How Small Could You Go?

by heather

I was browsing on EcoSalon today looking for post ideas, and came across this picture…

Look, for just a moment, at those pictures, and the headlines.

Homes Under 2200 Sq. Ft.

Homes under 1,700 Sq. Ft.

I stared at those sub headlines for several minutes, thinking…is that where the benchmark is? 2200 Sq. Ft? 1700 Sq. Feet?

To me, both of those numbers still seem huge. So I started to wonder…how low could I go? Really?

The Answer…600 Sq. Ft. for Now…

Before we moved to Detroit, our house was 1,200 Sq. Ft. And the flat we’re renting nowย is around 1,000 Sq. Ft. But to be honest, we don’t really use half of that space because it’s so cold right now.

The main living room and our large office are much colder than the rest of the house. So we pretty much live either in the bedroom, in the tiny 2nd living room (which is really just a really wide hall), and in the kitchen (which is by far the warmest room in the house). There is a basement that we use for 3 storage bins and our portable washing machine.

All in all, I’d say we’re living in 500-600 Sq. Ft. And what about all the stuff that’s in the living room and our large office? Really, apart from my treadmill (which I do use regularly) most of it could go. It’s just taking up space.

With some added shelving and perhaps an installed cabinet in the hall, I think we could easily be living in half the space we’re in right now.

Why Small?

There are many reasons why we want to live in a small space.

First, smaller homes require less energy to heat and cool. Utility bills are lower, which means you’re making less of an impact on the earth.

Second, smaller homes don’t require as much time to clean. I mean, who likes dusting and sweeping? I know I’d much rather be outside than stuck indoors, cleaning. The smaller your space, the less time it takes to maintain. This is time you could be using for the things you love, not chores.

Small homes are also more cozy and intimate. I’ve been into several large homes, even a few mansions. And sure, they’re grand. But you know what? They’re not cozy or friendly. They’re not the kind of place I’d feel comfortable curling up with a good book. The rooms are like caves, and the ceilings are so high up it feels like you’re outside.

What’s the Perfect Size?

Architect Ross Chapin, a regular builder of tiny homes, says the minimum size for one person is 500 square feet, and the optimal size is 700 square feet. But, he says, the space doesn’t need to double with the addition of another person. Three people could live comfortably in 1,200 square feet.

How Low Could You Go?

I used to be a professional organizer before I turned to writing full time, and I can tell you that I’ve worked with dozens of people who all said basically the same thing. They told me that they sometimes wished a fire would come burn their house down, with all their stuff in it, so they could start over with nothing. Next time, they’d say, I wouldn’t buy so much, and I’d live in a much smaller house.

Sound familiar? Heck, I’m constantly decluttering and I still wish the same thing sometimes.

The older Andrew and I get, the more we’re gravitating to a smaller and smaller space, and the more we’re trying to get rid of stuff, so that our lives are less cluttered and complicated. And, this is a journey we’ve been on for several years now.

Last Word…

Do you ever wish you could start over in a smaller space? How low could you go?


Laryssa @Heaven In The Home January 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm

We went (family of 4) from 2600 Sq. Ft. to 1400 and have never been happier!

heidi January 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I grew up (family of 4) in about 1,200 sf and now live (family of 2 humans and one human-sized dog) in about 640 sf; I’d give anything for the living room to be big enough for a couch, though. It’s important to me to have room for a friend to crash on a couch if needed; our entry room is useless and the living room is a bit cramped (even for just 2 people and the dog), so I’d gladly drop the entry room if it meant a more livable space. But other than that, this space fits us beautifully!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Our house (family of five) is 1200 sf, and it’s fine but I would love a little extra room. 1500 to 1800 would be perfect for us. The real problem though is that I need more rooms, not just more space. I could move to a bigger house, but it would most likely still have three bedrooms.

