What is this, an apartment for ants?
August 9, 2016 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I put in an application for a 150 sq ft apartment yesterday, and I'd welcome advice / personal stories from people who have lived in similarly small spaces. How you feel about the experience, tips for what to keep and what to shed, super space-efficient everything.

Apartment includes a kitchenette, full bath, and twin bed, with a shared kitchen and bike parking down the hall. I'm nervous about having such a small space and only having a shared stovetop / oven, but I'm really excited about the location and living on my own after a year with a roommate. The real estate market is also intense here, so getting an apartment I can afford at all is a bit of a coup.
posted by momus_window to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
How long do you think you'll be there? if it's for more than a year or two I'd suggest getting rid of the twin bed in favour of a loft bed and adding lots of high shelves if you're allowed (like this).

All your furniture should do double duty as storage, i.e., underbed storage containers if you don't drawers built into the bed, a couch/ottoman that also has storage space, etc.

Be ruthless about getting rid of books, clothes, and trinkets you don't need or love, and be ruthlessly organized with the rest. Even a little bit of clutter looks like an episode of Hoarders in a space that small.

Keep walls and window coverings light. Let in as much light as possible.

source: I used to live in a 200sq ft apartment. It was cheap and very central and I was glad to live alone, but it was also dark with one black wall (???) and it got kind of oppressive in the winter when I didn't feel like getting out of the house much.
posted by sea change at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree with the above, but big mirrors can help a lot with light/sensation of space.

How high is the ceiling? I agree with the loft bed, but if it's an old building with high ceilings then you can do even more with that vertical space. My friend's rented room was much smaller than 150sq feet, but had really made use of that vertical space - it almost had an extra mezzanine. Obviously this would need some custom furniture, so only worth it if you know you'll be staying a while.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:47 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I lived in an apartment that, if you took out the kitchen, would have been a similar size. I utterly failed at it, but it also was not a purpose-built micro-apartment, which it sounds like yours is.

Agree about getting rid of extra stuff and having as much as possible be multi-use. Also, think about storing "up" - ie, if you can without blocking light, install shelves towards the top of the wall for storage. In general, store as much as you can buy hanging it on your walls or putting it under other stuff. Oh, if you are someone who wears jewelery or scarves, hang them on the wall instead of putting them in a box or drawer. They double as decor!

Think about what you can have in your apartment to cook with. When I lived in Thailand, these types of apartments were the norm for young single people, and everyone had a rice cooker, which can cook a lot more than rice. A microwave or a toaster can also act as a multi-cooker. I would only have one or two of these things though, so think about what you are most likely to use.

Think about a place to relax in your apartment. I personally do not like to relax on my bed: it's not comfortable (no back support) or good for sleep hygeine. I have this chair from IKEA in my living room, which has a pretty small footprint but is big enough to sit in cross-legged and very comfortable.
posted by lunasol at 11:53 AM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The IKEA catalog's good for ideas on how to make tiny places look (IKEA-style, YMMV) nice. The stores have displays of entire small apartments, also good for getting a feel for what you can do with a given space.

Apartment Therapy seems to go more for the kinds of changes that you can only usually make in an apartment if you own it, but there's still some good stuff there.

The Sweethome's got a piece on gear for small apartments, which has some other links to more advice about living in small spaces.
posted by asperity at 11:57 AM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I live in a microapartment like this.

One thing that helps me is having the rest of my crap in a storage unit a few blocks away.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:04 PM on August 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

Also, if you do cooking in the Main Kitchen, and you have your own knives, having them in a Chef's Knife Carrying Bag/Roll is a really good idea. Either the apartment people aren't going to provide utensils for cooking at all, or they're going to be really cheap quality, and banged around a lot.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:08 PM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Mirrors, get rid of stuff, and be super proactive about pest prevention/elimination, because an infestation is much worse in a small space where you have nowhere to hide.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:12 PM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Planning to lease for ten months. Kitchenette includes a sink, microwave, and under counter fridge.

The apartment has eight foot ceilings, I think. I'm planning to build a loft once I verify the ceiling is high enough (included bed frame folds up). I want it to run the length of that wall (7-8 ft?) so the space beneath isn't split up.
posted by momus_window at 12:42 PM on August 9, 2016

Best answer: you want the smallest size trash can you can reasonably use so you take it out every day, as smells build up really quickly in a small space like that. see also stuff like sweaty clothes and sweaty sheets in the summer time, you could look for a dirty clothes hamper that has some kind of liner in it.

tbh it is really rare in my experience to enter into someone's studio or microapartment and not immediately be engulfed in the scent of a human being living in a small space. no matter how clean and tidy a person is, our own (cooking/cleaning/sweating/pets/dirty clothes/etc) smells accumulate and we become acclimated to them and don't notice them as much as others will. the best way i've seen people combat this is with oscillating fans to keep air circulating.

wall mount anything that can conceivably be wall mounted, from tvs to the aforementioned oscillating fan(s) to wall hooks for holding house keys/umbrella/coats by the front door. keeping things on wall hooks or floating shelves instead of on the floor will make the space seem less crowded.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:51 PM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

You might want to check with your building manager and/or landlord about moving in new furniture. Some microapartments charge for moving their furniture out and your furniture in, and other peculiarities that might bite you in the end. Mine, for instance, charges for carpet replacement if your personal furniture causes denting that can't be eliminated.

