Tiny houses seem to be having a moment right now. The compact homes are cheaper to build and maintain, often easy to transport, and give an alternative to the American Dream of a large house so many of us are years away from being able to afford. While tiny houses are great for those with space to build, city dwellers without the coin to buy and renovate a small apartment have largely been left out of the conversation.
In reality, you don’t have to wait for that far off day when you can buy a Tumbleweed Tiny House blueprint and set about building your miniature Shangri-la. If downsizing is appealing to you, renting a smaller apartment can provide all the benefits of the tiny house movement without the startup costs of building materials. But there are a few things that are very important to keep in mind!
My partner and I moved from a small one bedroom in Saint Louis to a studio apartment in DC, with our two cats. When we decided to downsize it seemed like a big time gamble, even though our one bedroom didn’t offer much more privacy than our current setup. For anyone considering a similar change in size, here are the lessons we’ve learned from small space living!
1. Think Carefully
Obviously, any move should be considered carefully. But moving to a smaller space is something to be given extra consideration. Even though small space living is trendy now, that doesn’t mean it’s ideal for everyone, and taking an assessment of how you use your space before taking the plunge can save you a lot of pain.
Less space means less stuff, so if you really can’t bear the idea of ditching a lot of your belongings, it might not be for you. If you are living with someone, consider your dynamic together and be honest about your needs. Are you used to being together at home, or do you gravitate to your own space? Imagine what your regular routine might be in a smaller space—does it make you feel claustrophobic? These questions can help avoid conflict or regret.
2. Sell! Donate! Throw into a black hole!
If you decided to go ahead with the move, get rid of stuff. Go through everything a few different times, not only to catch things that got through the previous round but also to get used to getting rid of things. Come up with rules for yourself, such as a one-in-one-out rule for clothes or books. One technique is to pick up a large plastic container and add things from time to time. Then, at the end of a set period of time, if you didn’t use or miss the item, get rid of it. If you’re comfortable with it, consider selling your furniture and starting from scratch. My partner and I had to due to a last minute moving truck cancellation, and it made a big difference in learning the space, which reminds me…
3. Take your time getting used to the space.
We lived in our current apartment with just a table, mattress, and bookshelf for a couple weeks. At the time, it was torture and felt like we were in a horror movie dungeon. But it gave us the freedom to understand how we used the space we had, what furniture was needed where, and slowly introduce pieces we really liked. Now we’re almost done filling in our space, but it looks totally different from what we had envisioned before moving in. In a tiny space, you will have to be open to compromise and rethinking what goes where—which can be very gratifying if you approach it with an open mind!
4. Make space by looking for things that do double duty.
We have a lofted bed tall enough to walk under, as well as an ottoman with storage in place of a coffee table. Those two choices freed up half of our living space, giving us a lot more flexibility for other decisions. We also chose furniture with storage, such as a small bookshelf in the entryway rather than a table.
In the kitchen, where so many of us end up with a plethora of random items, think hard about what you actually need and use. An over-the-sink dish rack keeps the counters clear while also making it difficult to let your dishes pile up—the thing can only hold so many dishes at a time. Consider a French Press instead of a coffeemaker, ditch the microwave, and only include small appliances that really pack a punch. My personal favorite is the Vitamix or a similar super blender—I use mine every single day, and the space it takes up is well worth it!
5. Delineate space.
It can be hard feeling like you’re doing everything in one room, so it’s important to break the space up. Lamps and light is one way to do this, illuminating areas rather than the entire room. Paint is another, using certain colors in certain spaces. Shelving can be used to break up space as well—just turn the shelf perpendicular to the wall to create distinct spaces. If you have a separate kitchen, add a fold down table to the wall and eat meals in there. We only eat in front of the TV on weekends/special lazy nights, and it goes a long way making the space feel divided.
6. A place for everything and everything in its place.
This is one we are bad about sticking to, but a clean space feels much roomier than a cluttered one. It doesn’t take much to clutter up a little space, so clean! Keeping surfaces cleared and wires off the floor goes a long way, as does keeping any area rugs or carpet relatively free of animal hair and dirt. Make sure windows are clean to let in as much light as possible. If you have an outdoor space, like a balcony, keep it free of leaves so that it can function as an extension of your living space with minimal work.
7. Make a serious time commitment
To maximize potential, small space living takes a great deal of time to get situated. Although living minimally makes moving in and of itself easier, committing to a longer period of time in one place allows you to learn about how you use space and make changes you might otherwise avoid. If your landlord doesn’t offer multiple year leases, just promise yourself you’ll stay in that unit for whatever number of years feels right.