So you’re planning a big move to a new city but your new digs are … not so big? You may be envisioning yourself surrounded by towers of boxes in an apartment too small to accommodate any of them, swimming through clutter and asking yourself how you ever thought this was a good idea. But fret not — that record-scratch, freeze-frame moment is not inevitable. With a little planning, a lot of decluttering, and a hefty dose of creativity, you might just find this small, new place is your favorite home yet. 

Downsize and declutter your current situation 

1. Get organized from the get-go

Time is your friend when it comes to planning a move. From deciding between using a moving company or renting a truck to taking some time off work, there are plenty of, ahem, moving parts. To help keep it all straight, use an apartment moving checklist that lays out all of the logistics for you, from eight weeks prior to the big moving day itself. If nothing else, use it for the sheer satisfaction of crossing off each item. 

2. Take a hard look at your kitchen accoutrements

That’s right, now it’s time to start downsizing your home. Do you really need a rice cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker, toaster oven, and air fryer? Likely not. And chances are you won’t have room for all of them in your new pad even if you wanted to. Get practical and pare down to the basics — and that goes beyond the kitchen. Maybe you can keep three comfy pillows out of your collection of a dozen throw cushions and bring two sets of towels instead of ten. Make like Marie Kondo and go through everything, from your wardrobes to your cabinets, setting aside anything you can part with. Because if it doesn’t make you happy in a larger space, it certainly won’t spark joy in a smaller space.

3. Decide on your nonnegotiable tangibles

Here’s the thing: Sometimes the things we love are impractical. And if this new apartment is going to be a happy home, you’ll want to have your absolute favorite belongings there with you. While it may not make pragmatic sense to truck your beloved record collection into your new small-space living lifestyle, downsizing to a bluetooth speaker and Spotify account just might not cut it for you. If that’s the case, pack that record player up and trim in other places instead.

digitizing your paperwork to prepare for living in a small space
(Source: picjumbo.com)

4. Digitize to downsize 

If your mail, grocery lists, and other random sheets of paper have formed a miniature mountain on the corner of your kitchen table, now is the time to tackle that. Recycle what you can, file what you can’t, and, most importantly, request digital versions of any bills or other papers that tend to accumulate to create a “sustainable solve” for the future. Then, take a good look at your inventory and see if there are any other 3D items you can store pictures of on the cloud. Books? Try out an e-reader or audiobook subscription, or, if you can’t forgo the real deal, take advantage of your local library and borrow books that won’t take up long-term space. 

5. Get the logistics squared away 

What’s just as important as making sure all of your furnishings can fit in your apartment? Making sure you can physically get them all inside when you get there. That means knowing the elevator situation, where you can park, the width of your doorway, and any building rules that apply to moving into a high-rise or similar dwelling.

6. Be thoughtful about the furniture you bring in

There’s no better time to evaluate whether you really like that clunky dresser than before you huff it up three flights of stairs. See if you can acquire a floorplan of the apartment ahead of time, and map out where your largest pieces of furniture would fit. When it comes to furniture ideas for small-space living, anything that takes up room should serve a function — and, often, more than one. For instance, a kitchen cart with a butcher block top can expand your counter space, stash pots and pans, and even triple up as a bar cart. 

space saving storage when you're moving into an apartment

7. When in doubt, put it in storage

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when downsizing. If you find yourself waffling between donating and packing into the moving van, don’t worry. You have a third option: Put it in storage and decide about it later, when you’re stress-free. Using a moving service like PODS City Service means a storage unit can be dropped off at your home, you can load it up with the belongings you want but won’t have room for, and it will be picked up and driven away for safe keeping at a PODS Storage Center. Then, should you realize you actually do have room for that end table, you can easily retrieve it. 

Pro Tip: Moving in a big city? From navigating a bulky truck through narrow, crowded streets to dealing with parking regulations, moving in a metropolitan area is full of challenges. Using a moving solution specifically designed for people living in busy, urban cities — for example, PODS City Service —  is a great way to save yourself stress.

Be smart about how you design your new small space 

8. First, don’t let moving boxes become long-term roommates

Nobody is expecting you to pack up your life and unpack it into a new space on the same day. Eat some dinner! Get some rest! But be careful not to let those half-unpacked boxes and suitcases sit around for too long. Not only does brown cardboard likely clash with your chic aesthetic, but those crates take up tons of precious square footage. Empty them ASAP, recycle the boxes, and stash the remaining items in a storage unit or overhead closet shelf so you can settle in without a constant reminder of moving day. 

9. Glean some inspiration

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when preparing to move into a tiny home. Ikea, for example, boasts a variety of miniature apartment showrooms, which you can browse for ideas and buy anything you love right on site. The best part? Many people have taken small-space living to a new level by coming up with ingenious IKEA furniture hacks — like turning abandoned bed slats into minimalist hanging wall storage — and other sustainable, space-saving storage shortcuts. 

