We Try It: Downsizing

It’s not like we wanted to downsize. It was fun having two stories and a garage, and we never hesitated to invite guests to stay for a weekend. But a downsize was needed, so downsize we did. And it’s actually been kind of nice. We trip over each other, sure, and canine snores are much more annoying when you can’t ask him to go downstairs, but we use less energy, it’s easier to UfOurH, when the kid is having a tough night her “room” is just a few stumbles away. Physical proximity correlates to emotional proximity, as there is no easy escape route from conflict. Each of our lives is filled with the lives of the rest of us.

So whether you want to downsize because it fits in with your vision or because, well, money sucks, I’ve learned a few things along the way that make the transition easier.

1) Storage. STORAGE. It might seem like you don’t have enough space for an extra bookshelf, but trust me, the space is worth it. Our apartment walls are lined with bookshelves and cubbies, buckets and more shelves. If you don’t have places to put your stuff, your place becomes overwhelmed with stuff. We bought cheap bins, lots of them.

This is the corner of our living room, and also, what the walls of our entire apartment look like. It's not that I'm particularly good at storing things – mostly, we just throw the toys into whatever cubby they land in – but the storage space makes an enormous difference.

Pinterest is chock-full of ideas for bookshelves, most of which are beautiful and not-affordable. However, the shelves that you get while dumpster diving work just fine.

Bookshelf Stairs
We don't have stairs. Or the money to redo our non-existent stairs. But this is what I'm talking about. Bookshelves everywhere! Image courtesy of

2) Organization. This goes hand-in-hand with storage. I have always been terribly disorganized, but when space is small, organization is critical. This is one of those “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” kind of times: setting up a system to hold your stuff makes organization much easier, and helps contain the stuff-monster.

Yes, this is another set of bookshelves. In our bathroom. When we went from three bathrooms to one, it meant three times the supplies, and nowhere to put them. Now that we've adapted, it's still nice to be able to buy things in bulk since it's cheaper, and have a system set up.

3) Prioritize. I am also shitty at this; I never want to get rid of anything. But when you have a limited space, packratting is a luxury. I don’t need to keep every shit-stained onesie that Sofia wore or, truth be told, even the ones that escaped her infancy pristine. It’s true that I don’t want to have to buy new clothes if I get pregnant again, because I could have a similarly-sized baby at a similar time of year. But the thing is, there are kids who can use that stuff now, and the fact that I want to hold onto stuff that I might never be able to use is, frankly, silly. To Goodwill we go.

Another trick of the trade: look through your stored stuff a couple of times a year. I am extremely tempted to keep every piece of everything that Sofia ever touched as soon as she grows out of it. Six months later, when distance has reduced the sentimentality, it is easier to see what is important to keep forever and what is just… shit-stained onesies.

4) Electrify! I’m still working on this one. Kindle books instead of hard copies, scan bills or get electronic delivery, e-banking. This isn’t 100% feasible – I like having real picture albums, for example, and the kid needs books she can touch and chew on. Still, so much can be done online, and it is so easy to set it up. One of the main goals here is to reduce what comes in, and this is a step in the right direction.

5) Speaking of reducing what comes in. My sister has a one-in-one-out policy, which I am stealing from her. You bought a new sweater? Choose one to donate. Kid gets a new dollhouse? The old 3D puzzle is out the door. If you really need that new thing, that means you need that old thing less.

6) Outside space. This is dependent on your area, of course, but the more you can outsource, the better. One of the best things we bought was an outdoor table and chairs; I can read outside if the lack of space gets overwhelming, and if the table is covered in bills that I haven’t had time to get to, we can eat outside. We take lots of walks, too – this way, we aren’t so confined. Our apartment is not our world, but our homebase.

Look! It's like we have a playroom. And a dining room. And an office. And an "I'm angry and I need some space" room.


7) Over-the-door hooks. These things have been life-savers. Every door becomes a place to store bulky coats, towels, hoodies. Without these things, doors are just doors. With them, every door becomes a closet.

Door closet
This is the door to our bedroom. All of the doors in our apartment look like this. It's not very elegant, but it clears out all the closet space.

8) Anything office-related stays at the office. Like Las Vegas, only way more boring.

9) No space goes unused. Some spaces that I never thought about before that have become great for storage bins: under the bed, under dressers, in the corner of the room between two dressers, above the washer/dryer, behind the easy chair. There are also products that, in and of themselves, are storage: ottomans that open up, trunks that double as tables, etc. We use our closet as a second bedroom, which has worked exceptionally well, although it has forced us to find other places to store things that would normally go in the closet.

Our closet is big, but holy smokes, this picture makes Sofia's room like like a real room! I take back all my complaining. For perspective, there is only enough space between the end of the crib and the dresser to store our pack-n-play, and the chair doesn't rock because it touches the wall on one side and the crib on the other.

10) Invest in a good air mattress. It’s like a guest bedroom that deflates into nothing!

