How To Live In 400SQ Feet

I’ve always been blessed with large living spaces – at least relative to where I’m at in my life and where I live. In Toronto I had an apartment of over 1200sq feet which I shared with my roommate and her giant Husky/German Shepard dog Kessel.

When I moved to Halifax I lived in a 2 story house that was at least 1600sq feet. I spent 4 years of my life living in large spaces that I always felt the need to fill out and personalize and have things for these areas. Which is fine because I like things – I wouldn’t say I’m a minimalist or a maximalist. I like spaces that are filled well and with purpose. I find empty space almost eerie, but cluttered space claustrophobic.

Then I moved into a bachelor apartment. I went from at least 5 rooms to live in to one giant one – two if you count the bathroom. I moved because of necessity for my resources and emotional health. Before I would have never considered it – I always felt that having separate rooms was entirely necessary. I didn’t know how I would function in a “confined” living space. Turns out I’m the most functional.

My couch has a storage under the seat where I put all of my extra blankets and bedding, and is far enough from the floor to store large floor cushions under. I don’t have space for an arm chair in my home so I rock with the bohemian seating a lot – especially if I have large groups of people over and put my bed away for more floor space.

PROS + Challenges TO SMALL SPACES

I know that usually it’s a pros and cons list, but in this case don’t have any cons – just challenges and I don’t feel like they deserve to be painted in a negative light.

PROS

  • Helps curate a cohesive theme throughout home and life – for me this means colours, textures, and shapes.
  • Keep things practical – I do a lot of things so what I find “practical” is quite a large list, but I have to think a lot about what I need, the size of it, how much I’m going to use it, and the best place to put it
  • Organization – small spaces almost force you to be organized. I thought I was an organized person before, but it has only been highlighted since moving as I have to use my space efficiently but also have so much exposed. This has made me aware of how I organize and I find myself always moving things around and finding new “homes”
  • Ease of access – everything is accessible. If i need to get water in the middle of the night I only have to walk across the room. Cleaning is easy because it’s essentially one room and I find I keep things at a higher standard regularly. I make it a part of my daily living routine to do the dishes, sweep, make my bed, and put things away because it gets cluttered easily.
  • I get more laundry done! I have laundry in my apartment which is so convenient, but also means I don’t have a laundry basket. I put my clothes and cloths in the washer and when it’s full I start it. I don’t have pile ups that take hours to get through because I simply don’t have the space for it.
  • I’m the only person accountable for my space. When I moved I wasn’t sure if I was disillusioned about my ability to take care of myself and how messy I really was, but I found I was pleasantly surprised by my routine and ability to take care of a space. I had sold myself short in how much work I had done cleaning up after other people and find the small, private space incredibly easy to keep track of.
  • I eat more meals at home. Knowing that all the food is mine, and also paying more for rent makes me aware of what my finances are in other situations. I’m never in someone else’s way or doing something too early or late. I’m able to lean into my personal schedule and habits more.

CHALLENGES

  • I find placing art is difficult in a small space – I’m a person who changes my furniture around a lot. An obscene amount. Every week something is repurposed and because of this I’m very aware of where I hang things and putting holes in my walls. I often opt for spaces and pieces that I can lean against a wall or in a corner and layer with each other.
  • Mess – when my spaces are a mess it affects my mental and emotional states. Sometimes even being in a good place and coming home to a messy apartment can send me into a bit of a spiral. Because everything is in such close quarters it’s easy to leave a couple dishes or have my bed undone or my pile of discards from getting dressed be something thats overwhelming. It’s taught me to deal with things immediately but also to understand that things seem larger than they are. This has come with the knowledge that any mess is less significant than it feels and usually takes me less than 5 minutes to do.
  • I’m less inclined to leave my apartment. I love the energy and curation of the space and it has everything I need. Being someone that works from home 5 days a week makes it easy to hermit myself. But once I find myself at a cafe or the library I find it equally as challenging to leave.
  • Procrasticleaning – procrastinating by cleaning. There is no reprieve from anything in my home so if I wake up and everything is in order then I’m in good shape to hop out of bed and get to work. But if I’ve gone to bed and my apartment is untidy or I still have dishes I find it hard to close my eyes to it even when I have motivation to do work.
  • Responsibility – I’m the only person to take out the garbage, to pay the bills, to make sure everything is in on time. At first this felt like a lot of pressure, but I realized that it’s the same as being accountable with another person. Switching my mentality from being scared to being empowered was a huge step for me and now I realize that I’m more stable only having to worry about my own finances instead of my own and the stability of another persons.

