Losing Weight

This is not what you think it’s going to be about.

This weekend, I read an article about San Fransisco considering a drop in the minimum square footage for apartment units to 220.  No, not a drop *of* 220 square feet.  A drop *to* 220 square feet.

Now, most of you here have no idea that I had my blossoming architecture career smashed under the housing market crash.  Alas, I had to move on, but my love of house design never left me.  Going nostalgic for a moment, I knew I was in the right line of work when after an 8 hour day at the office drawing house plans, I’d come home and play Sims.  Only I wouldn’t actually play the Sims, I just designed neighborhoods of houses.  Yep, I’d design houses at work, then come home and design them for fun.  Some people called me sick, but I just liked to think of myself in my perfect career.

Okay so obviously I’m not getting paid for it anymore, but I still love designing houses!  (and ooh look, I have AutoCAD on my computer now. mwahaha!)

One thing I love about small house designs (or apartment, or whatever.  Small *living* space designs) is it requires so much more creative use of space.  The article shows a very narrow apartment with a wall bed that converts to the dining area when not being slept in.

It also makes me think about my mom who, to this day, insists she loves Japanese design.  Because it’s so uncluttered.  (Mom, it’s uncluttered because they have *less stuff* not because they were just *that good* at design.)  But it is interesting how much even house designs can vary between cultures, and what’s considered normal.

I saw another house design where the bedroom was really just an enclosed bed with a sliding door.  There wasn’t any ‘floor’ area, just the bed (looked to be on a platform but not what you’d consider a typical western bed frame).

Got me really thinking about small house plans and reduced floor spaces.  There have been many books written about small houses, lots of people blogging about small houses, much building of small houses, and now tiny apartments are the latest place we’re cutting space and living smaller here in the US.

My house is 1,800 square feet, if memory serves.  That means if we’re talking about apartments being 220 sf, I could fit just over 8 apartments in my house.  Since my house is 4 bedroom, and if you assume parents and three children, my house could (and has) uncomfortably fit 5 people (the discomfort chiefly caused by there being but a single bathroom).  Compare that with the same square footage could comfortably fit 8 people, even if in a very tiny space.

It also made me realize there was no way I could ever fit all my ‘stuff’ into 220 square feet.  I probably couldn’t fit it into 440 square feet.  I might have a hard time squeezing down into 900 square feet – half the size of my house.

Maybe this shouldn’t bug me, but it does.  Terribly.  Welcome to America: our people are fat, our houses are fat, our closets are fat, our heads are empty, and our wallets are dry.

Yes, I have my crafts and fabric and paints and the like, but really, even with hobbies, I shouldn’t be incapable of living at half my square footage if people can live in 1/8th of it.

So part of the weekend was spent on thinking about the fact I need to do a major ‘stuff’ purge in my life, both for my sanity and for the general tidiness of my house, but part of the weekend was also spent on designing very small houses.

220 sq. ft. single bedroom floor plan by Eliza Murdock

440 sq. ft. two bedroom floor plan by Eliza Murdock

I remember several  years ago sitting down to design 1,000 sq. ft. houses and thinking how difficult it was.  I don’t deny these plans offer very little in the way of indoor space, but that will hopefully help get people outdoors more often.

Now, if I was a college student or recent grad and was looking to move into my own place, I’d have been delighted with either of these options (especially since I’d have turned the second bedroom into an office or craft room).  However, being well established in my house, I think I’d find it very hard to squeeze back into such a small floor plan.

But I am going to embark onto an epic purge and get rid of all the stuff I haven’t seen for years, clothes I haven’t worn for years, furniture whose only use is to hold stuff I don’t use… it’s time to lose weight! – haul it to Goodwill, maybe hold a big garage sale, or throw stuff on ebay and see what happens.  Maybe I can purge my life and grow my wallet a tad?

Also, if anyone wants a very small house designed for them… 😉


95 thoughts on “Losing Weight

  1. Yes, that is really small! Although my husband and I lived happily in a 23 m2 apartment, it had no room for all my craft things. But I do think that the more space you have, the more space you need and it always gets stuffed with so many unimportant things. At least that the case with me. 🙂 I love the plans you made. 🙂

  2. Wow.. It’s like you’re peeking into my life. Recently I quit my stressful job for health and sanity reasons and to boot, my partner lost his job.

    We also live in around 1800 square feet, but are now forced to purge and squeeze into about 750-900 square feet.

    It’s been a very depressing, eye opening experience for me. Selling off the spare bedroom parts.. Eliminating the office (where will all my books go?) Saying goodbye to the treadmill (hopefully someone will buy it) If I think too much about it I start to cry.

    But you’re right. Nail on the head. We live too fat. So your post has made me feel a little better. Thank you ‘Eliza’..

