Advice for Downsizing the Family Home

A reader’s question:

Hi, Rachel!
My little family and I (my hubby and 2 littles) are moving into a smaller space in a few months, and I literally have no idea where to start. Do I declutter first? What do I look for in apartments? I know you liked living in apartments with your children, but were there things you wished you knew before you moved into one? We live in a house now, but will most likely move into an apartment.

***

Yes, I always recommend decluttering first, no matter who you are or what season you’re in, because that makes everything easier. It gives you the freedom of flexibility when you don’t have to carry a ton of stuff with you.

I just moved into a house for the first time after living in apartments with my family for many years.

The most important thing to think about when shopping for apartments is what your family currently needs. One time a few years ago we looked for a new apartment, and we found one in a popular part of town with bars, shops, and restaurants. It was an address we would have been proud of, and the building had high style. But before we signed the lease, we realized: it would have been perfect for us a few years before, but it didn’t fit our current life. We were about to add a new baby to our family. We weren’t going to be going out to bars at night. We ended up finding a different apartment with parks for our little ones to run around.

Since you have kids, I would place a huge priority on the kitchen. Sometimes apartment kitchens are designed for one or two people to eat dinner there a couple of nights a week and go out to eat the rest of the time. With little kids, your kitchen receives a lot of use, and you need a decent amount of pantry space. Can you make do with a small kitchen? Of course you can make it work, but a functional space will go a long way to helping you feel satisfied in your new place.

Storage is also important, but you might be surprised to find that modern apartments have more closet space than older houses. Shelves make the most efficient use of space if you need to add storage. We have the kind of metro restaurant-style shelves that can be adjusted and don’t need to be mounted to the wall, and I can’t believe how much stuff it holds. When we need to move it can be disassembled for easy transport.

Of course there is more advice. Continue reading:

What to Expect When You’re Expecting and You Still Live in an Apartment

What advice would you give?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. My parents were always really picky about the school districts. We moved a lot b/c of my father’s job and sometimes we lived in really random rental apartments simply because the address would allow my siblings and I to be in a better school district. If your kids are/will be attending public schools, it would be something to think about.
    Juliette´s last post…2 Second Christmas Votive DIY

  2. Things I think are especially important, besides the ones you mentioned, are:
    1. Access to the apartment from your car. You have to imagine carrying the sleeping littles, a stroller, a bag or two, groceries…
    2. Access to outdoor play space for your children.
    3. Kitchen: if at all possible, one with enough space for your children to be in there with you when you work. Failing that, a good space just outside the kitchen for a table where you can do much of your prep and have your littles close by.
    4. For me, enough natural light. I once lived in a basement apartment for 8 months and fought depression the entire time — not like me at all. It never occurred to me until then how important natural light is to my sense of well-being, but I certainly have never forgotten the lesson.
    Lori´s last post…Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

    • Ok. So, AFTER leaving my comment above, I clicked over to the earlier essay on apartment living with children. Now I’m back to point out that Rachel covered everything in my comment in her first post. So read that and ignore me. LOL
      Lori´s last post…Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

  3. Pay attention to soundproofing which can really vary. try and visit in the evening and see the type of residents. think carefully about floor coverings.

  4. The kitchen thing is important, but I think a big dining room is just as good or better – you’ll need one or the other to fit everyone around the dinner table, especially when you have guests over. I have hosted 10-person dinners, but I have to squish everyone into our tiny dining room and I always wish there was just more space there. But most importantly, get rid of everything you don’t use much and get smaller things when possible. For example, my husband and I downsized recently and were in luck because we met a family who was just moving out on their own and needed pretty much every houseware possible. So, I filled a few boxes of my stuff to give them, and my apartment looks so much better for it. Also, replace large things with smaller when possible (like a small coffeemaker instead of the usual size) and remember to use hooks on the wall and any odd, extra spaces to store things (ex/behind the couch). Also, open green areas/community gardens/parks closeby become essential when you don’t have a backyard.

