As we enter a more progressive future full of immigrants and a confrontational approach to climate change, our living spaces will necessarily become smaller — much smaller. Pod living will become the new standard, while the more well-to-do build custom tiny homes on wheels. Living in these small spaces will require commitment to becoming minimalist as a foundation for our happiness.
But don’t be scared. With a little planning, and some Feng Shui, we can pull off the deeper and truer happiness of not being encumbered by stuff, greater mobility (just attach the home to a car and go anywhere!), and the comfort of knowing we are leaving a much lighter footprint on the planet. Don’t believe me? Millions of people already live in their dream tiny homes — by choice!
Feng Shui is of course about much more than organizing — but in dealing with small spaces, organizing becomes paramount. When you live in a small space you want to carefully access every object you put into it. Pretend you are living on a boat and think: efficiency! The one bowl you choose to keep in the kitchen should be something you love that can serve multiple purposes. A vegetable peeler doubles as a zester. Edit your plates to six favorite ones and have them double as serving platters.
The goal is to create a peaceful space where every object you select brings joy and moves your life forward. It should fall into the category of useful, absolutely necessary, or something that inspires and uplifts. Become committed to the three R’s – Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, and I would add a fourth-Revitalize!
I asked my professional organizer friend Jeri Dansky what kind of advice she gives to clients who live in small spaces and she shared these great ideas.
Be very thoughtful about what you save.
Is everything you own worthy of a space in your home or office? Is it useful – like a toaster, or a shredder, or a great pair of shoes? Is it something that you find beautiful or inspiring – something you love? Or is it something with great sentimental value – one of a selected number of things you keep because of the sentiment? If it’s not any of these things, then perhaps it’s something that you can part with, and let it go to another home.
If you have limited space, you probably don’t have room for things that are just OK. Try to surround yourself with things that make your life easier, or make your heart sing.
If there’s something you use very infrequently, do you need to own it? Could you borrow it or rent it when you need it ?
You can limit the amount of space you’re willing to give to any type of item: only the books that fit on the bookshelf, only the toys that fit in the bins, only the greeting cards that fit in the box you designate for that kind of memorabilia.
Regarding the sentimental stuff: Sometimes it works to take a picture of an item, and let the original go.
For children’s art projects and schoolwork: Be selective in what you keep, or this stuff can overrun even a large space. Your children may have opinions on what they want to keep, too. In general, keep the essay about “My Family” – but maybe not the ones about less personal topics. Keep a few wonderful original drawings, but perhaps not the ones where your child colored in a form.
Make use of all the space you have. Sometimes that means adding a shelf to a cabinet, so the space can be used better. Sometimes that means putting artwork on the inside of cabinet doors. Sometimes that means using the walls – adding hooks, for example.
Pick your storage containers wisely. Square or rectangular pieces make better use of limited space than do round containers.
Keep the clutter from ever entering your space. Again, this matters for everyone – but even more in a small space. Get off junk mailing lists. Stop taking free samples of products you don’t really want. And leave the hotel toiletries in the hotel.
You may not have room to be a Costco shopper. If you don’t have room to easily store large quantities of products, limit how much you buy – especially for things you don’t run through quickly. (But do make sure you have emergency supplies: sufficient water, appropriate food items, etc.)
To Jeri’s pearls of wisdom I would add a few more tips…
Make sure all furniture serves a multi-function. You may only have room for one table, which may have to double as a coffee table, task table, office workspace and meals table. If this is the case you need to be very organized. Put all objects for each use together in stackable baskets that can be pulled out and easily laid out when needed. Square wicker baskets are attractive organizers. Clearly label each basket and discipline yourself to put away when not in use. Square cubes are great for seating, storage and as coffee tables when entertaining by adding a serving tray on top to place drinks and appetizers. When choosing furniture always use lighter colored furniture and lighter wall colors. Small spaces with dark furniture, lots of clutter and dark wall colors will feel oppressive. Sofas and chairs should also be convertible to sleeper beds.
Display your inspiring objects, just keep them to a minimum. Always have one basket for the objects you love that can be taken out and displayed when work or meals are not in progress. Perhaps you take out just a candle a favorite shell and a beloved crystal. Rotate these objects and display different ones each time. If all you see is work, you will constantly feel guilty that you work too much or aren’t working enough.
Place “work stuff” in an attractive piece of furniture that can be closed up such as a work armoire or secretary. Always house computer monitors and televisions in cabinets behind closed doors. Or cover them up when not in use with an attractive throw.
Being able to delineate work from play is crucial in small spaces or our lives will feel constantly out of balance. When the work is done, the fun, relaxation and/or inspiration should come out to take its place.
Be merciless with the clothes you keep. When our space is limited we need to be very selective with clothes accumulation. We will often need to use part of the closets for stackable organizer bins. Nix the skinny clothes you are keeping for when you lose that ten pounds, either lose it now or make peace with the size you are. Give yourself a limit and try to stick to it, when you want to bring in something new, out goes one in the same category. For a female, this may look like four good pants, three casual ones, six tops, one warm coat and one dress one, four favorite skirts, four fun-trendy pieces such as scarves or vests and six pairs of shoes. Shop selectively and make sure the main pieces are basics that can be dressed up with the trendy- fun clothes to add interest and variety.
Organize entrance areas. Pottery Barn and IKEA have an inexpensive piece of furniture that is great for organizing the entryway. It has hooks to hold book bags and coats with drawers, cabinets or cubbies below to hold multiple articles. Shoes for a shoeless home can be stored there, as well as books and homework that needs to be addressed later. Train yourself to unload all objects here first and you will be well on your way to keeping your space organized.
Bathrooms should have only what you use each day. Keep what you do use in an attractive basket that can be pulled out of a shelf when using these articles. Makeup arranged in one, blow dryers and curling irons for another. Discipline yourself to have only one shampoo and conditioner and a razor in the shower. No unwieldy plastic shelves hung askew and burdened with hair supplies crowding your small shower space! Only buy what you need and replace it when it is empty. For small bathrooms, go up! You can find inexpensive shelving at Target and other places that fit around toilets and are tall and thin for small spaces. Put baskets on these and intersperse with some decorative items. Place glass shelves up bathroom walls to store hand lotions, bath salts and other necessary items. Store in pretty containers to add color and interest to the bathroom decor.
If you share a small space with others, you need to have group talks and set strong boundaries. Set time for noise and time for quiet. Having someone else’s blaring television or music going all the time will drive you to distraction. Take up a meditation practice and arrange with roomies to respect your hour of silence each day. Find a corner of your space, light a candle, bring in an inspiring meditation object and put on soothing music. A daily nature meditation will balance your energy and rejuvenate your soul and give you much needed time just for you. Unless they are infants, children can be trained to respect your quiet time. They love to do things adults do, so make a ritual for them to have their own inspiring time drawing or reading while you have yours.
Once our place is organized and functioning, we need to inspire our souls and revitalize our space. Your wall space will be limited but always make room for at least one inspiring piece of art; nature art is especially powerful. Make sure the last thing you see before going to bed and the first thing you see in the morning is something that makes your heart sing!