Challenges of Living in a Small Home, by Hollyberry

I have always lived in a small space (apartment/mobile home/cabin) since leaving mom and dad’s nest many years ago. Small living is not for everyone. Being in a small living area, with pets and personal belongings, it can get crowded quickly. My husband jokingly says that we live homicidally close! I find that organization is important, as is letting stuff go when no longer needed or used. If you save everything because you may need it one day, then you can quickly run out of space. Clutter can take over quickly if not kept in check. We try to keep things tidy and organized. Evaluate everything you are bringing into your home, do I really need/use/covet this item?

About 13 years ago, my husband and I moved into our little cabin. It was 680 square feet,. It had been built as a three-season hunting cabin. After looking at it and discussing how we could fit in it, we made an offer and here we are. There were no closets, no basement, and no outbuildings. Closets and outbuildings were added but a basement would have to wait for that winning lottery ticket. My husband and I and our dogs welcome you on a tour of our home and how we made it work for us. I offer you a cup of coffee and some homemade cookies!


The cabin is a 1 bedroom on ground level with a ladder leading to an open loft. We had ½ of the loft enclosed as a storage space and filled the other open half with books, plants and such. We use the enclosed storage for the many mason jars we have, blankets, Christmas decorations, etc. My husband built some very sturdy wood shelves to hold most of the items. As we live in a very cold climate, blankets and quilts take up a lot of space. Plastic boxes hold various items. Make sure you label the boxes or it will be a frustrating hunting trip locating the box that the shoe laces are in. And you need those shoelaces right now as the dog just ran away and your shoelace just broke! The ceiling is slanted in the loft so smacking your head on a wooden beam is still a daily occurrence. Every home my husband and I have owned has had a slanted ceiling in it somewhere so you would think we would know to duck our heads by now. See, can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

Several bags of dog food can be tucked into the open corner of the loft. We also have a wooden blanket chest filled a lot of stuff but not blankets! Make use of as much of the space as you can. When entering our home, you can see the open loft area filled with bookshelves and plants but stuff tucked in the corners is not visible. We also have an indoor clothesline here for those rainy/snowy days. In the spring you will see grow lights and seedlings growing up here and a kiddie pool with chicks hatched out of our incubator.


We had a closet built in the bathroom as there was no linen closet. There was a very small hot water heater which we changed out to an on-demand propane hot water heater. This is very economical and a space saver. A conventional hot water tank takes up a lot of room and consumes much energy. The bathroom has a small area walled off with a curtain that holds the well pressure tank and the on-demand hot water heater. There is also a small shelf above the well tank which holds laundry soap , bleach, etc. Brooms and mops hang on the wall here also. The electrical panel is on the opposite wall above the washing machine.

Originally, we had a very small and narrow shower stall. If you dropped something in the shower, it was so narrow that you could not bend down to retrieve it. If you were on the heavy side, you would not fit in the shower. It reminded me of a coffin with running hot and cold water. When we could finally afford an upgraded bathroom, we rescued a claw foot tub that had been in a field for God knows how long. My husband refinished the tub and it looks beautiful. It was a happy day to see the coffin shower stall lying in the driveway on its way to a new home, the town dump. We used a glass vessel sink and my husband built the countertop and underneath cabinet that hides the plumbing and holds toiletries.

The sinks and countertop had to be small to accommodate the larger tub. Living in Maine and being older, a nice, hot soak is worth more that any big bathroom sink and countertop. We had a stackable washer/dryer in the bathroom but several years ago the dryer expired and after pricing new ones we decided we don’t need one. I jokingly tell people I have a solar dryer and someone always asks what that is. We really only used the electric clothes dryer on rainy or snowy days so it wasn’t much of a loss to us. The electric bill did go down quite a bit which is always a nice bonus and the clothes smell like fresh mountain air and sunshine or occasional bird poop.


As the cabin is an open floor space, the living room/eating area/kitchen all tend to blend together. Before moving in, we had a double sink installed. As I do a lot of canning, this is not negotiable. I need 2 sinks! We had more cabinets built and extended the countertop in an empty corner that just held a garbage can. You can never have enough kitchen cabinets. Our table is in this area also and can comfortably sit 4 people. If our friends bring their adult children with them for a meal, we bring in the bistro table and chairs from the porch for more seating. You have to be realistic about entertaining in a smaller space. You will not be hosting large holiday meals for the family or big gatherings. Some days I wish I had a dining room but how often would I really use it? My kitchen my be small but all appliances are full size and I have plenty of room for cooking, canning & baking. My husband and I can even prepare a meal and cook together without bumping into each other.


We have a woodburning stove and in cooler temps, the wood rack is also in the living room. We have several coat hooks next to front door for jackets and more hooks behind the wood stove to dry or preheat a jacket on a cold winter day. We are limited on floor space and there is only 1 way to place the furniture. We have a hutch with glass door on top for nice stuff, like family heirlooms and the bottom is for storage. A couch and recliner and that is it. No room for a coffee table as letting the dogs out in the middle of the night would result in a visit to the local hospital as we would trip over it. We are considering building a couch with storage when this couch expires. I have seen some really nice ones and we could tailor it to fit the corner of the room.

