Updated Nov 1, 2022
Whether you’re pursuing your dream of life in a tiny house or living in a smaller-than-average house or apartment by necessity, small space living offers unique challenges and wonderful opportunities. From design to storage and beyond, the usual rules don’t apply when it comes to tight spaces—small space living doesn’t have to mean constant clutter and miniature everything. Take your small space from claustrophobic to cozy with these essential tips.
Small space living is an excellent opportunity to reevaluate your possessions as a whole and get rid of all but the necessities and those non-essentials that bring you joy. From last year’s receipts and old magazines to clothes you haven’t worn in ages, hanging on to unnecessary stuff will only make your small space cluttered and untidy. The more you minimize clutter, the less you’ll have to store and organize, and the larger your space will feel.
Of course, the larger your household size, the harder it can be to streamline. If your situation requires it—and your budget allows it—you may consider renting a small storage unit to house certain items (think seasonal belongings like holiday decorations, beach umbrellas, and camping gear) separately to reduce the storage pressure on your home’s small footprint.
While some lucky people seem to have been born with organizational superpowers, this can be a challenge for those of us with average capabilities. Still, small spaces function best when they’re highly organized, so it’s crucial that you find creative ways to organize your space.
For example, you could opt for open shelving to make your kitchen feel more spacious or loft your bed to increase floor space. Make this adage your motto: a place for everything and everything in its place.
When your square footage is especially small, leaving out just two or three things can quickly make your small space feel messy and claustrophobic. The good news: if you’ve already minimized your stuff and set up some organizational systems, it should be much easier to keep things tidy. And the insta-clutter effect produced by small spaces is great motivation to pick up after yourself as you go and clean a little each day rather than waiting for things to get out of hand.
Whether you rent or own your small space, painting is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to dramatically change the look and feel of your home. Choosing lighter hues for your walls will produce an airy effect that can make your space feel bigger. Alternatively, a dark color like black can be used to expand a space. Black walls add depth to a room, which can create the illusion of space.
When it comes to décor, neutral tones do the best job of visually expanding each room. Pops of color and texture add interest, but be especially frugal with large prints and loud patterns, which can dwarf your space and make it feel even smaller.
In addition to color, other design choices can have a big impact on your small space living experience. In general, look for furnishings that visually expand your home. Low-profile seating can create the illusion of higher ceilings. Tables, chairs, and shelves in glass, acrylic, and wire mesh are visually lighter, and open shelving tends to look less bulky than cabinetry. And, when it comes to upholstered furniture, pieces with exposed, slender legs (rather than slipcovers) subtly enlarge your space.
One last thing: though smaller spaces call for smaller furnishings in general, break up the scale of your space by including one or two larger pieces to avoid creating a miniature dollhouse look.
Small space living calls for furniture that serves multiple purposes or provides unexpected storage space. This could be as simple as using a trunk for a coffee table, allowing a large kitchen island to double as a dining table, or hanging hooks on the side of a bookshelf.
Sleeper sofas and fold-out desks are obvious–and highly functional–options, but the general trend toward downsizing has yielded a vast array of creative and unexpected multifunctional furniture options that add as much style as functionality.
In small spaces, walls and corners are your friends. Look up to find extra storage space in the form of open shelving that can easily climb walls, and think of corners as bonus storage space that can house bookshelves, a makeshift closet, or even a small office setup.
Small space living can be especially challenging when it comes to the kitchen, especially if you’re an avid cook with a large collection of tools and gadgets. While it’s important to streamline your stuff in the kitchen, clever storage solutions can help you maximize your space.
Tilt-out trash cans, over-the-door storage racks, drawer dividers, and backsplash storage units, combined with DIY kitchen storage solutions, are all options that give your small kitchen a big boost.
One easy way to make your small space feel bigger is to maximize natural light. Go for something light and airy or—if your home is private enough—consider foregoing window dressings everywhere but in the bedrooms. If windows are in short supply, hang a large, decorative mirror opposite a window to multiply its effect.
Whether you live in the country or the concrete jungle, spending time outdoors can reduce the pressure of living in a small space (especially when you share that space with others). If possible, consider adding decks and other outdoor “rooms” to effectively expand your living area. If that isn’t an option, hit up a park or a local trail regularly. It won’t make your space feel any bigger, but it just might help you enjoy it more once you get home.