Don't move; start maximizing space instead

Need a Bigger Home?

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

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Is your family growing but the budget's shrinking? Start maximizing space without buying a new home or building an expensive addition onto your house. Here's how.

Get more elbow room by clearing out the clutter in every cupboard, closet, drawer and storage area. You won't miss anything you haven't used (or seen!) for a few years. Evaluate your keepsakes. Could you take photos or scan them to revive the memory later? Do you really need nine things to remember Aunt Lucy by?

Think vertically, not horizontally, when it comes to furnishings and decor. Get as much off the floor as possible to create more literal and visual space. Reduce the amount of furniture you have. Hang plants on hooks instead of using plant stands. If the kids enjoy plopping down on the floor with throw pillows to watch videos, get rid of some of your seating. Occasional tables often become clutter catchers. Consider minimizing the scale of your furniture, too. Sectional sofas and giant coffee tables gobble up more space than separated seating and diminutive end tables.

My friend, Barbara, sold her hulking oak entertainment center/curio cabinets, her children's outgrown movies, and standard television. She then used that money to buy a wall-mountable flat screen TV with a built-in DVD player and two slim storage towers to stow her DVDs. She found extra floor space in the family room without blowing the budget.

My family purged paper files in favor of electronic records, which eliminated two filing cabinets in the home office. Downsizing from a sprawling desk to a taller, slimmer desk also created space.

List anything salable on eBay, Craigslist or on a community bulletin board. Or hold a yard sale.

Related: Tips for Getting the Most When Selling Used Stuff

Now that you have a little more room and cash, you can really make strides in expanding your space. If you need to paint or redecorate, select lighter colors to make your rooms open up visually. Heavy drapes, dim lighting, dark woodwork, busy patterns, and too many knickknacks can visually shrink rooms.

Efficient use of storage areas makes each room seem much bigger because you have fewer items in sight and you may also thin out more furniture per room.

Related: Creating a Pantry Out of Wasted Space

I've added shelves in cavernous cupboards, hung shoe holders in closets (they work well for holding toys, fashion accessories, gadgets and many other items) and over-the-door hooks, which can spare closet space or take the place of a coat tree. I also like cascading closet hooks so shirts, skirts and folded pants use much less space.

Replace tables and ottomans with ones that have built-in storage so you can stow more. Using small, freestanding cabinets for nightstands lends us more storage than many tables would. Bunk beds with built-in drawers spared us from crowding the kids' room with two beds and dressers.

I maximize the space under beds, couches and under the rod in closets. The many sizes of plastic storage containers on the market provide sturdy, secure storage for whatever you want to stow nearby, such as throw blankets and board games in the family room, extra sheets in the bedroom, and toys in the kids' room.

Related: Storage Solutions for a Small Home

Get more value from each room by multiplying its functions. This strategy may even garner an additional room. To merge his family room and home office and get an extra bedroom, Rich, a Pennsylvania dad, installed a tuner chip in his computer. It functions as their television and DVD player, which eliminated the need for an additional screen and piece of furniture to house it. They aren't big TV viewers, so this solution worked well for them.

Many families tuck a computer armoire in a kitchen or den because when the armoire doors are closed, it blends seamlessly with the room and nixes the need for a separate office.

Dale, a New York dad, gained two new bedrooms and a bathroom for his growing family by finishing off half his basement (check the building codes of your city before making structural changes).

Related: How to Frugally Finish a Basement

Although dividing his basement into smaller rooms represents a much larger investment than many of the other ideas, Dale saved quite a bit by completing most of the work himself with the help of knowledgeable friends. And compared with the cost of buying a new, larger home or building an addition, selling furniture and things you don't need to "buy" more functional pieces and dividing large, open spaces to gain rooms still makes plenty of sense.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes from her home in Wolcott, N.Y. Visit her site at

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