A Dozen Other Places Doesn’t Exist in a Small Home

Photo Courtesy of Mother Earth News, by Kevin Pieper

One thing that is hard about living in a small house is trying to explain to people just how small 480-square feet really is.

Yesterday, a new friend of Living Large on our Facebook page, wrote in response to seeing Dale’s potting table creation: “Great job; now see if you can interest him in making another one, perhaps narrower, to go behind your couch! Or any of another dozen places!”

After I finished LOL at the phrase, “Or any of another dozen places,” I wrote that there isn’t room for one more stick of furniture in Our Little House.

In response, another friend wrote: “Do you have an island for the kitchen area?”

Another LOL. Yes, it’s called the sofa (which doubles as a pull out bed for guests)!

I’m used to this type of reaction when I try to describe the space we have in Our Little House. Most people can’t fathom the scale of a space that was probably the size of many people’s first apartment – or smaller.

I still have friends who have never been here who ask me about certain pieces I had, or my mother had and when I tell them I just don’t have room for them, they look at me with a blank expression.

“Well, can’t you just put it….” Ultimately ending with someplace that doesn’t exist, like the “dining room,” or “hallway.”

And then there is the friend who sent me the huge sofa sized painting, one larger than any wall in Our Little House.

As you can see by the above photo, which was featured in the article about our home in Mother Earth News, Dale is sitting at the kitchen table, just a few feet from me in the living room. In front of him, not more than 3-4 feet away, out of the photo is the kitchen sink and refrigerator.

Behind the photographer is the bathroom and pantry/laundry room. To the left is the bedroom, which measures 10 x 10.

So believe me when I say there isn’t room in a little or tiny dwelling for sofa tables, islands or hall trees.

I wish I did, I have plenty of beautiful furniture we no longer have room for that I would love to display, including a butcher block of my mother’s that she used as an island and my china cabinet and huge kitchen table.

But it is a trade-off, this small house living, and it’s why small home dwellers embrace the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

For Our Little House, it not only must be beautiful as well as functional, but tiny too. There’s no luxury of having one or the other.

If you live in a small space, what is the biggest misconception you face about the size of your home? If you don’t live in a small space, what do you believe to be true about a small space?

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66 Responses

  1. Georgia says:

    I love your website, Just came across it in a search for living small. We are moving from Seattle (2000sqft home, 3b/2ba) to Portland, to an 810sqft 2b/1ba apartment – with 2 active small children & 2 big dogs …

    • Kerri says:

      Congratulations, Georgia, on the Living Large lifestyle! I’m so glad you found us and our little community! If you’re on Facebook, feel free to join us there too!

  2. Kate S. says:

    I live in an 880 square foot cottage with my husband, 3 (going on 4) children and dog. I grew up in a HUGE 11 room farmhouse with my parents and 4 siblings. Having come from a large family/extended family, I am often offered hand-me-downs and various nick nacks, etc. I’ve had to say no. “Well, can’t you just put it away?” No, I cannot. I have NO ROOM! My husband and I sleep in a 7×9 foot bedroom. My children share the larger master bedroom. We have 1 bathroom (which often involves the potty trained menfolk of the family to use the outdoors). We have a galley kitchen, a centralized dining room, and a decent sized living room. The homeschool room is in the enclosed front porch. Thankfully, we have a semi-usable basement which houses a small playroom, hubby’s man cave, some storage and a laundry area. (It is also being used a duck hospital as one of our ducks fell ill.)

    With 3 children (as I said before, going on 4), they tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. I am constantly purging and “rearranging messes” to make room and keep it neat. The cottage is easy to clean, but easy to get dirty, too. Privacy? Virtually none.

    We are looking to move as 3 boys and 1 girl sharing one bedroom isn’t going to work out forever. As it is, as soon as my oldest outgrows the toddler-sized bunk bed, we don’t have room for a twin sized bunk bed. We also want more land to start our farm. I am shying away from those gigantic old farmhouses.

