Living Simply With Lots of Extra Space

posted by Andrea | 02/7/2014

our farmhouse

When Dave and I purchased our home back in December of 2010, we knew it was WAY bigger than we needed at that time. After all, we were just a young married couple with no children (and really no plans to have kids for a couple years yet) — why would we need a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with TWO 2-stall garages (one also being a heated outbuilding), and an acre of land?

Honestly, we didn’t. 

BUT… since we had already been looking at old farmhouses for a few years and had our list of EXACTLY what features we were looking for, we couldn’t overlook this seemingly PERFECT house (minus all the necessary renovations!) in nearly a PERFECT location, and right smack dab in the middle of our budget (we did consider the cost of renovations in our budget too).

No, we certainly didn’t NEED all of it, but we also knew that eventually we would want to start a family, and this house just seemed like the perfect place to do that.

We would have plenty of room to grow and expand, the layout of the house was almost exactly what we were looking for, the property was laid out just like we wanted (with the house set back off the road), and the heated outbuilding + extra garage were just added bonuses!

And like I mentioned above — it was totally in our budgeted price range!

The photo above was for our landscaping projects so most of the information is irrelevant for this post — however it gives you an idea of how our property is set up.

The photo below is showing our house from the street. 

house from the road

The building below is a 2-stall garage on one side and a “man cave” hang-out area on the other side. It’s heated and has a TV, couches, table, refrigerator, etc. inside and it’s what I refer to as our “outbuilding”. 

We were fortunate enough to sell our current house for our asking price in 3 days (more on that here) and everything else just seemed to fall right into place — which obviously helped us feel very confident about our decision to move into a bigger home with more expenses and more upkeep.

But for the first 3 years we lived in our house, we never actually USED all of the space. 

First we just lived in the upstairs while we renovated the main floor. After about 9 months, we moved down to the main floor and our international students took over the upstairs. After another 9 months, they moved out and the upstairs literally sat empty for the next 18 months — we even kept all the heat registers on the 2nd floor closed and hung a heavy blanket at the bottom of the stairs during the winter months.

We just didn’t need that space — and I certainly didn’t want to get into the habit of using the upstairs (or the extra garage, for that matter) as a dumping ground for anything we didn’t have a home for.

2nd garage

Ahem… OK, so we used the extra garage as a dumping ground during our bigger renovations — but that was only to save money since we ordered a dumpster once the garage was full and only had to pay for the dumpster for one weekend :)

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Anyway… over the last few years of sharing our home renovations and lots of pictures of our home and yard, I’ve received MANY emails from readers alluding to the fact that it’s kind of hypocritical for me to tell others to purge and live simply when we have a much bigger house than we need with extra garages and outbuildings for storage.

I get it — I’m not offended (even though some of the emails were pretty rude!)

As with all of things I share on this blog, no one REALLY knows the entire story because there’s just no way I could possibly ever share THAT much information or THAT much detail on a daily basis — you would all be bored silly if I did.

Now normally, the questions I answer from readers are all about how to maximize their too-small spaces; however, I was recently asked by a few different readers how to simplify and resist bringing on extra clutter even though they had plenty of extra space to store it — so I thought it might be time for a blog post about living with lots of extra space.

living simply with extra space

And before those of you living in small homes or tiny apartments click away, let me just say that the information in this post can apply to many different people in many different living situations.

Even if you don’t have a big house or tons of extra storage space, you might have one closet or even just one cabinet that you really don’t need — and because of that, it has become a catch-all junk area full of clutter. The suggestions I’m sharing below should help you reclaim those smaller areas too!

These are 5 tips that have been helpful as we’ve tried to live simply despite our extra space.

1. Set limits.

You know what you “need” to live comfortably in your home — and you also know there are many things you can easily do without. So although you might have the storage space for _________ and it’s just such a great deal right now, don’t buy it.

Don’t bring that stuff into your home, because if you do, it makes it that much easier to bring the next thing, and the next thing into your home — because after all, you have plenty of space for it!

2. Embrace the emptiness.

As I mentioned above, there were YEARS when we had completely empty closets, cabinets, and even fully bedrooms (like absolutely nothing in them at all) and although it did feel weird, I was actually OK with it. We didn’t need the space, we didn’t have furniture to put in the space, and I certainly wasn’t going to spend a lot of money buying furniture for a space we didn’t need or use.

Plus, the more furniture and stuff I had filling up those empty, unneeded rooms, the more stuff I would have to dust and clean. No thanks!

We actually JUST started using the upstairs about a month ago when we finished the play room and Nora’s new bedroom. Before that, the upstairs was basically empty. We actually still have one empty bathroom and a couple empty closets up there, but I’m OK with that for now.

