City Living: How Small is Too Small?

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A while back, the LA Times ran an article about a couple that was living in a 380 sq. foot home in the LA area and I saw it passed around various online sites and communities. Check out the original article here, or Apartment Therapy’s Ohdeedoh coverage here.

The article raised a lot of questions for me.

First of all, is it really necessary that my husband, son, and I share over 2000 square feet of living space?

Second, when we finally purchase or build a home, what sort of square footage is reasonable for our family?

Third, why do we have so much STUFF!?

I have not always lived in large spaces.
Although my family home was large while I was growing up, my parents downsized drastically when I went away to college and I’ve lived in mostly small spaces since. College dorms, my first apartment, and my first Cincinnati apartment were all small and required a lot of creative organizing and storage solutions. (Unlike many of my friends, I wasn’t able to store my things at my parents’ house for the years I was at college and afteward; I had to find a way to either take everything with me or get rid of it.) The apartment I’m in now is really the first place where I can stretch out, put things away, and still have space to spare. It’s glorious!

Is it really necessary?
And no.

I’ve thought a lot before about small living spaces and have always been fascinated by the miracles that modern design can work in a small living space, even for families with multiple children. Japanese design has been doing this for centuries. And, In some ways, I covet both this simple lifestyle and its aesthetic. The absence of possessions is attractive and the use of space is brilliant. Simple, clean, and uncluttered.

But, like the home featured in the LA Times and those I’ve seen here, here, and here, I’ve come to the conclusion that, though small has its perks, small is not always better.

Some thoughts:

– Families like the one living in LA have the availability of an outdoor living space that offers both an escape from the home and a place for their child to play. Without that space, I would presume that the indoor space would feel more restrictive.

– Well-designed small homes with multi-use spaces and creative organizing often require money and design expertise. If not, it’s hard to make a small home look anything but cluttered. Am I the only one who wonders if some of these folks have storage outside of the home, perhaps in a garage, basement, or another facility? Where do they store their Christmas ornaments!

– Okay, I know that the Christmas ornament question is silly, but it brings up a good point. Although I think purging useless junk is a great idea and something we can all learn to do, there is a certain charm to things like family keepsakes, childhood memorabilia, and heirlooms that seem absent in a lot of super-small living spaces. I’m probably one of the least sentimental people on the planet, but I still can’t imagine throwing out my high school photos. I know, I’m probably being foolish…

– In a super-small home, entertaining is often out of the question. My husband and I like having people over for dinner and I couldn’t help but notice that many families living in small spaces have teeny-tiny kitchens with no more than 4-6 tables settings. What if they want to invite another family over for dinner? Do they have to order takeout and ask their guests to bring their own flatware? I threw a 30-person dinner party for my husband’s 30th birthday this past year. Frankly, there was no way in hell I could have done that in a 38o square foot home.

– Lastly, I know that it’s really hip to have only one child (two at the most), but my husband and I hope to be more than a “family of four.” It’s easy to share a small space with an infant, but imagine doing that with four teenagers. Not so practical. A big family, to a certain extent, necessitates a bit of privacy. I’m not suggesting something extravagant, but a little space is nice. Maybe a few doors to close?

So, how small is too small for you?
For your family?
What would you have to give up to live in 380 square feet?

2 thoughts on “City Living: How Small is Too Small?

  1. If you entertain then you need the large common space, most likely centered around the kitchen. The sleeping area can still be small. Kids don't need much space for sleeping, but in the cold-dark winter months it is nice to have a bit of room for them to horseplay. We actually play nerf soccer and basketball in our indestructible living room. We have a loft type space (2,200 SF) and it could fit a family of 6 if needed. As the kids get older we are thinking of subdividing their bedroom into smaller sleeping areas but keeping the bigger open space.Having some private outdoor space makes urban life much more bearable too. Even a 3×6 balcony is enough to sit out and get air or raise some plants.

  2. I grew up in a 2000 sq ft house with 10 people – seven kids, two parents and a grandparent. We had one car, one tv, one couch, one and a half baths. But there was a busline at the end of the street, schools three blocks away, and two great museums within walking distance, In the summer, we walked to the swimming pool and in the winter we walked to a pond to go ice skating. We also had a usable basement. The house seemed plenty big. Now, with only one of my 4 children still at home, we just moved in an attempt to downsize. We weren't very successful – our house is about 1800 SF. It's a bungalow, so the bedrooms upstairs are small, but the first floor is expansive. We still have room for large family meals or parties with a good-sized dining room, and a spare room on the first floor that can be used as slumber-party space, a tv room, or guest room – possibly our bedroom if we get too old to make it up the stairs.

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