Minimalist Living: Making a small space work for you

Friday, February 12, 2016

After this post about converting our closet into Fox's bedroom, someone mentioned that they would like to hear more about how we have made this work.  This post blossomed in my mind, was quickly transferred to paper (or computer screen), and after sitting in draft for a few months waiting for some photos, it finally felt like a good time to post it.

It felt like a good place to go after my baby posts (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5 here).

In all our disscussion, purging and organizing, these are a few things that we have learned:

1.  Assess what you have
2.  Rearrange
3.  Wait for the right thing to come along
4.  Toss out/donate/sell
5.  Find a place for everything
6.  Maximize the storage space that you have, and find ways to store things in a smarter way

1.  Assess what you have:  Go through your stuff and figure out what you have.  Do you have 5 white t-shirts?  Do you actually wear all those pairs of jeans? Are you keeping makeup you never use or that is ancient and dried up?  Do you have lots of specialty appliances that you never use, or expired things in your pantry?  Clean them out. Unless you use these things on at least a 6 month basis, they are not doing any good cluttering up your pantry, your house or your life.

2.  Rearrange - This was huge for us.  I was feeling a little stagnant with our space, and super cluttered after Fox was born.  Finally we decided to rearrange our apartment and move our desks into the dining room, move our kitchen table over by our patio door, and move our couch to another part of the living room.  It made such a difference in the functionality of the room, and I am still loving the change almost a year later.

You will be amazed at how different a room can feel with the furniture in a new place.  Moving furniture around can also keep your from purchasing new stuff you don't need, because you might love that couch on a different wall, or with those pillows from the bedroom, or with that end table.

You can do this to more than furniture.  Maybe you should try storing you shoes in a bin under the bed rather than in the closet, or start folding those dress shirts.  If you are feeling like you need a change, try rearranging before you start buying new stuff.

3.  Wait for the 'right' thing to come along, or buy the right thing to begin with:  I can't tell you what the right thing is for you, but I have found that waiting for the right item to come along is often much better than just purchasing the first thing you see that will work.  More often than not, you will end up resenting it or getting rid of it, because it isn't quite the right thing.  Be patient and wait for the right item that will fit in your space and be the best item.  You may end up sitting on the kitchen chairs to watch a movie or eating on the floor for a few weeks, but it can definitely be worth it to wait for the right thing.  We have done this several times, and I have always been grateful that we waited.

For example, when we first moved into our apartment, we had no furniture, and buying all new furniture at once gets expensive, so we skimped on kitchen chairs and purchased the $20 Ikea variety.  They certainly were not the nicest chairs you have ever seen, but they fit the bill, and we were pretty happy with them.  As we got closer to having Fox, I was going through our stuff to make sure we didn't have anything that couldn't be baby-proofed.

These chairs concerned me because they were extremely light, and definitely wouldn't hold up a toddler.  We needed some replacements, and I was dead set on a different expensive set of chairs from Ikea.  They were way out of our price range, so I started looking for something similar used.  After a few weeks of looking, some came up on Craistlist.  Unfortunately for me, the seller wouldn't break up the set, and I didn't want all six of his chairs, and I sadly let my dreams of the leather chairs go.

Then, a few weeks later, Adam's boss was moving and asked if we wanted her kitchen chairs.  She had heard that we were looking for some and told us she would be happy to give them to us if we wanted them.  They were not the style I had been looking at, but they were a good replacement to what we had, so I said yes.  We brought them home, and lo and behold, they looked terrific in our space.  They were a way better fit than the Ikea chairs I had wanted, and they really brightened up the room.  I was so glad I had waited.  Sometimes you just have to wait for the right thing to come along.

4.  Toss out/donate/sell:  I read recently that "When you have a small home, your stuff is worth more to you out of your house than in your house." (from Cup of Jo)  SO true! I would personally rather get rid of stuff and have a fresh, easy to clean house than a lot of stuff.  The stuff just isn't worth keeping around.

This part of the minimizing process might be the most difficult for me.  I often think "but what if I need ___ some day!"  Typically I try to remind myself that if I haven't used it in the past year, I probably don't use it enough to justify owning it.  Also, many of those kinds of things can be borrowed from a neighbor or friend if you really need it again.

I have had fear clutch my heart while I threw away that old jacket, or the makeup I wear every two years, but once it is gone, my load is lightened, and I have once less thing to feel guilty about not wearing.  The peace of mind that I get when it is gone definitely worth having it out of the house.  No one needs a constant guilt trip over stuff the don't use and don't actually want.

If it is clothing or household items, you can try selling them.  As I have been minimizing our possessions lately, I have sold a few things on a Facebook swap and sell group in the area, given away a few things to people in our church congregation, and just last week, I send a bag of clothes to Thred Up (you can also get $10 off your first order with this link if you need to fill in the closet gaps once you have cleared out what you no longer need or want). If you are going to be getting rid of it anyway, why not try to make a little cash in the process?

If you can't sell it, try giving it to friends or neighbors who might be looking for just the thing you no longer want.  Last resort is a thrift store.  I generally try to get rid of stuff as fast as possible, before I can change my mind and decide that I need whatever it is, but I do like to try to find it a new home on my own first.

5.  Find a place for everything:  Everything that you choose to bring into your home deserves it's own space.  I try to remember this when I am out shopping, or making a birthday list to give to Adam.  If I want anything new, it has to have a place to go. This way, I don't end up spending lots of money on stuff I don't have room for, and I have to truly assess its value before deciding to purchase it.  I have overcome shopping desires lots of times through this technique.

6. Maximize the storage space that you have, and find ways to store things in a smarter way:  This one is key for a smaller space.  I like the idea of buying storage bins and baskets, but they are usually expensive and sometimes they feel so excessive, but most of the time, they make a big difference in fitting things you want into the space you have.

For example, we didn't have a good place to keep Fox's toys, so we needed to find somewhere to put them.  At first, we kept some in the closet along with his crib, but once he got old enough to play with them, we wanted to have them easily accessible.  The storage bench was an afterthought to the living room, but has made a huge difference in keeping the room from looking cluttered with too many toys (plus, I just like the way it looks).  I keep the cute toys out on the floor and on the bookshelf, and put all the miscellaneous pieces in the bench.  I also keep my diapers and wipes in the storage bench for quick access.  This works much better than keeping them in Fox's closet.

Small spaces don't work for everyone, but I think they could if given a chance.  It just takes some effort, rearranging and throwing some things out.  And I think most people are the better it.  At least in my experience, I have felt immense freedom in making our space work, even as our situation has changed.

* I am currently talking about living a minimalist life once a week here on the blog.  If you have a particular aspect of minimalism that you would be interested in my writing about, please let me know in the comments, or email  


  1. I don't know if you'd write this post since it seems like you and Adam are really on the same page about minimalist living (congrats for you guys!) but I'd love to read tips about trying to start this lifestyle while living with someone who is not sold on the minimalist idea!

  2. Ooo! I love that idea! Adam and I do agree on most minimalist things, but I will think on it and get back to you, hopefully in post form! Thanks!!!

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  4. These are great tips. Sometimes we get in a rut placing the furniture one way and just by changing a few things around, you can transform a whole room. Nice examples! glider

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