  5. Oh, and keep in mind that with apartments, everything is negotiable before you move in. Ask up front if you can paint certain rooms or have things fixed up if necessary. We have a bright yellow bedroom and a dog in what was a beige, supposedly dog-free apartment complex.

  6. We recently slashed our square footage in half, and I couldn’t be happier about it; it simplified my life immensely! I would agree that de-cluttering is a key priority. I’ve gotten rid of things I thought I would keep forever, because they no longer suited my life. I found with almost everything, if I took a few photos of it, that was enough to hold on the the memory, without needing the actual thing taking up space.
    Best of luck with your new adventure!

  7. You may want to check about the possibility of ventilation systems being shared by units. Unfortunately, with older multiunit housing complexes, there may be a problem with other peoples “fumes” – including cooking and SECONDHAND SMOKE coming into your home! We’re wrestling with this currently..

  8. I currently live in a 1300 sqft apartment in San Francisco with my two year old, stay-at-home husband, and baby-on-the-way. Everyone else has given really good advice so far.

    The thought I’ll add is to try to take stock of what you really love, and utilize, in your current home (or any other home you’ve lived in). That might be a large kitchen, excellent light, wood floors, or an extra room. For my family it is an extra room that is off-limits to children where I sew and craft and my husband draws. Being able to keep those kinds of project spaces un-baby-proofed is a real luxury that we’d really miss.

    So declutter like crazy, and decide what is most important to you in a home.

  9. We lived in about an 800-sq.-ft. apt. in Japan with 2 kiddos and it completely worked (no clothes dryer, no dishwasher–actually, even though we’re in America now we still don’t have a dishwasher–1926 house!). I just decluttered on a continual basis. I didn’t like having to walk up 3 flights of stairs (no elevator) but I loved the underground parking garage, especially in inclement weather. Our kids probably have way fewer toys than the average American kids (and definitely fewer bulky toys), and that started when we lived in Japan, but we still keep it that way. You can do it! :) And it’s fun, too!

  10. Another thing to mention (and I believe Rachel has posted about a similar thing) is that I don’t keep seasonal decorations–I find something that we can eat afterward or compost. Pumpkins and multicolored maize for the fall…
    Abigail (aka Mamatouille)´s last post…dianasaur’s pumpkin oatmeal choco-chip cookies

    • I LOVE this idea. I have never really thought about doing this but it is true. There are so many seasonal things you could decorate with and not have to have storage for it. I am going to think how I can utilize this more for this Christmas season. Greenery and berries would be much nicer than a glass bowl with gold balls inside.
      Successful Woman’s Resource Center´s last post…Clearing clutter to make way for gifts

    • Brilliant idea! I am currently struggling with too many seasonal decorations. I am loving all these comments, because we live in a 950 square foot apartment and have two kids. I don’t know a single other family who lives in an apartment with kids.

      Some things I do: When our boys outgrew their cribs, we never got around to buying them toddler beds, so they just sleep on their mattresses on the floor. We don’t have to worry about them falling out of bed, and in the morning, we flip the mattresses up against the wall so they have a huge play area.

      We don’t have a pantry, but I like to stock up on non-perishables when they are on sale, so we store extra food under our bed in plastic under-bed boxes we already had.

      Instead of coffee tables and end tables, I use vintage trunks. This way I can store things instead of just having a single-purpose piece of furniture. I have my Christmas & seasonal decorations taking up all the space in these, so now I need to take Abigail’s advice to free up some storage space for other things!

      Blackout curtains in the boys’ room so headlights from the parking lot don’t shine into their room at night.

      I use S-hooks to hang things from our wire shelving that’s in all our closets. I use over-the-door hooks to hang purses, backpacks, towels, the ironing board…nearly every door has something hanging from it on the inside.

  11. Hubby and I are getting up in age (late 60′s) so we have been thinking about moving into a smaller space. I am constantly downsizing. Giving away, tossing, selling. For when that day comes.