    • Oh I’m so glad! It’s been ‘easy’ for me to grow since I live relatively by myself (my uncle lives with me but he tends to stay just in his room and I have the whole upper floor uncontested, so it’s too easy to stuff things into closets and spare rooms without really realizing it.)

      It’s always hard when it’s not a voluntary purge, though, so best of luck and I feel for ya on the books. Just remember that small houses can still provide creative storage solutions – you can put shelves above the doorways and windows to store your books without taking any extra floor space!

  3. Have lived in America for 5 years, and for a time was suck into the culture of buying things I dont need. Buying way too much clothes I can’t actually use every season and cooking too much food I can’t barely eat. But it was fun, although I as a result haven’t saved enough toiling for 5 years in America.

  4. I have been reading with interest all the artiles on “tiny living” that have been popping up. It’s fascinating and you are absolutely right– it’s all about design. My house is only 725 square ft, but it could seem so much bigger if it had been designed differently. I’m constantly rearranging the furniture to get a better fit, but I really need to rearrange the walls.

    • It’s certainly more pricy, but entirely possible to do, especially if you don’t have any structural interior walls (most single story homes wouldn’t need them.) Might be something to consider if you have a budget for it.

  5. I love this post and the idea you put forth: too much of everything. I am a mother in a family of six. For years, we lived in apartments – the largest being 1100 sqft. we were a little cramped at times, but we were fine. Then we moved to another part of the country and bought a house – 3,000 sqft. We were excited about the prospect of having more space.

    It was almost too much! We acquired more useless stuff, and we spent less time together. Or we found that certain rooms/spaces weren’t used at all- what a waste!

    Now, we have moved back to the west, we have sold our 3,000 sqft house and are purchasing a 2,000 sqft house. It is as large as I want to go. It is a big house! But it is funny, when I tell people, that we are downsizing, the assumption is that it is some kind of misfortune. It was a deliberate choice. We don’t need so much junk. We’d rather spend more positive time with each other. And we’d like to get outside more. I have to admit, I am kind of proud of downsizing.

    • Sounds wonderful! I’d most likely move into a smaller place if not for the fact I live next door to my parents (which, yes, that’s usually a reason people move, but … yeah…) and a mile from my sister. So I’m kinda … anchored here. If anything ever happened to my house, though, I’d likely rebuild it very differently.

      Sounds wonderful how your family realized that living smaller was better!

  6. Loved the idea of this post – my husband, sister, and I live in about 2400 square feet, and our house is definitely too full! I’m in the middle of a purge at the moment, and I’m not being particularly severe, but I still have a *huge* pile of stuff to donate to Goodwill (it’s easier than organizing a garage sale). I’m looking forward to our eventual retirement in about 40 years and being able to significantly downsize!

    I also hear you on the Sims – my sister and I would play, but mostly to design the houses, not to actually develop the people.

  7. I think it truly is a feeling of losing weight when you get rid of stuff! My boyfriend and I have been doing this for the past year. He’s sold TONS of stuff on E-bay (and made quite a bit of money doing so). Everything else has gone to consignment shops, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Craigslist Free section (you’d be surprised what people will take) or to our town’s free Hazardous Waste Day (for all those random cans of paint that you’ll never use again and other assorted crap like old computer monitors, other electronics that don’t work…) It is such a freeing feeling to have only stuff you need and use!

  8. Good stuff! I can certainly relate to designing work and NOT be compensated for it. That’s what happens when we are highly passionate about what we do. Its funny. We work in two different fields but have similar stories about careers, dedication and passion. Happy designing to you!

  9. I don’t live that small, but I live small. I despise crap and stuff although I have my share of some. But in the end, as long as I have a bed and my digital piano, I’m okay. (Even the piano is pretty small.)

  10. I need to purge too… so much stuff is in my life that is just taking up space. My problems are that I can’t find the time to purge, because it would seem my life is also cluttered with the stuff of commutes, child care and random fun stuff. I too often will say I want to do something fun with the family rather than go through boxes in the basement. But, sigh… I know that I need to do that… as well as address the growing pile of papers/bills/mail/etc that constantly accumulates on my kitchen counter, much to my husband’s dismay….

  11. Great post. At a major transition in my life about seven years ago, I moved from 1700 sf to 300 sf. I had to massively downsize to do it. The downsizing hurt while it was happening, but then the craziest thing happened — I missed almost none of what I gave up. Since then, I’ve moved into a 1375 sf home — but my attitude toward stuff is irrevocably changed. If I went home today and found my home burned to the ground, the only thing I would miss long term is the hard drive with all of my family photos on it.

    A key to successful 300 sf living was that space’s design. My apartment was essentially one big square room with a bathroom in the corner (toilet and tub/shower behind walls and a door), a tiny kitchen with tiny appliances, a closet, some built-in drawers and shelves, and a Murphy bed. It also had a tiny attic; the water heater was up there. What little storage it offered was about enough for my off-season wardrobe; even with few clothes, they didn’t all fit in the closet. It was tolerable living. I did it for almost two years.

