Natural Life Magazine

Small Space Living
By Erin Hofseth

small space living
Photo © Erin Hofseth

I birthed our first baby at home, in the bathtub, in our five-hundred-square-foot house. Our small, sunlit living room was my nesting place as I nursed and rocked and played with our little boy for the first six months of his life. He slept in our bed and I wore him around in a sling most of the day. We had no crib, no high chair, no swing, no playpen, and no vibrating seat that played music. We had one dresser that doubled as a changing table. It stood in our bedroom and held all of the necessities: a slew of cloth diapers, receiving blankets, plenty of burp rags, a wipes warmer, and baby clothes.

Behind the house grew our tiny garden. We mixed my nutrient-rich placenta into the earth and planted tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, and lettuce. Our yard was a cooperative yard, three houses on one oversized lot. Our section was no more than fifteen feet long and a few extra feet wide. It was enough space to grow food, plant some flowers, and sit in the sun.

We are now a family of four living in a house that is under one thousand square feet in size. Our current dwelling place is the birth place of my second son and the first home that we have ever owned. Our house is made up of one bedroom, one loft, one bathroom, one kitchen, one living room, and a comparatively large back yard. We heat the entire house with a wood stove in the winter and use primarily natural light and heat throughout the spring and summer months.

I had a friend stop by the other day seeking my advice on how to live in small spaces; she was in the process of moving into an apartment half the size of her current house. It caught me off guard because I have never considered myself an expert on such things. Our history of small-space dwelling has been based more on what we could afford than on personal preference, and I find that I am constantly going through closets, toy baskets, book shelves, and kitchen drawers; downsizing, downsizing, downsizing. What advice could I possibly offer her if I couldn’t seem to cut the clutter in my own home? I realized later that that was exactly the advice I had to offer: Never stop downsizing; keep weeding out the clutter because it’s an ongoing, never-ending process.

Living in small spaces for all these years has developed within me a necessary and subconscious habit of simple, and ultimately green, living. Knowing that I have limited space keeps me from buying anything extra and because we only have space for the essentials, we try to buy quality over quantity.

Living in small spaces is much more attainable and comfortable than most people think. If you have an urge to upsize, rethink your current space first.

Small space living has its perks in other areas as well. Our monthly heating and electric bills are small. My house cleaning chores are limited. We spend the majority of our time outside in our yard, at the beach, or picnicking on our front porch. There is also something to be said for the way that this style of living encourages family bonding; when we are all home, we are very rarely separated by walls. Everything takes place in the living room or the kitchen, and while my husband and I often find ourselves maneuvering around our children’s projects taking place in the middle of the living room floor, at the end of the day, I only have one space to clean up.

I realize that I have become an official small space living convert. I wouldn’t choose to live in anything larger than what we are living in right now, and I am here to tell you that living in small spaces is much more attainable and comfortable than most people think. If you find yourself with an urge to upsize, I challenge you to rethink your current space first.

Take a tour through the rooms of your home and keep an eye open for “space-sucking objects:” anything taking up space that is unnecessary, rarely used, or not functional. Oftentimes, we get accustomed to a certain item existing in our home and we can’t imagine life without it. Put on your “simplifying lenses” and dare to re-consider getting rid of that favorite love-seat that rarely seats two unless they are in love. Replace it with a smaller, single-seating chair, or better yet, free up some floor space and install a hanging chair.

Here are some other ideas for simplifying and opening up space.

Go through bookshelves, drawers, dressers and closets.
Empty out a bookshelf and get rid of it. Scale down your closet or dresser and share it with another member of the family. Get rid of anything that is not actively being used. Remember, you can always find more stuff, and if it’s a keepsake, wrap it up, put it in a box and store it; you’ll be surprised at how little you’ll miss it once it’s gone.

Small space living is an accessible way to live more environmentally savvy, combat excessive materialism, and better nurture familial relationships.

Clear off table-tops, window sills and shelves.
The lack of trinkets and decorative pieces will make your room feel refreshingly more spacious. As you get rid of objects, spare the landfills and donate or sell your old stuff. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Simplify walls.
Cluttered walls make a room feel small and cramped. Scale down the number of art pieces, pictures, and other items you have hanging on your walls. Keep only the ones that add character and define the space.

Hang it.
While cluttered walls tend to suffocate a room, a well utilized ceiling can have the opposite effect. If an item is able to be hung from the ceiling, hang it. For example, certain types of plants, pictures, and art pieces can be hung with the appropriate hardware. There are also a variety of unique hanging chairs on the market that can make a nice addition to a small living room or bedroom. Get creative as you free up floor, table, and counter space.

Finally, if you are already living in a large home and you are not in the position to move but wish to scale down and better utilize the space that you have, consider these options.

Rent out the extra rooms of your home.
This provides affordable housing for those who need it and reinvents the long lost practice of communal living. This can save money and natural resources, and serve to develop a network of families supporting one another.

Read more about small houses here.

Get involved in your community.
Offer a short term dwelling place for an exchange student through your local community college or university. Many communities also have performing arts establishments with traveling actors needing a place to stay for a short time. Consider offering one of your unused rooms for this purpose.

Small space living is an accessible way to live more environmentally savvy, combat excessive materialism, and better nurture familial relationships. It also serves to teach our future generation how to depend on less and appreciate what is already obtained. The work you put in now will pay off later as you reduce your carbon footprint and move towards living a simpler and more fulfilling life.

Erin Hofseth is a freelance writer living on the north Oregon coast with her husband and two boys. She is a regular contributor to her local alternative newspaper, Hipfish Monthly, and has been published in a variety of magazines and websites. When she is not writing, she spends most of her time exploring the outdoors with her family, and scheming up ways to live a simpler and less cluttered life.

This article was published in Natural Life Magazine in 2012.


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