I realize that eventually, as we add more children, our home will get more “full” and we will most likely use up all that blissfully empty space; but right now, we don’t need that space and I honestly love that it’s totally clutter-free!

empty room

3. Learn how to politely say “no”.

This is a tough one — but I’ll tell you what, the second people found out we had an extra garage and outbuilding, we were getting requests to store stuff left and right.

Some of the requests were legitimate and we knew the people just needed a quick short-term storage place. But there were plenty of other requests that we KNEW would turn into long-term storage needs, basically taking advantage of our space and cluttering up our home because they didn’t have room at their home (or any intention of getting rid of something to make room).

Some of the requests we got were down-right ridiculous — and even still, we have people who try to make us feel guilty by saying things like, “but you have plenty of space and our house is so crowded.” News-flash, we work REALLY hard to keep our house relatively neat and clutter-free… and if we keep giving in to all these storage requests, our house will be just as crowded as yours!

4. Keep purging.

So this might sound like a really odd tip if you already have SO much empty space — but after a few weeks and months of sitting empty, random things have a way of creeping into those empty spaces. I’m still not exactly sure how it happens — but I’m speaking from experience here!

It might be when those unexpected guests stopped by, or when we moved things around for a renovation project, or when we rearranged the furniture and had an extra chair and lamp. I don’t know — but somehow, those empty spaces start filling up again… and when that happens, it’s time to purge (at least in my opinion).

If you don’t purge, or at least reorganize, those empty spaces will simply continue to fill up (because that’s what empty spaces do) until you have entire closets and even bedrooms FILLED with stuff. At that point, things seem super overwhelming, to the point where you don’t even want to think about tackling the mess.

5. Continually evaluate your needs.

It’s easy for me to get so excited about all the empty space that I don’t want to fill it… ever! I’ll reason with myself and say, “if we just purge _____ we can fit everything into this smaller space and continue to have empty rooms and closets.”

We even considered making a few changes with how things were arranged on the main floor so we could keep Nora in her old room and still make a tiny nursery area for the new baby while continuing to leave the upstairs empty and “closed off”.

But then we realized that we didn’t buy this house so we could only live on the main floor forever! We bought this house so when the time came, we would have room to expand — and that’s what we’ve finally started to do.

Since we have the space, we figured we’d finally set up a play room, a new bedroom for Nora, and a proper guest bedroom with an actual bed (not an air mattress), a couple end tables, a desk, and even some lamps!

For the first time since we’ve lived in this house, we are using every single room and space (except the upstairs bathroom and a couple upstairs closet) and it feels nice.

Although our home still has plenty of “room to grow”, it also feels a bit more homey now that we’re using more of it on a regular basis.

So while I definitely think that empty space is 100% OK, I also think it’s important not to get too caught up in keeping everything totally clutter-free that you don’t use and enjoy the space you have.

our new “official” guest bedroom!

I realize there are many of you who might not be able to relate to the issue of “too much space” — and that’s OK!

If I’m really honest, there are plenty of times when I think about what life might be like if we sold everything except the bare necessities and lived in a tiny house (or even a motor home). Life could potentially be even simpler. However, we love our house, we love our big yard, our extra garage and outbuilding, and having that extra “room to grow” and entertain.

I’m not going to apologize for having a lot of space to store things or pretend like we’re living an ultra minimalist lifestyle — we do have a lot of space and that was one of the selling points for us. However, I will say that I DO practice what I preach here on the blog.

I continually purge anything we don’t need, use, want, or love.

I consciously try not to bring anything into our home unless it’s absolutely necessary.

I constantly evaluate everything that comes into our home.

We have enjoyed our extra space, but we don’t abuse it or use it to hoard cluttery things that don’t serve a purpose or that we don’t need.

And if you don’t believe me — take a look at our garage, our basement, and our kitchen. The garage has nothing on the floor, the basement is practically empty, and the kitchen has a handful of empty cabinets and drawers.

Also, we have an entire walk-in closet upstairs that’s 100% empty and our extra garage just stores our bikes, our lawn tractor, snow blower, and a few tools. I promise we’re not even close to filling up all the space in our house!

Do you have any other tips for living simply with lots of extra space?

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36 comments

  1. Deb

    02/07/2014

    I am most amazed that people send rude emails, it is your house and YOUR money and last time I checked, I didn’t have to pay to read your blog and am only one click away from ignoring the topic! Your house is beautiful and it is SUPER smart to have done the renovations before kids and before you needed all the space. IGNORE the crtics.;)

    [Reply]

    Pamela Reply:

    AGREED, Deb!!! I think the web allows people to be anonymously rude, and for no reason at all.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Deb!
    We were able to do most of the renovations before too many kids — but we still have a few bigger projects to go. However, you are SO right, I can’t believe how much more time-consuming and difficult house projects are after Nora came along. I’m just they’ll take THAT much longer with two kiddos!