Jeremiah January 18, 2011 at 5:28 am

Awesome article. I agree that Dwell is way off base, but they are operating from an accepted average home size in American between 1800 and 2200 square feet. To me, that is insane. Especially when you consider how these “typical” homes are built and who they are designed by – typically built out of the cheapest materials available by contractors who submitted the lowest price and designed by a designer with little to no real architectural vision or concern for the end user.
I actually don’t like the term “small living” or “micro living”, because it’s a misconception. It’s not about living “small” it’s about living “efficiently”. Living in a smaller home requires you to make some hard choices about how you live and the things you hold on to, sure, but like most of those who commented say, how much happier would you be if you had less “stuff”?
Currently my family (myself, wife and two children under 3) live in a 1918 Craftsmen home at 1200 square feet. Other than having almost no storage to speak of, 1200 sf is actually quite large for 4 people, in my opinion. All we need is adequate storage (and a little more purging) and some basic modifications to how we use the space and we end up with a lot of wasted square footage.
Take a look at my blog for more information on smaller homes. This is a subject that is gaining steam all over the country and has been a hot topic overseas for years.

Miles January 18, 2011 at 7:04 am

if you have ever been to an IKEA then you can see how easy it is to build a happy, cozy living space into a very small space. I currently live in about 1100 sq. ft., and it could easily be smaller and I would be happier as a result. My only complaint would be that I would prefer a space wherein I could design and build my own storage, instead of being forced to use ‘rooms’. I think smaller is better for a number of reasons, with efficiency being just one.

katie January 18, 2011 at 9:30 am

My husband and I live in a small apartment (maybe 1000 sq. ft.? I’m not sure). Our current place now has 2 bedrooms, and I keep thinking that we could get down to 1 bedroom if we only had a shed or garage. We need a safe place to store our bicycles and camping gear, and right now that space is the second bedroom.

heather January 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Katie, I know exactly what you mean…I could easily halve our flat right now, but I really need a basement to store our washer and camping gear too.

heather January 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Jeremiah, I agree with you about most new construction. Much of the time it’s shoddily made, put up as fast as possible for a quick buck. And you make a great point about living efficiently instead of living “small”. I love that!

We too lived in a 1,200 s.f. 1912 Craftsmen home until we put it up on the market, and it was a gem of a house…very well made. And we didn’t use half the space. Small is definitely beautiful. ๐Ÿ™‚

Jenny Miller January 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm

While our family of four looked for (5 years!) a house, we lived in a small 2 bedroom apartment. Not so fun with two small children. We’ve been living comfortably for almost 6 years in our 900 square feet. The only downside is one tiny closet! We are gutting the attic/loft space this spring to turn into a room for our boys. I think it’s about 200 square feet. The kids are excited!

just dreamin January 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Yes, yes, and yes. I dream about the limbs or tornado that will come through so we can rebuild or move. Not that I would like the destruction or potential lose of life but I CRAVE small. Such a timely article. I have a trunk full of stuff for a Goodwill stop tomorrow and you should see what came out of our hall closet! 7 king size sheet sets. Half dozen extra sheets and cases. At least 20 towels and as many washclothes. Not that we bought all this. We are the cast off family for my parents and in-laws. They are always bringing over crap no matter how much I protest even though we have no place to put it. No basement, no 3 car garage. Our house is about 1900 s.f but it’s 1970s style with tons of wasted space. 3 hallways, 100sf entryway, formal dining room etc. My idea is to rent and see how small we can go and then build a green home based on that square footage. Hopefully 1200 or so. There are 4 of us and we currently homeschool so that adds extra stuff we truly use.
We are decluttering my daughter’s room next and then on to the kitchen. How many glasses do 4 people need, really ๐Ÿ™‚

Space January 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I recently shared a mansion with four other people. Two huge living rooms, a den, a dining room, a breakfast seating area by the deck and a huge kitchen with coutertop area for three stools. Loved it. Every minute. One person could watch TV in the den. Another could read in the smaller living room. A few people could socialize in the large living room. Space. Get it, if you can.

