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The Question: How Can I Downsize? 

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Forbes magazine called it the "McMansion backlash. Or a rejection of the housing-tract boom that ate up exurban land like a rabid Pac-Man." The trend toward smaller footprints has been building for a couple of years, fueled in part by the recession and in part by environmental concerns—and perhaps by a longing for efficiency and simplicity that was not served by cavernous great halls and dedicated media rooms. There's a return to the awareness that too much of anything is not just burdensome, but in questionable taste.

If a smaller home is in your future—or you're living in one now—know that there is an art to living in less space without feeling cramped. We asked Monica Alt of Peaceful Living by Design and Annalee Pinnock of All Things Domestic for some tips on organizing and decorating the cozier nest.

Master the art of letting go.

"Americans are trained to believe stuff leads to happiness," says Pinnock. "It never works, and unless you want to spend your life dusting tchotchkes, it'll have the opposite effect." It's not just hoarders who can have a hard time with decluttering; Pinnock suggests bringing in a trusted friend or professional to help distinguish the "musts" from the "lusts."

Those things you keep need to be well organized.

Alt suggests tall built-in shelving units with closed-door storage at the bottom, good-looking storage bins, and ottomans that double as chests to keep items you don't use constantly handy but out of sight.

Keep furniture in scale; be sure it doesn't block visual or traffic flow.

"Try to arrange the furniture along the walls as much as possible. Your goal is to open up the view into each room," says Alt, "so avoid furniture placement that blocks your view." Clean lines and functionality are key.

Light is your friend.

Keep window areas uncluttered and open, and consider a mirror on the opposite wall instead of a wall hanging or painting that will add to the visual clutter. Place your night-time lighting with care to make your smaller space warm and welcoming.

When choosing accents, avoid cluttered visuals that can make even a tidy room feel messy.

Dark colors, busy wallpaper, or too many contrasts can cramp your style. Alt recommends staying within the same color family.

The art of living well in a small space is a challenge well worth mastering. Along with lower expenses and a smaller carbon footprint, the minimalist approach can free your energy to pursue your dreams. "Living in a tiny Manhattan studio, we became experts in making things disappear," says Pinnock. "And it's true—call it Zen or Feng Shui, but freedom from too much stuff really does help your mind stay clear."

  • There's an art to living in less space without feeling cramped.

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