I use a HEPA air filter to eliminate scents and to keep the air circulating.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:58 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love my tiny place (though friends have even smaller places). I live in a "two-bedroom" flat that's just 306 square feet/28 square metres in Hong Kong - my place has my bedroom (which is jussssst large enough for a double bed), a second "bedroom" I use for an office/wardrobe, a living room-like space, a tiny kitchen and a wet bathroom. Some caveats: I live alone, I don't own a car, I got all my furniture at IKEA, I don't have a storage unit, I live in a super-dense city where everything is available all the time, and I'm living outside my home country so I don't have a childhood's worth of stuff with me. I also live in a post-Mari-Kondo space; see my last tip for more on that.

I initially took the place because it was freshly renovated in an amazingly convenient and reasonably-priced location, but I had to buy all my furniture and appliances. I had budgeted for this. However: the flat had no accurate floorplan. This was a pain, but actually a godsend because it meant I had the chance to measure everything first. I cannot recommend this enough before you buy anything! Make a floorplan with a tape measure and jot down those measurements. Keep them with you for a while as you contemplate what, if anything, you want to add to the space as you wander through a store.

I measured every door width, every door-opening space, every shelf and every window frame and sill. Then I went to IKEA and took the silly paper tape measure and checked what would actually fit. My washing machine and fridge had to fit into EXACT spaces and I definitely rejected options that didn't work. Plenty of people here in HK have a fridge in the living room or a washing machine on the balcony and I just couldn't do that and be happy with my space. Happily, I now have a complete home that works for me.

Some insights:

- IKEA's furniture works great for my space, but especially look in the outdoor section. You'll find a lot that will work where a full-sized version would be impossible, especially items designed for European-sized balconies. It's also very mould/heat durable, perfect for my damp tropical climate. I use four of these tiny Tarno chairs as my dining room chairs, and they fold right up. My Norden dining table folds to 11 inches wide. You get the idea.

- Use ALL the vertical space - but see below on "overpreparing" for storage. I got IKEA's tallest/narrowest bookshelf, wardrobe, bathroom cabinet and wastebin, and I have enough space to walk around and can even do yoga on the floor. It has led to some unorthodox organisation: My kitchen cabinets cannot be sorted by category because they would be too empty that way. This means my canned tomatoes are next to my glassware (which stacks!) and my resealable plastic baggies and my can opener. This is fine because I don't have that much stuff, but also consider that you don't need service for 6; 4 might be enough. You need one bottle opener, not five. One or two fridge magnets.

- Your traditional way of cooking, preparing and making food will change, especially if you don't want to/can't be in the shared kitchen for whatever reason, but always be ruthless with cleanup and food waste. ANY food rubbish should always go to a communal, not-in-your-apartment wastebin each and every night and your dishes should be dry and put away before you go to bed. I take out the garbage at least once a day and usually twice, sometimes even if it's a tiny produce bag's worth; it just isn't worth waking up to a garbage-y miasma since everything is everywhere in a space that small. Even a single glass in the sink will make it hard to, say, fill your tea kettle in the morning. This is the hardest thing for me to deal with and the only thing I resent about my space, and I have actually gained a lot of weight living this way - it has made me eat out more because I don't want to have to clean up all the time. Expect this!

- Use the lightest colours you can to decorate (and do consciously think about decorating!). My flat is painted a very light cream/beige or white on the walls/ceiling, and I love it because it looks so airy and bright. The flat stays pretty clean because I vacuum at least once a week, and never wear shoes inside past the door. I got sheer linen/flax curtains in a blah/neutral/natural pattern to let light in, and this provides a translucent but not transparent space for when you want privacy, even if no one is looking in. My bedroom has totally opaque but still beige curtains for much more privacy without sacrificing light entirely. Curtains also act as a mental wall of sorts - I don't worry about wandering around in a towel even though I'm probably still slightly visible in silhouette to a neighbour who was really paying attention; the presence of the curtains lets my mind not pay attention to what someone else might see.