PS – I recycle practically everything and use mass transit.

The Environmental Goddess January 19, 2011 at 9:31 am

I am actually living at home right now and in the next few months will be moving out to my very own first apartment. I definitely won’t need too much space, and a 1 bedroom is more than enough. Do you have any suggestions on what to look for in order to maximize space in an apartment?

Allison January 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I was just having this conversation with a friend over the weekend and it is so interesting to hear how much space people think they need. I currently live in a 650 sf apartment and am looking to move somewhere smaller to be in a more desirable area. My friend was shocked that I would consider moving into a smaller space. I feel that this is more space than I really need and location is more important to me than size.

The best aspect of my current apartment is that it is has an excellent layout with a ton of built in storage. I definitely believe that 500-600 sf is sufficient for most people, especially if the space is well organized. Last year, I looked at the smallest freestanding house in DC, which has about 300 sf, and living there would have been a bit of a challenge, though it had an amazing backyard.

To The Environmental Goddess, when looking for an apartment, I would suggest looking for an efficient layout. I have found that hallways tend to be wasted space unless they are wide enough to allow for storage and/or seating. Also, be aware of your lifestyle. For example, if you like to entertain and talk to people while cooking, look for a kitchen open to the living area.

Alicia January 20, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Love the article. I have lived in small apts & houses (600-900sq ft) and currently live in a 2 bedroom apt about 1038 sq ft with my son and 65lb Rottweiler mix. It’s really the perfect size for 2 people and a dog. Although I really do miss having another 1/2 or full bath (we had a 2/2 in our last apt at 900sq ft), but other than that the storage is adequate and I still keep on purging items as I go.

As far as the having a natural disaster destroy your home just so you could start over. I have done this 3 times…but only once due to a tropical storm flooding out my my garage. The other 2 times I was moving across the US, and ended up selling everything that didn’t fit in a box and couldn’t be shipped cheaply. I have no regrets and would do it again if I had the chance. Besides family keepsakes, photos and my computer, I could do away with everything else; it’s a wonderful feeling to purge everything you own, donate it to a worthy cause and start over smart.

Thanks for the reminders of living large in a smaller space.

Jeremiah January 21, 2011 at 5:14 am

Just Dreamin, you could always talk to a designer/architect about redesigning your existing space to make it more efficient and get rid of some wasted space. 1900 sf is a good deal of space to work with. I’m sure an imaginative designer would be able to work it out at a reasonable price per sf. If you want to talk about some ideas send me an email.
Space, I love how you had to qualify your statement at the end stating that you recycle and use mass transit as justification for living in, what sounds like, a very large house even for 4 people. Don’t feel bad about wanting a larger space. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Living with less is not for everyone.
Environmental Goddess, follow Allison’s advice. Know how you live and shop apartments accordingly. Try not to settle for something that you’ll have to compromise your lifestyle to live in. It won’t be worth it in the long run.

Suzy Q January 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm

As a single older person (63) I find that friends are downsizing. I have recently moved up a size and I’m really loving the space and the new environment.. I moved from a little one-bedroom city apartment (2 rooms, tiny kitchen and bathroom) in the city to a 2-bedroom/small study house in a small community 20 miles from the city. While living in the cramped confines of the apartment, I deveoped severely debilitating asthma, mainly due to air pollution and the “sick building” syndrome. I also became suicidally depressed. My therapist and doctor agreed: “get out of town before it kills you”. I did, and the results have been tremendously good for me. I’ve retired, I have new friends, new occupations and living closer to nature is medicine in itself. My old abode was much more difficult to clean, as it was stacked with stuff I use on a regular basis. Now I have a place for everything and everything is in its place. So far my utility bills are the same as they were, allowing for an economic inflationary increase that everyone has had. My carbon footprint may actually be smaller, as I’m somehow more aware of conservation measures – for instance, I now pull the plug on electrical appliances I am not currently using. I never have the computer and the television running at the same time, so nothing is eating up energy by being on standby mode. Before, getting to the wall plug was like an all-in wrestling match. So, smaller is not necessarily better. It’s up to the individual’s comfort.