    Just had to comment on the photo up top. Love the father/child bonding and learning to write exercises. Too cute!!
    Donna´s last post…December Jewelry Clearance Sale

  12. My friends were looking at going from a smaller condo to a larger one, as their stuff and their twins couldn’t fit any more. They were horrified to find out the cost of just a few more square-feet. Instead they sent their children off to grandma, took 5 days off and de-cluttered half of their stuff. Not some, not a lot, exactly half. They have saved themselves a move and a lot of cash. I think they were sooo right.

  13. My husband and I bought our starter house when we were first married, and even though the house was small we seemed to have plenty of space. But as we started adding babies, the house started to feel a lot smaller really fast!

    It took a professional organizer to point out the obvious to me: living in a small house has a lot of perks, but if it’s going to work, you have to be ruthless about the Stuff. On every level: less clothing, fewer appliances, less furniture, fewer toys. A smaller tupperware collection and not as many books. And I definitely didn’t have room for 3 sets of china or anything like that.

    And as for siting an apartment, I would pay close attention to how easy it is to get outdoors from where you live. Where are the sidewalks, parks, walking paths, etc? Not having a yard to take care of can be a major plus, but you want to make sure it’s easy to get outdoors–especially with kids.
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s last post…A New Advent Tradition That Might Actually Work For Our Family

  14. In Oct of this year, we moved from a 2300 sq ft Condo with 4 BR and 3 full Baths, into a 2 BR 1K sq ft apartment. We took Rachel’s advice, and the local animal Humane Society thrift shop was very happy. We gave them so much, and were happy to do it! We are in, unpacked and we fit! I have one full set of dishes, no dining room set (the dining area is my office/sewing room), and we have 2 comfortable stools for sitting at the breakfast bar. This works for us, as our children are grown. Even tho Rachel has children and we do not, I love her blog, as her ideas can be applied in almost any situation. I look forward to each post. Thank you so much Rachel!

    • My children are also grown, and we are still living in the house where we raised them all. It is not huge by any means, 1700 sq ft, but definitely seems big for the 2 of us! And the 1 acre yard? Oh how I wish I could make it disappear! We may consider moving to an apartment in the future, not sure if we would sell during this market, or just try to rent for now. 2 BR 1 BA with no yardwork sounds amazing!
      Successful Woman’s Resource Center´s last post…Clearing clutter to make way for gifts

      • Yard work, ack! Hubby moved us to 1.89 acres and small house with no closets but for a half one built over basement stairs. Basement rather wet and not too useful. But doing okay with little 10 by 10 bedroom and gutted kitchen so will have two small closets in kitchen as a fix for this 1850s house. Big yard: wish I could cement most of it over and just have raised veggie and flower beds. But small house living is good, lower heat costs (we insulated) and getting rid of things one didn’t use is sensible, and sure made a lot of people very happy donating stuff.
        Kitchen has six doors to it (grand central station?)with none that could be removed, but finally got a kitchen plan in place using unfinished cabinets …to save money. And right now walls off to plug old holes/heat leaks and insulating and doing some new electrical as ancient wiring the insulation is falling off so not too safe.

  15. Thank you so so much, everyone! All these suggestions are really helping me figure out some essentials. Keep ‘em coming :)

  16. Julie JOY says:

    We’re empty nesters and moved from a 2200sf house to a 650sf apt. While we did sell or give away a lot, we do have a bunch in storage. I anticipate going back through storage in a year and finding things we have lived (and thus can continue to live) without. I keep telling myself, “Enough. I have enough. I don’t need more.”

    For us, the major issue is LOCATION: We are now within walking distance or a very quick bus ride to work. I can deal with the small living quarters, and am continually decluttering and letting go, but I have this overriding satisfaction of being close to where we spend 90% of our time when away from home.

    LOVE the website. Thanks for your practical ideas. (My biggest “take home” is to not organize the mess–declutter FIRST.

