What Does ‘Small Space Living’ Mean?

Here on the blog, I have shared tons of small space tips, home tours, and inspiration for choosing to live small. Each time I post something, I am asked what my definition of ‘small space living’ actually is… especially after I received pushback for featuring homes measuring over 1000 sqft for my Small Space Squad series. Every time I am asked, I struggle to share a truly defined description. I thought it was time to kick off the conversation around this topic and share the results of an Instagram poll I conducted this week. Let’s open up the dialog and see if we can find a definition that works for all of us! Grab your coffee and maybe a snack cuz this is a long one…

What Exactly Does ‘Small Space Living’ Mean?

My Instagram Poll Results

After reviewing over 100 responses to my poll, I noticed a few trends. Granted, the poll feature on Instagram limits the number of characters you can respond with, but I felt like they were a good overview. Here are some of the recurring answers:

  • Storage that is cute and practical
  • Maximizing space and getting creative with storage ideas
  • Not buying a larger house just because you can afford it
  • Living with thoughtfulness and intention
  • Only buying what you need
  • Choosing a smaller space in order to lessen environmental impact
  • Anything that seems abnormally small for the number of people living there
  • A lower mortgage and monthly expenses
  • Living with less so you can experience more

After reviewing all of those responses, I found it especially interesting that only one person responded with an actual number for square footage. That in and of itself is really curious to me!

And here’s what ‘Small Space Living’ means to me:

Truthfully, I didn’t even think about small space living until I bought a 640 sqft house. Prior to that, I definitely lived small in a plethora of studio apartments… I just never really thought of it in that way. My guess is because small spaces have definitely become a home decor ‘trend,’ but also because renting a small studio apartment felt like a function of city life. Of course I’d have a 320 sqft studio because I preferred to live alone and live in a big city. Or so my thinking went.

During my home buying process, when I fell in love the bungalow, I did a lot of soul searching on whether I could actually make this space work for me. Was it worth it to buy a small house that’s in the best neighbor, accessible to a great social life, more efficient, and full of charm? Or should I have bought something larger, but further from the city (like my parents wanted me to do)? Could I reasonably fit my life into a smaller house when all of my friends have homes with multiple bedrooms? Is the monthly savings on my mortgage and utilities worth it in exchange for the ability to experience more? Should I choose something with 3 bedrooms, even though those would sit empty and not be needed right away?

Those are just a few of the questions I asked myself. And I decided YES, I could live small. To me, it felt like the perfect opportunity to prioritize my life over my stuff. And that life includes being in the city that I love, within walking distance of Sean’s family, near our sailboat, and in a place where my property value has soared. Choosing this home has allowed me to take a summer off and live out of my truck in Montana, to skip working on a Friday and go climbing instead, to travel more. It’s become the home base for all of our adventures, while also being my haven at the end of a rotten day. It’s even more special to me now that Sean and I are married, making this our first home together.

When I’m tasked with assigning a number to small space living, that’s when things get hairy. To answer this requires more reflection: where do you draw the line? Does 1100 sqft not count because of those extra 100 square feet? What about when a family of 5 shares 1100 sqft? And do people who live in New York City even count? (That’s a question that I have actually been asked.) Here on the blog, I’ve typically aimed to keep our home tours below 1000 sqft because it just felt easier and a way to reduce getting comments/DMs about whether a home tour actually counts as small space living. The business of being an influencer means putting my opinions out there and sometimes there is pushback. I get it and I embrace it because that’s how we have constructive discourse. But the argument for living more intentionally and sustainably has to be considered! Living small cannot possibly be distilled down to a number without any other considerations. In my mind, that just isn’t enough.

Instead, it feels crucial to consider environmental impact. Because my home is 640 sqft, I use significantly fewer resources than my neighbors. The City of Seattle actually mails me a synopsis of our energy usage compared to my neighbors. Consistently, we use a quarter of the average. A QUARTER! Granted, it spikes during renovations, but for the most part our home is very efficient. We’ve done everything we can to ensure that: swapped old appliances for energy efficient models, switched to LED lights, installed a smart learning thermostat, put on a new roof with better insulating properties, use curtains to insulate the windows more, and the list goes on. We’ve also switched all of our cleaning supplies to be eco-friendly, set up compost, and built a garden to grow most of our food in the warmer months. All of these changes add up to making our tiny bungalow more eco-friendly.

Additionally, environmental impact applies to families choosing to live small because, again, they are usually using fewer resources in their home. For example, they aren’t heating and lighting unused rooms. Personally, I do consider it small space living when a family of 5 shares 1200 sqft. Considering that the average size of a house is 2,435 sqft, that change is significant (source)! Since the average family size is 2.53, that means each person gets over 960 sqft. That is more than my entire house!

I’m not saying everyone needs to immediately sell their house and find something smaller. I mean, actually I kind of am because that would reduce the stress we’re putting on the earth… but that’s an essay for another time. Instead, I want to grow awareness that non-traditional stories are totally valid relevant when we talk about the small space lifestyle. Practically speaking, it isn’t always economical and sustainable to ditch your current home and build a brand new tiny home. But if you’re able to intentionally downsize, buy less, and use less, that to me is small space living.

At the heart of it, is intent.

Ok, I’m going to step down off of my soapbox. Let’s keep this conversation going! Weigh in and let me know what your thoughts on this topic are. I would love to get a really great discourse going and see how we can all come together to define small space living.

Photography & styling by Jojotastic.

Behind The Blog

Joanna Hawley-McBride is a Pacific Northwest-based social media strategist, content creator, and former textile designer. Joanna is the founder and editor-in-chief of Jojotastic, a lifestyle blog focused on Joanna’s work-in-progress cabin, finding the best pair of underwear through #UnderwearThesis, and empowering women to explore nature — all in her signature unfiltered style. Her work has been featured in Domino, CNBC, and Eating Well.

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