  3. amy says:

    “Studios’ common in Victoria BC. Lived in one while going to university. Shared bathroom, living/sleeping room and miniscule kitchen off to one side. Small but enough. Get sick of the main room you could always go sit in the small kitchen at the table 🙂 Perfect for one.

    Retirement not far off and looking into a bit of land and perhaps a ‘container house’ to be the foundation. http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/SciTech/20090614/ideakit_homes_090614/ Win/win as cheap, creative and afford us to do some travel, my dream 🙂

  4. Living in a small space certainly puts things in perspective, especially after having lived in a “normal” space for years. I live in a two-room house, by choice, and lack nothing. In fact, I have found that I have more peace of mind. I realized this last spring, when we had severe flooding. It came close, but I had so little to lose and not even the sensation that I would lose anything. As long as I could keep myself, the cat and dog safe, nothing was lost. And this is it, precisely, living small changes our attachment to things. We cherish the afternoon reading in the corner chair, for the peace of the moment and the joy of reading, not because of the chair! It is a matter of personality though and I think that at some point in life everybody downsizes some aspect of their circumstances; sometimes it is their living quarters, sometimes it is how much time we spend at work.

    • Kerri says:

      That is a very good point about downsizing some aspect of our life at some point. Yes, I think when you have less to worry about, you are able to live in the moment more, like with sitting reading a book. 🙂 Thanks for chiming in!

  5. sarah henry says:

    So do you find that since you have to be so efficient and economical with space that you don’t lose things — where are my keys/glasses/purse etc. — because everything has a place?

  6. Gosh, I thought my kitchen was small. Looking at your photo makes me appreciate just how much space you have. Like you, there are things I just don’t have space for in my kitchen. Some, I’ve boxed up and others I’ve gotten rid of. I wish I could pair down even more.

    • Kerri says:

      My husband and I were just talking about better use of the space we do have for kitchen appliances, etc. the other day. We do have to plan and put thought into everything, especially in the kitchen. Even cooking for 2, I often find myself pining for more countertops!

      • mat says:

        Our kitchen is laid out terribly, however we have found 2 things that make it liveable:
        A dedicated pantry. 24×12 is perfect for 4, the 15×12 we have now is a bit of a stretch.
        1 large prep space. We use a 5′ free-standing cabinet we got at Ikea and the only thing that sits on it is the knifeblock. The rest of the glorious counter is for prep only.

        I think with 1 large, dedicated prep space, one could actually work effectively in a galley kitchen only 6′ long and 7’6 wide (plus a pocket for a fridge). I’m sure my wife, the professional kitchen designer would balk, but I bet it would be functional.

  7. mat says:

    It’s funny, but ever since the wife and I finally agreed on our little house plan, I walk through the house we’re in now and can see those rooms fitting into the house we have now…and the poorly-designed spaces just eat at me.
    We have a 1200 square foot shotgun house (2 story) with a 13×15 living room…that we can really only use 10×13 of. We have a 12×15 dining room…that could fit the dining/kitchen space we have planned. And then some. My son’s bedroom is 8’6×12, but because of the doorway, the closet that’s punched out of the corner, the radiator, and the window, would offer more space at 8×8. And it goes on and on. I figured out that if we lopped the back third of the house off, we’d be fine…and living in 800 square feet quite comfortably.

    • Kerri says:

      You’re right, Mat, about wasted space in most homes. We had about 1,100 sq. ft in the city and I would say at least 150 sq ft of that was hallways and wasted entryways. Most homes are designed for look and without regard to functionality.

  8. We downsized our possessions when we moved here because our stuff had to be shipped in a ‘small space’ of its own. We’re not in a super small space – it’s a very modest 1200 sq. ft. or less. Even though we’ve acquired more stuff, our closets and cupboards are only partially used.

  9. NoPotCooking says:

    It is hard to really understand how small your space is until you write posts like these! You are so disciplined about what you keep in your home.

