The idea of downsizing is appealing to a lot of people and it has sparked a movement of custom made micro-homes across the country. As someone who has always lived in small spaces out of necessity I have some unique insider observations about this trend.
The fella and I have been living in a 474 square foot apartment for the last 3 years, and before that we had even less space because we lived with roommates. We love our tiny urban home but when we finally buy a place we’re going to go a little bigger. Our goal is to land a house that’s approximately 850 to 1200 square feet with at least a small yard and off street parking.
I always want to encourage anyone who is looking to simplify their lives, take control of their finances, and find happiness. That’s what my blog is all about! However, if you’re thinking about super small space living you should know all the facts that you won’t hear about on tv or aspirational blogs.
#1 A small space won’t change who you are.
A lot of people who go on tiny house shows talk about wanting to simplify their lives and get back to what matters. I think those are admirable goals, but changing your lodging to change how you live is kind of like changing your wardrobe to improve your sense of self-worth. No one should expect a small space to solve their problems or completely revamp their world view because appreciating simplicity comes from within.
#2 Minimalism can be a form of materialism.
I’m all for people living on less, but there’s a very specific type of minimalism that’s popular right now and it’s still a celebration of wealth and materialism. There aren’t trendy photo spreads of single moms living in a mobile homes or big families in modest apartments. The minimalism we see on tv, on blogs, and in magazines is brand new and subscribes to all the latest arbitrary trends. There’s no used furniture or ugly floor colors to contend with because while everything is small it’s still glossy, top of the line, and completely on trend.
#3 There are lots of gorgeous, livable, (old) small homes.
The tiny house trend is very much focused on new construction homes despite the fact that most older houses are fairly small. I think it’s because people mistake wanting to go small with wanting a more luxurious home than they can afford. If you want a small, livable, affordable home look at what’s already out there! Older homes were built with utility in mind and while they’re still much smaller than your average new construction they have plenty of room for cooking, storing things, and entertaining. They might not have a perfectly open floor plan, white subway tiles, and butcher block countertops but they will have the space you need to live a frugal minimalist existence.
#4 Small spaces require frequent purging.
If you’ve never lived in a really small space you should know that frequent purging is a necessary part of small living unless you buy nothing at all. The fella and I live on a pretty shoestring budget, but at least twice a year we still have to purge our apartment of stuff to reclaim space. Small space living brings some freedom with it but it also requires you to be absolutely ruthless about your possessions. If you are sentimental about your things small space living is not for you.
#5 Lack of storage space can cost you a lot of money!
I’m all for people living in smaller homes to save money, but really tiny houses (I’m talking anything under 400 square feet) can actually end up costing you more money and causing you more stress than living in a slightly larger house. As I mentioned before we live in 474 square feet. We have space for a tiny pantry and we have storage under our bed, above every door, in our closets, and on shelving units that we’ve installed. If you live in a home that’s so tiny that you have hardly any storage: get ready to pay big…for everything. In a tiny home you can’t bulk shop or stock up on sale items. Keeping off season clothing and basic housewares and tools becomes a huge challenge. You’ll have to buy everything from toilet paper to soap to food in the smallest quantity available, which is always more expensive.
#6 Entertaining at home is a serious challenge in a micro home.
We regularly host barbecues and parties in our little apartment, but it requires some ingenuity. Entertaining at home is a cornerstone of frugal living, but if your house is so small that you can’t comfortably host at least 6 people you’ll regret it unless you live in a tropical climate and have a sweet yard. People won’t want to come over if there’s no place to sit comfortably. You’ll have to either entertain outside, go to your friends’ houses, or go out and spend lots of money.
#7 You should think about the resale potential of a tiny house.
Like food trucks in 2004 tiny houses are a thing right now, but will they always be a thing? If you live in an alternative city where a lot of people are into unconventional living spaces you might be ok (oh hay Portland), but if you buy a super small space anywhere else prepare for the possibility of not having many resale options.
#8 You will be constantly moving things to get to other things.
People love the idea of cute fold out tables and collapsable desks, but in reality they can be kind of annoying. Our small space works for us because we make it work, but we are forever moving things to get to other things. I have to move a stack of books to use my workspace (which is also my food prep space), we move furniture to use our kitchen table (and then fold it if we have to open the fridge door), we move the litter box to clean it, we move the coffee pot to use it, we move folding chairs to have more seating, we move under the bed organizers to get our off-season clothes and hobby items, we move our speakers to listen to music, we have to get on a ladder to get extra towels or sheets, we move our chargers to power our laptops…the list goes on and on. It can be a bit exhausting, especially if you’re attempting to multitask.
I am not trying to discourage anyone from living a more budget friendly minimalist lifestyle, but I prefer a utilitarian approach to minimalism over the bragging rights that come with living in a super small space.
I’m sure there are some people who happily live spartan lives in 100 square foot homes, but that’s simply not realistic for most people. If the idea of living in a small space appeals to you make sure you really like it by renting a small apartment before dropping cash on a custom house. It could be that you’ve just been drawn into the idea of tiny homes by romantic images of super designed cottages. Trying out small space living in a standard issue apartment is a great way to see if you really like it before diving in.
Downsizing is great as long as you still have adequate space for living the frugal life!