Living with less can make you abundantly happy—especially in your home.

By Laura Fenton
August 19, 2020
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Bright idea: Letting in natural light makes a tight space feel larger, so steer clear of thick drapery.
Weston Wells

The Little-Home Commandments

Your small space can be a white-walled shrine to minimalism or a cozy den of personal treasures. Whatever your style, I do have a few firmly held beliefs—commandments, if you will—that apply to every small space.

1

Show respect and remain grateful for what you have—even if it’s not much.

2

Yes, you can keep your Pinterest “Dream Houses” board, but don’t long for more than you need. Try dreaming about the ideal tiny home instead.

3

Edit the objects in your home so only those that are useful or adored (ideally both) remain.

4

Living small is one way to reduce your environmental impact, but it doesn’t give you a free pass to blast the AC, skip the recycling, or drive a gas-guzzler.

5

“Want better, not more” are words to live by in any walk of life, but especially in a small space where your possessions are edited down to a minimum.

6

The answer to your home’s clutter woes is not an auxiliary space that’s hard to access and expensive to maintain.

7

Technology has made it easier than ever to borrow many of the things we use infrequently, from books to power tools to camping gear.

8

A house does not keep itself: The secret to a happy home is for everything to have a place and to do the work to put those things back in their place.

9

Protect and care for the home you have. The satisfaction you’ll feel when you do will reward you daily.

Left: Tuck in: Use a Murphy bed to quickly convert a living room into a sleep space. Photo: Weston Wells
Right: Keep toys tidy: Stash frequently used toys in bins beneath your child’s bed for easy access—and easier cleanup. Photo: Weston Wells

Test-Drive Tiny

If you’re considering downsizing, try these strategies to figure out how small is right for you.

  • Go slow. Overnight change isn’t possible when downsizing a lifetime of stuff. As you start to feel the lightness that comes with fewer possessions, you may feel more confident about moving forward.
  • Give yourself a false sense of small. Close the door to infrequently used rooms and note how long you can go before entering those spaces. If you have spare bedrooms that are empty most of the time, it may be cheaper to pay for guests’ hotel rooms twice a year than to maintain a home with a guest room.
  • Be an anthropologist. Observe friends and family who are living in smaller homes than yours. Try to glean what might work—and what won’t—for you.
  • Rent tiny. Spend your next vacation in a rental house instead of a hotel to give a small space a trial run.
Customize the kitchen: A pull-out cutting board and built-in spice rack stretch precious counter and cabinet space.
Weston Wells

It’s the Little Things...

Courtesy of manufacturer

From $25, worldmarket.com

Add a few bins to the underutilized space above your cabinets to store items you’ve bought in bulk, rarely used appliances, and party supplies.

Courtesy of manufacturer

$60, crateandbarrel.com

A magnetic knife rack is a space-efficient way to store cooking knives and is safer than keeping sharp knives in a drawer with other utensils.

Courtesy of manufacturer

$23, bedbathandbeyond.com

If you’re pressed for counter space, a stovetop cutting board can give you a much-needed work surface (while you’re not actually cooking, that is!).

Courtesy of manufacturer

$15, worldmarket.com

A trio of hanging baskets clears the counter and provides a spot for fruit to ripen.

Courtesy of manufacturer

$50, theyamazakihome.com

Put the side of your fridge to work with a magnetic paper towel holder, spice rack, or hooks for cooking utensils.

Courtesy of manufacturer

$70, potterybarn.com

Install a few cup hooks to the underside of your cabinets or along a wall to free up cabinet space.

Courtesy of manufacturer

$30, bedbathandbeyond.com

An over-the-sink dish rack will hold a meal’s worth of dishes. Keep a microfiber drying mat tucked away for times when you have a bigger load of pots, pans, and plates.

Courtesy of manufacturer

$25, containerstore.com

The pegboard has been a classic way to make use of vertical space in the kitchen ever since Julia Child used one for her batterie de cuisine.

Left: Go vertical: Maximize storage space by installing floor-to-ceiling shelving. This bookcase doubles as a bedside table. Photo: Weston Wells
Right: Clock out: Hide your home office within a closet or cabinet so work doesn’t become a visible distraction during off-hours. Photo: Weston Wells

A Not-Quite-Minimalist Kitchen Checklist

Virtually everything you want to cook can be whipped up with these.

Checklist

Excerpted from The Little Book of Living Small ($24, amazon.com ; $23, bookshop.org) by Laura Fenton with photographs by Weston Wells. Reprinted with permission by Gibbs Smith.