Design of the Times – Downsizing: Small Problem, Big Solution

Summer turning autumn 2022 and it’s go time. We packed up our family of two adults, 3 little kids, and two big dogs into the SUV. We jammed, and I mean jammed, our life into a 26-foot U-Haul and hit the road for a cross-Canada trek to start a new and exciting chapter. No big deal in the big scheme of things, life is just a bunch of mini adventures waiting to be experienced!

Fast forward 2 weeks… Our new house sale has closed, and we get to step foot in it for the first time. Technology is amazing and saves so many air miles when you can trust your rock star realtor (shout out to Chalsey Bugeaud of Iron Reality!) to facetime us day in and day out, showing after showing. 

So, once the trip was over, it was time to unpack. We quickly realized that all the downsizing and gutting we did before we left the 3700 sq ft house was not sufficient to fit it all into our new 1500 sq ft home. Lesson learned! Moving into a small space with a transport truckload of belongings that fit perfectly into a larger home can be challenging and overwhelming. Looking around at the never-ending boxes and, what seems like in the moment, monster-sized furniture and trying to find a home for it all mentally, can be exhausting. As with every other project we take on here at Trim Design, we start off the same way… pick your battles, lay them out in an organized fashion, and check one box at a time. 

In my experience, there are a few ways to approach the initial unpacking and sorting. Some choose to unpack the necessities and run the excess boxes right down to the basement or storage unit to sort through over time. Others choose to go all the way as soon as the moving truck pulls out of the driveway; digging into each box, emptying, sorting, and dealing with the overflow as they go. I wish I had the sorting skills to be one of those people. But no. 


The word minimalistic is very subjective depending on whom you ask. I have experienced this firsthand in the home staging world. I quickly learned that a general explanation of decluttering, minimizing, and packing up doesn’t work. Every single one of us has a comfort zone that we live in. Even when we push our limits and move past that zone, we eventually shift back there to some extent. So, when it comes to moving your life from a large space to a small space, reach far outside that comfort zone when it comes to looking at what you need in your space to live comfortably! The person who moves every 3 to 5 years while living the Scandinavian design dream with very little excess approaches a minimalistic methodology very different than the trinket collector who has been living in a well-kept and well-loved home for 25 years. Their hearts are in the same place, but the end results are lightyears apart. To each their own. We are all different and unique and amazing in our very own way, so we always need to make sure we rock that! 

With that being said, whatever setup you previously had, it’s now time to remove a few layers of stuff. What is stuff, you ask? Right now, I’m not talking about décor. I am talking about the household items that are generally tucked away in case you need them. The backup, the overstock, the one-offs. All of this takes up space. When you have space, it works out well. When you have minimal space, it tends to quickly take over and the ‘neatly tucked away’ turns into the ‘quickly piled high’. Once you get the background items sorted and the overflow is out of sight and out of mind, the fun visual items are much easier to set up to perfection.

From furniture with storage ability to decorative storage containers, you can neatly and invisibly use every nook and cranny in your house to stash away the background items. An ottoman that doubles as a trunk is a great place to tuck away board games, electronics, or books to choose from on a rainy Friday night. For the parents in the crowd, this ottoman is a game changer for chucking all the toys in just moments before your company walks through the door. Instant organization! Or the appearance of it anyway!

A decorative woven cotton rope basket filled to the brim with throw blankets and pillows will look like a great décor addition to the already cozy living room, but it also is saving two shelves in the linen closet for other linens.

Side note: On the topic of linen closets, no matter how much space you have, the linen closet is always the default black hole for comforters we never use, the lone top sheets without the matching fitted sheets, the mattress covers that no longer fit any beds in the house, and the 89 pillowcases that are just there as decoration. No matter the space you have in your house, gut this closet regularly!

Under-bed storage, whether it’s built-in drawers or storage containers, can open up bedroom space that would otherwise be filled with dressers.

As the boxes get emptied, the main spaces of the home start to get cleared out and visuals start to become clear. These are a few key points to keep in mind when decorating a smaller space. Let’s look at the layout. Having a small amount of space immediately makes smaller furniture come to mind. This generally doesn’t transform into the desired look. Use standard-size furniture and with proper placement the room will look larger with those pieces. 

My advice to others, which was also what I repeated to myself while setting up our new home, is to visualize a blank slate. Don’t compare it to your last home, don’t compare it to other rooms in the house. Treat it as its own space that you want to happily live in and make it yours. Always add your own spark, whatever that may be. You can be as bold or as minimal as you like when it comes to decor, just own it. Large artwork, bold paint colours, beautiful focal pieces, large room-filling area rugs, layered with accent rugs, and the list goes on. 

When I conduct home staging consults, I always explain to homeowners how important it is to showcase small spaces like closets and the pantry. For buyers, these spaces are often very important for storage and organization and it’s easy for sellers to give them a glimpse of the full potential of that space. The most effective way to open up an otherwise tight area is to keep the floor clear. This same rule applies to any small space, including a living room or bedroom. Open up traffic ways, keep floor space empty, with exception to furniture and décor. Let every piece own its place in the room. A glass end table with an open bottom, floating shelves, a sharp looking fold up desk, an ottoman coffee table with space between the bottom and the floor. These small changes work wonders with opening up flooring. When space allows, keep your furniture off the walls. For smaller spaces, keeping furniture away from the walls will give the appearance of ample space. Don’t be afraid to play with the furniture layout. 

The same design rules apply for any size room – make sure there is good flow and loads of character. As I always suggest for any new design project no matter how big or small, step away often. Leave the room and walk right back in with a fresh set of eyes and see what you like and dislike at first glance.  Don’t lose sight of the look you are trying to achieve or be intimidated by lack of space. Confidence is your key to success! 

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by Megan Callahan

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