  17. Six years ago I moved into my small 2 bedroom (490sf) house and remember thinking ‘it’s small, but it’s big enough for me’. Soon after, I became a foster carer and about 25 kids later, I bit the bullet and enclosed my front veranda to create two extra small rooms. So now I have the smallest footprint for a 4 bedroom home which includes a small space for myself. I’m constantly trying to clear things out, but hold a ‘library’ of clothes for the kids plus toys and equipment, so it’s a challenge. My advice would be find an apartment with plenty of natural light where you can see the horizon – this gives you the feeling of space. Also, even the smallest balcony can improve things, but must be super safe for kids.
    Rose´s last post…What I meant was…

  18. Nothing totally novel to add here, but I will echo some great advice that has already been stated. After living in about 700 square feet for two years (with two kids), the hardest parts for me were the distance from our parking to our apartment and the sound issues with our downstairs neighbors. We had a beautiful apartment with hardwood floors, but the result was no soundproofing. Our poor (patient) downstairs neighbors! Also, getting into the apartment with the baby and the toddler was tough. Throw in groceries and it became really tiring. So many trips, back and forth, up and down stairs. And the days where the toddler wanted to be carried or was throwing a fit– the distance from our car to our door seemed so long!

    I miss a lot about living there, though. There was a forced simplicity that I really enjoyed. I also miss all the natural light we had! I’m convinced that it made our space so much cozier and more welcoming. Not to mention (as someone else has already said) that it just boosted my mental state overall.

    Good luck!
    Katherine´s last post…Thiiiiis close to losing my mind completely

  19. The house we owned when our kids were small was around 1300 sq ft. We sold it and were in process of getting another during the housing bubble. We rented an apartment for a few months but didn’t like, but access to vehicle parking was a huge problem. (I don’t like living over or under anyone.) Having to shuttle groceries and laundry got tiring really fast. (It helps to have a conveniently located laundry facility on premises that is maintained.)

    We ended up renting a townhouse (condo) for a comparable price — with upstairs and downstairs. We had to look for six months (low vacancies) but we finally struck pay dirt. Duplexes are a nice idea that someone mentioned — just make sure you meet the neighbors first and will possibly have a good rapport.

    We’re still renting a townhouse around 1600 sq ft (I enjoy fixing places up), but would like to eventually own a single family home again. I also like to keep the places painted white (Very classic, contemporary and easy to decorate around — plus you don’t have to repaint when it’s time to leave.)

  20. We recently downsized this past summer from a house to a 3 bedroom apartment with three small children. I decluttered like a maniac before the move and got rid of any unnecessary furniture.
    Even after all that decluttering, I ended up decluttering again after the move (its a mazing how much stuff you can accumulate).
    We gave my two daughters the largest bedroom so that they could be comfortable and the baby has the smaller room. I keep their toys to a minimum and the toys live mostly in their rooms.
    Our kitchen is not huge but has good cabinet space. We also brought along a shelving unit with doors from ikea (actually a bookcase) which fits nicely in a corner of the kitchen and is used as our food pantry.
    We miss our house, but love the coziness and simplicity of our new place!
    Christyn@StrivingforSimple´s last post…5 Reasons Why He Isn’t Proposing To You

  21. My husband and I are in our mid-fifties and are pondering downsizing. We currently live in a 4 bedroom house with a large yard. Th children are all married and we have two granddaughters… I would love to not have so much to take care of, there are too many other things I want to do…It is a daunting idea this simplifying, downsizing … Thanks for the post and all the imput!

  22. Until last year, my family of four lived in a 560 sq ft apartment with two bedrooms and it was plenty of space for people with simple tastes.

    Lighting is vital, and if your kids are young and run and jump being over someone can be a nightmare.

    If you cntinually reassess your needs you can keep the extra junk away. Most things aren’t worth hanging on to if they could bless someone else’s life instead of taking up valuable space.

    Keep toys simple (which my kids prefer- cleanup is doable). Same with furniture- we have no furniture save beds in the kids’ shared room (3 boys).

    My challenge has always been writing down where things are in boxes, closets, etc. So I can find them. We’ve put away most of our books, despite being bibliophiles. I finally figured out that storing a bookshelf full of books I open less than once a year is an awful waste of space! It’s better to use the library.

