Opting to stay in a small urban space

The New York Times recently published the article “Move Up? Move Out? Families Squeeze In” on the topic of middle-class families choosing to live in small urban spaces.

“There seems to be a large contingent who don’t move to the suburbs anymore,” Mr. [Andrew A.] Beveridge [a demographer at Queens College of the City University of New York] said. “Oftentimes both parents are working and have lives in the city and don’t want to commute in and then worry about having to get back home. There is a much bigger traction to city life.”

The article looks at families in New York City and San Francisco who live in one bedroom apartments with at least one child. Clutter and stuff in general is eschewed since there simply isn’t space for it.

Setting up a one-bedroom home for a family of four is not easy. In the making-space-out-of-nothing department, Dina Weiss and Jason Severs are master illusionists. A walk-in closet in their one-bedroom co-op on the Lower East Side was converted to a nursery in 2005, when their son, Sam, was born. But when their daughter, Matilda, followed 19 months later, they gave up their master bedroom for the children to share.

“We don’t feel like we’ve compromised,” Ms. Weiss, 35, a part-time teacher, said on a recent tour of their bright, clutter-free home. The couple sleep in the 8-by-9-foot former closet that housed their first baby. It is now a cozy cabin with a wall of built-ins and a queen-size bed tucked into the shelves. “We’d rather have another bathroom,” she added. “In New York people will do anything to have an extra bathroom.”

The article is inspiring and does a nice job exploring the possibilities of small-space living.

Image by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times.

26 Comments for “Opting to stay in a small urban space”

  1. posted by Rue on

    When you have a closet that’s as big as a small bedroom like that family does, that might work. But what if you only have one bedroom and a regular-sized closet? I don’t foresee that working out very well. =\ Although I do know a family of five who live in a two-bedroom mobile home. All the (high-school and college-age) kids share one bedroom and the parents have the other.

    It was definitely a neat idea to use the closet for the baby, though. Baby doesn’t need much except for a crib/bassinet, and that would easily fit into that closet!

  2. posted by Chris on

    This is interesting. We live in an apartment in the UK and always though that we would move to somewhere bigger when we have children. Once the kids get older I would think you would need more space. It certainly is a way to get them to learn about being an unclutterer from an early age!

    You grow in to any space you have so keeping it small is refreshing, and you realise how you don’t need or use most of your ‘stuff’ anyway.

  3. posted by Brenna Kater, the Ocean Skater on

    Great article! Thanks for the heads up 🙂

  4. posted by Another Deb on

    Everything is a trade-off. For cities like San Francisco and New York, I can understand the choice to have a very small home. Parks are great! Museums, restaurants, take-out, laundries, taxis, train stations,subways, markets, galleries are all there to use. This is why we love to visit both cities.

    What do you do with winter and summer wardrobes in New York? Is this why New Yorkers only have about ten pieces of clothing and they are all black?

  5. posted by timgray on

    There are other advantages. Why spend $2500 to $4500 a month on your mortgage when you can spend $1800.00 on a small urban condo or apartment and bank the rest?

    I’d rather bank the cash than hope that real estate becomes a high paying investment again. Also living smaller cuts your other bills as well giving you even more money to put in your savings.

  6. posted by becoming minimalist on

    timely post – raking my suburban yard for three hours this past saturday afternoon got me thinking about some of the benefits to living in an apartment in the city…

  7. posted by sharon on

    When I was in Poalnd, I went to plenty of small apartments with only 1 bedroom and had 4 or 5 people living there. The place is very efficient and storage is everywhere! The parents sleep in the living room in a fold out couch.

    We have 2000 sf with 3 people but my kids spend most of their time in the family room with me.

  8. posted by Kim Woodbridge on

    Interesting article. I live in Philadelphia and wouldn’t want to leave the city for the suburbs. My daughter and I live in a 2 bedroom apartment with a lot of storage space, which seems luxurious compared to the size of the apartments these people are living it. We don’t really use my bedroom either – we are usually in the living room or the kitchen. If my rent weren’t such a good deal I would definitely consider moving to a smaller apartment.

