I’ve been living in a 35-square-meter (375-square-foot) one-bedroom apartment here in Chiang Mai, Thailand since September 2017. So we’re talking eight months of experiencing what it’s like to live in a very small space.
On top of that, my significant other, Oh, has been spending a rather substantial amount of time with me at the apartment, especially over the last two months.
Now, this isn’t as extreme as people living in an RV or a tiny house. It’s not #vanlife. We have some breathing room. And we can walk around comfortably.
Still, 375 square feet is incredibly small by American standards.
But we’re surviving in this small space.
Strike that. Actually, we’re thriving.
My girlfriend would probably argue that a slightly bigger space wouldn’t be a bad idea (she lives in a house when she’s not staying with me), but she has said many times that she’s very comfortable in the apartment. And she’ll likely be living in the apartment full time sooner rather than later.
To that end, we’ve been taking some time lately to shop around for an even better apartment (which has been really tough to find), but she’ll be the first to automatically rule out apartments that are much larger. And that’s awesome. Thus far, the most likely conclusion to the shopping around is that we’ll stay where we’re at, but it’s nice to take a look around at least occasionally just to get a pulse on the local market’s options and valuations.
A small apartment is, for me, the central focus of my life. It’s the nucleus. It’s what everything else radiates out from. Without being able to thrive in a small space, many other aspects of my life would be more difficult.
By living small, I consume far less resources (money, time, energy, etc.) across the spectrum of my life. This frees me up to allocate these same resources toward more meaningful pursuits.
That all said, thriving in a small space isn’t automatically guaranteed – even for someone who is naturally inclined toward downsizing.
There are a few tips and tricks that help us live very comfortably and happily in what’s a relatively small space.
And I want to take some time today to share five tips that I think are particularly helpful.
Let’s take a look…
The Right Layout
Layout is always important.
But it’s especially important when you’re working with little space.
There’s no right or wrong answer to this per se, but I think the best layout is one that’s as open as possible. That means less walls, less doors, and less nooks and crannies.
This will give the illusion of more space. Plus, you’ll have more area to walk around in, which just makes you feel less cramped.
Although our apartment is small, it feels way more spacious than what 375-square-foot apartment would in the States.
That’s because the Thai apartment is small where it should be and big where it needs to be.
No massive kitchen, for instance. And the bedroom isn’t huge, either.
We spend most of our waking time in the living area, as do most people. And this area is wide open, very airy, and quite bright. Natural light is just awesome, so the placement of windows is something you should always be mindful of.
An open layout also allows for maximum usable space(because you can’t really use a wall for much). That simultaneously limits clutter (because there’s more area for utility).
And this brings me to the next tip.
Keep Your Space Clean And Uncluttered
Again, this is something that’s true for any space. Being a slob in a 2,000-square-foot home isn’t much better than being a slob in a 500-square-foot studio.
However, clutter and uncleanliness is magnified in a small space.
If I just have one article of clothing on my couch, you can see that from every angle in the apartment.
Likewise, keeping something in the middle of the floor crowds the walking space from just about every possible entry and exit point across the apartment.
It’s absolutely crucial to keeping a small space clean and orderly. This will make the space seem bigger and more comfortable.
A lack of clutter clears your physical space and your mind at the same time. It’s less noise. Less static. Less stress.
Furthermore, one of the main benefits of living in a small space is ridding yourself of a bunch of unnecessary stuff in your life, which frees up resources for far more meaningful usage.
And so taking advantage of that by spending a lot less time cleaning and keeping organized is straightforward. De-cluttering your life is something that feeds into itself. The less stuff you have, the smaller the space you have to work with, the easier it is to keep clean and make it look larger than it is.
When I moved to Thailand, everything I owned fit inside of two small bags. And I have yet to accumulate anything that couldn’t fit back into those same two bags.
Having Individual Space
This won’t matter too much if you’re living completely alone.
But even if you’re single, the odds are pretty good that you’re going to have friends and/or dates over at least occasionally.
Well, having individual space of some kind makes living in a small space much more enjoyable.
For example, when we’re at home together, Oh will spend time on the couch browsing her phone while relaxing. And I’ll be over at the table/desk, checking on things from my computer.
We’re not far away. But we’re far enough apart to where we’re not breathing down each other’s necks 24/7.
This makes the occasions much more special when we are closer, which is obviously quite often in a small space.
Spending A Lot Of Time Outside
I noted before that one of the biggest reasons I’m so much more extroverted in Thailand is because of the smaller living spaces. A small living space practically begs you to get out of your place and interact with the world.
Well, spending limited time at home is practically vital to thriving in a small space, especially over the long run.
If you’re spending almost all of your time at home, where your space is only a few hundred square feet or so, you’ll almost certainly eventually be miserable. You’ll feel confined and restricted. Your entire world will shrink. And that’s coming from a hardcore minimalist who really cherishes the lifestyle.
I believe one reason houses in the USA are so large is because people are just holing themselves up at home when they’re not at work. Americans are busy working, so they see home as a refuge of sorts to escape to. You want to spend your weekend in your large house, protecting yourself from the world. It then becomes about the big house, the big TV, the big kitchen, the big garage, etc. You build your own world to insulate yourself.
But it’s a very different dynamic when you’re a minimalist who’s financially independent.
If you don’t have an unpleasant job to come home from, you’re instead looking for an opportunity to leave your small space and spend time in the world and get after your passions in life.
To that point, the time one spends out in the world is very different at that point because of those different dynamics playing out. It’s a massive change in my life that has made me far more happy and far less cynical in life.
Now, “outside” may mean nature. Or it may mean the city you live in. As an urbanist, it’s the latter for me. Either way, the key is to avoid spending too much time in your small living space.
The Right Furniture
Last but certainly not least, furnishing your space with the right equipment is super important.
Aesthetics is a personal call.
But I think no matter what look you’re going for (I prefer small, light-colored furnishings), you should aim to have furniture that can serve multiple purposes.
For example, our dining room table doubles as my desk. In fact, I use it almost exclusively as a desk (since we eat out of the apartment pretty much 100% of the time).
Oh, and I found this small backless bench in the apartment, that is supposed to be used as a seating surface for a vanity in the bedroom. Well, that now serves mostly as an ottoman.
The small entertainment center where our small television sits doubles as a storage area.
I could go on.
If you’re living in a small space (under, say, 500 square feet), you should make sure furniture can almost always serve more than one purpose. That’s especially helpful if more than one person is going to be living there (which will likely double storage/utility concerns).
I absolutely love living in a very small space. We’re totally thriving in under 400 square feet.
Doing well in a small space like this makes everything else in my life tick just right. A small living space is the center of a holistic lifestyle that’s designed to maximize time, freedom, options, and authenticity.
Speaking of maximizing, minimalism’s name belies its true power: maximizing everything worthwhile in your life.
However, all of this is possible largely because of the above tips and tricks I use to completely and delightfully thrive (not just survive) in a relatively small apartment.
What do you think? Do you also live in a very small space? Agree with the above? Any tips or tricks that you believe are helpful?
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you’re interested in becoming financially independent at a young age, check out some amazing resources that personally helped me become financially free in my early 30s!