How Much Space Do You Really Need?

Our first tiny house was just 240 sq.ft. for 3 people (2 adults and 1 infant). Do some quick math and you’ll find that we each had roughly 80 sq.ft. a piece. It is pretty safe to say that most of the United State is becoming grossly accustomed to about 662 sq.ft. per person (for a family of 4) with the average new home in 2014 topping out at 2,649 sq.ft. It goes without saying that the desire to live in smaller and more affordable places has risen in the last 4-5 years as a number of people are learning to not be attached to “stuff” and trade in ownership for experience. So how much space does a person need? When is too little, well, too little? What is the human breaking point when a home becomes more like a jail cell and solitude starts to look like isolation and even insulation? How much space do you really need?

So was 80 sq.ft. enough? Let’s talk numbers first. According to the Engineering Toolbox, the average person needs between 100 and 400 sq.ft. of space in an apartment setting. That number allows the person to feel comfortable. Comfort, of course, is relative though. My mother needs more like 1,000 sq.ft. to feel sane, let alone comfortable. Together my wife and I are quite happy in just 200 sq.ft. We have always lived in a tiny or small space and so by nature we cling to each other and hang in each others’ space even when afforded the opportunity not to. Now let’s talk circumstance.

Dormitory rooms at colleges and universities usually average about 12 ft. x 19 ft. That means students entering their freshman year at universities across the country have, on average, 228 sq.ft. of living space, according to the Register-Mail in Galesburg, IL. This space typically comes with a twin bed, a desk, a closet, and a nightstand. it leave little room for walking, lounging, or just “hanging out.” According to Naked Apartments, studio apartments in Manhattan range widely in terms of size. The median size is 550 sq.ft. and usually shared by two people in some manner. That equates to about 275 sq.ft. per person. It seems logical then that as social stature and professional success increases so does ones personal living space. But does it need to?

Airstream

Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh has about $840 million dollars in net worth after Zappos was acquired by Amazon.com in Q1 of this year. But instead of a large mansion or a penthouse apartment, Hsieh has settled into a small Airstream travel trailer in Las Vegas, NV. And why? In a recent Business Insider interview Erik Moore, an early Zappos investor, said “Money is just a way for Tony to get to his endgame. [It] just doesn’t matter to him. If he only had a million dollars left, he’d spend $999,999. He would be just as happy with a dollar in the bank and being around people he cares about and care about him.”

But the conversation doesn’t stop there. The conversation of how much space is enough is one that has become deeply passionate and baffling. Is living in a small space a sort of status symbol now? Has the question gone from how much space do you need to what is the smallest space you can live in without going nuts? Again. The answer is as diverse as the people asked. So what about you?

How low can you go?

 

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Debbie - October 14, 2015 Reply

I can well understand the being around people you love and all…but to say your life hasn’t been enriched by $$ is a bit hard for me to understand.
I find myself struggling with the fact that I will be able to retire soon and can’t. I want to go off and build a small place and retire in the great northwest. I just need maybe $50, 000 to do this, but that being said it might as well be a million. What I wouldn’t do to be in your place, where I could have a choice….

    Andrew M. Odom - October 14, 2015 Reply

    I think I am confused Debbie. What do you mean “to be in your place?” The post referenced someone I cannot financially identify with at all. I am not the CEO or founder of a multi-million dollar company. I work at a white collar job everyday and have next to no savings. I am only 40 years old and yet already see retirement (or at least the traditional kind) as a pipe dream. That doesn’t stop me from making the most sound decisions I can each day though and working toward a goal. I fully believe that you can save $50,000 in 5 years or less if you truly live for that goal.

      Di - November 13, 2015 Reply

      Absolutely! Move to a studio apartment and start saving.

      Ashley Marie - November 14, 2017 Reply

      It sounded, to me, that when Debbie said “to be in your place”, she meant to be in the position of the Zappos CEO. If that’s true than she probably intended to say “to be in *his* position” not “yours”. And I get where she’s coming from.

      It’s easy for the uber wealthy to speak of “just” doing this or that, when the reality is that the “just” of a multi-millionaire is far from being “just” that easy for most people (aka regular people).

      I’m a wife and a mother. My husband and I are in our early 30s and our 3 children are all under age 10. We work hard and live modestly, but there’s still no money leftover by payday.

      For us, saving $50k in 5 years would be difficult to impossible unless we were willing to move our whole family of 5 into cardboard boxes (a very risky notion here in Maine where temps easily dip below freezing Oct through Apr). I can’t speak for people with less financial responsibilities, but as for me, it’s unrealistic.

