There are three ways to deal with a space problem: get more space, remove unnecessary things from the space you have, and use the space you have better. This is true whether you’re talking about closets, garages, or entire rooms. While it’s best to use these strategies in tandem, today we’re going to talk about the last one, specifically how changing the layout of a room can result in a better and more enjoyable use of it.

The first thing to know is exactly what you’re dealing with in terms of space. Get out your tape measure and measure it, length and width. Then measure your furniture. When this is done, use some graph or grid paper and draw out your room’s dimensions, carefully marking out arrangement challenges like doorways, windows, outlets, and fireplaces. Now cut out to-scale pieces for your larger pieces of furniture.

This is the old-fashioned way your parents did a project like this, and it still works really well, but if you’d like to skip the paper and scissors, there are also free virtual options like Homestyler, and SketchUp Make available to use online or as an app. This type of software allows you to easily pop and drag standard size furniture into your room’s dimensions and visualize what it will look like. Or you can pick out furniture possibilities that might work better for the space you have.

You may think it’s unnecessary to go to these lengths when you could be moving a couch and actually seeing what it looks like in a different place, but you will be saving backs, floors, and possibly furniture with this kind of planning. You’ll also be able to try any and all options. Paper cutouts and iPhone apps are easy to move and hard to break, and they rarely, if ever, result in scuffed floors or pulled back muscles.

While you’re envisioning the possibilities, think carefully about the flow of the room you are creating. Where will people walk? How will they face each other to talk or interact? Will there be a piece of central focus, such as an entertainment center or a piece of art? It’s tempting to design a room entirely for aesthetic value, but remember that children and pets seek the most direct routes through a room. Putting a glass table in the path of traffic could be a mistake.

You may find that, even with careful planning, you still are looking at quarters that are more cramped than you would like. In these cases, it helps to make your furniture and even decorative items do double duty. Two-function furniture items like hollow ottomans, coffee tables with drawers, or convertible desk beds can give you more function for space.

Look at the walls and ceilings as functional parts of the room as well. Consider replacing storage boxes with wall-mounted crates and other easy-to-install objects. Wall and ceiling hooks can be used for decoration. Hang a lamp from the ceiling and you don’t need a floor lamp anymore. Install a swiveling plant hanger. It will allow you to expose your plants to more light and eliminate the need for a bulky plant stand.

Finally, work with the room’s natural light, rather than against it. Sometimes our need for more space is a need, not for space, but openness. Your room will feel more open if you keep the windows and the doorways clear so that the outside and the adjacent rooms are allowed to “flow” into this one, thereby creating an illusion of a larger room. Creative use of mirrors to reflect light is another trick that really works. When you decide where to place a computer desk or television screen, be sure to place them facing either north or south rather than east or west when there are open windows. When the sun shines on an illuminated screen, it can make it very hard to see anything properly.

If the space that you are working with is smaller than you would like, don’t despair. With a little work and brainstorming, you can make your space seem like more and store more while you’re at it. In the US, we’ve grown to expect sprawling spaces, but Europeans and our ancestors have been creatively making do with small and irregular rooms for centuries, often in the most charming ways.

You can too!