipes can be found online.
Multi-Purpose Space and Multi-Functional Furniture
Seeing space as multi-purpose rather than for a single activity expands your space.
For example, we realised that we have whole rooms that aren’t being used for ten hours during the day, even when we’re home. We ‘converted’ our garage into a living, storage, games, washing, and craft room.
Once I started looking, I saw wasted space all around us, like the bedroom – another room that is only used at night. With some organising, that space can be used day and night for different purposes.
When it comes to multi-functional and space-saving furniture, there are a lot of nifty solutions on the market. Consider:
- beds with built-in storage
- lounges, coffee tables and ottomans with built-in storage
- dining table benches or window seats with storage
- hutches used as homework or office space that can be closed to hide the mess
- extendable dining tables
- bookcase with a fold-down table
- pull-out sofa
- lounge side tables and bedside tables with storage
- loft bed with integrated storage (my kids would love one of these)
- foldable chairs
- Fold-down beds, futons, daybeds
But you don’t need specially designed furniture for it to be multi-functional.
The dining table, for instance. Not just for dining, it can be used as an office desk, a sewing table, a craft space, a storage table, an extra cooking bench, and a cubby house.
Tips for Making Your Small Space Feel Bigger
I lived in a college dorm room when I went to university, and everyone who visited said my room seemed bigger than the others.
It wasn’t; I just organised the furniture to maximise the floor space and give the feeling it was bigger.
Here are some tips for making a small space feel bigger:
- arrange the furniture around the edges of the room to leave empty floor space to move around in
- use furniture that fits the area rather than bulky, oversized furniture
- Let in as much natural light as you can – sheer curtains help maintain privacy while letting in natural light
- let storage like bookshelves go all the way to the ceiling – this maximises storage and draws the eye up, making the space feel bigger
- but to give the illusion of spaciousness, ditching the curtains and rugs can help
- add plants and greenery for a touch of nature
- use light coloured, plain, coordinating walls and furnishings to make the home feel light and bright
- use furniture with exposed legs
- use strategically placed mirrors to give the impression of depth and spaciousness
- keep the space tidy and uncluttered
Tips for Maintaining Privacy and Sanity in a Small Space
Private space and being able to escape the hubbub and spend time alone are essential for the well-being of adults and kids alike. As an introvert, I struggle if I haven’t had enough alone time.
If there’s one thing that makes small-space living easier, it’s a good pair of headphones for everyone.
When everyone uses headphones, you can escape the sounds of questionable music choices or the sounds of monsters dying in Diablo III. And if your neighbours are on the other side of cardboard walls, they will also appreciate the use of headphones.
It’s important for kids and adults to escape distractions and focus. When space is limited, headphones can help.
The downside to headphones is the potential hearing damage they can cause, so it’s a balancing act, especially with kids. Kids’ headphones and many devices have noise limits, which can help.
Other tips for maintaining privacy include:
- room dividers, especially ones that incorporate storage
- a cheaper alternative to room dividers is hanging internal curtains
- using closets as private nooks, especially big ones under stairs
- Letting everyone have a space they can call their own, decorate as they like and that others can’t intrude on. That might be a corner of a bedroom if it’s a shared bedroom, but everyone needs a space to call their own. For me, it’s my work desk, and I get cranky if anyone dumps stuff on my desk.
- using a bed tent or hanging bed canopy
- creating a hidey-hole using a clothes rack
- teaching kids (and adults) to respect closed doors
Sometimes what we need aren’t bigger solutions but better solutions. If the alternative is upsizing to a larger house, then decluttering and reinventing the space you have can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars in mortgage interest repayments on that bigger home, not to mention the extra costs of maintaining it.