Compact Living: Everything you need to know cover image

Compact Living: Everything you need to know

Compact Living.  It goes by many names.  Micro-living.  Tiny House Movement.  Living Small.  Some live a small lifestyle by choice, as part of a financial plan, for a better location, or to reduce their carbon footprint.  Others live in small dwellings due to financial situations, or possibly lack of accommodation inventory.  Whatever the reason, it’s a movement sweeping the globe that many people have never heard of.

What is Compact Living?

By definition, a tiny home is typically 400 sq ft or less and built on a trailer.  Some tow their tiny homes from place to place, others “park” on a plot of land with a permanent location.  Micro homes or apartments are not built on wheels, and are slightly smaller, tending more towards 150 – 350 sq feet.  The “movement” towards living in smaller dwellings can be summed up in two words “Compact Living”. 

Why have I never heard of Compact Living?

If you’ve never heard these terms before, you’re not alone.  Although tiny homes are making their mark on the world thanks to TV shows and social media, compact living is still a relatively new concept. 

The great (enter your nationality here) dream (in my case, Canadian dream), has typically been to rent a “starter apartment” out of university, get a good paying job and then save, save, save until you can afford a down payment on a multi-bedroom house with a yard, and a 25-year mortgage.  If that’s the dream, why does it feel like an unattainable nightmare?  Or is that just me?

With this “dream” being the norm, most have never heard of the Compact Living lifestyle, because it’s not on their radar.  With mob mentality, and keeping up with the Jones’, it doesn’t occur to most to downsize before retirement.  Even when retirees “downsize” from their forever home, it’s usually still quite a large condo or apartment. To those living a compact lifestyle, a retiree’s downsized condo would still fit 3 or 4 of their homes!

Wood cabin in the woods with grass & stone path
Photo credit: Unsplash – Ante Hamersmit

Who is this lifestyle for?

Compact Living is not a lifestyle for everyone.  But who is it for?  There are plenty of reasons people live small, and some may surprise you.

Take New York City as a perfect example.  Imagine being right in the heart of the city, spending all your time basking in the energy and taking in all of the opportunities the city has to offer.  Now guess how much rent costs!  For most it’s out of reach.  People choose a studio apartment in NYC over a 3-bedroom house elsewhere.  And they’re perfectly happy with it.

For some, the great dream is still their dream.  And they are willing to sacrifice their now home for their future home.  Choosing compact living now could save you money on rent, utilities and overheard costs (think furniture) that can go towards a future home. 

The previous scenario also works for people saving for other dreams, like travel, or early retirement, or a new car.  Many are happy to sacrifice space with a compact living lifestyle, to reap the financial rewards for other parts of their life of higher importance to them.

With Climate Change on (almost) everyone’s minds these days, compact living provides the eco-conscious dweller a more sustainable lifestyle.  A smaller carbon footprint from a reduction of land required for your dwelling, less water/gas/electricity usage, and in general, less “stuff”.

White house on farm land
Photo credit: Unsplash – Katie Barrett

What are the Pros & Cons of the Compact Living lifestyle?

As with any lifestyle, there are pros and cons and fans and critics.  The Compact Living movement has one major flaw against it – most people don’t know about it.  And if they do, they don’t necessarily understand it.

Have you ever lived in a studio apartment and your friends/family acted as if they felt bad for you?  Like you couldn’t afford or find anything better?  I’m sure that’s been the case for many of us, I know my first studio was a financial decision. But for many, a small dwelling brings a simpler lifestyle.

Financial freedom is a big plus in the pro column for Compact Living.  Lower rent or mortgage payments and reduced utility costs will keep your paycheque in your bank account where it belongs.  If you’re living in the heart of things, you may be able to save on transportation costs by walking everywhere.  With a smaller space comes less need for furnishing multiple, often unused, rooms.

And that is another great tick in the pro column:  using all the space in your home.  How many of us have rooms in our homes which we use rarely or never at all?  Guest rooms for guests that never come.  Basements that store belongings we don’t even know are down there anymore. Formal living rooms reserved for Christmas Day or if the Queen pops in for tea.  Imagine living in all the spaces in your home and only keeping the belongings that mean the most to you…and seeing & using them every day.  Just imagine it.

Having to declutter and downsize your home would probably be a con for most.  The thought of pairing down your belongings to just the essentials is a challenge that most are not up for.  If this does interest you, I have written an article “The struggles and unexpected benefits of downsizing your home” to check out.  I’ve broken the daunting task down into actionable steps and included a downloadable checklist for you to use as a reference.

Messy Room with boxes and text The Struggle & unexpected benefits of downsizing by Simple Small Space Living
The unexpected benefits of downsizing – Simple Small Space Living – Compact Lifestyle Blog
Declutter & Downsizing checklist cover
Declutter & Downsizing checklist – Simple Small Space Living blog

Why I chose compact living

I have been compact living for the past 10 years, living in 300 sq ft or less.  As a homebody by nature, compact living encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and explore the world outside my home.  I socialize more and spend more time outdoors, enjoying nature.  Compact living became a puzzle that challenged me to become more creative with storage, organization and planning out my home.  The planning process is integral for making your small space work for you, not against you.  For me, this challenge has become my favourite part of the compact living lifestyle.  I am currently living in my 72 sq ft van conversion, and every day I look around and think what I can live without, how can I further maximise this space, and what would it be like living in a smaller van!

Like any “movement”, Compact Living is not for everyone.  Not everyone wants or needs to live in a small space.  With urban areas becoming denser, urban planners are looking towards micro-dwellings as a solution to an inventory problem.  As housing prices rise, buyers are looking for entry into the market, and a tiny house can come at an enticing price point.  Some forgo a sticks and bricks house altogether and buy an RV or van as a fulltime traveling home on wheels.  Whatever the reason, the compact living lifestyle is here to stay.  Now that you know about it, are you ready to join the movement?

Not ready for a full downsize?  Why not start with your closet?  Download my free ebook “How to organize your closet in a day” to get started with a bit of a purge and a good ol’ fashion closet refresh.

How to organize your closet in a day ebook cover
Organize your closet in a day ebook

Do you have a friend interested in Compact Living?  Be sure to share this article with them.


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Hi!  I’m Emily.

I believe that living in a small space leaves room to live more of a life that matters to you.  To not be bogged down with space that needs cleaning and is full of possessions that aren’t meaningful to your story.  I will show you small space ideas to get you organized and make you fall in love with the cozy space you are lucky enough to call home sweet home.

I’m a former event planner turned blogger, living full time in my newly converted campervan, sharing all my favourite hacks and small space living ideas with people just like you!

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