  10. Darci says:

    I went from a large 4 bedroom house, to buying a two bedroom condo, THEN I took a job in Korea and had an entire apt that was 10 x 12 including the bathroom and kitchen. When I first walked into it, my first thought was “you’ve got to be kidding!”. It was a company apt but then I learned that was standard for most Koreans. But I had two dogs with me. So I learned to simplify, and keep it simple. After returning to the US after a few years I bought a 30ft RV and now feel like I live in a huge space. This is my 7th year in the RV and I absolutely love living in a smaller space. As stated in other posts, everything in a smaller home is either something functional or something one loves. When I reflect back on life I think it was good training coming from a family of six children in a two bedroom house. One bedroom for the parents and one for three sets of bunkbeds. As the kids got older a bedroom was built so girls and boys could be separate. But the experience back then taught us how important communication is. These days it seems houses can be so big that when problems arise everyone goes to their separate space and delay working things out. So now I guess I have come full circle and have seen the advantage of living in a small space, for that reason and other reasons too.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Darci. When I was born, it was my grandmother, parents, myself and 3 teenagers in about an 1,00 sq. ft. house. I think families were closer because of the tighter spaces back then too.

  11. Sheryl M says:

    Good luck to anyone in the process of downsizing, decluttering, or thinking of living smaller. We’ve been in the process of downsizing for a year (off and on on weekends). Its not an easy task, and every time I turn around, it seems like what is left has multiplied, in spite of the many trips to donate to Goodwill! We’ll get there one of these days…….. 🙂
    I’m thinking the simple version would be to move our personal items, the sell the contents of the house, and start over.

    • Kerri says:

      Funny you wrote this now, Sheryl. We saw an auction yesterday and stopped. They were selling EVERYTHING. We asked why and they said they had taken a job out of state and just wanted to sell everything, downsize and start over. Sometimes I wish we had done that instead of moving everything with us.

  12. Jane Boursaw says:

    It would definitely be a challenge for us to live in a small space. We’d have to edit about 80% of our “stuff” out of here. 🙂

  13. I’ve always preferred small, uncluttered spaces. I have a friend who lived in a small apartment and claimed if he moved into a big house it would be less cluttered. So he moved and he just cluttered the whole place with stuff.

  14. Sheryl says:

    I think the more space you have the more you fill it. Sometimes I wish I had a little space, so I would be forced to declutter!

    • Kerri says:

      I agree, Sheryl. I told my husband we filled an 1,100 sq. ft. house until we didn’t have more room and then we sold it! Here, we cannot afford to keep filling, it’s a constant purge.

  15. Carol says:

    I am in the process of remodeling a 18×24 cabin that my parents built in 1954. Right now it’s just a big room. I live in a 1000 sq ft house now, and my husband thinks the cabin will be too small. Let’s see, right now we have a second bedroom that we don’t use and a formal living room we don’t use, deduct the sq footage and guess what? We live in the same amount of space the cabin is. Hmmmm Can’t wait to finish remodeling and move.

    • Kerri says:

      Congratulations, Carol! Just make sure you incorporate plenty of storage space, which is usually what’s lacking in a small space. If you’re on FB, we would love to have photos posted when you’re done!

  16. Anne B says:

    My space is a 10 x 12 room in a shared house. I could be living in the house around the corner that is on the market since my son moved out, but I would rather have the feeling of camaraderie of having others in the house. My dog also shares this space. I face two misconceptions: the space misconception is that there is always room for paper. I volunteer with a building committee to write up material for building permits. My partner insists on printing out documents and reference works that are available as electronic resources. He just doesn’t believe that I don’t have room for more paper!
    The other misconception is that sharing a house with other (unrelated) adults indicates extreme financial or emotional neediness. I have been asked several times why I am not living in the empty house when it is “only around the corner” from my friends’ house that I share. Living with others requires more development of character skills than living alone. Kindness, compromise, and willingness to go the extra mile have made our shared arrangement enjoyable for all of us. Is the appearance of independence gained from living alone of greater value in our culture than developing depth of character?