11) There are some things you should get rid of before you move. Those things are trash cans. When you go from three bathrooms to one, you are suddenly overwhelmed with trash cans. Trash cans, trash cans, everywhere!

A word to the wise. You might think, “well, I’ll just put a trashcan (or two) in every room. No sense getting rid of perfectly good trash cans!” The problem is that some cans will be naturally used often, and others will languish. And when, a few months later, you can’t figure out where all the flies are coming from, it will take a surprisingly long time to realize that your diaper genie hasn’t been changed since you moved. And the diaper genie keeps out the smell of shitty diapers but it is also remarkably good at harboring shit flies.

Just get rid of the excess cans.

12) Be poor. I mean, if you’re downsizing, you might already have this one covered. But if not – be thoughtful about what you buy, about each thing. Is it really necessary? Do you really need another pair of boots? Reducing the amount of stuff you acquire helps to keep what you already have in its place.

13) Close Pinterest. I KNOW. It’s addicting, and so awesome. But while there are a lot of space-saving ideas, there are also a lot of space-consuming ideas. How many wreaths do you need?

Burlap wreath
Hey look! A burlap wreath! For all that extra burlap that you have laying around. I mean, it's pretty, but you can only have so many wreaths.

In the end, it is surprising how much you can fit into how little space, and how little space you actually need. We’ve lived in this apartment for about a year, and until Sofia gets a job so she can afford her own room, we don’t intend to leave. Okay, if we get another kid somehow, we might be pushed into a two-bedroom. In the meantime, adapting has been quite manageable. It really comes down to three important points: creative storage space, use of all possible spaces, and don’t acquire/keep too much stuff.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

13 replies on “We Try It: Downsizing”

When Mr. Dormouse and I moved back in February, we went from a ~1000 sq ft, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom place to a ~450 sq ft 1 bedroom, 1 very small bathroom apartment. We got rid of a TON of things. Old clothes and knick knacks and random crap either went to the dumpster or to Value Village. We gave a bunch of extra furniture away, and our dining room table and chairs are in storage at the in-law’s for the future day that we may move elsewhere. It certainly was an adjustment and kind of like solving a puzzle to figure out where everything goes, but I love living in a smaller space. I don’t think we’ll move unless a Dormouse Jr comes along.

Welp, I pinned that picture of the bookshelf-stairs, because SO PRETTY. For real, though, I lived with my family of 5 in a teeny tiny post-WWII house that only had one little bathroom until I was 12. We learned to do a big stuff-purge at least once a year. Right now I’m getting ready to move out and viciously tossing out all the things I have still managed to hoard, and this is upsizing, relatively- from a room of my own to an apartment. But everything I want to keep has to be driven across the country to the new place, so…

Getting rid of your old shit can be so cleansing, is what I’m saying. Although realizing that I have more than two or three cubic feet of books accumulated is tough.

There’s also something therapeutic about getting rid of ‘things.’ Stuff that has one purpose or no purpose. Clothes for special (rare) occasions. Stuff you buy to hold other stuff.

While I was unemployed, I cleaned out a TON of stuff because I needed to feel “lighter.” I needed to not think about all the things in my apt. I just needed to think about finding a job. The time actually allowed me the chance to go through boxes of projects I wanted to do but never got around to. I finished scrapbooks that had once taken up a full box of space – condensed now to just a few binders of memorabilia. My CDs were all (ALL) uploaded to my laptop finally. Blankets were knitted and given to friends. God, it was so helpful.

I know that now I need to go through that process again (without the layoff this time) but having done it once, I know I can do it again.

And rather than saving those cute baby outfits or tiny shoes for sentimentality, try taking a cute picture of the kid wearing them. You can put the picture on your computer and donate the tiny shoes to kids who will need them soon. :) Everyone wins.

I find that its a very hard thing for me to “let go” of my material things if I am not ready. At some point, I will make a free for all of my house, but it takes a breaking point of feeling very caught. As much as it stings to say it, I’m very materialistic – i love things, i love the ability to have these things, and to be surrounded by them.  The combo of growing up without so many things and living in nyc where you have to constantly not have things to be able to freely move has made me very protective of my stuff.

And I have the opposite situation – I grew up in a huge house with a borderline hoarding situation.  Stuff was everywhere.  At one point, we had something like 25 cats and 7 dogs and a pig, and pets weren’t even really the problem.  Stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff.  So keeping things to a minimum makes me feel much more relaxed, although I also have a strong pull to keeeeeep things.

Regarding #13: I solve this by not being particularly crafty. ;) Although, if it were my daughter, Pinterest crafts would be a severe problem for her. She’s emotionally invested to ALLLLLL her misc. piles of junk because they “might” be useful for a craft one day.

Oh, the “I might use this for a project someday” stuff is such a source of clutter. I have a dresser full of art supplies and random piles of crap all over the house. I need to do a major purge b/c the clutter is starting to get a little overwhelming. Anyone need sketchbooks or paints?

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