HACKS

Living small has given me a lot of insight into how to do this efficiently. If you know me well, you know I love anything that functions well – especially if it’s also aesthetically pleasing.

MAKE USE OF EVERY SPACE – My closet has a double door that opens up and reveals its entirety. It has only one rack for jackets and clothes, one row of 4 cubicles for other clothing, a shelf mid-way up and just above the clothing rack. It didn’t have a light so the hall light needed to be turned on to see everything in it. I added a shoe rack, a hanging basket to the shelf to put outdoor accessories, put felt baskets in all of the cubbies, a hanging coat rack on the front of one and the back of the other door (so that I can put my coats in the closet and have one outside for guests and things I wear often), added a cutlery organizer for an open display of jewellery and accessories, stuck in a mirror and a small lamp and soon my half functional closet was fully operating with storage space to spare for things like Fo’s Fresh Finds, my suitcase, and vacuum.

FIND YOUR TEXTURES + COLOURS – I have 6 of the same wooden bowls scattered throughout my apartment with different uses – one in my bathroom for hair pins and lip chap, in my front hall for keys and wallets, in my kitchen for garlic and ginger, on my shelf with different rocks and gemstones. I find that this cohesiveness pulls together the apartment. I love rich textures and tones that aren’t too heavy for the space – lots of blue, mustard yellow, copper, white, and grey. This also has translated into colours I find in my wardrobe as well – I feel like a living part of my apartment, or more, it is an external extension of myself. The ottoman for my couch actually sits in my front hall filled with extra books and acts as a place to sit when you’re putting on your shoes.

FUNCTIONAL DETAILS – I’m a big fan of plants. I love them and essentially want my home to look and feel like a royal jungle. A lot of my details come from plants and the unique pots they’re put in. I’m also a huge reader so I use a lot of my books to add depth and colour into spaces. I have a large assortment of candles which I frequently use to create mood and that are a part of my routine – if I wake up early I light candles instead of turning on a light. I will light them at the end of the night to signify wind down time for myself.

DISPLAY YOURSELF – As I mentioned earlier my home is an extension of myself. I have a lot of eclectic hobbies and interests that are a part of who I am. In a small home I find it’s better and easier to display these things than to hide them away. I have a shelf dedicated to my tarot cards, crystals, and other wiccan necessities (you can read more about that here). My books are everywhere, my bar and vintage glasses are on display, my bulletin board is a mishmash of art from friends and my inspirations – things that I use daily and are a part of who I am are highlighted. This also has the added benefit of giving me reminders and emphasis on the parts of myself that I want to work on and that make me feel whole. It’s easy to lose track of what makes you who you are, and in a small space it forces you to choose – to let go and do the work.

MOVE WITH YOUR SPACE – I find that with every new event in my home or piece that is added there is something that needs to shift. There is always a better home or a different way to utilize a piece in your space. I have a barstool that I got for 3$ at a thrift store that has been a stool, a mini bar, a plant stand, a night stand… And it’s function is always changing and evolving because its such a versatile and easy piece to move. When you live by yourself in a small space it’s always an act of tetris to find where things fit the best and function the best.


All in all I think that living in a condensed space is a good experience for anyone. It helps you understand and formulate your habits, dictate what is important to you, and find a cohesive style that can evolve with you.

Making the best use of your space can be hard at first, but I have seen my ability to assess what I really need heighten and find full function in everything I have. I’ve found I’m less distracted by mundane things or avoidant of my hobbies and passions and instead find a lot more time to justify them.

The time I get to spend alone and in my own energy puts me in a position to be more social and have more energy on a regular basis because I’m not putting energy into my relationships in my living situations. I would never take back my experiences with roommates as I believe they taught me a lot about compassion, compromise, and responsibility and helped me form healthy habits that have carried over into independent living. That being said, I don’t think I would ever live with someone else outside of a partner again.

I think I have reframed my idea of luxury being a lot of space to being functional space. Coming home to somewhere that is entirely my own is the greatest gift and feels luxurious in a way that is understated in a society that us we need more more more or, on the opposite side, the least amount we can have as possible. I think it’s a testament to ones own ego and sense of responsibility to see what it really takes from a time, mental, and financial stand point to live alone and maintain that space. You have to be accountable for everything that does and doesn’t happen because there is no where else to put the blame – including if the energy of your home doesn’t feel right. In less than 400sq feet, there is no where to run or hide.

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