How Tiny is Too Tiny?

photo of Hong Kong cubical apartment from above | photo credit: Peta Pixel article

A friend recently shared a link to Grist article entitled “There is such thing as a too-tiny house, and this is what it looks like.” The Grist article fed from a PetaPixel article by Michael Zhang which showed bird’s eye images of Hong Kong cubical apartments. The photo shoot was commissioned by the Society for Community Organization to draw attention to cramped living conditions in Hong Kong, which was rated as the most livable city in the world by the Economist last year.

I imagine my friend sent this link along with the single word “Thoughts?” because he was curious about the reaction of an enthusiastic tiny house dweller. Over the past year and a half I’ve downsized from an 832 square foot 2-bedroom house to a 121 square foot tiny house on wheels to a 113 “round foot” yurt. (Check out Oh, the Joys of Homeownership, Tiny Home Improvement, and Home, Sweet Yurt to learn about these places.) These days I feel like I’ve found my limits in terms of both actual size and amenities. I’m currently designing my own tiny vardo on wheels, which will probably be right around 100 square feet. Yet I have all sorts of ideas to make this wee space comfortable and highly functional, even though it will likely be even smaller than my current abode.

I am well aware that people in big cities throughout the world – and particularly in Asia and Europe – live in apartments that would raise the eyebrows of most Americans. Tiny housers like me often look to these little spaces around the world for inspiration. (I’m especially fond of Christian Schallert’s Lego Apartment, a Transformer Apartment in Hong Kong, and, of course, Graham Hill’s Life Edited Apartment.) However, in some cases people live in spaces that are uncomfortably cramped. The spaces profiled in the PetaPixel article seem uncomfortably cramped to me. Rather than being efficient, these spaces feel claustrophobic. This crowding feeling is definitely exacerbated by too many people sharing a small space. I’ve even heard of situations in which people have to resort to sleeping in shifts! I think a living space is too small when it restricts rather than liberates people’s activities and lifestyle.

What do you think? What would be too tiny for you? Have you ever tested your limits with tiny-ness?


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4 Responses to How Tiny is Too Tiny?

  1. zefwagner says:

    Jane Jacobs wrote quite a bit about the difference between “density” and “overcrowding.” The difference is all about what people actually want. An apartment is overcrowded if the people living in it feel overcrowded and would rather live in a larger space, but can’t afford it. Density, on the other hand, really has no limit as long as people feel comfortable in the small spaces available. Jacobs noted that opponents of overcrowding in New York tenements had overshot the mark by also regulating density, thus preventing people from having the choice to live in small spaces.

    I think the main reason the Hong Kong apartment pictured seems “too small” is that there are several people living there at once–if it was just one person, it would be just fine. Even just a couple could probably make a go of it, but a whole family seems like too much. It really depends on how they feel about it though, and we shouldn’t make assumptions.

    • Little Life says:

      Hi Zef,

      Thanks for your response. I appreciate you pointing out that the distinction between “density” and “overcrowding” is both a matter of whether or not people have choice and a matter of how many people are actually occupying the space.

      What’s the smallest space you could imagine living in as a single person? How would that change if you were living with others?


  2. Diane says:

    Yes, those spaces would be atrocious. I think that no design or thinking went into planning for them to be efficient living spaces. They are just storage boxes with a person and too many things in them. And, the other part of the equation is simply that there are too many things for that space. But I’m afraid these spaces are precisely what many people fear tiny housing would end up as… it’s what they see in their mind’s eye, and it’s hard for them to imagine anything else. I think tiny housing is not for everyone, because you really do have to be someone who is not only organized, but also willing and able to keep a firm grip on the amount of stuff that is kept in the space. I really like how aware you are of your possessions, what you need to live in your small spaces, and how to stay on top of that.

    • Little Life says:

      Hi Diane,

      I agree that a shell filled with stuff is a big piece of what makes a space feel cluttered. It might be possible to live in a space that small and not have it be so uncomfortable if it is extremely well designed and multi-functional.


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