Microhomes: A lesson in simple living

Microhomes and creatively built small spaces are becoming more popular in recent times, particularly in places like Japan, Germany, British Columbia, and Poland. Some are as large as 300 square feet, but others are considerably smaller, as tiny as 46 square feet.

Remember the story NPR ran about the Keret House, a very cozy home (by American standards) wedged between two other buildings? The project has been completed (and was built off site as the space was too narrow for construction):

Image credit: Yahoo Homes

Extremely small homes along with compact work spaces seem to be cropping up in New York City, as well. Interior designer, Kittie Lonsdale, not only lives in tiny home, but also specializes in designing them for others. Here, she is in her kitchen, which comes equipped with a slide-out hot plate and refrigerator that’s 19 inches wide:

Image credit: New York Post

You might think that microhomes wouldn’t be as popular as they are because choices for storing things inside them are so significantly limited. However, small spaces may appeal to one’s creative sensibilities and a desire to simplify. Though the majority of us don’t live in tiny homes, we can use some of the small-home concepts to maximize the spaces where we do live.

You don’t have to live in a microhome to creatively store and easily access your most prized (or used) items. You probably wouldn’t have to use every available spot for storage, but you can be more purposeful about keeping your belongings to a reasonable number. Leaving things hanging about (like laundry or paper files) could quickly get out of control in a tiny home or office, so you’re more likely to put things away as a regular practice. Why not keep that same mindset in a larger space?

I suspect that living in a tiny home would make it a bit trickier to entertain, too. On the flip side, not having a large living space would also mean having less stuff (glassware, party supplies) to store and maintain. How many cocktail napkins and special silverware do you really need? And, while a glide out stove may not be necessary, glide out shelves in your kitchen, bathroom, or closet can help you easily reach the things you need when you need them. You can take the DIY route and install them yourself (check out the roll-out cabinet drawers at the Container Store) or have them professionally put in by a company like Shelf Genie.

Image credit: Container Store

While living in a microhome is not for everyone (myself included), the practice of keeping and using what you need and have room for may help you maintain your home more efficiently so you can spend time doing the things you love.

28 Comments for “Microhomes: A lesson in simple living”

  1. posted by Tony on

    Good story line loved the article. Making things easier to get to makes life easier. I looked at both companies you mention in the article and found that installing the roll out cabinet drawers myself was much less expensive and very easy to do. I got mine at http://www.slideoutshelvesllc.com
    The drawers were shipped the next day and I was able to order them to fit my cabinets exactly

  2. posted by Beverly on

    Love Kittie’s apartment and her adopted motto (paraphrased) everything in your house should be useful or beautiful. I salute her and her beautiful home.

  3. posted by guest on

    I have a very small apartment (not micro, just small) and I’ve become obsessed (in a positive way) with multipurpose and not losing any space. I love it and it’s surprisingly cozy.

  4. posted by Jeannette on

    Somewhere between the extremes of McMansions and hoarders and extreme clutter and these “living in a box” examples, has to be a more gracious and physically comforting way to live.

    I get simplicity, paring down. Living with less. No clutter. I do not get and never will, people voluntarily choosing to live (emphasis on voluntarily) full-time in such teeny, tiny spaces–perhaps because I’m a bit claustrophobic. That more and more companies are embracing and that cities are seeking to get this kind of “housing” used by more people is a real concern.

    Adults weren’t meant to live in spaces that are often smaller than the smallest dorm-rooms for extended periods.

    Very unnerving trend. This type of housing is NOT a viable alternative for most human beings. Not by a long shot.

  5. posted by bsand on

    I agree with Jeannette.

    At some point people need to transition out of dorm rooms and into something larger. This is tenement living. There are physical and mental consequences to shoving huge amounts of people into such small spaces.

  6. posted by Mandy on

    Very funny!! An article on downsizing features a picture with 3 sizes of colanders! Really?

  7. posted by ninakk on

    A trend is a trend. I live on 37.5 sqm or 404 sqf and would quite honestly like a bit more room, not to fill it up with more stuff but to have more space around furniture. Cleaning could also be easier.

    I have spent every summer of my childhood on a sailing boat of 32 feet with three other family members, but that works because it is the warm time of year. As soon as rain came to stay for a few days, the tension started to build very slowly.

    I don’t think anyone needs huge mansions with a thousand double-sinked bathrooms etc., but to have at least one room per family member isn’t a crazy thing to ask for. We were four people on three rooms (two bedrooms and a living room), a kitchen and a bathroom, and would definitely have liked one more room. The area we had was 63.5 sqm.

    Again, it is a trend and anyone, who advocates that type of living arrangements is slightly out of touch with what is good for people. It was one heck of a learning experience for sis and I, but I would not necessarily recommend it for others, who have a choice.

