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Q: Marsha, I’m downsizing from my three-bedroom, two-bath house. I found a two-bedroom, two-bath condo that’s 950 square feet and has a one-car garage. It seems great, but I’m trying to anticipate the potential pitfalls of a smaller house. What are some things I might not be thinking of?

A: Good question. Be aware of the most overlooked and underrated feature of houses: storage space. There is a classic tongue-in-cheek real estate ad: “Come see the honeymoon cottage with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean.” The house is tiny and the view is two miles away. This ad also shouts, “There’s no storage!” Once the honeymoon wears off, where do her trunks of clothes go? Where does he store his oversized collection of Grateful Dead records?

Storage is vital for all people, not just collectors or compulsive savers. Evaluate what your current storage is. You live in a bigger place, with closets and probably a two-car garage. Eighty-two percent of Americans use their garage for storage. You might not have this option in the new place.

There are several different types of storage that people need. First, there are seasonal items such as decorations, sports equipment, and clothing. Second, there are heirlooms and mementos we keep because of nostalgia. Be ruthlessly discriminating in saving these items. Consider that tricycle your daughter loved when she was 3. She’s 37 now and probably doesn’t want it. The same is true for most mementos; take a photo and throw away the actual rusty item. The third storage need is for day-to-day items. This storage should be organized and easily accessible.

To downsize, go through your current closets and garage and eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. Give away the skis you haven’t used in 20 years. Recycle most of those notebooks from college. Visit the condo you like and look again with fresh eyes. How big are the closets? Are the kitchen cabinets adequate?  The value of a house is higher when there are built-in storage systems such as bookshelves, large closets, a pantry, and organizers in the garage. 

What if you find the condo doesn’t offer enough storage? Recognize this and decide what you’ll do to create more usable space before you move in. Once you’ve moved in, your junk will take over and make it difficult to plan. Humans are like gasses; we expand to fill our space.

Why do professional organizers talk about “storage solutions”? Because it’s a huge problem in people’s lives. Clutter is overwhelming and anxiety-producing. There’s a reason that storage rental units are a thriving business. People rent a storage space for $65 a month and stash unwanted and unused items in them. Ten years and $7,800 later, they still have the junk and no place to put it. Don’t let that happen to you. Be aware of storage and what you need before you purchase. 

Marsha Gray, DRE #012102130, NMLS#1982164, has been a real estate broker in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, real estate services and lending. To read more Q&A articles, visit She will research and answer all questions submitted. Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or

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