    Kitchen- keep what you use a LOT. For example, we have an electric griddle on the counter, but no mixer, toaster, or crockpot because I didn’t use them enough to merit the space. And you don’t need 20 place settings.

    Lastly, I value a parking space I can see from my front door- it made unloading groceries with kiddies safely strapped in carseats reasonable. It was easier. But my husband prefers a garage.

    Good luck! We love apartment living and don’t know if we’ll ever go for home ownership.

  23. Lots of great advice/comments. We moved a month ago into a 1200 sq ft apartment with four children. Several things I’d add or second from the post & other comments……

    Evaluate the space in terms of your family’s needs and think outside the box, I was looking around for a narrow coffee table to fit the living room (because in my mind every living room has to have a coffee able) when it occurred to be that even a sm table would just take up too much room. It would cut down the kids play space & would visually clutter the space. I skipped it, how freeing!

    I know Small Notebook has talked about storage units before but I think they are very relevant to the apartment/downsizing conversation. Our apartment has great closets but it still can’t fit everything I think we need to keep. I started last year (the start of our downsizing process) with a large $100 a month unit. Now I have a smaller $50 a month unit. There are things (off season clothes, clothes in coming sizes, seasonal decor, etc) that need to be accessable but I am so glad they don’t have to fit in the apartment with us! Think about storage as you evaluate places to live & your budget.

    Because of said storage I am working out a toy/game rotation. Right now my kids are almost Spartan in their toy selection because I’ve been packing up/giving away so much…..but Christmas and three of their birthdays are in the next month! Come February or March when we have cabin fever I’ll grab a stack of fun games & puzzles out of storage and they’ll seem new!

    Don’t get discouraged as you learn a new housekeeping routine…..small spaces get totally trashed amazingly quickly……but they can be cleaned and put in order pretty quickly too!

  24. Thank you so so much again for everyone who has given suggestions! It really means a lot. I’m so glad I have this resource now. Thanks again to Rachel and everyone else!

  25. We just moved our family this past May from 2000 square feet 4 bedroom 2 bath house into a 2 bedroom apartment that is about 900 square feet. My hubby and I have 2 kids ages 4 and 8 that share a room.

    I love it! We got rid of about 75% of our stuff and now have just what we need and plenty of space. Maintenance and cleaning is practically nothing and there is no where for extra stuff to accumulate.
    Lorilee @ Loving Simple Living.com´s last post…Comment on Ken Robinson On Schooling, Creativity… and what direction we need to head by Lorilee

    • I just now came across this site!!!! OMG!!!! We are a family of 4 (2 boys 6&12) we currently live in a 3500 sqft/5 bed 3.5bath home. We have spent the last 8 months doing a “1st sort” then a “2nd sort” and now we are down to “just throw that crap away!” Just 2 weeks ago we took 8 full car loads to Goodwill! We will be putting our house up for sale February 1st and we are looking to move into a 2 or 3 bed apartment or condo. We are sick of the maintenance, money & time it takes to maintain these large homes. We want to spend our free time reading, hiking, traveling, talking with each other!

      I have to admit I still have moments of “panic/stress” because we live here in the Atlanta area where it is rare to build condos and/or apartments where there are decent school districts. And I have yet to come in contact with someone who feels the same way as i do about simplifying life. But, I am sure we will be just fine. :)

      • Yeah! We are in the Omaha area and it’s condos and apartments aren’t that popular either. That is why we chose to rent. I don’t want to worry about resale. We kept our house and rented it out so we still have our ‘real estate investment’ but our maintenance as well as living costs are way less.

        Good luck!
        Lorilee @ Loving Simple Living.com´s last post…Home School Schedules = Freedom and Choices

        • Thanks so much. I feel better knowing that I am not alone. I know that it places like Chicago, New York…. All of the West coast it is common for people to rent who may not be cash strapped, or just want to rent a nice place! I look it like lots of people lease cars so they can always have a nice new car and not have to deal with headache of the aging car . I guess I see a house like that too. Besides… Most rich people buy cars for more than my house!