- Choose one accent colour that everything plays on. Mine is green, as I have a tree outside and a partial view of some distant green hills (and because I like green). That means my glassware, tablecloths, throw pillows, bedding, dishcloths, rug and houseplants are all shades of light-but-not-bright green. The desktop on my computer screen is green. I have a brilliant topographical map on my wall; it is mostly green. The effect is (obviously) greening and makes the space brighter without being ALL GREEN ALL THE TIME. It's a bit like this person's flat from Apartment Therapy's Small Cool contest (also a source of inspiration!) - you notice the greens/browns but they don't overwhelm. This person in Gdańsk in Poland has a space around the same size as yours - note the choices they made in terms of colour.

- This goes for your clothes and linens, too. With less space than ever, think about how much you wear what you own and what goes with what. All my clothes fit into one half of this IKEA Brimnes wardrobe because I created a capsule wardrobe based on a few main colours (mine are black, brown, blue and white) that let you mix and match and minimize wear-and-tear. Do you have any "unitaskers" you could do without, or at least take out of heavy rotation? I keep a heavy winter coat, for example, because I do go to cold places at least annually, but it's in a vacuum bag under my bed. A few days before I travel, I take it out, maybe give it a Febreeze and a good shake, and it looks great again.

- A space that small will make it hard to deal with noise from the street or neighbours; there's nowhere to go. I sometimes wear earplugs in my very noisy neighbourhood because it's the only way to cope. Every room has a single-paned window and it's just not enough to insulate. Your neighbours will probably have elaborate exegeses about noise and quiet hours and all that; use good headphones and earplugs and float above it all.

- Keep visual noise to a minimum, too. A wardrobe you can close, a place to keep important documents that is not "the top of a desk". Also, consider the mental-space-encroaching nature of the packaging of the normal things you buy. I go to the length of removing the labels from things like dish soap and decant my washing powder into a clear plastic tub so the large and way-too-colourful packages they are in are not in my face all the time. It helps a lot, and also means the space looks cleaner than it really is - the eye never stops to focus on the brand of toothpaste I use, instead glazing over the details.

- Separate the functions of the space the best you can. This doesn't have to be walls. When I sit in one chair at my table, I can look out through the curtains toward the bright and sunny office space, and toward the neighbour's balcony where he keeps his birds, and I get a lot of natural light on my face. I look this way when I'm having breakfast to help me wake up, or when I'm doing something that requires a lot of mental energy, like filling in paperwork for an important purpose. But if I sit on the other side of the table, I'm looking into the flat in a way that draws me into the space since I can't see out anymore; I'll do this at night or when I'm doing something like watching a movie. This evolved as I got to know the place through the seasons of the year.

- Think about how you will entertain - where will people be comfortable if you won't want them sitting on your bed? You can solve this by looking at foldouts, really comfy chairs, or some combination of these things. For me, it was getting chair cushions and some blankets to soften my folding wooden chairs, plus a small foldaway sofa; the chairs I'm not using are folded and placed behind the wardrobe! I can happily have up to four people over for dinner or a board game or something and it's comfortable enough for at least that time, but then we really do all have to get the hell out of there because four adults just cannot be in that tiny space for so much time.

- Also considering entertaining, be aware of air circulation, as poffin boffin mentions. Screen at least two windows if you can, ideally on different sides of the building, so you can always have some circulation. Ventilate the bathroom as well as you can - avoid damp at all costs. Consider keeping multiple sets of sheets and mattress covers in circulation if you can to minimize odours. Don't wear shoes in the house, and wash your slippers when they need it. MUJI sells these aroma diffusers and they are amazing. A dehumidifier in summer will also help.

- Think about where you will keep the functional stuff you need only sometimes, like a broom or your extra toilet paper or your toolbox or your bug spray or your luggage. (Can you use the bike storage for this if it's enclosed/lockable?) You may need to only have, say, two rolls of toilet paper in your house at one time, because that's all you have space for.

- Finally, the hardest step. Embrace the idea - truly, not ironically - that the default position here is to have a lot less stuff than almost all other people in your culture might have, especially if you live in a wealthy part of the developed world. I always recommend Mari Kondo's book because it didn't just make living in a small space better for me, it fundamentally changed how I view my possessions and my relationship to them. In all honesty, I could not have continued to live in Hong Kong without this book's influence on my life. This AskMe answer from jadepearl is a quick version of the main ideas. I didn't spend a penny, either, on organizing my things the way the author suggests - I used existing boxes/files to make it all work. It is a one-time, super-emotional process but I promise you that it's worth a read if you're moving into a small space. I read a Kindle version on my phone and took notes and took one day a week over a month to go through what I had and really process it all as she suggests.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 1:07 PM on August 9, 2016 [34 favorites]

