Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Making do with a small space

Posted in Uncategorized by Kathy on July 3, 2009

This is in response to a blog post I read, but my reply was too long to leave as a comment, so I’m putting it here and linking to it.

When I first read your post, I didn’t think I had anything to offer — my husband and I lived in >900 sq. ft. when we were first married, but moved when we our firstborn was 4 m/o. But I realized that sometimes “it’s not the size that counts — it’s how you use it!” 🙂 Our condo had great closets — several large ones; our house (which is more than twice the size) has pitiful closets, although we do have an outdoor shed where we can store out-of-season clothes, etc.

In some ways, we feel more cramped or disorganized currently than we did before, and that’s because we don’t have a good place to keep our stuff that we’re not using, so everything is out all the time.

My FIL has a small cabin on a lake where we go on vacation, and that also requires maximizing the space that is there, even more than our condo did. After spending some time there over the years, I guess I do have some advice on living in a tiny space. In no particular order…

* purge!! — get rid of things you don’t use and don’t need. You may want to store your stuff, but think if it’s really worth it ($60/mo storage fee x 2 years = $1500) — there’s a lot of things you can sell at a yard sale or even give away and then buy it later at another yard sale for $1500. Perhaps family or good friends can store your grandmother’s china cabinet for you (or other non-replaceable items); or you can let them have your excess stuff, and as you need a single item, go get it. (Assuming you’re going to be living close enough to friends or family.) Sure, you enjoy home-made pasta once a year, but that gadget takes up valuable space for a limited use.

* go vertical — whether that’s bookshelves, over-the-door shoe holders (which hold *so* much stuff — we have one in the cabin bathroom for all our toiletries, and it has made a huge difference), putting things in bins that can stack one on top of the other, or bunkbeds (they even have triple-bed bunks), you can maximize your space by going up-up-up. Instead of having your kitchen utensils lying neatly in a drawer, you can put them in an empty canister. Get a hanging pot rack for your kitchen — if you get one with enough hooks, you can put your pots and pans on it plus many other things like your colander, grater, pot-holders, ladles, etc.

* organize — when we undertook the scary task of cleaning, purging, and organizing the cabin last year, we were amazed at how much storage space had been wasted not just by having stupid stuff stuck in odd places (boat motor under the bed? why not in the basement?!), nor by junk that should have been thrown away years ago (blankets that mice had made their homes in for several winters), but also by things having just been shoved into a closet willy-nilly with no actual attempt made at organization. Sure, all the games were in the game closet, but they were not neatly stacked so they were all accessible. My FIL’s tools for his hobby were scattered all over the cabin, with duplicates or even triplicates of many items, simply because he didn’t know where they all were. We put everything like that in one spot (all the screwdrivers in one ziplock bag, etc., with all the bags in the same drawer), so now if he needs something, it’s all in the same place.

* make use of odd places to stash things — get the bed risers to get more space for putting stuff under the bed; get dressers or other things that close so things can be out of sight and out of mind. You can store canned foods under a bed or behind a couch, or put board games under the couch. Just remember where you put the stuff. 🙂

* maximize storage — my most recent discovery is the vacuum “space bags”. As long as they hold their seal like they claim, I think it’s a marvelous invention. (I just got them yesterday, so don’t know first-hand how it all stacks up, but so far, so good!) They’re reusable, which is great, especially considering how much they cost. If space weren’t an issue, you might just choose to put your clothes in boxes or bins and stack them in the attic or something; but these bags let you store your stuff in half the space or less — it’s amazing. You can put extra pillows, or winter blankets, or clothes that an older child has outgrown but a younger child hasn’t grown into, (unless you’ve gotten rid of this stuff in your purge), into these bags and shrink it down to much less space. At the cabin, there was extra bedding and pillows and stuff that completely filled the under-the-bunk-bed space, plus half the top bunk and a little extra from another room, and I was able to shrink it down so that everything fit under the bottom bunk, with space to spare.

* a place for everything, and everything in its place. This includes a lot of the above things, but it’s a real sanity-saver in a small space. Get rid of excess kids’ toys, and teach them to put everything away in the proper bin, which can be stacked against the wall on top of the rest of the bins when they’re done playing. You can follow the same principle elsewhere in the house — depending on the size of your new kitchen and how much you cook/bake, you may need your countertops free most of the time, which means you’ll have to put away stuff when you’re done using it; or you may not need so much space, and then you can keep out the coffee-pot all the time. But having stuff out of place will make a space feel disorganized and cramped, even if it’s not.

* get more storage things — plastic tubs or bins you can fill and stack; those 6-foot tall cabinets; plastic drawer caddies that craft-y people use to store their papers or photos or baubles; or toy/quilt/hope chests; beds with built-in storage (I think they’re called captain’s beds) — basically, anything that goes vertical and/or closes to hide your stuff. Get rid of your current coffee table and replace it with a hope chest; replace your end tables with a toy box (a small chest). Your bedside tables (if you have them) can also be replaced with small storage things — a miniature chest of drawers or a cabinet or something.

* You may even go with not having beds (at least for the kids), choosing instead to go with roll-out mats that can be stored away during the day (most of the world probably uses this); or go with things that are small, portable, collapsible, stackable, etc. — folding chairs and card tables, bean bags, floor pillows, etc., instead of couches and dining-room tables and chairs. Things that have multiple functions are preferable to those that have just one. This may include appliances — a tea kettle can only boil water; but you can boil water in a pot on the stove, as well as make soup, heat up leftovers, etc., in the pot. Depending on how many bedrooms and how many children you have (and what ages & sexes), you may need to have one or more children sleep in the living room, so may choose a futon for them to sleep on at night which becomes a couch during the day.

* Don’t worry about what other people think “everybody” should have — if “everybody” should have a dining room, but your family never actually uses it, preferring to eat in the living room in front of the TV, then you can ditch the dining room furniture and use that space for an office. It’s *your* space, so *you* need to define it with the way *you* use it, not how “everybody else” thinks it should be. Probably the majority of people in the world (currently and throughout history) have lived in small spaces, with one big multi-function room and *perhaps* bedrooms as well; they “make do” and you can too.

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