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As I go apartment hunting I start to wonder how much is too small, and how much is "just enough" space for me?

It is probably safe to say that most of North America is accustomed to living in 2600 square feet homes with just a family of two.  Or even 4000+ square feet homes with a family of four.  As I go apartment hunting I start to wonder how much is too small, and how much is “just enough” space for me?

Looking at smaller spaces has gotten me inspired.  There are lots of people living in small spaces, living a minimalist lifestyle, and not being attached to “stuff”.  This leads to smaller heating and utility bills, less spending on “things” that don’t ever end up fulfilling our needs or fulfilling our empty hearts.

Some of the benefits of living in a smaller space outside of cheaper utility bills are more global, meaning less consumption of things, less fossil fuels used, and less furniture to fill the space.  Less furniture means less materials used and less waste.

For example, average utility bills for an 1800 square foot house costs $140 a month and average utility bills for a 450 square foot apartment place costs $18 per month according to apartment therapy.

So How Much Space?

So how much space does one person need?  According to the engineering toolbox, the average person needs about 100-400 square feet of space to feel comfortable in an apartment.  That being said, it really depends on the person.  Some people need a ton of space to feel sane, some people can work with very little.  For example, I know quite a few couples who live together in 450 square feet of space.  They are still together (haha!) so perhaps living in a small space is testament to their relationship.

I Need Some Inspiration

There are more than a few inspirational videos and blogs where people can really work well with small spaces.  Some of these are Graham Hill’s Life Edited apartment, who was able to fit 8 different types of rooms into a small 420 square foot room.  Of course, you don’t necessarily need to be an architect or an interior designer, but there are a few places where you can find solutions for your small space. There are lots of people out there who are proud of their small space and want to share it with the world.

How Do I Live In a Small Space?

Resource furniture is super pricey but they have fantastic furniture to fit small spaces.  For example, a sofa can turn into a Murphy bed.  What does pricey mean?  How about $5000?  Personally I don’t know how I feel about spending $5000 on a wall bed, but if you saved over $20,000 on your home because you opted for a smaller space, I suppose that can be justifiable for some.

Related: Furniture Upgrade Trap

If you don’t want to be a small-space baller, there are plenty of places that sell Murphy beds (that often have desk attachments or even convert to sofas) for under $2000.  You can even create your own Murphy bed for $275.

Another favourite of small spaces is Ikea.  Ikea Hackers blog has fantastic ideas on how to convert some of your favourite Ikea furniture into even better furniture.  For example, one of my favourites is the Expedit Captain Bed.  Who needs a bed with drawers when you can convert the Expedit unit into one?

Although for many, living in a smaller space is usually not an option but a circumstance, many people (including me) opt for living in a smaller space.  In fact, in some cities (like New York for example), people feel like its a badge of honour to be able to live in the smallest space possible. I think it’s a great way to exercise some creativity and to re-evaluate whether you need that X, Y, and Z that you would probably get without thinking twice if you were living in a larger space. Some of these reasons are to force oneself to de-clutter, to try and lead a more minimalist lifestyle, and to save on utilities!  Also, it’s a fun make-work project to try and see how efficient you can be with storage.  Having a spot for everything because of great storage is… strangely very satisfying.

Readers, how much space do you need to be comfortable?

Article comments

John says:

1 person only needs a bed with storage underneath and wardrobe closet (ikea) at the foot of the bed and maybe a small desk. This is very similar to a dorm room set-up but thats all you need in your life for most people, and anything more will be extra. Of course this will vary by profession and lifestyle. With this setup 3 people can live in a 30 square meter apt (300 sq feet). Think of small space living as living in an rv but your apts interior is built like an rv except its in your apt.

C M says:

I laugh at the thought of 2000 sq ft being considered small!!!
5 of us (2 parents. 2 teens and 1 school age kid) in our 900 sq ft urban apt. No outdoor, no garage(no car), no other space. Its tight, but very doable. Especially when you can hop on public transportation and gat to the best shows, museums, parks, restaurants, etc in minutes.
A second bathroom might be nice, but not worth moving to car country for.

Dotty says:

I am currently living in a large 4 bedroom 2 story home. I live alone and this is how I feel way too much space for one person I did find a home that’s some ranch with a thousand square feet however my friends do not feel as though I can make the change and switch to a smaller home.I have lived in my home for 32 years and I’m very attached to my humps however the utility bills are very high and I know I don’t need all this space. Any opinions or help would be greatly appreciate it thank you!

