Thursday, June 5, 2008

Frugal living in small spaces

My husband and I live in a fairly expensive city, so we’re currently renting-to-own an 800 sq. ft. trailer from a friend. It’s an older model, from the 1950s, so we’ve had our fair share of struggles with repair bills, etc. Now that we’re planning to relocate to the Midwest by early next year, hopefully to a “real” house, I’ve started thinking about what we could do differently to be more frugal if we had a little extra space. Here are some of the pros and cons I've encountered in small-space living.


  • With limited storage space, every purchase acquires new meaning, in a phenomenon I call "forced simplicity." I can't fill up our house with impulse buys that I "might" use someday if the only place I have to store it is under the kitchen table. This limits the number of things we buy, which helps keep us on track with a simple and frugal lifestyle.
  • The lack of space also encourages us to weed through our belongings on a regular basis. This results in less clutter and also more opportunities for income by selling unwanted items.
  • Our trailer is poorly insulated, so we can't reap the full benefits of reduced heating and cooling bills. Even with that said, our bills are lower here than what they would be in a large house.
  • Our yard is as small as our house, so we pay next to nothing on lawn maintenance. Mowing the lawn only takes my husband a few minutes, so it's easy to have a neat, well-kept outdoor space.
  • Maintaining the home is also cheaper and easier. Fewer rooms to clean and decorate means fewer unnecessary purchases and less time spent hugging the vacuum.
  • We have a small garden and try to grow some of our own herbs and vegetables, but if we had a larger yard, we would be able to grow much more of our own produce, significantly reducing our grocery bills.
  • Also, if we had a pantry larger than a cupboard, we could can and preserve more food in season and buy more foods in bulk. Right now, I have a master list of what food is stored where, since our pantry is only a small cupboard. It would be nice not to have to squeeze cans of tomato sauce under the bed or bottles of mustard in with my husband's hunting equipment.
  • If we had a larger house, we could purchase and stock a chest freezer. We have a small upright freezer right now, but if we had more space, we could buy a share in a cow and store the meat for future consumption. Finding affordable meat is one of our biggest frugal challenges, and having the space to store larger quantities would be a blessing.
  • The storage issue applies to every purchase, not just groceries. If we had more space, we could buy more gifts in advance and focus harder on making more of our own goods. My husband was given a beer making kit for his last birthday, but he has been reluctant to use it partly because we have very limited space to work in and store in-progress projects.

I hope that in our next house, we'll be able to have the best of both worlds. I think that with more built-in or concealed storage and maybe a basement or attic, we can reap the advantages of having a small living space while gaining the flexibility to take advantage of good deals and to pursue our hobbies. Has anyone else been in a similar housing situation? I'd love to hear how you manage!

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