Small Space Living for Beginners

small space living

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You love the look, you love the location—but you’re not sure about the size.

With micro condos—condos under 500 square feet—making up five percent of new Toronto condos for 2014 and minimalist living so trendy whole apartment blogs are devoted to it, renters who want a more affordable downtown lifestyle and empty nesters downsizing into condominiums are looking at living smaller.

Just like with any lifestyle change, there are tips and tricks to get the most out of small space living—and to decide if that beautifully located smaller unit is destined to be your next home.  If you’re considering a smaller space to grab that gorgeous location, here are some ways to make that choice a win-win situation.

Every wall is a resource

What’s that, up in the sky?  It’s your wall space, and when you’re living in a small space condominium, it’s one of your best resources.  Instead of just a flat expanse, your walls are an opportunity to create storage—and decorative character—without using up floor space, and embracing that opportunity is key to a cozy small space home.

Check out wall-mounted floating shelves, pegboards for keys or kitchen supplies, and hanging planters to expand your available storage and living space—all of them standards at stores like Ikea, who have been in the European mindset of compact and elegant living for decades.  With your mason jars of marmalade or favourite reads doing double duty as wall décor, you don’t just create a living space that’s organized and tidy, but also an amazing expression of what’s important to you.

Use a zone defence

Especially if your new space is an open-concept unit, splitting up a small space condominium into defined “rooms” is a massive plus.  Just because there isn’t a wall standing between that kitchen and living room, it doesn’t mean you can’t create an internal sense of use and space—which is key to creating an organized, purposeful home instead of feeling like you’re living in a multipurpose room.

Cluster objects that belong to one particular use in one area—your clothes and towels near your bed, your DVD collection away from the kitchen—and keep activities in their designated space.  Face the back of your sofa away to create the line of your living room, and see how quickly those invisible walls come up and make your space feel larger and more versatile.

If you’d rather have a physical boundary, invest in a few rice paper screens to let you open, close, and alter the boundaries of your space.  They’re easily portable, moveable, classy—and make great window coverings for a glass-walled condo space.

Think modular

Thinking vertical doesn’t just apply to your walls in a small space living situation: When it comes to storage, go up, go stackable, and go modular to get the very most out of what you’ve got.

If you’ve ever wondered what those perennial baskets and brightly coloured bins at furniture stores are for, this is when they’ll make subdividing and organizing your space a snap.  Pick up a few baskets and an adjustable frame, and you can turn a cramped space below your bathroom sink into an organized, multi-drawer, flexible storage space for all the toiletries and cleaning supplies you need.  Add a few baskets or decorative boxes to a floating shelf and a wall-mounted mirror, and voila: You’ve got a dressing table and vanity.

Likewise, small adjustments such as a slightly higher bed frame, paired with some right-height storage bins, can let you store your entire off-season’s worth of clothes and coats out of sight and switch them as the fall or spring come in.  Alternately, many condo-sized furniture stores sell hutch units designed to fit over a toilet tank, so you can include automatic shelving in your bathroom for towels and toiletries.

Size your furniture to the space

One of the great secrets of enjoying small space living is to not let your furniture dwarf the space: keep your shelves and tables in proportion to the floor space you have, instead of letting them crowd the room.

It’s easier to downsize furniture than we think: While that bruiser of a home office desk might be solid, it’s a terrible trial to move, and a Victorian cylinder desk or old-style writing desk will handle most modern computers easily—and have the added advantage of not letting papers, half-finished projects, and mental debris pile up in your work area.

Get outside

Toronto, especially in winter, can be an isolating city.  Small space living inspires—and sometimes requires—you to get outside and use this city in a way that really shows off its best side: as your outdoor living room.

Find out where your local library is, and hang out in their cozy chairs with a new book or your laptop.  Instead of having friends over for lunch, take a Sunday picnic together to your local public park.  If you’re a freelancer, investigate your neighbourhood for one of Toronto’s ever-increasing co-working options, and take advantage of their cheap office space, new professional and social connections, and plentiful caffeine.  Skip the TV and see a live set at your local venue or a classic movie at one of Toronto’s indie theatres.  Go to a free talk or storytelling night.

The wonderful thing about living in a city like Toronto is the wealth of things to do, and the connections we can make.  Making our home in our community is one of the best parts of small space living, and it’s the most compelling argument for trading in that extra bathroom for an impetus to live every day in your neighbourhood.