Living Large in a Small Apartment

Architectural layout of our apartmentIn Ann Arbor, our apartment is close to 1,000 sq ft, has 10-foot ceilings, and two porches…lots of space to relax.  Here in Philadelphia, we have figured out that our apartment is probably around 500 sq ft.  (It is a delightful surprise, because when we signed the sub-lease we were told it was 350 sq ft).  I was nervous about living in a tiny space, but there is a lot to love in such a little apartment.  Our building was built in the late 20s, and has a lot of charm: wooden floors, high ceilings, crown moldings…the gnome doors.  We are right in the middle of it all; we are definitely paying for location.  I love the doormen and the neighbors seem nice.

I recently heard a man from the City of Philadelphia Department of Sustainability talk about the City’s initiatives to increase recycling.  These initiatives include the move to single stream recycling and better coordinating of pickup.  It was explained this way: “Philadelphia is made up of narrow little row houses.  No one has the space to keep three bins in their kitchen or hallway.”  This is in a way emblematic of how small-space living creates a fundamental shift of how people structure their lives (and unrelated, how city government must adapt to that structure).  My husband and I have made a choice to forego space in exchange for proximity to work, proximity to amenities, and for what we believe is a more sustainable choice.  Besides that, some of the practical benefits to living in a small space that I have noticed:

  • It doesn’t take a long time to clean
  • You know where everything is; you cannot be disorganized
  • A single, small window air conditioning unit can cool the entire space to a comfortable temperature.  (For that matter, you are just using less energy by not heating and cooling a larger space.)
  • You will not spend a lot of money on lots of furniture.  (Maybe just a lot of money on some furniture 🙂 )
  • You have to love everything around you (meaning there is no opportunity for junk or clutter in your life).

Of course, this is all working for us now because we do not actually have all of our stuff with us.  Life would be different if our entire wardrobes, sports equipment, books, Christmas decorations, and the millions of other random things you find in your life, were crammed into this little apartment.  It also helps that we do not have a TV.  Even though my husband and I are always on a quest to pare down, we would struggle to fit our Ann Arbor lives inside of this 500 sq ft apartment.

Other downsides:

  • We cannot invite more than three additional people over for dinner because the table would not fit more, nor do we have more than five chairs.  (I guess we have to go out to meet our friends, at least there are no dishes.)
  • There is no good place to put the cat box

    Herbs on our windowsill

    Silver Thyme "Terrence", Lemon Balm "Linda", "Barry" Basil, and "Peggy" Parsley are all doing well.

  • You can’t really have friends stay with you (or it would be really cozy if you did)
  • While I know millions of people made do (especially in Soviet Russia), I do not want to raise kids in a single room.
  • My container garden would have to be a lot smaller; currently I just have four lonely herbs on the windowsill.

In case you are wondering about these photos, all of the furniture (except the Eames chair) came with the apartment.  I particularly love the Magic Chef gas stove, and the kitchen sink.  I am learning to live without much counter space, but then again, we do not have much counter space in Ann Arbor.  If we lived in this apartment for real, I think we would add some space-saving features, like pot racks or pegboards, and better use of space under the bed.  The next time you are at IKEA, take note of the “Living in 500 sq ft” section, it is no joke!  Also, the last pictures just part of our view from our windows; our apartment is on the twelfth floor.

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View from our Window

This is part of the view from our window. It was hard to capture the photo through the screen.

View from our window at night.

The view from our apartment window at night.

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5 Responses to Living Large in a Small Apartment

  1. Regan says:

    It actually looks pretty great, Rebs! Sometimes I with life was that simple. I guess we make it complicated by allowing it to grow into something we don’t need nor necessarily want. Hope you’re having fun! Miss you.

  2. Skyler says:

    That is one nice view. Hope you guys are having fun out there… the new place looks cozy. You should paint all the walls and give the owner a nice surprise when they get back!

  3. Lindsay says:

    Rebs – I love your apt! Especially the view!

  4. Josh says:

    Awesome location. The view is spectacular.

  5. Angela says:

    You are absolutely correct about learning to live efficiently and how that makes you quickly figure out how to eliminate clutter. There are many, many, many times I miss living in my tiny apartment on Detroit Street. You figure out quickly how to use your space, which means you don’t have areas of crap (i.e., our entire basement), and you certainly don’t buy stuff you don’t actually need…unless it’s alcohol. Being in the middle of it all is the best.

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