I will be moving from a 1,700 sq. ft. home into low-income, senior housing which is 480 sq. ft. I need help! Any ideas for making the most of such a small space? I'm looking for both storage and decorating ideas.
By Judy from Laurel, MT
We have a very small house too.
I'm using tricks that bring the eye up towards the ceiling; woodwork, shelves with pretty tins or boxes that you could store stuff in too.
Fabric: I stay away from big patterns or prints.
Think of utilizing wall space too; we don't have much, so over the door or over a room divider shelves work. If you have a collection of dishes, for example, display them up there.
Our entire house is painted one color inside; heard that trick on TV. It's a transition color that gives continuity and flow to the eye. We couldn't decide on a color because our house is old and has few windows. We had a realtor come to our house to suggest some colors for us-he didn't charge us because we were thinking of selling our house and he wanted the business. He brought us three color samples he recommended and we chose one of them, a very neutral but not bland color in the mushroom family. Bring in a realtor.
In my bathroom I have regular ceiling molding then a strip of wood about 4-5 inches below the molding. I'm going to paint that strip of wood a color to match my accent colors in my bath.
Find a color you like and use it all through the house. I chose terra cotta mostly, but found I can use gold, burgundy, soft red colors too along with the terracotta. If you pick a paint color, sometimes the samples come with an additional 3-4 colors in the same family; you can use them or or one of them as an accent color.
My mother says that green goes with everything because all flowers have green stems. Same thing with brown because the earth is brown. I'm not a big fan of brown, but choose what you want.
Windows: trick I heard on TV. Let's say your window is 36" wide. To give the illusion of a wider wall, add several inches (depending on what size wall you're working with) let's say 3 additional inches to each side of your your 36" window, so now you have 6" plus 36" as an idea of how wide a curtain you need, or how many panels.
Have your fabric fall just to where the woodwork outlining where the actual wood ends that surrounds your window. You're hiding the woodwork that outlines the window, but your eye goes to your false width. Your windows will look wider; 42" wide, not 36" wide in this example. So will your walls. Also hang the curtains higher than you normally would; your eye will go to the ceiling height.
Color of curtains: I do tend towards the dramatic. But I'm choosing a curtain color to blend more into the wall color, not match, but a neutral light color. If I chose red curtains, your eye would go to the curtain and where it ends and begins. If you choose a neutral curtain color, the curtain becomes part of the wall. Making your room look bigger.
Paint your ceilings a little lighter than your wall cover. Your room will look bigger because your eye doesn't stop at where the white ceiling begins. You can try different colors within the family of your wall paint.
We installed recessed lighting in our ceilings and boy did that make a difference! The rooms look bigger because there's so much more light.
Install under the cabinet lights in your kitchen.
Find bed coverings with vertical strips on them. I don't use bed skirts because having that space between the bed and the floor uncovered gives the illusion of an airier room. I looked for bed spreads with vertical or horizontal stripes on them it helps the room look wider or longer.
Choose sofas and chairs without skirts on the bottom. It will make your room look bigger. So if you look at the sofa you'll see empty space, not fabric.
Choose coffee tables that have a glass top. The clear glass appears invisible in your room so you see light, clear, light reflective surface, not wood. If you use wood your eye will stop at the wood.
If you have a garage and your handy, build a cedar closet in it. If you have the space, build it horizontally or vertically in the garage. Cedar repels bugs and you can store fabric things there. Now I wouldn't just hang them in there like I would in a house. I also use big plastic boxes, all the same size, and labeled and add a roach trap in each box.
I live in Houston, TX USA the roach and bug capital. Or try using Space Bags-put clothes in the bag, seal it and use a vacuum hose to remove the air. The bag will then be several inches high. However, I've not had the best luck with them. Some stay closed forever and some revert to their original size. We're not handy and would have a contractor build one.
Go online or to the hardware store and buy uplights. Basically they're a can with a light bulb in it and an electric cord. Plug them in and place these in dark corners to bring more light in the room.
Electrical cords are such a pain. Buy fabric electrical cord covers. Go on line; most lamp places sell them to cover, for example, the chain on a ceiling fixture.
Use mirrors to reflect light around the room. We have a small wall that's slightly opposite our front door. The light reflects from the door against the mirror and helps to spread light through the room.