  8. posted by Lisa on

    Timely article – I just heard San Francisco is considering changing the building codes to allow micro-apartments (220 sqft). It’s an interesting issue – targeted towards lower rent for people living alone (but still more expense per sqft). I’ll be curious if it works or catches on elsewhere.


  9. posted by María on

    I don’t live in a micro-appartment (60 sqm, one living room, one bedroom, kitchen, and bath) but I share my flat with my boyfriend, our 9-month old baby and two home-offices. We use lots of self-made solutions and are always thinking of new ones, so that we are very interested on articles about “micro-living”. We keep adapting the flat as our son grows, so that we use space in the most optimal way. We “unclutter” regularly and we love it! The funniest thing of all is that at the beginning I lived on my own here and we thought it would be too small for the two of us. 😀

  10. posted by ninakk on

    Microhomes and decluttering excess stuff is really not the same discussion in my opinion. Which discussion does Deb want to initiate?

    I would live in such a small space only if there were no other choices. I couldn’t entertain properly and I couldn’t buy food for a week at a time to reduce costs (the more often I shop the higher my bills are) because the fridge is so small to mention two things. Were I a minimalist, I would still want some space around me rather than walls two feet from me.

  11. posted by Jasi on

    Recently relocated from a large single family home to a smaller town home. We could afford the larger homes but wow!, living in a home that is “us” sized has made life far more enjoyable. At first the layout, light, view and location blew us away but after living here a few months I have to say that our life has greatly improved by the space and community. It’s not a micro house but it’s dwelling in the same idea that sometimes less is really best!

  12. posted by Jasi on

    JUST occurred to me! Are these tiny glass homes more prone to damage and danger having been retrofit with modern materials between older, settled buildings? Storms, quakes, natural traffic vibrations, storms, etc? Bits of debris from other older structures could damage these homes also. Light and air circulation. This might not be a safe or healthy trend, physically as well as psychologically (mentioned above).

  13. posted by Shalin on

    This is a fascinating post. I’ve heard of these narrow-homes in different cities…always wondering when one will pop-up/squeeze-in here in the USA.

    I love small, simple living space – but not narrow ones. I think I’d go nuts. 250-400sq.ft. per person of interior space seems doable, but I’d want exterior space (porch) as well – the less I have of interior, the more exterior I’d need.

  14. posted by susan on

    Just finished a book about a couple who downsized to a 125 sq ft tiny house on wheels.I like clutter free and simple living but I am not going to climb a ladder to go to bed and worse climb down in the middle of the night to pee. I don’t see this working well for elderly or overweight/out of shape folks either.
    Seems like extremes. McMansion are a waste of space and resources but tiny homes are too confining and difficult. I agree with the others, need a nice balance between the two.

  15. posted by Ann on

    Not sure this is my ideal of “uncluttering”. Would hate to be pushed to smaller, smaller smaller….my DH is 6’6″ and small to him is very large to everyone else. We work hard, we pay our taxes, we help the “greater good” (he is a physician at a large metropolitan pubic hospital) and we have a fairly large (there are much larger ones in our area) but uncluttered home. When we were house hunting, room size and ceiling height had a great deal to do with our choice of dwelling. Kind of tired of “see how small we can go” folks. Just saying’.

  16. posted by Andrea Nordstrom on

    As a obsessive purger (if that’s a term for a anti-hoarded), I love this idea. No matter how much I get rid of or cleverly store, there always seems to be too much. I frequently fantasize about selling everything I own and living out of my car, but I think my kids and hubby would have some objections 🙂 Still, these microhomes would be a dream to clean. Imagine, cleaning all your floors in one go with the kitchen sink spray nozzle. Sounds like a dream to me!

  17. posted by squibby on

    My uncluttering is about less stuff and more time spent with family and friends. I couldn’t entertain a quarter of my close family in a home that tiny.

  18. posted by Lena on

    Here’s something that bothers me when I watch the House Hunting shows: People are constantly looking for spare bedrooms or room to entertain. When you consider the extra mortgage payment for that spare bedroom and giant kitchen, you could pay for your out-of-town guests to have a hotel room, or pay for dinner in a restaurant many times over. Especially when you consider how often you actually entertain over the course of a year when you will pay your mortgage payment every month. Space costs money, and your home should work for YOU not people that don’t live to you.

  19. posted by Anita on

    For one person, living alone, no pets, no claustrophobia, and never planning to entertain more than 2-3 people at once, this could work. But as many others mentioned, I doubt most people would see this as a permanent solution – for most of us, life evolves and we need more space. All of us need to find our right balance to avoid both being cramped and slipping into excess.