    One good thing about living there was that I could clean it thoroughly end to end in about two hours. On the flip side, clutter could build up very fast as there was noplace to hide anything. Clutter drives me crazy! I had to put things away immediately as they came in the house, and ruthlessly throw unneeded things away, or it would get out of hand.

  12. I live in San Francisco, and while I find the idea of small houses appealing (living with less clutter! Hopefully!), I have to say that I am not for the approval of 220 square feet living spaces. SF has the highest rent prices in the country, and do you know what you’d likely be paying for that space? Around $1,400-$1,500 a month, if you’re lucky. Typical one bedroom SF apartments go for around $1,700-$2,200 a month. It’s insane. So creating small space apartments is only going to drive the already small sized/over priced apartments up even more.

    /end rant

    • True, because we all know prices won’t really go down. Still, it might be the difference between a person getting a place to live or not. I’m really glad I live out in the country where I don’t have to worry about city prices and crowding.

  13. Great post! So glad you got freshly pressed. Our house is also 1800 sqft with 1 (and a half) bath – and there are 6 of us! No finished basement, either. I sometimes dream of going bigger. But I can’t bring myself to do it. I totally agree – we already live too fat. Time to get rid of some stuff (or some children…Whatever). 🙂

    • LOL! Yes, time to get rid of some kids. I hear there’s a traveling circus? 😉

      I can’t stop thinking about the fact that I *could* live in a house 1/4th the size probably really comfortably. Almost makes me feel a touch guilty. But I’ll console myself by getting rid of all the stuff I don’t need. 🙂

  14. I am so impressed by the readers replies, as I am about your article. I am very heavily into downsizing and feel the need to purge and feel proud when I detach myself from some inanimate object.

    “The level of consumption that we identify with success is utterly unsustainable. We’re gobbling up the world.”
    John Robbins

    “The future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is compassionate, prosperous, and enduring, and thus more intelligent, even competitive.”
    Paul Hawken

    I feel that until we identify ourselves with this “less is more” ethic, instead of mass consumerism, we as citizens of the United States of America will be considered glutenous, loud mouthed, fools forever in History… what a legacy!!!

    Very Good Post!!! Thanks for this awakening… You need to be among the working Architects!!!

      • I know there is a market for it… do it and see what happens, I would like it if you linked it from here, show us what your up to. I would love a page that tells us where to buy things to better make a small space work too, just things that you might incorporate in your designs.

  15. My family of four lives in 320 sq.ft. You hit it on the head – lose weight, and get creative. We’ve been doing it for 3 years, and honestly, I have *YET* to find another living situation I would prefer to be in more.

    Your house plan rocks. Great work! It’s cool seeing this lifestyle getting some professional interest. Usually when I begin I live in a walk-in closet to people they stare incredulously.

    • I think it’s great! Especially with the whole 30 yr mortgage and people losing their homes and all the other horrible stuff that’s become so common-place, it’s good to realize we *can* live and build small and not be stuck with that kind of debt, either!

  16. This is great, I am also a Sims-house-building junkie! I live with one roomate right now and I wish I could find a tiny place where I could afford to live alone.

  17. I also play Sims and loved the Apartment expansion pack! Although, I never had much luck with designing houses for my sims nor enjoyed the task— I will say that those plans are brillant! In fact I’ve been inside a home that size and it definitely was cozy feeling. 🙂

  18. Not sure on the conversions, but in Sweden I just moved from about a 120 sq ft apartment to a 240 sq ft apartment. Mind you this is in Sweden, and when I moved across the Atlantic I brought two bags of my possessions. However upon our move (yes we were two living in a 120 sq ft apartment) we found we didn’t have enough stuff to put in the new place. Strange how it’s the opposite of what you’re doing. Although I agree, moving to a smaller space would be very hard. Regardless of your starting point.

    • I think I’d love to move to a smaller place, but I have reasons why I can’t leave where I am (family and such). If I ever *had* to move, I’d want it to be a much smaller place (easier to clean, heat, etc) but for now I’m where I am. However, it’s nice to hear about people who are living in much smaller places and that they do well there.

  19. Just seeing the 1st floor plan with 220sqm single bedroom and it amazes me as there are houses in my country with an 80sqm floor plan with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, 2 floors house.

  20. I am not into architecture and know shit about it. The only thing close to architecture I have ever read is Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”. But this small article kept me engaged because it is simple and funny in bits. 🙂

  21. I’m all for downsizing/purging, etc. but I don’t think tiny spaces work as well in a climate where you can’t live outdoors 6 months of the year (I’m writing this from the Toronto area). I think new condos here are down around the 600 s.f. mark these days, a bit of an impossibility for someone whose adult life has collected, and not really sorted, the stuff of raising 3 kids for 22 years.
    I’m glad to see a really good design/architecture blog to follow, and good luck with your career.