Storage is a problem. I've had to really cut back on things I buy especially beauty products. Right now I'm looking for a tackle box that will separate and hold everything, but one that I can store out of site under the sink. Decorage boxes work wonders too.
Also, keep your horizontal spaces fairly bare. As my mother says, when you have a small house, even a handkerchief left out looks like a blanket! So true.
Like your bathroom vanity tops, kitchen counters-try to keep them attractive, but with as little as you can on them.
Bathroom: you can hang your shower curtain almost to the ceiling if you get one long enough. Again the eye goes towards the ceiling. Or you could have one made, or make one. Unfortunately, I can't sew on a button!
If you have room on the inside of your pantry or bathroom linen closet door, see if you have room to put small shelves on the inside of the door. Our pantry is in a closet, but previous owners used like 3" shelving PLUS those old fashioned white curtain rods; the kind that round off at both ends. They will hold things in place so every time you open the door things don't fly off the shelves You can custom fit these rods to the lenght of your shelves. I use the inside of the pantry (closet) door for my vitamins and the tons of herbs I use.
Check out the furniture you already own. It's likely out of scale to your new space. Try to sell your furniture so you can buy scaled down pieces for your new place. Maybe you're wealthy enough to donate it and buy new, smaller, less massive pieces. I don't know if you're moving to another state, but it may not be worth shipping your old furniture anyway. If you're selling your home, ask your realtor if they think it's a good idea to offer the sale of your house INCLUDING it's contents.
Check out craigslist.com-sometimes people will give things away if you'll pick them up. If you don't have a computer go to your local library, they'll help you too. If you have young people in your family see if they'll look it up for your or show you how.
Go to a used bookstore or regular bookstore and see if they have Decorating For Dummies. It's got a lot of good ideas.
Just plain moving is traumatic and I would imagine that moving to a much smaller place, plus the other lifestyle changes you might have to make. Very, very stressful. So don't forget to be good to yourselves. Bubble baths, nice bottle of wine or champagne, or sparkling cider, tickets to a movie (or have movie day where you watch movies all afternoon long! love them), Light some beautiful candles (making sure they are the same color in each room!), be good to yourselves. If you can afford it have manicures, pedicures, facials, massages. Love each other and show it in little ways. Can you treat yourselves to a bag of 'designer' coffee? Special teas? Take an inexpensive tour of the city? In Houston we have something called Leisure Learning and you can take classes in kayaking, languages, computer, cooking, you name it.
Try not to get overwhelmed. When ruminating thoughts come into your head, talk to them and tell them 'I can't do anything about that RIGHT NOW' (like if it's 2 in the morning). Make lists, but don't let the lists overwhelm you and cover every minute (sp?) detail. Get a 3 ring binder with index separators you can write on. 3 hold punch a ream of lined paper ahead of time. Sometimes big office supplies will do this for you cheaply. Write on your separators: kitchen, bathroom, living room, etc.
Buy some plastic three ring sleeves that open at the top called top loaders also at big office supply places. Use them to hold brochures, samples, etc. anything that might slip out of your notebook. Carry this binder around with you everywhere, makes notes, suggestions, and especially measure every wall, nook and cranny of your new home. In fact see if your community already has them printed up.
You have to have dimensions with you all the time or you'll be a crazy lady. Buy a pencil type holder and a tiny stapler - big office supply stores) and put the holder in your notebook along with extra pens, pencils, tape; basically anything that will make your live easier as you hunt for goodies for your new place. You can use the stapler to staple things to the punched sheets, like your paint samples which come on those slippery tabs.
Make other index tabs for: hook up of phones, services; banking info if it's new; keep a copy of your community's brochures in one section; doctors, dentists, hospitals, having medical, dental, xrays, scans in one place.
See if your community has a list of convenient places or suggestions and 3 hold punch them and keep them in your notebook.
Absolutely make sure - you always, always get the first and last name of the person you spoke to, the day of the week, date and year and time of day you spoke with them. Vital-can't stress it enough.
In a way it's kind of cool. You get to start all over and fresh together.
