Before you downsize, consider this question: How much space do you need? The answer will vary from person to person, but the important thing to remember is that has nothing to do with how much stuff you have.
When you’re reevaluating your space, you should base the decision on your lifestyle needs, and not your stuff. If you plan square footage with the idea that you need to accommodate every piece of furniture and every item that you’ve ever acquired in your life, the likely result is up-sizing. Instead, choose the amount of space that’s right for you based on what you do in your home, and pare down your belongings.
Keep in mind that every underutilized space is a drain on resources: In addition to the cost of buying or renting the space, you must pay for furnishing, heating, cooling and maintaining it.
Here are some lifestyle questions to consider when evaluating your square footage needs:
How many people live with you?
If you’re single, you have an immense amount of flexibility in terms of space, in that you can choose to go as small as is comfortable for you. It is not impossible to live in 96 square feet, and some people do it quite well. Small spaces can work equally well for couples, but you’ll want to ensure that your home has an area for each person to retreat to when they want downtime or need to get some work done. This can be as simple as a reading chair for some folks, or as elaborate as a “man cave” for others.
When it comes to children, don’t automatically assume youngsters need their own rooms. Some of my best memories were made sharing a room with my sister. And bunk beds or fold-out murphy bunks can make that possible in a small room, while also allowing a sleeping space to double as a playroom. Consider creative space-saving homework solutions, like this one or have your kids spread out on the kitchen table.
Do you entertain?
Entertaining in a small home isn’t impossible. We’ve had 10 people for dinner in a 564 square foot house. People can — and sometimes prefer — to mingle at parties, rather than sitting in a formal dining setting. Allow them to spill into the yard or onto the balcony if you have one, or invite them to join you in the kitchen. Any size home can work for entertaining, but if you’re intent on hosting the family for Sunday dinner well into retirement, it may be impractical to move to a studio apartment with a galley kitchen. That said, there’s no need for a formal dining room — unless that’s a priority for you.
Do you work at home?
Don’t assume that a traditional “home office” is your only choice. Many people who work at home need only a desk and a laptop. Kitchen nooks or small closets can be turned into amazing work spaces. For some people — like artists or craftsmen — work naturally takes up more space. If properly outfitted and climate-controlled, a garage or large shed can take the place of an artist’s studio. If your job requires a lot of equipment, get creative about how you store it. A large cabinet from IKEA, for instance, can double as an entertainment center and a storage place for work gear.
Will you have guests ?
When buying their first home, a lot of people tack on one more bedroom, with the assumption that they’ll have guests. Some people find that the room gets booked more than the Waldorf Astoria penthouse, and others find the spare room gathers dust. Be honest with yourself when considering a guest bedroom in your new downsized home. How often will it get used? Would the people who are staying in it prefer to be in a hotel anyway? Is it cheaper to put your son and daughter-in-law up in a bed-and-breakfast for the one weekend they come to town versus paying for an extra bedroom all year long? If hospitality is a key part of your life, a guest bedroom is a great idea. If it’s not, don’t let guest guilt convince you into a bigger space than you need.
Do you need a garage?
I’ll be honest: I wish my small home had a garage. It’s a great way to preserve the value of your car, especially in areas of harsh weather. It would keep me from having to store my bicycle in the living room. And for some people, it’s their area of retreat, where they tinker and tool around. But if you’re seeking a garage as an overflow area for your stuff, you don’t need a garage. You need less stuff.
What stage of life are you in?
If you have children, make room for them. If they’ve flown the coop, shrink the size of the hen house. Many people stay in a home because it’s the one they’ve always known, but there are costs associated with keeping a home that’s too large — both financial and physical, as you seek to maintain more house than you need. If you don’t want to sell the family home, consider renting it or, if you’re single, finding a roommate.
Perhaps the best example I’ve seen of using a home wisely is a family estate in Rhode Island. When the “kids” were newlyweds, they lived in the basement apartment of the old Victorian home while their parents stayed in the two-story house upstairs. When those newlyweds had children of own, everyone got together and decided the best option was to flip the arrangement. Now Grandma and Grandpa lived downstairs in the more manageable apartment, while the son, daughter-in-law and grandkids had the larger living space they needed upstairs. The best part of this arrangement is the family house was able to stay in the family while serving everyone’s needs.
Share your experience
We’d love to hear what went into your decision to downsize. How did you decide how much space you needed? Did you make the right call?