Tiny living

Tiny living—or the idea of tiny living—is still having a moment in the U.S.

Even where I live, far from the squeezed rental markets of the big coastal cities, we have a newly constructed building of microapartments. Curiously, the apartments are marketed to a demographic I didn’t even know existed: young, single professionals who are apparently able to store most of their possessions somewhere else, who are free of onerous student loans and are uninterested in cooking. Although priced and described as “luxurious,” in this case “smart living” means making do with a kitchenette.

Like many people interested in simplifying, I’m drawn to examples of truly luxurious small spaces like this New York City pied-à-terre, where cost, young children, and long-term storage were non-factors. Ordinary small living, like what we are doing as a family this summer, looks very different.

In a tiny home, “embarrassing, ordinary objects like the [laundry] hamper are empowered,” writes a tiny-apartment dweller from Boston (What No One Ever Tells You About Tiny Homes). There just isn’t enough space to help differentiate items that are intentionally displayed from items that are simply visible, or between public space and private space. I think this is why I feel compelled to make the bed, take out the trash, and carefully edit toothbrushes, shampoo bottles and other self-care items from the bathroom before anyone comes over. It helps me feel less exposed.

The disorder of normal living is also magnified many times over in a small living space. The stack of library books on the dining-cum-work table, the drying rack of wet swimsuits and towels in the living room, the full bag of recycling occupying the space between the dining table and the door, the multiple pairs of shoes piled directly in front of the door, plus a nine-year-old’s ongoing projects demanding multiple vertical and horizontal surfaces can very quickly feel like trying to squeeze a 16th person onto an elevator with a posted maximum capacity of 15. There’s very little tolerance for clutter in a small space.

“Even smells take up space,” notes the Boston writer. Forget cooking unless you can make peace with temporary odors. Accept that humidity from cooking or showering and even the smell of sleeping people can accumulate unpleasantly. In our small space, an oscillating tower fan is life-improving.

Our small living is short-term, and it comes with considerable financial and logistical benefits that make it more than worth occasional minor frustrations. But given the choice, there’s no question I’d prefer to live a bit larger.



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