AT on: What is So Cool About Small?

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Small is the new black.

As a theme, small is all over the place. While we've always lived in small spaces and designed for them, after being a guest on Oprah's Small Spaces show (airing today), we were forced to think more deeply about what it is that has made SMALL so cool and why people continue to be so interested in small as a living choice, especially when many Americans don't live in small spaces. This is what we've come up with.

Small is not really about space. It is about living light...

Small starts off being about people who live in small spaces, but it's appeal strikes at something deeper; something we all want. It isn't simply about space. If you watch Oprah today and you see all of the folks on the show and where they live, you may be seeing small spaces, but the theme you will hear again and again is about how the small space allows each person to live more fully.

While others may talk about SMALL as concerning cool organization, neat dual purpose design, or cozy interiors, this is not why Oprah is doing this as a show. She's interested in people changing their lives, and making do with a small space is part of a greater shift in a country where people feel innundated with too much STUFF towards lightness and personal freedom. The heart of it is about paring down and lightening your load. This brings freedom.

In the same way that Oprah talks about dieting and battling extra weight, people who live well in small spaces serve as examples of those who have successfully shed the overpowering weight of our consumer culture. They are living light.

Perhaps 100 years ago, small could only mean "poor". But now, with less stuff and less overhead, the small space resident can also mean "rich." Rich in being able to live in a great part of town. Rich in having less maintenance. Rich in living more closely with their community. Rich in being able to afford to splurge on some things.

As with the iPod, we've discovered lately that small allows mobility.

Which means that the take home message is that you don't have to live in a small space to live small. In fact, if we can do it, then you in the big house can do it as well.

What's the secret?

Paring down and creating open space within your home. This is living light.

You don't want to merely pare down and fit everything in; you want to go further and leave room for emptiness and possibility. If your home has space that is ready and waiting to be filled, new things will come to you and your life can grow. If your home is crowded and there's no room, life will pass you by and bring its energy to someone else's door.

As a theme, small is all over the place, but don't be put off and don't be deceived. It's really about lightness and anyone can do it.

Try this: take one thing from your home that you no longer love, need or use and place it on the curb tonight. Leave it there to be taken, recycled or thrown away. Experience how that feels and tell us in the comments below.

And remember, it's not just about SMALL, it's about maximizing our freedom and movement through living light.

(Pic: The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company)

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.