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.
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.
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