Downsizing: 5 Tips for Small Space Living

Prior to moving to Madrid from Cedar Rapids, our family lived in a two-story colonial style home with a fenced-in backyard. I loved our home and it was perfect for our family of four. It was just the right size and had plenty of play area for our girls and space for our belongings.

We knew that moving to a major city meant downsizing and transitioning to the “big city life” of apartment living. We knew that there’d be some adjustments, but didn’t know exactly what those adjustments would be until we moved.

We found a great little apartment in one of the more residential areas just a 10 minute drive outside of the city of Madrid. It is close to our work and school and is less congested from the hustle and bustle of the city.

It was cute and quaint and we were excited with our new apartment living. But then we started to feel…well, cramped.

We didn’t know how to live in a smaller area with one another, and it was something that we needed to learn to adapt to quickly.

We found ourselves with a blank canvas, but the more that we brought in our new home the more crowded it became. I began to think about ways to turn our little apartment into a “home” yet forgot to think about the size of the home that I was working with. So I turned to the help of Pinterest and my art background, and slowly I was able find some new tricks to help keep our home less cluttered while staying cozy and livable.

1. Vertical storage

The problem that we were facing was the more furniture that we added for storage (armoires, automans, tubs, crates, etc.) the more space that it took in our home. What we needed was furniture that could also act as storage. One cute trick that we learned was to use ladders as a decorative item. Who would have thought that a ladder could be so cute? Whether it be an old antique ladder that is refurbished or one that can be purchased, it is a hip and cool way to store your belongings. We looked everywhere to find an old one and fortunately found a new one at a low cost at a local boutique by our home.

We have SOOOOO many blankets that take up a ton of space in the closet so we use our ladder to hang those items on. Problem solved–and we can use the drawers and closets for other smaller things. Check out this article from Better Homes and Garden for more ideas on how to use ladders as decor/storage.

2. Boxes as wall shelves

The more free standing shelving that we wanted to purchase, the more bulky our living area looked. And the more that we added to the tops of our dressers and tables, the more crowded those areas became. In addition, the more shelving that you buy, the more pricey they become, especially the bigger the item is.

Luckily for us we had a store nearby that is similar to the Dollar Store in the states. They have EVERYTHING, including a variety of wooden boxes. I took the bottoms off (these can be left on if you prefer), painted them the color that I wanted, and hung them on the walls to use as a way to display small items. Not only are these fun, but they also take away additional clutter on our countertops.

3. Skip the coat rack

An issue that we were running into is no longer having a mud room or space to hang our coats and store our shoes. A coat rack would have been a great solution; however, it also takes up quite a bit of space. Of course hooks can be purchased, but they are not always as decorative as we’d like. So I trusted my artist knowledge, purchased frames for under 2 euros, decorated them with fun scrapbooking paper, knobs, and voila! A perfect area for hanging coats. Another option is to also look for vertical wall racks. We were able to find one at IKEA for a reasonable price.

4. Use the door

Purchase a door hanger hook to hang items like hats, coats, belts, robes, and even your ironing board. This keeps your items from taking up space in your dresser drawers and also invisible to company that you invite over to your quaint little home.

5. Vertical greenery

Many smaller spaces and apartments don’t leave you enough room for a garden. However, a large empty wall with a simple trellis is all you really need to satisfy your green thumb. By adding a vertical garden to your home you are not only saving counter and table space but are adding color and aromas to your humble abode. You can purchase one from your local garden shop along with some small pots to hang onto your trellis OR you can make one on your own.

What are your secrets for small space living?


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


  1. I will be moving into a small house this year, which is why I’m planning to downsize by donating my things and leaving some of it in the storage unit. Well, I agree with you that it would be best to make use of those used boxes and use them as wall shelves. Thank you for also stating here the advantage of buying a door hanger hook.


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