Dominick Bundy - October 14, 2015 Reply

Great article with sound valid , food for thought.

LC - October 14, 2015 Reply

How about 4 adults, 2 pets….. 120sf. That’s what our family is doing while we build our THOW. Not the best, but not driving us crazy.

    Andrew M. Odom - October 14, 2015 Reply

    That would be a challenge for most but I am sure it is bringing a lot of perspective to your families adventure! Good for y’all.

Mick Keily - October 14, 2015 Reply

I live in hotel rooms half of the time, and I am convinced that I can feel comfortable in less than 500 square feet, at least as a single person. In fact, that even feels kind of big.

    Laurie C McCabe - October 16, 2015 Reply

    I live in Hotel rooms most of the time as well. I feel like going tiny will be good for me: have a home, and yet not feel like I HAVE to be there in that town or property…
    I have been a gypsy most of my life and so it is appealing to take my house with me!

Amanda - October 14, 2015 Reply

We are five people (2 adults and 3 tweens) and a large dog. We currently live in 1500 square feet, so 300 sq ft. per person. It’s more than comfortable, actually it usually feels like too much, although most of our neighbours are families of 1, 2 or 3 living in the same space. We have previously lived in 1000 sq ft and been relatively comfortable (although I will admit to liking not sharing a bathroom with my boys anymore). I would happily go back to 1000 sq ft or less (probably the absolute minimum for full time living would be about 600-700 for us). On vacation we’ve stayed in 200-300 sq ft for weeks at a time and been very happy. I’d like to think we’d be able to do that long term, but reality is that with the kids getting older living in that kind of space for an extended period of time may not go well.

AtheistHomesteader - October 14, 2015 Reply

Our family of four had to fight hard to build our house. At first, we started out with plans for around 700 sq ft. Our local building restrictions state that a home is not a home unless it’s 1000 sq ft. We filed a variance and had to increase our home to 900 sq ft to fit a full set of stairs in to bring it to code.

I can’t imagine the rigamarole we’d have been put through with a true tiny home. I’d love a smaller home – one that we could have paid cash for and been done with. Wisconsin’s new building codes are awful for anyone who likes living tiny.

Diane - October 14, 2015 Reply

Great article. My husband and I have decided on between 700-800 which is cutting down our current house by more than 60%. Our next build will be our last and don’t want to have regrets. It will cutdown monthly costs a good bit and will be mortgage free. Just have to pick location and finalize layout. This will also allow for our visiting family!

mjr - October 14, 2015 Reply

I think the IRC is something like 125 sqft for living area and 70sqft for bedroom. Less then 200 sqft. That would be comfortable for 1, cozy for 2 and crowded for more.

As always just my USD 0.02 worth

    Di - November 13, 2015 Reply

    So, maybe 100 sq’ if you combine the living room and bedroom by using a sofabed.

Carole D. - October 14, 2015 Reply

I am a 64 yrs old retired woman and would love to live in a tiny house. However, I live in Canada and this means being IN the house 24/7. Since we have such harsh winters, we cannot use outdoor space as southerners can. This is a big issue here. And so living in a 400 sq. foot house with tons of windows would be preferable.

    Amanda - October 15, 2015 Reply

    We’re in Canada too. I take you are not in BC. lol. I should have mentioned that when we’ve been in a smaller space and contemplated an even smaller space we were in BC where it was relatively mild. Now we’re in SK and yeah, 6 months of the year, outside is not an option.

alice h - October 14, 2015 Reply

I part time between a 300 sq ft studio apartment and a 13′ Boler trailer. I also have access to a sewing room with the apartment. Not all square footage is created equal. Some smaller places feel bigger because of the layout and windows, some larger places feel cramped with tiny rooms, hallways and very few windows. The Boler works out to about 60 sq ft but feels more cramped because of the low curved ceiling and having very little open floor space. That same 60 sq ft with a higher ceiling, French doors, big windows and a sensible kitchenette would feel much more spacious.

Comfortable square footage per person can vary when you share. Two or three people can easily share the same square footage required by one person for kitchen, bath and lounging but then need a bit more tacked on for private spaces. People who only go home to eat, sleep, use the computer, read, etc. need less space than someone needing space for supplies and messy, spread out activities done in the home. Somebody with large collections might not want to give them up just to live tiny but might be content to live small.

My studio apartment is long and skinny but it works and the 9′ ceilings make it seem very spacious, especially for a basement. My ideal would likely be somewhere around 400 to 500 sq ft to incorporate textile arts, food preservation, woodworking and other project and tool storage.