Can you choose your carpet color? I'd go for something mushroomy-neutral (light color carpeting will make you crazy to keep it clean I think) and then you can see if you can use rugs on top of them. Pick an area rug with your accent colors in it or even gray. Rugs define a space so it looks like you have specific areas and not just rooms to walk around it. I think it's good for the mind.
Use magazine holders (all in one color), buy them at bookstores, office supply stores, to hold your magazines and keep them looking uniform and not messy.
I'm going to try this trick: go to a used book store and get books with pictures of flowers in them, whatever. The kind of coffee table books. Cut out say 4 of the ones you like and frame them in the same color and shape frame. Hang them in groups.
A word about picture frames-make sure they are all the same color. I picked black, but my daughter in law chose a platinum color for the wall that she hangs family pictures on. The rest of her house has black frames. Sometimes you can get them cheaply at dollar stores, Target, Walmart, etc. BUT here's the best-keep what you have and spray paint them, for example, black! I've done it and I'm not handy and boy does it save money. Don't pick a windy day like I did though!
Does your new living community have a room they show to people, but don't actually have people living in it? You know, one that is decorated already. Will they let you see it and get ideas?
Go around to other upscale communities and ask to see the decorated layouts, condos, whatever, they want to sell. They don't have to know that you've already picked one out and you can get good ideas from what their designers have done.
Is there a college in your area that teaches interior design? See if one of their seniors will come to your new home for free and give their opinions and suggestions.
Well, my little bird brain can't think of anything else right now.
God bless you and keep you. I hope you love your new home, make great and loving new friends, and enjoy yourselves. Make the best of things if you can.
Do you go to church? Make an appt. with the pastor, yours or at your new church, and ask them to listen and just bounce ideas off of him/her. If you don't like the one that gets assigned to you, keep making those appointments until you find one you like.
Remember, in ALL things, to ask for what you want and keep asking till you get it. Nicely of course you know that already; you can be nice and firm. Like: you know, we'd like to make another appointment with another pastor. You don't owe them an explanation, but if you want to give one, say: yes, you enjoyed meeting him/her and you want to see another pastor that will best suit you.
Don't let anyone steal your personal power and don't give it away either.
Be strong. Be strong for one another. Pray if you Believe. Ask others to pray for you. If your church has a prayer line, put your name on it too. You'll need the Power of Prayer to help you. I know I do.
I don't know what your circumstances are of course, but I wish you well, good health, happiness and each day filled with joy.
Your ideas are good, but a lot of them won't work in rentals like an apartment. The apartment complex I live in came equipped with vertical blinds, I could buy rods and drapes and have the maintenance man install the rods, but it would come to about $100 for each of three windows, and I don't have that kind of money. You also have to be kind of careful what you hang, weight-wise because you don't want to leave too large of holes or have to use the kind of hangers that will make a larger hole than a nail.
I am 69 years old, and have got to the point that I don't care what people think. There is only so much I can afford to do, and only so much I can get rid of. I haven't been able to afford to sell my furniture and get the proper size, because where I live, even if the furniture is only 6 months old, you don't get anything for it. I also have a couple pieces of furniture that I absolutely can't sell. I also have things sitting on the table and counters in my kitchen because I have to have it where I can get to it.
I can't get stuff in the lower cabinets unless it is right in the front, because I can't get that low down, and I don't put stuff on the upper shelves, because I don't have good enough balance to get up on a step stool and with bad shoulders I still wouldn't be able to reach to the very upper cabinets. Instead of worrying so much about decorating, a person has to do what they can afford to do and what they are physically able to do. (01/26/2010)
Floor to ceiling bookshelves in each room. They can be anchored with one hook. Place the things you do not use but want to keep on top. With help of course. Put the most used things in the middle. (01/28/2010)
Get a book on small homes from the library or my favorite, paperbackswap.com. My house is 1200 sq ft and the books have limitless ideas.
Try to get rid of at least half of your belongings before you move. Consider furniture that can serve two purposes... eg. tables with shelving or drawers. Chairs that can be used for conversation or drawn up to a table for eating. When floorspace is limited, go up the walls. Use your walls for storage. Good luck. (01/28/2010)
By Carol in PA
I am making an assumption that Judy in MT and redhatterb are one in the same so please bear with me if I am incorrect! Regardless, hopefully info here will be helpful if it happens to be two different people ;-)
Well, I know it's difficult going through what you're going through but you need to have a more open mind and let 'material things' go! You're not the first and you won't be the last to have to make these sort of adjustments, myself included! It feels depressing when you're going through it but you will actually end up feeling 'freed' once you adjust, I promise ;-)
Have someone help you measure the 'practical' furniture and apartment to know what furniture will fit and where by making a floor plan.
