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Living Large In A Small Space: How To Comfortably Live In 400 Square Feet Or Less

Updated on January 25, 2015

The tiny house movement has gained considerable momentum in recent years. From the documentary “Tiny”—which follows a young man as he builds his own tiny house on wheels—to the new show “Tiny House Hunters” on HGTV, this is a popular subject. As explained at www.thetinylife.com, a few reasons for this interest in tiny homes is a result of “environmental concerns, financial concern, and seeking more time and freedom.” For those who don’t wish to or cannot purchase a tiny house of their own, however, the option of living in a smaller space remains. While RV living is another option here, my suggestions are made with smaller apartments—or even a rented room in a house—in mind.

Apartments with less than 400 square feet can be found in many cities. While the ultra-tiny—sometimes less than 100 square feet—apartments are more likely to be found in New York City than in Wichita, Kansas, it is nonetheless possible to rent studio or efficiency apartments in many cities which are not major metropolises. In addition, one way to save money in a new location is to rent a room in a house instead of renting an apartment. Room rentals often include shared kitchen, living room, and bathroom facilities, and therefore a renter must determine how to comfortably fit all of his or her stuff in the rented bedroom.

Downsizing your current possessions is the best way to begin. This process should ideally start before you move. Start with the category of possessions you are least sentimental about and proceed from there. For some this will mean weeding through their closets to determine which clothes do not fit, are unflattering, or have been in your keeping for the last ten years and are no longer in style. Also, you may find items you have never worn which you’ve moved from apartment to apartment, and such items, unless you have a detailed plan to wear them soon, are typically best given away or sold at a secondhand clothing store.

Sorting through and discarding whatever papers you can is another way to reduce how much you move into your small space. If you have access to a scanner, you can even scan certain documents, save them to your computer—and, to be safe, an external harddrive as well—and reduce your paper mass this way. I’m not suggesting you aim to give rid of all extraneous papers, yet this is one way to own less before you move into a smaller space.

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While it is helpful to start downsize your belongings before you move, it’s possible that the limits of living in a smaller space will inspire you to continue this process. I’ve read everyone will inevitably accumulate more, and therefore we must always be prepared to prune our possessions whenever possible.

The first item to think about when you move into a smaller space is your bed. One obvious option for saving space is to loft your bed. The company DHP offers a metal loft bed which can fit a full size mattress for $233.99; in addition, Home Loft Concept offers a different model which can also fit a full sized mattress for $294.00. Since you may be moving into a smaller space to save money, however, buying a loft frame may not be in your budget. If you are in the market for a new bed or bedframe and are not interested in a lofted bed, Ikea offers regular beds with ample storage options which are ideal for living in a smaller space.

Which space-saving item appeals most to you?

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Ways To Personalize A Small Space

Bathroom
Kitchen
Bedroom
Buy colorful new towels
Buy a new magnet
Find a new poster you love
Buy a matching bathmat
Put cookbooks on display
Buy a throw pillow for bed
There are so many ways to help make any new space, especially a small one, personalized and welcoming.
This is one example of a well-used smaller space.
This is one example of a well-used smaller space. | Source
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Still another option for your bed is to have a mattress of whatever size—though a king-sized mattress may be overly cumbersome—which you rest against the wall (or even behind a couch) during the day to give you extra room. It’s also possible to sleep on an air mattress every night and then deflate this every morning after you wake up. Having furniture which can easily decrease in size—flip-down or folding tables are two examples—provides you with more flexibility in your new space.

A taller than average dresser or bookshelf is another prudent option to consider. If you have a larger-than-average book or DVD collection, another option is purchasing a bookshelf or set of bookshelves which fit in a corner in order to best utilize your living space. For those who don’t need as much space for books, corner desks can be useful. The company Saunder offers a smaller corner desk for $99.00, whereas much larger and more expensive corner desk options are offered by the companies Bush and Legare.

It’s possible you can accomplish all of your office-related tasks on your kitchen table, and, if so, you should forgo acquiring a desk. Any item which can serve multiple purposes is welcome in a smaller space. For example, if you can watch TV or DVDs on your computer, this may be reason enough not to own a TV. Another multi-use option is a sofa which converts into a bed at night. This can be used by you, of course, or else it can be your way of adding the option of hosting overnight guests without finding the space for a spare bed. Air mattresses are another option for anyone in a smaller space who wishes to host overnight guests.

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Speaking of couches, loveseats often work better than full-sized couches when extra space is limited. While it isn’t unheard of to fit a full-sized or even sectional couch in a smaller apartment, doing so will limit your other furniture options and likely result in an overly cramped, uncomfortable space.

Another way to save space is to find kitchen items, such as pots and pans, which nestle neatly into the larger pot or pan of this set. By streamlining your kitchen storage you may even have the option of using a few empty cupboards for storing non-kitchen items such as papers or cleaning supplies.

Closets can be improved by hanging shoe racks or inserting other closet organizing tools. Since closets typically differ in size and shape—and this is especially true if you are moving into an older building which has been turned into small apartments—do not purchase any closet organizing tools until you’ve had the opportunity to measure your closet to see which organizing options will fit. It’s prudent to refrain from making major purchases for your new space until you are living there, or, at the very least, have had the chance to measure the dimensions and form a mental picture of where your furniture will go.

Regardless how well you originally plan the layout of your new space, however, you will likely need to move around your furniture a time or two to best maximize the space. Consequently, it is better to have furniture you can move on your own so you don’t have to wait for a friend to come over and help. Approach living in a smaller space with a creative, experimental attitude, as this will help you make the most of your new environment.

Still another way to reduce mess and clutter in your new space is by getting a digital only subscription to your favorite magazines. The New Yorker offers this, as do other popular magazines.

One of the benefits of living in a smaller space is that this encourages you to frequently venture outside your apartment or rented room. These outings can include, though they are certainly not limited to, playing ultimate Frisbee at a park, visiting the local library, or meeting a friend for coffee. Living in a smaller space may also enable you to pay off loans more quickly or save money for a future trip. Regardless why you are living in a space smaller than 400 square feet in size, there are many ways to maximize and enjoy this experience.

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    • Julie K Henderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Julie K Henderson 

      3 years ago

      Thank you. I, too, enjoy small spaces.

    • Julie K Henderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Julie K Henderson 

      3 years ago

      I am glad you enjoyed this article. I've lived in several cozy apartments, and I have fond memories of making these spaces functional and welcoming.

    • Claudia Mathews profile image

      Claudia Mathews 

      3 years ago

      Really enjoyed reading this. Love small cozy spaces.

    • Julie K Henderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Julie K Henderson 

      3 years ago

      Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      Teri Stohlberg 

      3 years ago

      Beautiful pictures, great article, thanks!

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