    • Well, I’m in the Seattle/Vancouver BC area which isn’t much warmer, and up into the hills so a bit colder than even down on the coastal area. It’s not that anyone *has* to live small, it’s just a fascinating idea of living small, a possible solution for not enough housing in places where people need it. If there isn’t enough room for everyone to have a 1,200 sf. place, maybe 10 people can have 120 sf spaces. When you think about how much time we spend away from our houses anyway, it makes more sense for some people to live smaller (especially if you’re just starting out in life)

  22. A good friend of mine recently had to do like you were saying downsizing. Yes it is humbling but sometimes necessary. I think when that happens we gain an appreciation of life and recognize that what we have now may change tomorrow and that all material positions are just temporary.

    Donald Trump will not be taking his mansions with him when he leaves this earth neither will we be taking anything we own with us but ourselves.

    Yea maybe your right it’s time to lose weight depending on our circumstances!

  23. Having moved cross country twice, I’ve done significant purges. It really is a lifestyle thing, because you have to honestly look at everything in your home and ask yourself, is this something I truly pursue? The clarinet, guitar and flute, I play them all, but which do I actually play frequently? The sewing machine vs. the knitting: which do I enjoy more? The books: will I really re-read them or are they just sitting on the shelf to impress everyone with what I’ve read once, and forgotten over time?
    Now, if I can only encourage my hubby to look at things the same way…

  24. i live in chicago in one of those “u” shaped buildings with a courtyard and my unit is probably about 400 sq feet. i almost didn’t rent it because it was SO small compared to my place in indianapolis (to which i paid almost $200 less per month for). however, i took it because i can afford it without roommates and now that i’ve been here i don’t mind it at all. like others have said it makes you go, “do i really need to hang on to this and/or bring this into my home?” i find that living with only what i truly need or love makes me less anxious because i’m not worried about all my junk.

  25. One of the fun things about The Sims was that it all started out as a way to test designs and see if people would like living in them. I loved to create weird housed and see the reactions. Some of the preprogramed homes would have sims walking out one door to circle the house and come in another door to go to the bathroom that had been in the SAME bedroom they were standing in when they decided they had to use the toilet or shower. Sims three did away with the environmental satisfacion of the home. I missed it. IN fact, I still go back and play Sims2 more than Sims 3 just so I can test the homes. I have never tried a tiny house. Maybe I ought to try it.

  26. Designing a 220sqft house was part of the curriculum for my interior design course! It was challenging, but the outcome really does make me wonder if I could live like that. I have “stuff” – bein creative – and I like my stuff lolz, I could imagine all of my yarn and fabric takin up that 220sqft. But it is also a wake up call to use less – less “stuff,” less space, less energy, etc. I love the 2bdrm plan a lot! 🙂

    • Thank you! I never took a design course, I wish I had. But I also have so much creative ‘stuff’ I don’t think I could fit it down to 220. 440, probably, then that second ‘bedroom’ would be my craft-storage room. I really wish I could sell my house now! LOL after all this looking at small plans, dreaming up small plans, watching videos on youtube… I kinda wish I had a tiny house!

  27. Lofts are absolutely great in small footprints! Today’s eclectic furniture can help reduce the living/dining area, too. I think the biggest “sofa” I ever used in SF was a love seat. 😉

    • I agree, lofts are awesome for sleeping (provided, of course, you don’t have very little ones or aren’t somehow unable to climb ladders. Which some are.) But I sleep in what could almost pass as a loft-like condition, and I love it! Something so warm and cozy about being tucked up under the roof ❤

  28. We moved from a 2200 sq ft house to a 700 sq ft condo. We found we had too much space and wanted to live in the city. We purged and got rid of a lot of stuff. It’s doable.

  29. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I have always moved like a gypsy. Tends to purge the stuff in your life. The last few years have involved moving to very small spaces. Challenging. The worst thing about the small space is that my dogs tend to lie in pathways. Hard to navigate because you can’t walk around……not enough room.

  30. What a great post! I did a major purge when I decided to live overseas many years ago. My life was reduced to a number of boxes in my daughter’s roof. The number of boxes has grown over the years though as my obsession with kelims and objects from my travels multiplies. 220sf seems incredibly small. How would i use my beautiful kelims…they would have to take turns.
    Purging is great though…there is a sense of …almost relief….when its done. Storage space would have to be very creatively planned in your tiny houses…..everyone has stuff to store.
    My rule of thumb is….if you havent used it, or worn it, in the last 12 months….you dont need it.

    • I agree! In fact, no matter how tempting it is to keep something, if I can’t reasonably believe I *will* use it in the next 6 months, it also has to go. It is a marvelous feeling to get rid of stuff, and I’m now moving on to my upstairs closets!

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