    [Reply]

  2. Leanne Heern

    02/07/2014

    this post is so timely…! we just purchased a much bigger house with a gigantic pole barn… and I don’t plan on “filling” it up…and like you, this is my dream home!
    I do plan on keeping it empty enough so guests can visit and we can use it to minister to others in our church and community :-)
    I love your blog…I think people get jealous….and our society increasingly lacks the ability to filter its emotions and “control the tongue”…
    you do such a great job!
    I’ve learned great things from you!
    I’ m going to try my hand at homemade yogurt next week!
    thanks for such a great blog!
    Leanne

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oooo… and pole barn! Get ready for people to request your lovely storage space — LOL!

    Hope you love the yogurt!

    [Reply]

  3. Amy O.

    02/07/2014

    Andrea – I love this post – because I totally get it! I also live in a big farmhouse – five bedrooms, three baths, and a separate garage building and a storage shed in back. (I have three kids that fill them up but it’s also nice to have a guest room when company comes.) I have storage to hold a LOT of stuff – but I am continually purging. Why? Because the principles of simplifying are the same whether you have a small home or a tiny one. It just makes your life simpler, easier, better to have less stuff and have it organized in a manner you can find and use what you need!

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  4. Abbie

    02/07/2014

    Sorry you have received rude emails. I can’t imagine what people are thinking. I read your tips and use what works for me; I simply ignore what doesn’t. Keep up the good work. I enjoy your ideas.

    [Reply]

  5. Jen

    02/07/2014

    I TOTALLY agree with this post. We just moved our family of four from a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 894 SF house into a 1200 SF house and our goal was/is to live in more space with far less stuff. I WANT empty drawers. I don’t think a shelf is lonely if it doesn’t have something stacked on it. I prefer to think it enjoys the breathing room. Except that it is a shelf and not alive. Obviously.

    We’re renting this house until we can build our dream house (which will be fairly large) in a few years, and our goal is to leave here with no more stuff than we have now. I did a lot of purging as I packed, and even more as I unpacked, and I continue to do more almost every day. It feels like FREEDOM.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jen! It’s good that you have your minimalist goals in mind NOW already — because it sure is easy to accumulate more stuff when you have more room. It’s been hard work keeping our extra spaces from getting filled up with “stuff” we don’t really need — but it’s SO worth our efforts!

    Enjoy building your dream house some day!

    [Reply]

  6. Jo

    02/07/2014

    I love the different perspectives – we just moved to an apartment with TWO bedrooms AND a an extra dining area and feel like we have vast amounts of space! After having lived in one bedroom apartments, student halls, shared apartments (where you really only have control over your own bedroom), this space feels HUGE! I can’t imagine what it’d be like if we had a whole extra floor haha. We’d probably lose each other and guests!

    My biggest problem is the lack of cosiness and ‘home’ feeling though. I don’t mind keeping it tidy and purged, but I also want it to feel nice and welcoming…. Without overfilling it with stuff (just for the sake of having “stuff”)!

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    Jo, I understand your thoughts about “coziness and home feeling”. What I have done is sit in each room and determine first what furniture I want in that room, take out anything that I don’t want and then go back and add pictures, curtains, pillows or lamps that will give that coziness with it being cluttered. I love the idea of simplifying and still keeping things warm and inviting first for my family and then for my guests. We have a 3 bedroom home, 2 1/2 baths and a family of six (2 of my children are married now). It has been a chore to keep things from getting over cluttered but that is my goal! :)

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  7. Kelekona

    02/07/2014

    When we bought this house, the arrangement is a little weird, but we knew what we needed from it.

    My craft room spends most of its time not looking like a craft room because its ideal ready state is blank save for a folding drafting table, an easel, a normal table that needs boosting to counter height, and a few supplies that I prefer to keep downstairs. Most of my tools and fabric stash live upstairs at the furthest point from the room I use them in. I can’t work upstairs because the ceiling is too low, so it’s just storage.

    I used to have my computer in the craft room, but the angle of the sun means that I spend months not being able to use the computer during the middle of the day.

    The other storage room is a mess because it has living room stuff in it temporarily, but that’s the clothes closet, beer brewing supplies, beer maturing area, and pantry.