    For us personally, that’s about 800 sq.ft – with a tiny bathroom, smallish kitchen, and 3 good-sized rooms (living/dining room; office/den/music/guest room; bedroom). We could probably live without the living/dining room, but we enjoy it – we have meals there every day, and we entertain at least once a month. We could get a smaller apartment for about $400 less per month, and lose our entertaining space, but I’d rather have the extra expense and be able to have dinner parties rather be forced to go out to a restaurant any time I want to share a meal with friends. We love cooking and entertaining, so this works for us. On the other hand, our “guest bedroom” is a pull-out couch in the office – we rarely have overnight guests, and when we do, it’s rarely for more than 1 night, so no point in setting aside more space.

    It’s all about one’s needs and how one chooses to structure one’s life. Formal living and dining rooms that are never used make me sad, but so does the idea of having to limit my social circle because I can’t have more than 3 people in my home at any given time.

  20. posted by Rae on

    I’m a big fan of the ‘Not So Big House’ concept that favours quality of space over quantity and designing your home to meet your needs.

    Until I read these books and dealt with my clutterbug tendencies, it never occurred to me that I could live in a very small space.

    When I decided to move into an RV, I carefully analysed my lifestyle and personality so that I could create my nearly perfect microhome, which has about 125 square feet.

    I have never been one to entertain, so I don’t need any really public space, so I took out the dinette and eat at the counter. I also replaced two armchairs with just one. But I work from home, so having a dedicated office with a big desk was a priority. I love to cook, so I made sure I got a rig with bigger than standard appliances. I don’t want my bed to be visible during the day, but I don’t want to have to pack it up, so I sleep on the platform above the cab.

    Who I am and what I value is very clear from the minute anyone walks in the door to my home.

    Microliving is definitely not for everyone, but if you are tempted by having less space (and stuff) to maintain, an analysis of your lifestyle could bring revelations about what you truly need to live your life to its full potential and what is just superfluous.

  21. posted by Nicleau on

    One of the things that bothers me about this trend is the economic consequence of viewing living spaces as nothing more than a place to store a working adult. We must have homes that have room for people who do not contribute financially to the home: children, an elderly parent (or two), someone with a disability, etc. As the spaces get smaller, the economics change and it’s assumed that there is a working adult in every bedroom. In some places, like here in metropolitan BC, it’s becoming harder and harder to have enough space to raise a family or take care of elderly parents because the premium on space is too high. Choices like these have all kinds of unintended consequences.

  22. posted by Erik on

    I live in a micro condo (242 sq. ft.) with my girlfriend. There was definitely an adjustment period. Once you settle in, it’s really nice. I took the mind set of only having my favorite things. Lots of stuff is multi-purpose and I find myself buying a lot less stuff. Whenever I do buy something, I focus more on quality vs. quantity. An added bonus is that it forces us to talk through any arguments as there’s no “other room” to walk off to when you’re mad.

  23. posted by Hostinsight on

    Silly question.. why would you need 3 colanders?

  24. posted by Ottawa Self Storage Specialist on

    Do you think having a smaller space will stop you from doing your routine? I used to live on a bigger home but I learned to adjust eventually. I actually enjoy small spaces because I can utilize every single side. Everything is within reach and I can practice my organization skills well.

  25. posted by Grad Student on

    I would love to have a mini-apartment. However, I am a broke grad student paying $1000+ per month on loans for a New York apartment with an obnoxious roommate, literally no sunlight ever, and cockroaches. Unfortunately, with all the factors involved, I can’t move anytime soon (I’ve tried, trust me). In a rental market where apartments are rented within hours of being listed, to have a space of my own, with light, and with a significantly lower rent is something I dream of every day, and I wouldn’t mind giving up space to get it (within reason… maybe somewhere in the 200 sq ft range). So for me, a micro-apartment would be wonderful…but only for the next year and a half or so before I finish my degree. Overall, I think that micro-apartment studios would be a great option for many single students.

  26. posted by klutzgrrl on

    I’m another who couldn’t live in this space full-time (I think) but there’s so many plusses as well. Especially if it’s modern and well designed (rather than a cramped old ‘bedsit’). I long to live in the mountains, but work and family means this will probably not be possible. While city housing is horribly expensive, having a ‘microhome’ plus a small cottage in the mountains might not be out of the question one day. Best of both worlds!

    As pointed out in the blog, I think there’s a lot of good design ideas that can emerge from this intensely small scale – a bit like a poet learning economy of words from a Haiku. My own modest kitchen would be so much more enjoyable with properly designed storage!

  27. posted by Linda on

    The image is pure propaganda for the liquor industry. Check out her shelves.

  28. posted by klutzgrrl on

    a few bottles of wine and gin and it’s liquor industry propaganda? You must have a sheltered life, Linda. Either that or I should post a photo of my pantry and demand sponsorship….

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