10. Decorate with mirrors, light colors, and other elements that cause optical illusions 

Your apartment may not be blessed in the square-footage department, but that doesn’t mean it can’t look the part. Create a bright, airy, and welcoming sanctuary with a few simple tricks. For instance, mirrors bounce light around the room and can create the false-window illusion of looking into another space. And while your personality may be bursting with color, overloading a small place with colors and patterns can come off more fun-house than fun-loving. Instead, opt for a light and clean color palette on the walls, and amp up the color with choice accents — throw pillows, appliances, or even a painted ceiling (if your property manager will permit it, of course). 

11. Keep couches low and drapes high

You can also use furnishings to play with scale. Instead of hanging curtains just above the window, try suspending them at the top of the ceiling to make the room feel taller. For furniture that touches the floor, take the opposite approach: A low-profile sofa or low-slung chair can make the living room look cozy while helping the area feel more spacious. 

12. Do away with doors 

Nixing the planks that provide any privacy in a small apartment might sound counterintuitive, but taking some doors off their hinges can actually help maximize your space. By freeing up the area you’d otherwise need to clear for the door to swing open, you can make room for a storage ottoman, compact desk, or other handy furnishing. And if having no partition is too much, try replacing the doors that have hinges with pocket doors or tension rods and curtains.  

13. Lean into unseen space-saving storage solutions

Out of sight, out of mind, right? Scan your living space for any areas where clutter can be organized and tucked away — under your bed, in the broom closet, on top of your cabinets, you name it. Then, utilize those out-of-sight nooks to stash items you don’t use every day, from laundry supplies to out-of-season clothing. 

Pro Tip: Bins and baskets can help keep things tidy.
a wall-mounted table and folding chairs save space in a small apartment
(Source: @ideapersian2 via Instagram)

14. Free the floor

Is there anything more soothing than a completely clean, unencumbered floor? Having open space doesn’t just create the illusion of having space to spare; it also lets you visually breathe. Plus, it gives you room to roll out a yoga mat or pull up extra chairs when friends come over. Here are a few hacks to keep in mind for clearing up floor space:

  1. Foldable furniture: Unless you’re having a dinner party every night, opt for folding chairs and tuck them away in a closet.
  2. Wall-mounted furniture: Do away with a media console and hang your TV right on the wall. Invest in a sleek, wall-mounted desk or a Murphy bed.
  3. Rolling cabinets: Furniture on wheels is furniture that can be swiftly moved out of the way. 
  4. Hanging wall storage: Plants, mugs, mail, art supplies — if you can hang it, take advantage of all that available vertical storage area.
  5. Tapered legs: Mid-century modern is easy on the eyes for a reason — the pointed legs keep the floor less cluttered. “Floating” cabinets or cantilevered shelves are also great for this reason. 

15. Don’t forget to inject your personality

As inspiring as those Ikea displays are, you don’t want to live in a sanitized showroom. Pristinely organized though it may be, an apartment devoid of personality will have a hard time feeling like home. To prevent living in a small space from feeling like shopping in a Container Store, make sure your functional pieces communicate your charisma. Think of something like a set of sheets you love, a wallpapered refrigerator, or a gallery wall of art from your friends. 

16. Remind yourself: A place for everything and everything in its place 

Typically try on three outfits before going anywhere? It’s all too tempting to cast the unworn articles aside onto any nearby surface. But after a few times doing that in a small living space, the apartment starts to feel like a walk-in closet. The key to keeping clutter at bay is not only to clean as you go (no fun, we know) but to make it easy for yourself by ensuring that everything you own has a place where it belongs. Keys? On a hook by the door. Gym bag? Below the shoe rack.

Switch over to the small-living mindset moving forward

17. Put experiences on your gift lists

When you’re trying not to have too much stuff, gift-giving holidays can really throw a wrench in the plan. Be proactive about letting friends and family know that in the place of physical gifts, you’d love intangibles like concert tickets, a museum membership, weekend trip plans, or just time spent with them — you get the idea. If they must give you something you can hold, send out a list of items you could actually really use. 

Living in a small space often means more frequent trips to the bodega.
(Source: Caio via Pexels)

18. Change up your grocery shopping 

If you’re used to filling a grocery cart to the brim every two weeks, you may want to shift that approach to fit with your new living-small lifestyle. Maybe you wander around the farmer’s market on Sundays, grab staples from the supermarket once a week, and run to the corner bodega after work when you need something specific. You’ll save space in the fridge, prevent food from spoiling, and give yourself an excuse to sample some of those great restaurants all over the city.  

19. Reduce, reuse, and replace

There’s nothing like cramped quarters to encourage you to embrace your inner minimalist. Though you’ll downsize before you move in, there’s no reason you can’t continue to reduce clutter and waste after you’ve settled in. And here’s the key: For anything new you bring into the apartment, make sure you take one thing out. 

PODS off-site storage

20. Take advantage of off-site storage

Whether it’s storing chunky winter sweaters in the summer or stashing your bike through the winter, off-site storage is a smart way to free up some space in your apartment throughout the year. For the best experience, look for a storage unit company that will take the driving off your hands by bringing the unit to you and relocating it to a secure storage facility when you’re ready. 

Downsized, packed, and ready to go? All that’s left is to enjoy your cute new home and have fun living it up in the big city. Living in a small space? Turns out it’s no big deal at all!


Sofia Rivera is a writer and regular contributor to the PODS blog.