For much of this minimalism journey, I’ve been challenging the limits of material possessions–constantly evaluating what provides me a happy and modest life. For the health of myself, the planet, and my communities, I’m choosing to be more conscious of what I buy and own. To that end, I’ve moved into more appropriate spaces based on my needs. With less than one week remaining on my current lease and feeling quite lean, I took on a unique experiment. Rather than reducing my possessions, I decided to reduce the space in which I lived. After selling our final piece of furniture on Craigslist, I physically shrunk my livable space nearly 70% to a frightful 314 square feet.
How Did I Get Here?
For the past year, I’ve been living in a 2BR apartment with a like-minded roommate. It was situated on a public transit corridor, near many parks, and only a short walk to the library and grocery store. Conveniently timed with my escape to the Philippines, I’ll be rent-free and homeless for the foreseeable future. Because of this, I’ve taken a good look at what I own and what to keep.
Shortly after selling our amazing $40 dining room set (I got $100 for it), I realized the vast emptiness of our living room. At this point I was storing clothing in my room, sleeping in my another room (my roommate left), and maintaining a smattering of possessions throughout the foyer, closet, kitchen, and living room. Partially to assist with my sanity–and also driven by curiosity–I decided to condense the entire apartment. I emptied the bedrooms and divided the living room in half. In doing so, I collocated all my belongings to the kitchen, half an entryway closet, and living room. I voluntarily reduced my space to experience living with less. In addition to being low-risk, it helped immensely with packing.
The engineer in me simply had to bust out some grid paper and craft a schematic. I measured every room and started crunching some numbers. The tiny bedroom I inhabited for almost a year measured only 103 sq ft. Despite our original agreement to switch rooms 6 months in, I was glad we didn’t–the space really grew on me! My first bedroom in Seattle was easily twice this size and I eventually moved out. Although I enjoy the size of my current room, the rest of this 2BR apartment is very segmented. This centers a majority of traffic between the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. While the living room was considerably large (nearly 1/3rd of the total space), it didn’t get used very much because of this long and narrow design.
After wrangling the queen-size bed into the living room, I modified an entertainment shelf into a temporary shelf and shuffled gear around in our storage closet. This further encouraged me to evaluate the use or necessity of all my possessions. I was quickly reminded of how the physical act of moving precipitates you to purge. You’re confronted (and often times reminded) of each item you own. Eventually, you must decide whether or not you still want it in your life. Luckily, you don’t have to physically move residences to benefit from this phenomena. Spending one day vacating a room only to reintroduce your belongings (with intention) is all it takes! Often times building from scratch is more effective than chipping away.
Using 314 sq ft turned out to be more than sufficient for myself. And if the floor plan was actually designed as such from the beginning, I would’ve been even happier. Although many modern gadgets can help make spaces multi-functional (murphy beds and pop-out tables), having more room to host guests is a nice perk. It would encourage more community in the home and limit conventional bar or restaurant excursions.
Although I cook fairly often, the kitchen didn’t need to be remotely that large. To make things more interesting, I only used the half of the kitchen pictured below (in addition to the fridge and stove not shown). In a standard studio, the kitchen and living space would be seamlessly integrated for less privacy but more functionality. Most of my time was spent in the living room and kitchen making it more space efficient.
All in all, the total living space decreased by nearly 70%. If you remove my roommate’s room from the original total (as it wasn’t mine to begin with) and add the balcony, I still decreased the living space by 57% with little pain. Of course, one week of my pre-move lifestyle is not representative of everyday life, but I now reconsider how much space is necessary. I concluded that much of it has to do with the amount of stuff you own and how efficiently the space is designed–the former is quicker and easier to change.
For me, this experiment manifested itself in three major takeaways. First, many times we live in spaces unsuited to our individual needs. Second, I am happy to live in a smaller space, but it’s difficult to see proportionate financial returns. And last, you can’t live in smaller spaces without owning less (duh!).
By all measures, I enjoyed living in a space more suited to my needs–size wise anyway. It’s fascinating that we rent homes and apartment ill-tailored to our individuals habits and routines. Some people like to cook and host while others spend their time exercising and working from home. Shouldn’t we live in places that reflect our lifestyles? Yet like most, I simply mold my life around the dwelling. Because of this, a lot of space is heated, maintained, cleaned, and paid for only to witness little use–or inefficient use. There is certainly a higher cost associated with such customization, but it doesn’t have to be so individualistic–there’s probably a middle ground. I would love to see architectures design new housing with various lifestyles in mind. If you can’t buy or rent such a place, rearrange your current furniture in a welcoming and efficient manner.
Second, going smaller doesn’t translate to paying less. If we used a constant price per square foot assumption, my “new apartment” would cost under $700, approximately the floor price I’ve seen for a single room (in a house) in North Seattle. Looks like I didn’t come out as far ahead as I thought. In a linear world, the cost per sq ft valuation would hold constant but this definitely isn’t true. I’ve heard of broom closets (150 sq ft) going for $1000+/mo. While the market is certainly driven by more than square footage, it is interesting to consider your price per area. Just because you land a smaller place, doesn’t necessarily translate to additional savings–especially in places where simplicity has been commercialized.
Last, I found living in a smaller space necessitates owning less. And in my eyes, I don’t see that as such a bad thing. I find things with quickly and lose things less often. I try to use as much of my possessions as often and efficiently as possible. When I need to move, I can do so in one trip and a couple hours. No expensive truck, no crew, and no major headaches. As you look around your home, condo, or apartment, begin questions how much is enough? I always think of an efficient space as a happy space!
I’m pleased to say that parting with my possessions was fairly easy; it’s the memories and events I’ll miss most. For me, that’s one of the greatest takeaways of all.