Shrinkage can be critical for the strength and durability of drying cement pastes. Shrinkage becomes particularly severe at very low relative humidity, < 20%, which can be met in some activities involving extreme temperatures. Experiments and simulations suggest that small pores in the cement paste, with approximate thickness ≤ 1 nm, stay saturated unless the humidity drops below 20%. Here we suggest that this pore size can define two different categories of pores in the paste: pores thicker than 1 nm, where the Kelvin's equation and the corresponding capillary (Laplace) pressure apply, and pores thinner than 1 nm, which can be considered as part of the solid skeleton if the humidity stays above 20%. We show that a continuum model, incorporating a pore-blocking mechanism for desorption and equilibrium thermodynamics for adsorption, explains well the sorption hysteresis for a paste that remains above ∼ 20%. At lower humidities, we assume that (1) during adsorpion water re-enters the smallest pores throughout the entire RH range (supported by experiments and simulations) and (2) there exists a simple linear relationship between water and strain in the smallest pores. These minimal assumptions are sufficient to explain the low-humidity hysteresis of water content and strain, but the underlying mechanistic explanation is still an open question. Combining the low-humidity and high-humidity models allows capturing the entire drying and rewetting hysteresis, and provides parameters to predict the corresponding dimensional changes.