David says:

Interesting post and comments. Thank you much for sharing. I sold houses for a few years and was the unusual agent who tried to down sell clients. I would let them know when I thought a house was too large, discuss options, and encourage sane purchases. Inevitably most clients would purchase the biggest, prettiest, most expensive house they could get a loan for. Very sad. My wife and I bought our home with cash. It’s a 3 bed 1 bath 1092 sq ft. It’s an economy build from the early 50’s but has a logical and efficient floor plan. All I can add to this discussion is that floor plan is more important than square feet. Many homes have large transitional spaces (hallways, entry ways, stairwells, etc). Minimizing these allows you to have much more usable space. Last point, if you can swing it buy a home with cash instead of financing. You’ll frequently pay less for the purchase price (and of course total for the home), but you’ll have more purchase options. If you can’t buy with cash get the 15 year loan instead of the 30. It’s a huge difference!

Christine says:

When my husband, a returning veteran, was a student, we lived in university housing with two small kids, easily a space slightly larger than a Holiday Inn room. Every year, we would purge, and get rid of everything that took up needed space. Because of that, we never “reached for the stars’, as far a as luxury and space were concerned. As our kids grew, we deliberately stayed small, and topped out at a 3 bedroom, 2000 square feet suburban home, not including the basement, which seemed enormous, even though the neighbors were all 3000-4000 square feet. When we moved, we sold for top dollar, because the neighborhood was so much more luxurious than how we lived. We thought that we were wise. The down side is, our kids both live in tiny condos, now, and obsess if they buy anything that should take up space. They don’t have kids because it’s too expensive and they don’t invest beyond what is absolutely necessary. They don’t have cars and each day they trudge to work, and then home, again. Their lives are even smaller than ours were. We wonder if we were too ‘spatially rigid’ and too frugal. So, be careful what you ask for, because it has an impact.

Sarah says:

I’m European, and I’m living in a 2 bedroom-appartment of 900 ft + terrace of 100 ft + shared garden (with 50 other apartments). I bought it 6 months ago and decluttered a lot since then. Nowadays having 2 bdrooms for me and my 5-years-old son feels too spacious, I really would be okay with the living room. I don’t like it when spaces aren’t highly utilitarian. Right now I think it’d be the perfect apartment if we could keep the spacious outside spaces and have a 1bedroom-appartment of 750 ft.

Brittany says:

We’re a family of 4 with two young kids living in 1400 sqft. It’s huge. The kids are sharing a room for now and we could easily live with less. This week we put in an offer on a house that is 1140 sqft, but with a huge yard (for a city, anyway) .
I’m excited about living in a smaller place, I know it will feel small when we have two angry teenagers slamming doors, but while they’re young, it’s cozy and we plan on staying there after our kids move on, too. Space needs can change with the years!

Cassie says:

2600 sqft for two people? My eye crossed a little when I read that. I live in an 1100 sqft 3 bedroom home by myself and it is way too much space. When I bought the place I honestly thought I needed that much space because of the amount of “stuff” I had. I’ve been decluttering and organizing for a couple years now, and its dawned on me exactly how out of whack my original space needs were. I could easily downsize to 700-800 sqft at this point, and if I decluttered further I could easily go smaller.

Young says:

@Cassie- Wow that’s a huge home! Are you living in an apt or a house for 1100 sqft? Yes, 700 sq ft would be very comfortable for one person, even two.

I don’t think of living in a small space as having a badge of honor, but I am proud that we aren’t living in more space than we need (although we’d love to have more). Our condo is 800sq ft.

Young says:

@KK- that’s a perfect size (according to engineering toolbox lol).

Our house is 2500 sq feet, but we rent out the basement so we live in about 1300 sq feet. There’s just the two of us, and there is a full room or two that we don’t use or need, but we plan on having kids. I don’t think we’d need more than the 1300 sq feet even when we do, though.

Young says:

@Daisy- That’s a lof of space! But perfect for kids too.

krantcents says:

When I downsized from 2,600 square foot, 5 bedroom home to a townhouse, it was a dramatic change. Before we bought one, we rented a 1,550 square foot one. It felt too small for us. We ultimately bought a 1,850 square foot, 2 bedroom plus office townhouse. Could I live in a smaller place? Yes, if it is a single level, but not an extremely small place.

I’m living in a 400 sq. ft. space with my fiance right now, and it’s doable, but we definitely get on each other’s nerves on occasion. We have a good sized backyard which provides extra living space in the summer time, and it’s definitely our saving grace.

We used to live in a 700 sq. ft. space a few years ago, that was just perfect.

Young says:

@Jordann- Yes, having some sort of outdoor space is really important. I think 400 sq ft without a balcony or backyard would be the pits.