  9. posted by Amy on

    My husband and I have 3 kids (and a big dog) living in a 900 sq ft 2 bedroom apartment that is smaller than my last apartment, but we have to make it work because the housing is provided by my job. It is a blessing financially, but it can be hard to get used to. We are so much better now about controlling clutter though.

  10. posted by allen on

    two things:
    8×9 foot closet?? WOW! large! That’s larger then most bedroom-propers i have had in my short life!

    They can’t keep this up for long. They have a boy & a girl. In our culture, there are going to be problems before too long.

  11. posted by DJ on

    We lived in a very small apartment for years and years, but once the children got to be teenagers, it became a nightmare of arguments and huge lines for the bathroom.

    We miss living in an area we love, but we are enjoying finally having space.

  12. posted by farmwife on

    FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS a month for rent????
    That is flat out insanity. I am just amazed. No wonder incomes have to be so high there.

    I think I’ll stay in the country. And btw — raking leaves is great exercise 🙂

  13. posted by Kelly from Almost Frugal on

    We have lived in a 650 sq ft house for six and a half years now, and we now have three kids. We make it work for all the reasons cited in the article, and also because we live in a house and pay an insanely small rent. From the pictures it looks like all these people have more room than we do! But I love our little house, and don’t want to move anytime soon. So I read Unclutterer…

  14. posted by Anita on

    We live in Denver in a smaller condo (910 sqft), so it’s not as small as some apartments, but people still think we’re crazy for living here with a family. We only have one son right now, but we are already thinking about what we can do to his bedroom to make it double kid friendly. Who needs more space? You just fill it with more stuff so you wouldn’t have that much more room anyway!

  15. posted by Louise on

    Our bedroom is 8 x 7, our bathroom is 8 x 8, our kitchen is 8 x 6, and our living area is 8 x 19. 8 feet wide, 40 feet long, 8 wheels underneath. We chose this small living space so we can live anywhere, anytime!

    One of the nice things about being used to the tiny footprint is that when we are ready to move back into a big city, we’ll be happy with a studio apartment. That will open up more neighborhoods and make them affordable.

  16. posted by John of Indiana on

    $4,000 a month? For RENT? That’s more than my gross un-adjusted income.
    Insane.
    I have 675 square feet that costs me $425 a month. Of course, it’s a bit of a drive to find a $14 cuppacawfee…

    What’s the going rate for burger-flippers there, $79,000 a year?

  17. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    I love the idea of making the large closet a room for a baby, but how do you change the sheets on a queen sized bed “tucked into the shelves?” Must be extremely annoying!

  18. posted by Sky on

    Oh how I long to live in 600 square feet. My home is 1800 square feet and way too big for two people. Less space = less stuff, less maintenance, lower utility bills and more free time. The catch is….my house is worth less everyday and nothing is selling.
    Maybe I should rent half of it!

  19. posted by Carla on

    In a space like that, I kind of wonder how I will cook (more than just a simple, heat-up type meal) sew projects that cannot be put away until its completed and so on. I guess it works for some people. The two of us are living in a “moderate” space, not too big, not too small, but we do yearn for a second bathroom.

  20. posted by Jack on

    While out here in AZ for college, I found out that some of my fellow students had found a great way for beer money. Eight of them rented a studio apartment and they all got 2″ futon mattresses (twin size) and rolled them up at night. A piece of duct tape with their name on it helped identify the rolls when they were leaning in the closet.

    None of them had much stuff, and they were all very social, so there was usually only six there on any given night.

  21. posted by Dream Mom DBA www.dreamorganizers.com on

    I just love reading stories like this. Currently I live in a small space, 750-800 square feet and I love it. I have large rooms however due to space constraints, I do think about everything that comes through the door. The interesting thing is that you can still live beautifully, clutter free but the amount of time you have versus keeping up a larger space is insane. I second the amount of time you have to do other activities as a family when you are not doing all of the upkeep items. You can upkeep and clean a small place a lot easier than a large one. I used to have a 1750 square foot home complete with a full size basement. It was lovely however the time to upkeep it took a fair amount of time. I still enjoyed it nonetheless but I have learned to appreciate small space living as well.

    Having a small space forces you to make decisions on what is important to you. Recently, I moved my treadmill to the garage since they built a beautiful new fitness center here. That is free and I also have a beautiful walking trail that surrounds the golf course and nature area that I use almost daily. If after six months, I determine that the fitness center is working out just fine, I’ll sell the treadmill. A small space forces you to “pare down” otherwise you will have a cluttered space.

