My first encounter with tiny living was at the Warrenton Woolen Mill, a historic textile mill in Torrington which was turned into condos. My 800-square-foot unit featured 16-foot ceilings and the perfect open floor plan. One bedroom with a loft felt like just enough space. Every corner seemed to brim with charm, from the exposed brick walls to the wooden factory floors.
Years later I find myself longing for tiny living again — yet this time I am revisiting the idea from the view of a family of seven. My advice to others in this situation is to determine why you want to downsize. Perhaps you’ll soon be an empty-nester. Maybe you’re hoping to cut down on living expenses when costs are ever rising. Or you simply want a change of scenery. Or all of the above.
Sheri Koones of Greenwich has published several books on downsizing. Her most recent publication, Downsize: Living Large in a Small House, gives advice on design and layout to maximize living space no matter what the square footage. “Keep in mind that downsizing is not a weekend project — it’s a lifestyle change that requires setting realistic expectations and tackling projects at a steady pace,” Koones says.
Here, I combine my tiny-living experiences with Koones’ tips on living well in smaller spaces.
Time to declutter
Get a head start on the downsizing before you list. Pick one room to start and begin going through it one item at a time. It might seem cliched, but the Marie Kondo method actually works. Hold an item in your hands and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is no, it’s time to say goodbye.
Potential homebuyers want to see a clean, minimally decorated space, one they can imagine their own furnishings and belongings in.
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The market: Low inventory
Before you sell your larger house and look for a smaller abode, know that you might have a challenge on your hands. There’s a historically low inventory of move-in-ready homes, and houses in the median-price neighborhood of $250,000 are in extremely short supply.
So when everyone is looking to downsize, selling a big home can be challenging. Real estate agent Amy Sartirana of Northwest CT Realty says “there’s currently a competition between baby boomers [looking to downsize] and millennials [looking for their first home].” Deb Cohen of Coldwell Banker agrees. “Both are seeking to buy homes at the same price point which is causing a surplus in larger homes and a shortage of move-in-ready smaller homes.”
Space it out
There’s no surefire way to know how much space you’ll need without living in that specific square footage. But you can simulate living smaller in your current house. We switched our king bed to a full, reduced our dresser and closet space, as well as kitchen storage, and moved our two youngest daughters into one room even though they all had their own bedrooms. That way, you get a more precise idea of your family’s minimum space requirements.
Build it …
For those who choose to build their perfect small home, Downsize author Sheri Koones stresses that rooms should be multi-functional, and suggests utilizing an open floor plan. Skip hallways all together — “there’s no need to heat and cool the extra space that’s not necessary for living,” she says.
I prefer a small house with many small rooms instead of a large open concept, which goes against most designers’ suggestions. I like having a different space for different needs. For example, I don’t like having my office in my bedroom or living room. This just means that you’ll have to compromise, and trade in your big room for a handful of smaller rooms that serve a singular purpose. Think about the approach that would work best for you.
Spend time interviewing a builder and designer to make sure they understand that your goal is to build small. It’s easy for people to try to persuade you into building more or bigger because they think you need it, or because they want a more impressive build. Find someone who understands your goals, who has examples of other small projects and doesn’t come across pushy or pressured.
… or buy it
Not everyone is going to build a small home. If you’re looking to buy, determine what the primary wants and needs of your family are. Seek out houses that have enough bedrooms. Remember that bedrooms are for sleeping — they don’t need to be big, and children of the same gender can share sleeping spaces.
If you’re hoping to get your family outside more, look for a home that has a good outdoor living space such as a great yard, and good privacy. If you’re looking for you and your spouse to spend more time on the town, look for a home near shops and restaurants in a lively downtown area.
Koones says that “when working with a pre-existing layout, opt for multifunctional furniture.” Some examples are sofas that transform into guest beds and tables that open to seat extra guests. Design and decorating is the fun part of tiny-home living. When you have a smaller space you can stretch your dollar by choosing higher-quality materials. Think of it as a creative challenge, she suggests — “the process is extremely liberating.”