    Di - November 13, 2015 Reply

    Definitely depends upon your lifestyle. One set of dishes, pans, linens and a daybed or sofabed may be sufficient.

    7 tops x 7 bottoms = 49 outifts

Linda Sand - October 14, 2015 Reply

99 sf. That’s what I had in my Sprinter long-body conversion van. It was perfect for me as a solo. I had a twin-size sofa bed, a wet bath, 6′ of kitchen counter, a desk with a real office chair, and enough storage space for my stuff. Plus I had solar power and enough water storage to last me more than a week. I had a furnace, a/c, water heater, 7 cf fridge, and convection/microwave oven. I could go and be anywhere as the mood struck. I miss my van. Getting old and decrepit is the pits.

Thomas Stokes - October 14, 2015 Reply

I think “Tiny” is fine, but is distracting from what is really important which is promoting the fact that people don’t need 2,500 square feet per person to live comfortably, wish more examples of things in the range of 850 SF/Person were being held up, similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian homes, so to impress on Americans that they don’t need a 5,000 SF home and to stop designing homes just for Christmas parties. TC Stokes – Architect

Carol - October 15, 2015 Reply

I currently live in a trailer or a thow, whichever you choose. The floor is 12×7.5 and so that is 90sqft with a ceiling height of 6.5ft. It is small, and I wasn’t sure I could hack it thru the winter, but surprisingly me and my 5 dogs love it. I could stand a few extra feet in length and a different layout but I worked with what was there. Turns out I don’t need 500 sqft at all, heck i don’t even need 100sqFT!!

Rhi - October 15, 2015 Reply

One of my bugbears with tiny home designs is that there’s often very little empty interior space. As seen in that trailer photo, there’s only a narrow path from end to end, and it’s much the same in other small homes.

My current apartment in Taiwan is roughly 240 sq. ft. (12×20), and I maintain an empty space in the centre, keeping stuff to the side or along the wall. I can pace in the centre while talking on the phone, can dance with a loved one I bring home, can stand and practice my bass guitar, can lie on the floor and watch TV, etc. I like the fact that I’m not limited to specific positions inside because of space constraints.

If I were living somewhere with cold winters and heavy snowfall (i.e. I couldn’t go out much), having room to move inside would make a huge difference mentally.

    TMM - October 15, 2015 Reply

    The open space area is vital! Wife & I lived 18 months a 30′ sailboat, now we are going 2 years on a 42′ trawler.
    On the sailboat you would come home, drop your butt in the seat and not move because there was no place to go. It was literally 2 steps to the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, so you got no exercise when the weather was nasty or you were tired from work. The small space was not our biggest complaint, it was the lack of movement. You get stiff! Yes, I know.. go outside and walk or whatever… sometimes the weather or area is just not conducive to that.

    Having an open area, even though it is really only about 8×8 feet in the main salon, you still have the sense of “elbow room”. You can move. It takes 10 or 12 steps to go someplace inside. Once you reach that threshold, you get a sense of openness.

    It does not have to be big. But for some reason our brains seem to be wired to need at least the feeling of open space around us.

    Oh, and I calculate we have about 350 sq ft for 2 full time people and 1 occasional overnight guest… 2 or 3 is possible for short visits. (Of course, using the outside increases that number, but I am talking inside without having to use the bedroom and bathroom for guest seating!)

    Di - November 13, 2015 Reply

    For extra floor space, eliminate all built-ins. Store items in pull-out baskets beneath furniture.

    Store a portable stovetop, one set of stackable dishes/pans and dry goods beneath a kitchen sink.

    To dine, study or prep food, try a folding shelf beneath a window sill.

    Sleep on a floor mat and roll it up during the day. Sit on floor cushions.

    So many creative options. Just change old habits.

LaCoop - October 17, 2015 Reply

Four adults… And 2 pets… 120sf. We are living in an rv while we build our THOW. Not perfect, but doable.

Katherine - October 17, 2015 Reply

I’m convinced the number of square feet matter less than the efficiency, quality, layout, etc. of the small home you’re in. My husband, cat, and I are in a 120 sq. ft. sailboat and feel zero pains of the small space. Our boat is constructed well, storage is plentiful for its size, and we have more windows per wall than any apartment we’ve been in. As a cherry on top, the whole roof is a walkable deck and the cockpit fits all our friends.

Homesteading Skills Needed for Self Sufficiency - Family Survival Prepping - October 23, 2017 Reply

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