Small Space Living: How to Decide if It’s Right for You

Small Space LivingA few years ago we made a pivotal decision in our relationship: move in together. Not in my 1200 square foot rental, but into his 500 square foot bachelor condo. WHAT an earth were we thinking?! We wondered that sometimes too. It’s safe to say we get strong reactions when we explain our living situation and insist it’s possible. It can also be a great way to reduce consumerism and contribute to healthy financials.

Making small spaces work is a combination of philosophy, creativity and good ol’ logic. So let’s get started!

Lifestyle, Financials and Peeking Over the Fence

First let’s get into the why. There needs to be a driving force behind living in a small space. Doing something without an underlying goal will have you abandon it quickly and may become an unnecessary costly experiment. There are as many different reasons as grains of sands on the beach but let’s take a look at a few.

The reason behind this choice can be straight forward and related to lifestyle:

  • Employment: Your job has you away from home often or most of the time so no point in paying for a big space you hardly use.
  • Social Butterfly: For you, staying in is torture. You’d much rather be social outside the home or recharge with the energy around you. This does exist, she’s one of my closest friends!
  • Philosophy: You’re a total minimalist, driven by environmental or eco-footprint values or any other philosophy.
  • Commuting: You want to avoid commuting and that means small city living.

Financial Limitations or Maximize Savings
Depending on where you live, it may be a financial reality rather than choice. It’s well known larger cities tend to be more expensive; you get less square footage for the same price in smaller communities. Or conversely, sure you can afford a bigger place, but you’d rather spend less and save more. In either case, when weighing your options, keep in mind you’ll experience savings in more than just your rent or mortgage:

  • Monthly mortgage or rent
  • Interest paid on mortgage
  • Cost of utilities (water, heat, air conditioning)
  • Home repairs
  • Property taxes
  • Property insurance

Peeking Over the Fence
I’m a big fan of looking around and seeing if the grass IS greener on the other side. Because hey, sometimes it is! Any choice you make should be as informed as you can. There’s no substitute for living it but you need to start somewhere. If the issue is working in a big city and financial constraints, maybe you don’t mind living outside the city and commuting. Or maybe you can find work where there’s a better balance between your lifestyle aspirations and living conditions.

For us, living in the city is important right now. Not just for job opportunities but we love not owning a car, walking everything, taking advantage of city amenities. Oh and the thought of commuting would drive us into 400 square feet if needed. And let’s be honest, seeing a significant uptick in savings compared to other possibilities isn’t to be discounted.

Every living situation has it’s drawbacks. Sometimes it is choosing the lesser of two evils, according to you! Knowing the motivation or goal behind your choice will help you stay focused at times when you become frustrated with them.

Strategies to Make Living in Small Spaces Realistic

Knowing the reason behind and making an informed choice is great but you still need to deal with the exactly how to make it work… Planning is key to make the space as functional as it can be.

Lay out: First and most important when choosing a small living space, take a good hard look at the layout. It should be as versatile as possible. The wrong layout can make a 1000 square foot house less livable than a place half that size.

  • Laundry room (if you have one) and washroom should be functional but proportional to the rest of the space. A guest washroom as well as en-suite washroom is a waste of precious space.
  • Kitchen should be proportional and designed in a way to maximize counter and storage space
  • While you can visually create rooms with furniture and key pieces, it’s best if this can be re-arranged to transform the space for other uses. For example, we’ve hosted art drawing parties with 15 people by turning our home into a studio for a night.

Multi-functional: Everything, and I do mean everything should have multiple roles. This is key in less is more. Fewer possessions but maximum comfort. A few examples: our shower doubles as hand wash drying rack, couch is a guest bed, kitchen table doubles as my leather working station… This often happens naturally with time but it’s good to think it over and get a head start.

Storage, storage, storage! This is probably the most commonly known strategy but also the first thing that’ll give you pain if you haven’t given it enough consideration.

  • Ensure functional furniture doubles as storage whenever possible. If you need ideas on what’s possible, browse Ikea furniture online.
  • Take advantage of height! Outfit yourself with tall storage options. Just make sure to secure them safely.
  • Put your bed up on a riser. That instantly creates multi-use space or a mini storage locker.
  • Double your cupboard space without any carpentry. Most cupboard space is wasted. You can purchase racks that will sub-divide a shelf and double the storage.
  • Don’t be constrained with using storage as it was originally intended. Currently our pot and pan cupboard is being used as a mini dresser. It works perfectly for shirts and pants!

Purge and de-clutter!
I’ll briefly cover this as it is its own topic. The amount of ‘stuff’ you have, has to match the size of the space. Key points to manage this is de-clutter and purge at least once a year. If you’re at capacity, something new means something old is discarded.


Last but certainly not least, acceptance is key ingredient to making small spaces a success. What do I mean by acceptance? There are limits to every situation or living space. There are things you WON’T be able to change or make make better no matter how hard your try. At that point, when you’ve exhausted all creative options, it’s time for some wisdom and accept it for what it is. After all, if you’ve consciously chosen to live in a small space, accepting some imperfections is totally worth it to meet your goal or reason!

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