How Small Are Micro-Apartments? A Primer on Living With Limited Square Footage


Living in a home the size of a broom closet is either a crazy or brilliant idea, depending on whom you ask. For some, the benefit of not having to shell out big bucks on rent each month is worth it. But that’s just one of the perks. Renters choose micro-apartments for a number of other reasons (they’re more environmentally responsible; they fulfill the desire to live minimally), but that doesn’t mean they suit everyone’s needs.

Curious if less is really more? Read on to determine if a micro-apartment is right for you.

How small is a micro-apartment?

A home that passes as a micro-apartment in one city might be considered just small in another.

Gina Castrorao, a real estate agent with Triplemint says in New York City a micro-apartment is typically 200–400 square feet. In the Midwest, it tends to be closer to 450 square feet. Either way, micro-apartments in any city share similar characteristics: a single main room, a tub-free bathroom, and substandard-size appliances.

How much do micro-apartments cost?

Again, it depends on the location. In New York City, micro-apartments rent for around $8 to $9 per square foot. In Atlanta, Austin, TX, and Denver it’s more like $3 to $4 per square foot. If that sounds higher than you expected, here’s the irony: In some popular locations, such as Manhattan, micro-apartments sometimes rent for more per square foot than standard studio or one-bedroom apartments in the same area. So the savings isn’t necessarily as great as you might think. If you’re looking, compare the cost per square footage between micro-apartments and standard-size apartments in the neighborhood.

What do you get for your money?

Smart developers and landlords have tricks for making these spaces more livable.

“Most times, [micro-apartments] have high ceilings and large windows to give the appearance of space,” says Castrorao. The kitchen and bathrooms are usually compact. But some builders add communal features in their developments to expand general space.

“A micro complex often includes amenities such as lounges, a gym, etc., in order to have a place to socialize and ‘stretch out’ from your small personal living space,” Castrorao says.

Disadvantages of micro-apartments

To address the obvious, space is limited, and most micro-apartments lack an abundance of storage. Or just about any storage.

A tiny floor plan also means you won’t have many options for your furniture layout; the bed, dresser, and table have to go where they fit the best.

Castrorao says it’s challenging to find “micro furniture” that will work in a compact space. “This is where a Murphy bed, futon, and drop-leaf table can come in handy,” she says. “They are easily converted into smaller pieces when they are not being used, giving the appearance of more usable space in a micro-apartment.”

Entertaining and hosting guests is going to be difficult in a space this small. “Also, raising a family would be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” Castrorao says.

Advantages of micro-apartments

Living small typically means you’ll be spending less on rent and utilities (as it costs less to heat and cool a small space). You might be able to save more money because you’ll have less space to store stuff, which could deter you from frivolous spending.

The limited space in your home will also likely encourage you to spend most of your waking hours outside of your place—a micro-apartment will become a place to sleep and store your belongings. Anything else—work, grabbing dinner with friends, reading in the park, vacations—is done outside your home. For many people, this new focus on experiences rather than possessions can be fulfilling.

Photo by Reverse Architecture – Discover bedroom design ideas
The right layout makes a difference

What makes a micro-apartment more livable? Those space-extending communal amenities definitely can help. Castrorao says the right layout is also key.

“The layout needs to allow for as much usable space as possible and furniture to really fit into the structure of the room in order to create even more usable space—or at least the illusion of it,” she says.

It also helps if you’re well-organized and tidy. Those habits will go a long way in giving your apartment a more spacious look and feel.

Is it right for you?

“Living in a micro-apartment is not just a living decision; it is a lifestyle,” says Castrorao. Before signing a lease, think about where you want to be in your life in the next year or so.

“You want to make sure your living situation is going to fit with your lifestyle not just at this moment, but in the future as well,” she adds.

You also need to be incredibly resourceful and creative at organizing a space—and have the grit to maintain that order. It helps to have a genuine passion for organization.

How to prepare to live in a tiny apartment

The first thing an aspiring micro-apartment dweller needs to do is pare down personal belongings. Way down.

“Identify those items you definitely need, and pack those,” says Felice Cohen, who lived in a 90-square-foot apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for five years. Then take a good look at everything else and ask yourself how much of it you can live without. Donate what’s left, or put it in storage.

“I had put 77 boxes of stuff into storage and every year I agreed to stay in the tiny apartment, went back to storage and got rid of stuff based on the fact that I hadn’t needed it or wanted it,” Cohen says in a video about her tiny-living arrangement that went viral.

Photo by Vertebrae Architecture – More bedroom ideas

You also need to ask yourself why you want to live tiny, Cohen says. Maybe you want to save money, have a smaller carbon footprint, or have an alternative to a college dorm.

“This can be a hard adjustment,” she says. “Having your ‘why’ will remind you when you second-guess your decision.”

Cohen says she moved into her micro-apartment because the low rent allowed her to quit her full-time job and finish writing her first book.

“I had a panic attack the first night in the tiny loft,” she admits. “But when I reminded myself of my ‘why,’ I was fine.”

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