If you drink coffee or tea, get an electric kettle. A coffeemaker is a waste of counter real estate, since you only use it for one thing. If you're not a coffee snob, it's very easy to get by with Starbucks VIA packets (which can be bought for really cheap on eBay) and a kettle.
posted by invisible ink at 1:10 PM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have this over-the-hanger, which I use to store odds and ends like batteries, mailing envelopes, my iPod, tape, vacuum parts that don't fit on the vacuum, etc. The clear pockets are really helpful, I always know where to look.
posted by invisible ink at 1:19 PM on August 9, 2016

A loft bed is not going to work if you have 8 ft ceilings. You need to be able to sit up in bed, and you need room for a mattress. Measure the thickness of your mattress and add your sitting up height and the thickness of the platform and you'll probably need around 4 ft. Of course you could turn the whole area under the bed into storage, but, depending on the size of the bed, it won't leave you much room to live in.

You might need to consider a murphy bed or a couch that opens into a bed.
posted by mareli at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2016

I second:

- loft bed / vertical storage, if you have room
- be ruthless about getting rid of crap
- electric kettle
- being super diligent about pests - keep food in sealed containers, don't leave stuff out, etc.

That last one, for serious: I lived in a small space with extremely porous walls for a while. It came with an infinite supply of mice. My sanity was starting to fray by the time I left.

Don't let your mail pile up.

Multi-modal lighting, like say some string lights along the walls you can switch to, can be good for getting a different feel out of the same room.
posted by brennen at 1:44 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

With 8 foot ceilings you'll want a captains bed not a loft bed. You will get a heap of dresser type storage under your bed. If you don't need a full time desk you can even get them with pull out desk, or enough space to hang shirts.
posted by wwax at 1:48 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

For paper towels, I've found it easier to store 2-packs like this one, rather than the jumbo 6-packs. The 2-packs can be spread out - in a cabinet, in the last crevice of space under a bed, etc. The jumbo 6-packs take up a lot of space no matter how they're stored. And once you open the plastic, all sorts of dust can accumulate inside.
posted by invisible ink at 2:15 PM on August 9, 2016

Yes to using all the vertical space! Tall, thin bookshelves are your friend. Stacking shelves assuming you have shared cabinet space in the kitchen. Over-toilet storage.

Get one of these collapsible baskets for your laundry. I cannot express how much I love this thing.

And best of luck! I am moving into a studio myself in a few days and I've been looking at articles like this one and this one for inspiration.
posted by capricorn at 4:06 PM on August 9, 2016

I bought this Ikea daybed when I moved to Sweden and bought another one when I moved back to the US because those 3 drawers hold a lot, you can sleep on it as a twin, and you can pull it out and add another mattress if you want to have a sleepover and/or sex with another human adult.

It's entirely possible all people with loft beds enjoy having sex 6 feet off the ground or find other exciting places like chairs or tables for their fun. I am not one of those people, which is why this daybed was perfect for me. And when I got tired of the back and sides I just took them off. But it might be too expensive for 10 months only. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:09 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

a couch that opens into a bed.

I live in a mansion (400 sq ft) and this was the worst decision I made when downsizing. I splurged on a very comfortable futon but it ended up staying open most of the time because it's a PITA to deal with every day, and he worst thing was when you just want to go home and collapse into bed and then it's an ordeal and you just want a goddamned bed. The space I was saving wasn't worth it for even a day.

I was able to get a small couch and a full bed in my place but I would sacrifice and get a twin if I had to. Nothing made me feel worse than that stupid (very comfortable and fancy!) futon.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:54 PM on August 9, 2016

Also, in a tiny place it's hard to store pillows and blankets, and I live in a warm climate so I have lightweight blankets.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:56 PM on August 9, 2016

Response by poster: I hadn't considered the cooking smells issue - I'm now thinking I'll get an instant pot so I can cook a variety of things with minimal smell/mess. I only own one massive cooking pot, so I'd have to buy something to use in the shared kitchen anyhow.

That sweethome guide is surprisingly helpful, too.

It's fascinating to see people's different priorities for small spaces - it looks like I'm on the right track within my constraints and a tiny apartment is workable for a while.
posted by momus_window at 12:16 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does your building have a garden or is there a public park nearby?

I haven't lived in an apartment this small, but last winter my partner and I lived in a 450 square foot apartment with our infant. What made the whole experience much more pleasant was that our building has a little backyard, which came in useful as a psychological space extension. Same thing with the tiny public park that was a two minute walk from the apartment. It made us feel like our apartment was much bigger than it is. Find nearby places like that which aren't technically yours, but where you can stay awhile and feel familiar and comfortable. I've often used nearby public parks for this kind of thing, and when I lived with roommates also cafés and libraries. They remove pressure from the walls of your apartment.
posted by Kattullus at 1:47 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

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