    • Kerri says:

      Anne, thank you so much for this insight. I think living in a communal household is becoming more common these days. People are not only doing it for financial reasons, but as you say, for the community and sharing that comes with it. Good for you! And I agree with the paper comment. Paper is the root of all evil here at Our Little House. 🙂

  17. Jamie says:

    I have 17 months before my youngest turns 18. I’m planning a tiny house. I’ve drawn and looked at more plans than I knew existed. 🙂 My space will be 8×12 with a 4×8 loft on each side. One for storage of water tanks and such and the other for my office space. The bed room, bathroom, kitchen, dinning and living areas (HAHA) are all squeezed into a multi-functional interior space of 7’2″x11’2″. The bed/couch/closet/clothes storage/dinning seating is all in one space folded a meager 3’x3′, unfolded 3×7. The bathroom includes a toilet, sink and shower all in one unit with a water tight storage area on both sides of the toilet and above (for towels, shampoo and the likes). The bathroom is a whole 3’x4.5′. The kitchen is 2’x6′ includes a mini 3 burner store with an oven, a mini fridge, a tiny little sink and storage above, around below, lol. When you know you are going to have limited space you have to make every single inch of space count. While all the spaces are multi-functional you also have to have things you love. My tiny space has beautiful french doors that open onto a little deck. My little space it independent, totally off grid. Solar powered for the few things I need and LP for the other things like the stove, fridge and heat. It wont be such a drastic change for me since the space I live in now is quite small.

  18. Merr says:

    I am becoming more and more away of the overstuffed feeling I have that stems from having things I’ve accumulated over the years, and have held onto. We live in a relatively small house (not as small as yours, but small, about 1250 sq. foot) and we’re not cluttered at all, but still, things feel overstuffed. I’m shedding things…and using that term as I’m in the middle of a book by Julie Morgenstern called Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life. It’s quite good, and a little emotional (for me).

  19. Tanya says:

    I had to laugh when I read Lynn’s comment regarding Julia…as I read Julia’s post that is exactly what I was thinking…divide by 8 and that is a small space 🙂 I am so motivated…my husband and I have one daughter at home and a foster son and we have decided to give/sell everything off so that we can buy property and build a 750 sq ft home. I was raised on a hobby farm and wish to muck stalls over dusting…I hate cleaning…I am a writer and love to take nature photos and I am finding I have no oomph because of ‘stuff’. Thank you for writing about your home, it helps to keep me motivated. The only thing I feel bad for is un needed debt all our stuff brought on…but we cannot go back to change anything, we can only change from today forward. By the way…I love bears! Most of my photos are of bears…probably another reason my husband wants to have small space…he figures if he is a widower due to bear attack he will have less to worry about regarding cleaning house 🙂

    • Kerri says:

      LOL, Tanya! Good luck with your dream! No, we cannot go back and change anything, just learn and move on. We have the same issue with debt, but are rectifying our mistakes now.

  20. Tanya says:

    I had to laugh when I read Lynn’s comment regarding Julia…as I read Julia’s post that is exactly what I was thinking…divide by 8 and that is a small space 🙂 I am so motivated…my husband and I have one daughter at home and a foster son and we have decided to give/sell everything off so that we can buy property and build a 750 sq ft home. I was raised on a hobby farm and wish to muck stalls over dusting…I hate cleaning…I am a writer and love to take nature photos and I am finding I have no oomph because of ‘stuff’. Thank you for writing about your home, it helps to keep me motivated. The only thing I feel bad for is un needed debt all our stuff brought on…but we cannot go back to change anything, we can only change from today forward. By the way…I love bears! Most of my photos are of bears…probably another reason my husband wants to have small space…he figures if he is a widow due to bear attack he will have less to worry about regarding cleaning house 🙂

  21. As you know, my mom will soon be living in a VERY small space in longterm care (like 10 x 12, most of it taken up by required furniture). It makes her old assisted-living apartment feel spacious, and it’s pretty small. Granted, it could be all the emotions involved, but the small space now makes me crazy anxious. ;o)

    • Kerri says:

      There is usually more than just bodies and physical stuff in a place, there is the emotional stuff too, Roxanne. I have no doubt that it is the emotional clutter that is bringing on the anxiety. Hang in there. It’s something many of us go through.