    Basically we needed two storage rooms. My craft storage room will eventually be divided so that the seasonal oddments and other important misc get their own corner.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Could you try putting some attractive storage armoires or cabinets in your craft room so you could actually store ALL your crafting supplies in your craft room (which seems to make the most sense to me!) I’m not a big crafter, but I know that I certainly wouldn’t take the time to craft if my craft supplies weren’t in my craft room :)

    [Reply]

    Kelekona Reply:

    Though my crafts can compact down when inactive, I have a dozen different ones, and I need ALL the space when I’m working on certain projects. That room is also overflow kitchen area because baking, beer brewing, or dissecting a raw turkey to put into canning jars is almost too big of a job to do in the kitchen. It’s also our main entrance into the house.

    The chest freezer belongs near the door; we don’t want it in the pantry-beer-clothing room. And I’m planning to turn the laundry area into extra kitchen counter space. But as far as counter-intuitive solutions go, running upstairs to grab the specialized supplies is working well enough.

    I usually think of a tidied craft room as a pretty dismal space, but when mine is cleared, it is ready to do something.

    [Reply]

  8. Kristine

    02/07/2014

    I love what you do! I read your blog regularly and you have really helped inspire me to ‘keep it simple.’ It doesn’t matter WHERE you are at in life, it still applies. We have lived all over the world (military) and had MASSIVE homes with space, and tiny homes with no space or closets. Life is so much easier when you don’t have ‘extra stuff’ to haul around and move from place to place. Thanks for explaining again how it all works. I don’t envy the ‘opinions’ you get lol. Keeps me from EVER wanting to write a blog. Keep up the good work.

    [Reply]

  9. Jules

    02/07/2014

    People are so funny sometimes! I can’t tell which is more ridiculous…. readers sending you rude emails or people asking you to store stuff in your extra garage.

    Great post, as always. My husband and I are in the process of moving back to our hometown to start a business; this weekend I’ll be packing up our [pretty minimalist] house. I have already been so thankful that we seem to follow a lot of what you discuss here because it will make the moving process — Florida back to Northeast Ohio– that much simpler.

    I just have to make sure my pack-rat family members doesn’t try to use my extra rooms for storage now that we’ll be close :-)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow that’s a big move! We only moved about 10 miles down the road and I still felt like it was a big undertaking :)

    Good luck with the move — and yes, you’re definitely making things easier on yourselves by keeping your possessions to a minimum!

    [Reply]

  10. Markay

    02/07/2014

    Reading your blog on a daily basis is a bright spot in my routine. Thanks so much!
    You recently stated that you and Dave live on less than half of your income. Would you
    be willing to share with us how you all do that? Percentages you allow for housing, utilities, spending, saving, tithing, etc.? I would really use the insight. Thanks again for your
    wonderful blog!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I think the post you’re referring to was actually written a few years ago — but yes, Dave and I do live on a very small portion of our income (to pay our bills and essentials). However, we do use a fair amount of our income on paying down our mortgage, investing, for our retirement, and for bigger house projects — so it’s not like we’re putting ALL that money into savings.

    You’re not the first person to ask about this — so maybe a future blog post is in order! thanks for the idea ;)

    [Reply]

  11. Ann

    02/07/2014

    I am guessing that those who disagree are more outspoken than those of us (MOST OF US)
    who LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!

    So I just want to say, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! and please disregard those who are negative…If you knew them, it is possible they may be negative about everything and anything.

    Blessings to you this last month before baby comes!

    By the way, I love today’s post! Amen!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Ann — and don’t worry, I don’t take too much offense to those emails. Plus, they often give me good “fuel” for future blog posts (like this one)!!

    [Reply]

  12. Sherry

    02/07/2014

    Fifteen years ago we moved from an 800 SF house to a home that was over 4500 SF ( a beautiful Victorian mansion that we still can’t believe we get to own). Several years were dedicated to “filling it up”. We had a great time buying antiques and decorating all the rooms. I have always been good at purging the items that we no longer need but seeing your basement has inspired me to purge even more. I love all the open space you have and I intend to have that for myself. My youngest is moving out next month. The first thought was, “His room would make a nice guest room.” However, we don’t really need a guest room and so his room will now remain completely empty.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW — that’s a huge house! You literally moved into over 5 times as much space — that must have been a little overwhelming! Sounds lovely and if I wasn’t so obsessed with farmhouses, a Victorian would be my next choice!

    [Reply]

  13. Melissa

    02/07/2014

    Thank you for the tips and inspiration! My husband and I just moved into a modestly sized 2 bedroom home and we purged a lot before the move and as we unpack we keep on purging. I don’t know if we’ll have any empty drawers or shelves when we’re done, but I won’t complain if we do!!! :) Thanks for the tips on how to keep them empty if we do find ourselves in this situation!

