We live in a smallish space. 1200 square feet, to be exact.
If you live in NYC, you may be thinking, “That’s enormous!” If you live anywhere else, you probably think that’s on the tinier side.
A small space can be a challenge.
For one thing, by the time it’s 6:30am my kids are READY TO GO (because apparently they drink jet fuel all night long?) but I need coffee and probably a shower before I’m ready to leave the house. I can’t send the kids out to play because we don’t have a yard, and if I’m not ready with puzzles and play-doh, they will start finding things to climb. Like the bookshelves. And each other.
Yet living in a small space can be a blessing, too. We don’t have more stuff than we really need. Cleaning the place takes a couple hours, tops. We explore our neighborhood on a daily basis and know our parks and trails like the backs of our hands.
Not to mention that without a yard of our own, all our neighbors and their kids and we and our kids play and grill and converse in the alleys between condo buildings. We’re just all out there together, living life. Admiring Robert’s new truck, asking Alex and Erin what they’re cooking, pushing a Cozy Coupe around with Jules while his mom teaches me how to knit.
It’s community at its easiest, and many of our sons’ closest friends are only a door or two away.
Whether you chose it or not, how can you make the best of a tiny space? Here’s what we’ve learned.
1. Get Creative with Rooms
For example, a walk-in closet doesn’t have to stay a closet. When Baby #2 joined our family, we got a mini-crib and turned our closet into his room.
He’s a year old now, but the room still works great. I built a DIY external closet for our clothes using these plans, and we haven’t looked back.
Be creative about your space. No one said the master bedroom had to stay the master bedroom, or that a loft can’t double as an office.
2. Purge, purge, purge
Don’t keep “just in case” things. If you haven’t used something this year, get rid of it. Give it to Goodwill, permanently loan it to a neighbor, sell it on Craigslist, whatevs. Just get it out.
You don’t need five coats or several sets of dishes or those jeans that might fit someday. Your kids don’t need eight bajillion Legos or every single American Girl book ever published. Fewer toys can help kids be more creative, and it’s great for managing the mess.
Sure, there are some things you don’t use often that you’ll still want to hang onto (a favorite college hoodie, the kids’ smaller art projects, Christmas decorations). But keep those to a minimum and be cutthroat about everything else.
Do you really need six camping chairs for your family of four? Do you even camp?
3. Share big items with neighbors and friends
We don’t own a circular saw, but if we need one, Joe has our back. Our neighbors don’t have a toddler bike for their son, but they borrow ours whenever he wants to go for a spin.
Tiny space living helps bond you to your neighbors because, guess what, you only use that vacuum cleaner a half dozen times a month! The rest of the time it just sits there. Why not offer it up when someone else needs it? You did just borrow their truck to move your bookshelf.
4. Be realistic about your phase of life
I don’t love that the first thing you see when you enter our main floor is a crusty toddler booster chair. (I clean it three times a day, I really do, but that darned avocado is like cement.)
But that’s our phase of life. We’re in crusty-toddler-boosterland. Before long, our youngest will be sitting on a dining room chair just like his brother, and the crusty booster will have moved on.
Sure, I could obsess about it, buy a really gorgeous one for $400 (ha), or put it away after every single meal. But I won’t. This is just a phase.
Be patient with yourself if it’s summer and the college kids are back with their mess, or if there’s baby stuff e’rywhere or if Great-Aunt Evelyn came to visit and left you sixty-eight different magazines. Phases are phases, and you can reclaim your space when the time is right.
5. Maximize double-duty items
I have a standing desk at the church office. At home? No desk at all. Instead, I use our breakfast bar. Scoot one of the stools to the side, and voilá – standing desk! No need for another one.
Some of our double-duty hacks aren’t quite so classy. The kids definitely drag one of their twin mattresses out into the living room and jump on it like it’s a trampoline. But hey – double-duty mattress, right?
6. Find room for guests
You actually can do this in a small space. It might be a blow-up mattress on the floor, it might be a dedicated room, it might be a tent in the backyard, but hospitality doesn’t have to suffer because of small square footage.
Our place has a loft, so we keep a bed up there that doubles as our movie-watching, book-reading, kid trampolining, when-I-have-a-bad-cold-Daryl-doesn’t-want-to-sleep-in-the-same-bed-with-me spot when we don’t have guests.
7. Determine what spaces you aren’t using well and rethink them
We don’t have a yard, but we do have a small porch. Tiny really. Just enough for a couple of folding chairs.
I basically wrote off the porch when we moved in.
But do you know what? Even a small porch is a useable space! Last week we swept and washed it, dusted off the folding chairs, set out a tiny side table for our coffee mugs, and we’ve been using our porch!
And in a 1200 square foot condo, even six square feet of unused space is bad stewardship.
Now Daryl and I drink our coffee out there (good thing our neighbors have known us for years, or I’d be a little more self-conscious about my bedhead and zebra-print pajama pants…) while the toddler rolls his soccer ball around our feet and the preschooler aims at cars with his water squirter.
8. Don’t shy away from hospitality
It’s easy to use the size of our condo as an excuse. Can’t host the party, wouldn’t make sense to have the small group here, probably shouldn’t this or that or the other thing.
Sometimes this is wisdom. Hosting a birthday party for our son with 12 other four-year-olds in our condo might end me. Having church meetings here can be tricky. And if we want more than six people around our dinner table we are out of luck.
But there are other ways to be hospitable than having the whole Sunday School class over for dinner. Because our home isn’t enormous, our personal space expands into the outdoors, where it becomes public.
When the neighbors walk over and ask what we’re grilling, we throw on extra burgers.
If a friend needs a babysitter, adding one more kid to our brood for the afternoon is easy to do.
We can host the birthday party, we’ll just do it at the picnic table a couple of blocks over.
Mí casa es su casa, even if mí casa es poquito.
9. Make use of lending services
We love our libraries. Love, love, love, love, LOVE. We make use of local Facebook groups where people buy and sell used goods for low prices.
I haven’t gone to a formal event in quite awhile, but when I do I’ll either borrow one or use a rental service so I don’t have to buy a dress I’ll only wear once that’ll take up tons of room in my tiny closet.
Did you know you can subscribe to toy borrowing programs, too? True story!
Think twice about buying something to add to your tiny space.
10. Be proud of your small space
We live in southern California, where housing runs the gamut from VW buses to ginormous beach mansions. Sometimes we feel like we need to apologize for our place. That there aren’t a ton of chairs. That parking is tricky. That we don’t have a guest bedroom with an actual, you know, door on it.
Yet this is the home God has given us, and we are deeply thankful for it. In fact, renting it at all was a miracle borne from a brilliant realtor, some shoestring budgeting, and the love of Jesus. Back in 2014 when we knew we would be moving to California, we had literally only one day to find a place, and God led us to the perfect one. But that’s another story for another time.
Do you have any small space tips? I’d love to learn more!