Life in a Tiny Home: My 120 Square Foot Apartment in Paris


Tiny homes are becoming a big trend in America, with families opting to downsize the McMansion in favor of a more humble abode. People are moving into mobile trailers or tiny purpose-built homes, eschewing overblown living expenses for a simpler way of life.

What most people probably fail to realize is that smaller living spaces are a way of life in much of the world, as they have been for centuries. Americans have a vastly overblown sense of how much private space they need to live in comfort. I found this out firsthand when I moved into a “cozy” 120 square foot apartment in the Latin Quarter in Paris – with a boyfriend. And a dog.

I didn’t move into the tiny space because it was trendy, or because I wanted to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I didn’t eat meat once per week because I wanted to limit the resources I consumed, and I didn’t walk to work so I wouldn’t contribute to greenhouse gasses. I did it because I was poor, speaking in Paris terms. But my apartment’s location and the experience of a life abroad left me feeling richer than ever, and my tiny apartment home forever gave me a more global perspective on how much space I really need.

Tiny apartment

Situated on a pedestrianized area right off the medieval market street of Rue Mouffetard in a village-like area of the Left Bank, my Paris apartment had almost everything the modern urban dweller needs to make a life. Outfitted with Ikea furniture and secondhand bed sheets for window curtains, my tiny home featured a hot water heater (which took up the entire and only kitchen cabinet), a clothes-drying rack (located in the shower stall) and a toilet that all 5’4” of me had to sit on sideways.

Cooking amazing French cuisine was limited to dishes that could be prepared with a two-burner stove, toaster and microwave. The mini refrigerator belonged in a hotel room, but it stored just enough fresh eggs, lettuces and berries to get us through a couple of days. The couch/bed was a convertible futon; once expanded it reduced the available floor space to the equivalent of a restaurant toilet stall.

But being able to stir your breakfast eggs while lying in bed has its attractions, and the dreadful lack of food storage space meant that I got to go to the market almost every day. I had no choice but to slow down and enjoy a French pace of life, walking to the open-air market several times a week and chatting with the shopkeepers and restaurateurs along the way every time. Contrary to popular stereotype, Parisians are actually overwhelmingly nice – at least when you speak French and have an adorable dog named Louis.

Louis in fact, fit the apartment well – being a miniature dachshund aka wiener dog, he slept happily in his cardboard box bed, shoved under the desk at the end of the room. Also crammed in the space was a little round table and two chairs, a tiny wall-mounted TV for watching artsy French channels, and unbelievably, a single washer/dryer unit, a space-efficient appliance that most Americans don’t even know exists.

Tiny apartment kitchen

Cozy and quite cramped, my little home forced me out onto the streets of Paris, where I learned why cafes are considered the living rooms of the city. Where private space suffers, communal space abounds, and I finally understood the impetus behind such social areas.

And now, living in a 400 square foot apartment on a hill in Los Angeles, my home feels huge. My small “apartment-size” oven and refrigerator seem to be more than enough, the tiny bathroom requires no contortion, and I have plenty of room for dancing on my living room rug. It is actually much more than one person needs, and instead of bemoaning a lack of guest bedrooms or outdoor space, I know that in fact, I have all the space I need.

Images: Shilo Urban


Shilo Urban

Shilo first became interested in conscious living when she found herself working simultaneously at a mom-and-pop natural food store and a farm for endangered livestock breeds on the coast of Maine. After residing in Austin, New Zealand, Paris, Seattle, and Los Angeles, she now lives in Fort Worth, Texas where she works as a freelance writer. Her passions include international travel and wiener dogs.