We have two six-foot shelves on the wall above the couch for books we want access to without having to climb up the ladder to the loft. We have not had television for over a decade as we find it to be an unnecessary expense and the shows today are mindless garbage. We do have a DVD player and small flat screen on a shelf mounted over the living room window. I can’t even remember the last time we watched anything but w have a nice collection of DVDs. We especially enjoy older British comedies, like Last of the Summer Wine, Are You Being Served and The Vicar of Dibley.


The bedroom is very small, with no closets. The debate was made, build a closet or use dressers. Dressers are fine but do not solve the issue of what to do with clothes that need to be hung. Two closets were built, his and hers. A metal pipe for the hanging clothes and 2 wood shelves the length of the closet, plus floor space. Socks go in one milkcrate/plastic tote on the floor, underwear in another. I have enough space for summer and winter clothes on the shelves, the exception being parkas stored in our loft during summer as they take up a lot of room. Necklaces are hung on hooks and shoes are stacked in shoe boxes. This forces you to keep stuff tidy. We fit a queen-sized bed, 2 end tables and a small bench to stack some extra blankets and throws. There is plenty of storage space under the bed as well.


We had a small room built off the living room to serve as a mudroom/pantry. The addition of this room brought us up to 710 square feet of living space! Unfortunately, it only has 7 ft ceilings but one uses what you have. Two shelving units with 5 shelves each and a small upright freezer take up the majority of the space. Next to freezer is an area with lots of hooks and a small storage space using milk crates. The porch has 2 doors, one to our dog pen and the other to backyard.

During the winter, the back door is usually buried in snow due to us living on a steep slope facing east. The Nor’easters blow the snow and it swirls and always buries the back door and corner of the house. We decided to use the floor area in front of the back door for extra 50 lb bags of grain. If there is a fire, the dog pen door is closer, and has a gate in it. My husband added wood shelves 1 foot from the ceiling above the freezer and open area. Our big dog has a wonderful elevated food/water dish that is also holds 35 lb of dry dog food. We have a smaller dog and she eats near the wood stove, her favorite spot.


I love the front porch! It took several years for us to be able to afford to have it screened in. Prior to having it screened in, we only used it in cooler weather. We live in the woods and the black flies and mosquitoes eat us alive so sitting outside and eating was not enjoyable. We had wood walls built about four feet up then installed screen. We used pet screen as its more durable. A good sized bird flying into a regular screen will cause some damage. Pet screen also holds up much better to ice and snow. Doors on both ends complete the porch. We have a small bistro table that fits 2 and a cedar porch chair where I love to sit and read. Wood planks and cinder blocks make fine shelving for garden clogs, small garden tools and decorative items.

In summertime the shelves also hold the many house plants that come outside for a vacation. Two stained glass panels hang facing east. We try to eat out on the porch as much as possible in the nice weather. It functions as an extra room in our very short summers. Onions and garlic are hung to dry out here and baskets of produce waiting to be canned can be left out here also without damage from critters. Large clear plastic panels cover the front screens and block the wind and prevent snow intrusion. In the colder months, I can quickly cool off a pot of soup or chili rather than allow it to cool on the stove. Snowshoes and shovels are left here in winter, also. There is no point in keeping snow shovels in the garage when you need a shovel just to get to the garage in the winter. Aluminum snowshoes should be kept in the cold. If you keep them in a nice warm house, ice will stick to the metal. They stay cold but dry here.


Our detached garage is slightly larger than our home. It can hold both vehicles and five cords of wood, along with a tool bench and various other stuff my husband says we need. Plywood was placed in the rafters of the garage for additional lightweight storage. Pegboard and magnetic strips organize tools and free up bench space.


We have a two-room chicken house, one side used to house goats. The girls can spread out and several roosters keep predators away. A small 3-sided structure was added that holds bales of hay and 5 metal garbage cans that contain chicken feed. A shelf and some hooks hold other items used for rabbits or chickens that need to be accessed easily. We have another very small shed that used to house our male goat. He was a buck and it still has that musky, male goaty smell on damp days. This is for the lawnmower, kayak paddles, extra shovels, rakes, etc.


We will not store any food items or clothing or paper products outside. The temperatures fluctuate too much. Our temperatures run between -35 to 95 degrees depending on the season. Paper and clothes are subject to mold from dampness and don’t even get me started on mice. While I sometimes long for a larger home, that means more stuff, more maintenance and more money on utilities. We are able to keep the place well heated on two cords of wood a year and minimal propane costs for a backup heater, kitchen stove and on-demand hot water system. Our electric bill is between 25-to 45 dollars per month, depending on our AC use.

Cleaning our home can be done quickly. The perceived notion is that a small space means minimal, austere or no personal objects. We have windowsills filled with antique glass pitchers and lots of plants. The tops of the kitchen cabinets hold antiques as well. The walls hold a variety of objects from photos to paper wasps nests to vintage bow saws. We have to live here day in and day out and want it to feel homey and cozy. People are surprised to find that we do have luxury items, like AC and a full-sized claw foot tub.

Many of our friends and folks we know express the desire to downsize but are stuck because they can’t decide what possessions to keep or discard. We have never had this issue and I imagine it can be overwhelming. This is the smallest home we have lived in and I would not want to live in any less square footage than we currently have. I would not find that comfortable but that’s just me. I hope you have enjoyed your visit to our home. Please come by in the spring for a glass of lemonade on the porch and we can watch the hummingbirds. May God bless you and your family.