    [Reply]

  14. Leslie Smith

    02/07/2014

    What a great post! I am sorry too for all the rude e-mails, but this post is very timely for me. We bought our house 10 years, doubling our space. While we had a good time filling it up, I’ve come to realize that I appreciate (and love) empty space – opening a drawer that’s not full, having nothing on shelves in our closets, clearing off counters and table tops. It’s a good feeling to purge, get rid of the things we never use, and to live with less! It’s also preparing us for the time when we will downsize, after our children are grown and gone. Plus, it’s easier to clean (besides being easier on the eyes). Your post was graciously written and I can’t wait to see more blog posts!

    [Reply]

  15. Debbie S

    02/07/2014

    Thanks again for another wonderful post. We have a lot of extra space and I do work hard to
    keep it that way. Maintaining a organized home is always a work in progress. It’s one of the things I love about my home and myself. There are a lot of talents that I see in other people that I wish God would have given me, for example to sing pretty. I am glad God gave me the joy to be an organized person! Have a great day! Praying and excited to read soon about the newest Dekker baby! Plus still hoping to read a post from Dave! :)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    THanks Debbie — I’m also glad for the gift of organization… and I’ll talk to Dave about writing a guest post :)

    [Reply]

  16. Heart and Haven

    02/07/2014

    I think these are very good practicals even for those living in smaller spaces. I try to be intentional about every item to maximize space in our modest 1300 sq ft. 3 bd/3 ba house. We have 3 little ones at home (ages 6, 5, and 22 mo.) and are expecting another one!

    If we didn’t set limits, say no (especially to more toys from well meaning grandparents, lol!), keep purging, and evaluate our needs – we would’ve felt the “need” to buy a bigger house way before now. Although, I can say we don’t have a whole lot of “empty space” – perhaps a couple drawers, but not whole closets or rooms :-)

    However, we are looking into building a small “loft bedroom” (we would use the cathedral ceilings space above our dining/kitchen). This way we could have a “girls room”, “boys room”, and still keep our downstairs bedroom that we use as the kids playroom.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Oooo… a loft bedroom would be awesome! I always wished we could do something like that (or a “bunk room”) but unfortunately, our home’s layout wouldn’t work well for either.

    And yes, I totally agree that these principles would work well for anyone living in any size home!

    [Reply]

  17. Daniele @ Domestic Serenity

    02/07/2014

    Wonderful post!

    I think it’s great to demonstrate that simple living can happen in a larger-than-we-need space. We too live in a larger home, and when we purchased it 11 yrs ago, there were empty rooms for years! But, I’m was a stickler about not collecting items (or at least purging often), and I still am.

    This is a really encouraging post, thank you so much.

    [Reply]

  18. Verity

    02/07/2014

    I enjoyed this article. I think it takes a lot more self control to keep empty space empty, and I loved reading about a game plan! Thanks!

    [Reply]

  19. Brandi Clevinger

    02/07/2014

    What attracted me to stay with your site was your simplicity. It resonates through your organization AND decor. Your posts, insights, and inspiration has motivated me to purge, re-purpose, and simplify every space in our homes (we still rent and move a LOT). Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Brandi — so glad you stuck around :)

    [Reply]

  20. JoDi

    02/07/2014

    We recently sold our townhouse and bought a house and ended up in a similar position. The house we found that had the right yard and layout happened to be bigger than what we were looking for but was within budget so we happily bought it and are enjoying the space. It has a formal living and dining room which were not on our checklist. Rather than just buying stuff to fill them up we are leaving them empty for now. The dining room will become part of the kitchen when we remodel it, and the living room will have our piano, the bookcase, and I’ll probably only add a couple of cozy chairs for reading. :-)

    Extra space is a blessing. One need not live in a tiny house to exemplify simple living. Thanks for your wonderful blog. It’s one of the highlights of my day! Wishing you all the best as you count down to baby #2′s arrival!

    [Reply]

  21. Michelle

    02/08/2014

    I’ve always thought our house was too small to have any “extra space” (out family of six lives in a 3 bed, 2.5 bath semi detached home of approximately 1400 sf plus an extra couple 100 sf in our mostly finished basement). Your post inspires me, though, to really scrutinize what we have and see if I can’t at least manage an empty shelf or drawer here or there … a little breathing room.

    [Reply]

  22. Wai Leng

    02/09/2014

    When people knew you have ample living spaces , they want to store their excess stuff in them. I dread to think what happens when they find out that your family lived on half of your income, would they want to borrow the unused portion too?
    You worked hard to have extra space in your house and savings in your finances, so they should do the same too!

    [Reply]