Living and Thriving in Small Spaces
Updated: May 23
When I bought my 918 SF downtown Grand Rapids apartment/loft in 2015, it was intended to be my bachelorette pad. It was industrial chic and I loved the exposed beams and brick, hickory wood floors, and concrete features. I enjoyed picking out furniture pieces that highlighted this industrial design, especially our custom made closet.
It was more than enough space for an unmarried girl and even when my boyfriend moved, it still felt like a lot of room. Our bedroom was one of my favorite places in our home. We also had a spare bedroom for storage and visitors.
Fast forward a year, after we got engaged and I got pregnant, we realized it was going to be our new family's first home for the foreseeable future. We could have moved but I absolutely did not want to give up my apartment. We loved it so much. I knew it would be challenging to have a child in a small space but I considered myself up to the task.
Tobe, Patrick and I have lived in my loft successfully and conveniently. In addition, we almost always have 1 or 2 more relatives living with us. (My brother, when he is on college breaks, my mom when she comes on extended visits to care for Tobe). It is not cluttered and it is very organized. Keep reading and I will share some tips on how we were able to accomplish this.
Tip #1 - Constantly Declutter - Don't Keep Anything you don't need:
It is the most important thing, the one message you should take away from this post. The key to staying sane and thriving in a small space is constantly getting rid of things you don't need. It is a mindset you have to live by everyday. When you shop or if anyone gives you anything, you have to think, do I really want this in our home? Is it useful? Where will I put it? What will it replace? Your space isn't growing so your belongings shouldn't be increasing.
Tip #2 : Keep your Clothes and Closet Space Organized:
You've seen the closet space I share with my husband. We've never felt like we need more space. I have a system where for every piece of clothing I buy, I have to get rid of something old from my closet. I stick to this rule. It keeps my closet refreshed and I am unburdened by stuff. Having an open closet also helps stay clean and organized because you can't hide the clutter.
Tip #3 Optimize hidden Spaces for Additional Storage:
We all have boxes of sentimental or seasonal items, again the key is keeping them to a minimum. In our loft, our storage space is primary under to two main beds in our home - the queen bed in the master bedroom and the full bed in the second bedroom. We also have a small attic space above the 32 x 48 inch closet that houses our stackable washer/dryer. This space holds 2 camping chairs, a pack and play, and a large storage bin. Anything that needs to be stored has to fit in the above mentioned spaces. If it doesn't, it doesn't belong. Having more space only makes you keep things you don't need.
We gave up the storage space for a washer/dryer and it was well worth it. We set up a laundry station for ironing and dirty laundry storage in the small hallway. Cute baskets and keeping up with doing laundry helps it stay tidy.
Tip #4: Maximize the utility of every room:
I am going to spend some time explaining how we made the most of every room in our loft apartment. Our bedroom was the only room that didn't have multiple functions.
Spare Bedroom: Before my son was born, my extra bedroom served as the visitor room, craft room, and whatever-I-needed-it-to-be room. I installed a shelving unit that let me keep my knick-knacks organized. It also had a coat closet and some drawers.
Right before Tobe was born, we created a nursery corner in this room. We still kept the extra bed because we regularly need it for visiting family. We are comfortable having Tobe share the room with close family members.
If our guest requires privacy, we move Tobe into our bedroom temporarily. I modified the dresser in the bedroom by installing a changing station on it. Till today, all of Tobe's clothes still fit in the dresser plus two drawers in the wall shelving unit.
Now that we are having a second baby, I have re-organized to open up 2 drawers for Olona's clothes. All her newborn items have found a home in the these 2 drawers and a few spots on the shelf. She will be sleeping in a bassinet in our bedroom. We will be moving not too long after she is born.
Having just one bathroom for everyone to share is not bad at all. The key is keeping it clean. Luckily everyone that lives with me, even the guys, do a great job of keeping the toilet clean. Maybe because they know how crazy I get if they make a mess. I make sure to wash the tub once a week. I clean the sink, and wipe every surface at least twice a week.
Main Living Space:
The main living space is open concept. The kitchen, living, and dining area are one. This also serves as Tobe's play space. It can be quite messy during play time but it's easy to clean up the mess by dumping all his toys into his toy chest at the end of playtime.
Having only pieces of furniture you need also helps keep the space tidy. At one point we had a couch and loveseat and it was incredibly cozy. I have this picture from Christmas time a few years ago that I just love.
Currently, we only have a couch, a rocking chair, a 5 piece dining set. We got rid of the loveseat to make more play space for Tobe.
A small corner houses our 'home office'. It is actually one of my favorite spots in the house. It has some shelving units, a small desk, and some plants. I used to keep my easel there until Tobe started getting into my stuff.
Having a small space shouldn't deter you from entertaining. We have hosted thanksgiving a couple of times. For meals with extended family, with extra leaves that I store under a bed, our dining table expands to sit eight. The coffee table serves as a comfortable bench and the rocking chairs in the living room and the nursery add a couple more sitting spots.
I have to admit that luckily, our kitchen has a lot of counter and cabinet space. My husband and I love to cook so I am thankful for that. But our philosophy of owning and keeping only things we need helps us keep it tidy and organized.
Tip #5: Every Section has a Purpose.
In a small space, you may not have a dedicated room for every purpose but with functional furniture, you can make every space functional. We didn't have a mudroom but with some coat hooks, a shoe cabinet and a wall organizer, who needs a mudroom?
We didn't have a study but with a nice rocking chair by the window, we were able to relax and read on quiet afternoons while Tobe napped.
With a second child arriving any day now, we truly have outgrown this space and although I will miss living in our historic building, it is the right time to move. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to manage living in a small space with a family, don't be discouraged. It is possible and even fun to live small and intentionally without clutter.