Linda February 18, 2011 at 10:17 am

Thank you for your personal perspective on how big is big enough – especially the choice to spend free time on hobbies/outdoor activities instead of cleaning. Ross Chapin, the architect you mention, has a new book on this theme called “Pocket Neighborhoods: creating small-scale community in a large-scale world.” Published by The Taunton Press, it will be on sale March 15, 2011. You can see many of Chapin’s neighborhoods and small house designs at:

Erin March 19, 2011 at 9:50 am

My husband and I have lived in various sized spaces…..600 sf, 1300 sf, 220 sf, and 1900 sf.

I wouldn’t recommend living in 220 square feet. The good? Freedom from your “stuff.” You’re forced to carefully choose everything you put into your space. The bad? It’s simply not enough space for 2 adults to peacefully coexist. ๐Ÿ™‚

We designed the space we live in currently. The original layout was 1200 sf and I was trying to get it smaller. After discovering that a 1900 sf version would cost almost the same amount, I thought more about the real reasons I resisted going bigger. I realized that I thought limiting my living space would keep my “stuff accumulation” in check. Yeah….that’s not how it works. I realized that I thought by going smaller we’d use less gas/electric/etc…..which wasn’t really true.

I realized that I like open space…space to breathe. I remembered how claustrophobic I feel at my friend’s 1200 sf house filled with 2 adults, 5 kids, 1 dog, and 1 cat. And because this is where I want to live until they bury me out back, I realized the extra space would give us flexibility for potential future uses.

We went with the 1900 sf version, and I’m glad we did.

Margie March 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Our family of 4 has a 3 bedroom, 1 bath bungalow, which is a little less than 1300 square feet. I think all the time about the family who built this house in 1922 and how they raised 5 children in the same space. Of course, they had no television, dishwasher, refrigerator, computer, very few toys, and much smaller wardrobes. We have fewer toys than most people we know and I get rid of clothes the second my children outgrow them. Still, it’s a constant balancing act. I believe what many parents (myself included) are craving is more mental space, but they confuse it with wanting more physical space. When you have young children, the near-constant noise, mess, and demands can take their toll, especially on introverts. It’s easy to think having a bigger house with more places to retreat to would remedy the situation. I have a feeling the mess and noise would just follow us around a big house too. That being said, we will probably add another bedroom and bathroom as our kids grow. Right now, our daughter is 7 and our son is 2 and they share a room happily. I know that won’t always be the case. Sorry for rambling! Great blog.

Marlan at RV52 November 25, 2011 at 7:24 pm

A little late to the conversation, but hey, this is a subject that is going to grow and grow.

My wife and I and our two (part time) children live in a 40ft RV in Austin TX. To be precise, this is 399 square feet. We’ve become closer as a family and we talk all the time about living with less STUFF. We ask ourselves every day “do we need this?” We feel that if we’re “storing” something, then we have to wonder if we really need it.

So we’re on 2 years in a 399 SQ FT space or less.


Pony Rider February 24, 2012 at 4:42 am

Old subject.. but I found these interesting to read and will add our opinion: We live in a 600 sf apartment, two adults and a 3-year old. We share the one bedroom and the living room is also the office and play area. We have lots of space to spread out for play and crafts, we have more space than we need even though there really isn’t that much built-in storage. We all share a closet. We could easily live in a smaller place of under 500 sf. And we could fit another kid here. We are looking to buy a tiny house. I’d like it to have a footprint of less the 500 sf with a sleeping attic. We want to try an find an old cottage rather than build a new one. We like each other’s company and tend to be in the same room all the time anyway. Sure, it’s good to have a spot where you can privacy, but it doesn’t need to be big, a few square feet is enough. Large spaces don’t feel cozy and we don’t like to have lots of stuff, so it would just be empty wasted space for us to rattle in..

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