Being “short” is sort of subjective. Medically, a person is considered short if they’re more than two standard deviations below their population’s mean for age and gender, whatever the hell that means. If you’re short, you know it. You don’t need to do a bunch of math. People will tell you, first of all, and you’ll experience silly little indignities and inconveniences throughout the course of your day, like not being able to reach the bar to cling to on a packed bus and getting jostled around because some taller asshole won’t move away from the vertical pole that you can reach.
If you’re short, you also know these little indignities and inconveniences can happen inside your own home. It’s disgusting, frankly. When you’re looking for a new place, however, there are some things you can look for that might make your living situation more convenient.
View any potential homes in person
First things first: If you’re a shorty looking to get a new place, you have to go visit them all in person. In big urban markets where renting is fraught and competitive, that could be pretty challenging, but it’s important.
“You can’t tell from photos. It’s impossible to tell height from photos,” said Jessica Bordelon, a Realtor in Louisiana. She said it’s vital that you put your hand above your head in all the areas of a prospective home and make sure that the things you’ll need to access, like cabinets, are easy for you to touch without you having to stretch or strain yourself. Any short person is familiar with the process of climbing up on a countertop like a monkey, but do you really want to be doing that every day for the duration of your time in the place? No, and that’s why you go check out homes in person.
In rentals, stay away from vaulted ceilings
While big, spacious rooms are nice and all, vaulted ceilings are usually a signal that there is a ton of vertical space in the apartment and whoever built it probably utilized that when it came time to build the shelving in the closet and the cabinets in the kitchen. A squatter, more compact apartment won’t have the roomy feel, but you’re less likely to encounter shelving that is impossible to reach.
A bunch of extra storage space is a luxury, but it’s totally useless if it goes unused or puts your belongings out of reach. You won’t be able to do much construction in a place that you’re renting, so just avoid these places altogether. There’s no fixing the issue.
In a home you could own, envision where you might put decorative ladder
You know that scene in Beauty and the Beast where Belle zooms around the library on a rolling ladder? Those things are handy; that’s why Barnes & Noble has had them for years. In a home you’ll own and be allowed to make structural changes to, envision where you might put one. A mobile ladder on a track adds a ton of class that a regular ladder or step stool can’t match, plus it gives you a chance to build some vertical shelving you’ll actually use.
“If it’s a track ladder, it’s always there,” cautioned Bordelon, who added that while a permanent, decorative ladder could be “gorgeous” if done right, it has to be “blended into the design of the surrounding space.” She suggested making the ladder multi-functional. Build a little door into the side and make it a spice rack or attach a towel holder. You’ll already be spending money on the construction, so you might as well make it as efficient as possible.
The kitchen is going to be one of your biggest issues
Bordelon recommended looking for a home that has longer cabinets instead of small ones that are stacked vertically, just so you don’t constantly have to haul out the step ladder or go into gymnast mode.
But the kitchen will give you more troubles than just your cabinets. Walk over to the countertops and any island or bar. Pretend you’re standing there prepping dinner. Is it comfortable, or are the flat surfaces too high for you? A kitchen renovation can cost thousands of dollars, so while you could certainly gut the room and have a contractor put in counters and flat surfaces that work better for your height, consider whether that investment is worth it. If you love the home and the counters are the only issue, it might be, but if this isn’t your dream home or a place you plan to be for long, it could be worth checking out other spots with squatter counters.
One often-overlooked issue for shorties in the kitchen is bar seating. If the bar is too high, you’ll need to put big, tall stools under it, so consider, “Are these the kinds of chairs that you want to hop on and hop off? If you stay in this home until you’re in your 60s, do you really want to have to climb up there?”
Bordelon advised “really thinking about longevity” when looking for a home. If you really want to be there a while, you’ll need to make changes so the kitchen stays comfortable and usable, even as you age. You’ll always be short, but remember that one day, you’ll be old and short.
Don’t forget to consider your bathrooms
Bordelon isn’t just a Realtor; she’s a homeowner and a person on the shorter side, too. She explained that she is 5 foot 1 inch tall, and when she bought her home, she took it over from a tall couple whose various household structures were “optimized for tall people.” She immediately knew she would never use the high shelves throughout the home, but a major annoyance actually came in the bathroom.
“The bathroom mirror was probably the biggest hurdle,” she said. It was simply too tall for her to comfortably use to see herself, so remember while you’re searching for a home to check out all the mirrors that are installed. She had to have her mirror lowered, but that presented a new problem: There was an outlet under the original mirror, and it’s now covered by her new, lower mirror.
Don’t forget to look at the shower head, too, although that is slightly easier to fix. Some shower heads are well out of the reach of shorter people, but standing on the ledge of the bathtub to adjust them can be dangerous. You may have to invest in a new shower head, which is a minor cost, but can add up when you consider your other expenses. Throw it on the list next to all the step ladders you need, but if that list of possible expenses gets too long, consider looking at some other places.
Pay attention to the little things around the home
Does your potential new spot have a ceiling fan? Most people won’t look too closely at that, but if you’re short, go ahead and see if you can reach the pull cord. A longer cord is yet another expense you’ll need to add to your list. While you’re at it, walk around and check all the outlets. Are they reachable?
Envision where all your stuff will go. Is there enough low-level storage space? Is the spot above the mantle too high for you to be able to reach your television, if that’s where you decide to put it? Are there a bunch of places you’ll need to hire tall handypeople to attach your stuff? Can you reach all the ceiling lights with a ladder or are they still going to be too far, requiring you to actually call in someone bigger to do something as simple as change a lightbulb? Little expenses can become a big annoyance over time.