    One other interesting thing is that if people are really interested in being “green”, small space living goes a long way to accomplishing that. Less space equals less energy used and a reduction in consumption and purchases. I am always taken aback sometimes, when I go into a client with homes with larger square footage and they are concerned with being green. They often are very large consumers with supersize quantities of back up supplies and supersize collections, etc.

    I think an easy way to move to small space living, it to reduce your current size home by 25%. You’ll still reap the advantages and it will give you an opportunity to see what it’s like.

  22. posted by Andamom on

    Okay. The writers of Unclutterer already know my story – but for everyone else, here goes:

    Our family of 4 (2 parents, 1 14-year-old girl, and 1 2.5-year-old boy) live in a 907 square foot apartment in NYC (Brooklyn precisely).

    There are 2 bedrooms: 1 for the teenager and 1 for the rest of us. Our daughter uses her room to practice in and has a different sleep schedule than the toddler – so we’re just trying to ensure that each of the children have the right balance individually.

    There is 1 bathroom, 1 galley kitchen, 1 hall (which takes up space), and 1 everything else room (parlor, guest room, tv/entertainment room, living room, dining room, study/library, playroom, and office).

    We go through our belonging regularly (don’t wear all black contrary to the joking post above), select objects that have multiple purposes, scan files in so that the data/files are accessible in soft copy (music, video, photos, documents, etc.), and so forth. I’m into donating and there’s always a pile ready to give to friend, family, and the Salvation Army.

    An extra bathroom would be amazing – but we’re making out okay. Heck, a family in our building is due with their third child any day now and lives in a 2 bedroom 790 square foot apartment. And yes, we’ve had sleepovers for my daughter’s birthday wherein there were 17 girls in sleeping bags in our everything room (furniture had to be moved of course).

  23. posted by Sidra on

    I’m reading this blog for the first time today, and I’m back for the second time tonight. Love it so much. I’m 24 and I’ve never had my own room. Same with my teenage brothers. Anyway I’ve noticed that my brothers, while annoying, are very good at compromising on things…I wonder if people who live in such quarters have better marriages when they grow up.

  24. posted by Windy on

    We are so inspired and will be downsizing even more to about a 900 to 1000 sq ft home. Family of 4. Our goal is to live debt free basically and enjoy the lack of stress of a mortgage. Not to mention less stress on me for cleaning up. We plan on our 8 and 4 year old daughters sharing a room. Their beds will be placed on a platform (thanks to my fil who makes furniture) and beneath the beds will be a toy storage/bean bag sitting and reading area for the girls with a curtain beneath for privacy if they desire to close it. They are soo excited about that! With this crazy economy, I think it’s wise for all of us to wake up and realize we can comfortably live with a bit less. If a Great Depression did hit again, I’d love to be one of those people sitting in a paid for home that my friends may have thought we were crazy for buying lol.

  25. posted by EngineerMom on

    My husband and I live with our 7-month-old son in a 700-sqft, 1-bedroom apartment. We picked the apartment when we first got married because we love the neighborhood (4 coffeeshops, 1 grocery store, 1 co-op, 1 library, 1 hardware store, 2 bookstores, and many restaurants within a 1-mile radius). When I got pregnant (not exactly planned!), we couldn’t move because of finances.

    We’d like to get a small house someday with at least 3 bedrooms because we’d like to have 4 kids and want the boys and girls to have separate bedrooms, if we end up with kids of both genders. I want enough space for a vegetable garden, but what’s nearby is more important to us than what’s on our land.

  26. posted by Downsizer Mom on

    I loved this post! We have downsized from 3,000sq ft to 2,000 sq ft and now we are heading to 1500 or so. 2 adults, 4 kids all under age 9. I am thrilled at the thought of having less ‘work’ to do maintaining the house, yard etc. We spend the majority of the time at school, work, church functions, sports/dance activities etc. And when we are home the kids don’t ever play in the rooms, they want to be with us in the kitchen living room. I just hope I don’t get a lot of flack from family about kids ‘needing their space’ etc.

    Love the blog!

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