  22. Luke says:

    Wow you guys doing good with your space. My first apartment was nothing more than a 102 sqft room where I lived for 3yrs. Bathroom was across the hall shared with 3 other “apartments.” I had a loft bed, a desk, Apple laptop computer, a 9″ b/w tv, a sink to wash up in, a mini fridge/freezer/microwave, and a french press coffee pot. When I met my wife we got our 1st apartment which was 800 sqft 2 bedroom 2 bath and I thought that was huge. 4 years later we moved to a larger apartment 1200 sqft 2bd/2bath. and finally bought our 1st house about 5yrs ago – a manufactured single story double wide 1500 sqft 4bd/2bath house. We still don’t even use one of the bedrooms. Almost all our furniture were hand me downs from our parents. We know we may move again someday as we both want something with a usable 2nd story & garage. And its still just 2 adults with our 2 cats.

  23. Jennifer says:

    We are actually working on our tiny home now. We’re converting a bluebird bus to live in and we will be starting a small self sufficient farm afterwards. I saw a video once about a family of 3 living in a tiny home and the mom said, “It’s not what we don’t have, it’s what we do have.” She talked about the intimacy and simplicity of it.

    • Kerri says:

      The farming part is something we haven’t quite gotten to yet, but I hope to in the future. The ground here is just not condusive to gardening, so I deck garden. I hope to convince Dale to someday do some raised beds.

  24. Julia says:

    Having six children (we adopted special needs kids), I read these tiny house blogs just to think about what downsizing would feel like. In that our son is an organist and pianist, I somehow doubt that the tiny house thing would work for those instruments, LOL. Sometimes space isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. Not just practically, but also psychologically. With 8 people in our home, even our 1300 square foot home often feels cramped. We have jettisoned many things, anything we don’t really need, but we’re about as downsized as we can get. Some day we hope to when our home empties out. It’s a dreamy thought looking at your photos.

    • Kerri says:

      First of all, bless you and thank you for adopting those children! What special people you must be. I know that having space is not a luxury for some. I can imagine your household with 8 as we had 1,100 square feet and at one time had two teenagers for just a couple of months in the house with us and sometimes it was too small. And I respect even those couples who wish to live in 2,000 square feet or more if that’s what makes them happy! I’m not one t preach that our lifestyle is for everyone. I like it. I do not like to clean. If I had my way, we would have just a little more space, maybe 800 sq. ft or so. But I’m happy with what we have right now and I think that’s the key to a long life. 🙂

    • Lynn says:

      Julia I had to laugh. If you divide your sq footage by 8 people you will find you are already all living in a very small space.

      • Kerri says:

        Very good point, Lynn!

        • Kerry says:

          and about that piano — I’ve a friend who downsized from a several thousand square foot home to one that is less than 700 square feet. she is a musician — she does not play piano in performance but uses it in her work and she chose to keep it, along with her guitar and her other smaller instruments. so a piano and a small house can work…

  25. That sofa-sized painting story still makes me laugh. Our house isn’t quite as small as yours, but it’s not big. To my NYC friends coming to visit, it seems like a palace!

    • Kerri says:

      Oh, I have seen those NYC dwellings and anything would be bigger than most of the ones I’ve seen! Still trying to decide what to do with the large sofa picture. Every once in awhile there is news of a returning vet who needs things for setting up a house, I know I will donate it, but have been waiting for the “right” opportunity. I know my friend worked hard for it and I want to give it to someone who really would appreciate a gigantic black bear! 🙂

  26. susan says:

    I currently live in a cape cod, so basically what they call a 1 1/2 story. I find I have no need for the second floor and would be very happy in limited space. It’s all come down to thinking about how much space do we really need and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really that much.