Whatever practical furniture won't fit, sell it at a yard sale or consignment shop, or donate it to a needy family member friend or charity and get over it that some of those items were new(er) and you can't get what you paid for them. The same thing goes for any other items except for small 'heartfelt memorabilia' items!
Store the things you rarely use or need up high or down low and even under your bed in storage containers. If you think you'll want to look at them or need them just think a few hours or a couple of days ahead and maintenance, new neighbors or family or friends will be happy to fetch them for you.
You can buy curtain rods for really cheap if you just check around and you can also find inexpensive window valances instead of full sets of curtains to add a bit of color and decoration to the three windows. I was able to find really cute valances and rods for three windows for less than seventy five dollars!
You'll also find that you won't need all of the kitchen appliances you think you need and, again, have the ones you don't use often stored high or low and think ahead when you know you'll need something and maintenance, et al will again be happy to help you! Oh, and they'll put everything away for you when you ask too!
I truly can feel your pain and see you're upset but instead of making excuses just stay positive and find resolutions ;-)
Oh, and don't spend money on renting a storage unit! It's a waste of money and after a few months you'll probably forget most of the items stored there anyway! (01/28/2010)
Hi Judy, I feel your pain girlfriend! I hope your move is going to be easier for you than you anticipate. Nobody has to tell you what you already know, that you have an awful lot of purging to do. That's the hardest part of all. It's like chewing your food, no one can do it for you. Decorating is different, anyone can do that for you.
I've studied the subject of purging, moving, organizing, downsizing, letting go, etc for a decade now and what I come away from it all is that contrary to what they all say 'things are just things' just isn't true! My 'things' have brought me more comfort and joy than all the people in the world. No one has ever given me the unconditional comfort and joy that my stuff has!
Sure I have wonderful people in my life, but people come and go, betray me, or die. My stuff is always with me, ready and able to serve and please me. I know my style now after years of trial and error, and the things I have now reflect my most innermost me. They are my 'family', a part of me.
Getting rid of stuff is like peeling an onion, in layers. This month I feel OK with purging some things out of my life, but not other things. A couple months from now, I'll feel like going a layer deeper and be ready to let go of some more stuff that I wasn't ready to the previous month.
I read recently the way to really discover our true keepers, is to pretend there is an emergency and we have only 20 minutes to go through the house and pick out what we would absolutely not be able to leave behind, and can fit into our vehicle.
Doing this, I glance around each room, and my most beloved treasures pop out at me and I make a mental note of them. The rest of the stuff is replaceable, and I would be able to forgo.
In fact, I'm going to make a written list and keep it handy. With all the natural disasters and such that are happening worldwide, (and the danger of fire, flooding, etc.) you never know when we may need to make a hasty run, and it's best to be prepared.
For a couple of years now, I've been downsizing as much as possible so as to be able to fit everything into a set of luggage!
Everything else, I'm enjoying for now but will not be taking with me to a new home. I'll leave it behind and call Goodwill to come and take it, no matter how much it hurts.
We really only have a few true 'needs'; clothes, a few toiletries, some dishes, food, a warm dry place to sleep, a few beloved treasures.
We can get by with a whole lot less than we think. But we spend the first half of our lives accumulating, gathering, feathering our nests and the last half of our lives trying to purge it all away!
Plus, being in the low income bracket doesn't help. We know we can't afford to replace things if we get rid of them so we end up hanging on to everything. It would be so much easier to just donate all we have and start over with new matching sets of it all, but we don't have that option. What a bummer.
Good luck, Judy, let us know how it all turns out. Darween (01/30/2010)
Metroplex, your very well thought out article leaves me with hope.
I was looking for the topic organizing and came across your post. What an invaluable amount of information for anyone, not just someone downsizing. I thank you. Now to copy and digest all the wonderful amazing tips. Oh, and I am not downsizing just frustrated with my way of cluttering. (02/08/2010)
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