    • Kerri says:

      The less space we have, the quicker we come to that realization, Susan. I know I do not miss many things of having extra space, such as cleaning it!

  27. Kim says:

    When we moved into our 1500 square foot house, I had grand ideas about building on a master bedroom/bath and laundry room (all our bedrooms are tiny, we have one full bathroom, and the washer and dryer are in the basement). It would make things more comfortable for now, but as Alexandra points out, kids grow up and move away, and then the house would be much too large. We’ve decided to stay cozy and inconvenienced for now– the house will be plenty big for us when the kids move on.

    • Kim says:

      Whoops… forgot to answer your question. The biggest misconception we face, from ourselves and others, is that we “need” more space. We sometimes WANT it, but we don’t need it. And when you look at it like that, the astronomical cost of building on is way too much money to spend on satisfying a want– especially when we can see it as a temporary one.

      • Kerri says:

        I had to laugh, Kim, when I read 1,500 sq. ft. as it is a matter of perception, that sounds like a mansion to me! 🙂 I know with two adults and kids it probably does seem cramped, but good for you in committing to making it work. When those children are grown and you are there cleaning all of that space, you will be very glad you did!

  28. My sister suffered terrible financial hardship including the foreclosure of her home,and moved into a small cabin about the same size as yours. She had to sell most of the furniture that had filled her rambling farm house before the foreclosure. Although there were a few cherished items that were hard to part with, she said that overall she feels good about the downsizing of her possessions and really doesn’t miss any of the stuff that once seemed so important.

    She lives much more simply now, and enjoys the cozy, minimalist style of her tiny house. Avoiding impulse purchases of clothing, decorating items or in fact anything else, is easy because her space limitations don’t allow for the accumulation of clutter or storage of clothes that might hang in a closet unworn. That helps keep her living expenses low, and following her financial meltdown, she vowed to live as frugally and inexpensively as possible.

    To that end, she has lived without a credit card for two years, owes no money to a bank and because of her small living space pays almost nothing in utilities. She has her own chickens that provide fresh eggs and a garden in the summer from which she harvests vegetables to use for preserving and canning. That keeps grocery bills low as well as helping her to eat a healthy diet.

    Though your lifestyle change was made by choice rather than necessity, you and my sister share an appreciation for a life that is focused more on what truly matters: friends, family, pets (she has four dogs and a cat-all rescues)and less on material things that contribute little to living well.

    • Kerri says:

      Well, we moved here to our land out of choice, but in the beginning, living in our little house was out of necessity as we planned on building a larger home rather than a smaller separate office. Thanks for sharing your sister’s experience, most people do find they cannot only live with less, they enjoy life more by doing so!

  29. Roxy says:

    I know, right? I live in a 288 sq ft home, no room for furniture that is not functional. I have way too many knick-knacks, but I love them. I have to be very careful about anything new that I buy, but the trade off is, I save money instead.
    I love my little home!

  30. Alexandra says:

    I can very well remember the time I lived in a small space, at the beginning of my marriage. It was in Paris. A bedroom, with a nook to cook. It was called “a studio.” I had never heard that terminology before. It was small for two, so we moved into a bigger “studio,” still one room. Then our son was born. We moved into a three-bedroom. A daughter was born. We moved into a real house, four-bedroom. Once the kids were grown up and moved out, that much space is not needed. Often houses hold memories and people cannot bear to part with them.

    • Kerri says:

      I remember studios, Alexandra. When I lived alone, I had a 1-bedroom but upgraded to a 2-bedroom when I was an assistant manager at an apartment complex, so my spaces then were even bigger than we have now! 🙂

  1. March 3, 2012

    […] a perspective only those who choose this lifestyle can discover and fully understand. “A Dozen Other Places Doesn’t Exist in a Small Home” is precisely about the occasional disconnect between two worlds, but it is always with good […]