A collage of four images of smartly decorated bright studio apartment living spaces.
Credit: Tess Ciarloni; Melissa Lee; Nathan Anthony; Isabelle Eshraghi

9 Things You Learn Living in a Tiny Studio Apartment — Whether You’ve Been There 9 Months or 9 Years

published May 25, 2021
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No matter the size of your home, there’s so much to learn from people who successfully live in incredibly small studio apartments. And by success, I mean a few things: they maximize the small footprint, find genius storage and/or style solutions, and have just plain made it work so well that you almost forget that they’re living in someplace that’s more or less one room.

I combed through recent home tours and found four people absolutely thriving in studios that are only 350 square feet. Two of these studio dwellers have lived in their petite homes for less than a year, and the challenges (and lessons learned) of transitioning to a small space are fresh in their minds. The other two have had years to uncover the secrets to small-space living. While the four people below have certainly had varied experiences in their small spaces, I unearthed plenty of similarities to their experiences, too. Below, the very best, useful, and absolutely timeless advice from four seasoned studio pros who have been successful studio dwellers, from seven months to nine years!


1. Preparing to live in a small studio apartment starts before you ever move in.

“Before moving into this space, I did a big overhaul of my stuff,” explains Angie Eng, who moved into her Brooklyn studio apartment seven months ago (after having shared an apartment twice the size with a then-partner). “I had to assess what was important to me to keep, and what was equally as important for me to discard, from values and people, to furniture and things. It’s ironic that moving into a smaller space facilitated so much personal growth, but cleaning house was really step one — I donated half of my wardrobe, purged some cumbersome furniture, and insisted on keeping others — namely the things that aided my comfort during difficult times.”

“Downsizing does not have to mean sanitizing your style.”

Angie Eng

2. Moving into a small studio apartment does NOT mean you have to become a strict minimalist.

Angie definitely threw away anything that didn’t spark joy before she moved into this studio apartment, but she also realized that she didn’t have to go full minimal. “I cannot stress enough that you can fill your small space to the brim if you so please — as long as you do so thoughtfully, it will come together just fine,” she says. “I reject the idea that living in a small space means you have to forsake abundance — I think it’s important to disentangle the ideas of maximalism and excess. I have kept and have continued to curate things that are important to me — art, photos, books, plants. All of those things make me happy, and make my house a home, and a special one at that. Oftentimes, when people think of a small space or tiny home, they think minimalism, and while I can appreciate that design, to me, it can feel rather sterile. Downsizing does not have to mean sanitizing your style.”

3. There will be compromises, but creative solutions (and specialized products) can help you work around any small-space limitations.

From doing laundry, to cooking, to entertaining, these studio dwellers had to make certain concessions when choosing their small home. But it also forced everyone to get creative and work around their small space’s limitations. They were able to reframe sacrifices into creative compromises. For example, Angie couldn’t fit her existing big dining table inside her studio apartment, but she was able to put it in the outdoor space to host dinner parties (when it’s safe again) and purchased a compact expanding console for her entryway that can be used for dining inside.

Credit: Melissa Lee
Lisa Lu's dining setup in her Chelsea studio apartment.

With very little storage and counter space and a miniature stove and fridge, Lisa Lu, who’s lived in her Chelsea studio apartment for NINE years, admits she’s had to make the most compromises in her kitchen area, but it’s also led to some of her best and clever ideas. “I bought a counter-height table for my dining area that does double duty as extra counter space. It’s right next to the kitchen, so it makes perfect sense to prep things here,” she explains. Her cabinets are also full of shelves and caddies in order to maximize every inch, and she loves products from the Yamazaki Home line, particularly the magnetic storage racks that attach to the side of her refrigerator and that keep her oils and spices easy to reach.

Credit: Melissa Lee

Cookware and appliances are another thing Lisa has had to work around. “My beloved stand mixer is on indefinite loan at my mom’s until I move somewhere where I have the space to store it, along with my food processor,” she admits. “Still, I find ways to work around this tool. For example, a hand mixer will suffice for now, and I found a cute mini food processor. A rice cooker is a must in any Asian household, and I found a smaller version of that as well. Another favorite find is my Staub multi-use braiser. It’s so versatile — you can saute, braise, roast, and bake in it — and it looks good enough to go straight from the oven to the table.”

4. There are two things that you shouldn’t compromise on if you can help it.

“I think the most essential thing for me (aside from a dishwasher because I HATE doing dishes) is having an abundance of natural light,” emphasizes Tess Ciarloni, who’s owned her 350-square-foot Toronto condo for three years. “I’ve lived in a basement and it felt like a depressing dungeon, so the natural light is really important to me — and my many many plants. I think a functional layout is also essential. To me, my apartment was such a joy to decorate because the layout was incredibly functional and easy to work with so I never feel cramped or annoyed by any features of the apartment.”

“I think living in a small space forces you to only bring things into your home that you truly love and have space for.”

Tess Ciarloni

5. It helps to remember that there are HUGE benefits to living small.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the potential downsides to negotiate when transitioning to a small studio, but these four folks stress that there are incredible upsides to living small. “One of the benefits of living in a small home is that it doesn’t take too much time to deep-clean the entire space,” reveals Isabelle Eshraghi, who has lived in her 350-square-foot New York City studio for nine months. “Another advantage is that it’s very hard to misplace things in a small home, and whenever I think I’ve lost something I can find it within a matter of minutes.” Lisa agrees that it’s much easier to maintain a small studio. “Cleaning is no longer an all-day chore. By comparison, it typically only takes a few hours at most, and I can enjoy the rest of my Saturday,” she says.

Angie says that living in a small home has helped her form healthy habits and a routine to keep her apartment tidy. But there have also been benefits to her bank accoun. “Financially, opting for this unit over others has really helped me save money, and feel more freedom to spend on experiences that matter, while also being more mindful of the material things I do choose to acquire. I literally do not have much space for them, so I have to be more thoughtful, and it really has impacted my wallet positively in many ways. I also just find it cozier — I love that it’s open and inviting without being expansive.” says Angie.

Tess says that small space living has helped her avoid accumulating junk. “I think living in a small space forces you to only bring things into your home that you truly love and have space for,” she explains. “It’s forced me to be very intentional with my purchases because all the pieces have to work together. Plus, I like to live more minimally so I make sure that I’m not buying too much and overcrowding the space. So it’s definitely helped me to not shop too much!”

6. You can totally skip buying a very common item.

“Buying small trash cans was a huge mistake; a trash can is definitely the one thing you should buy full-sized for a tiny apartment,” advises Isabelle.

7. Not having a separate bedroom isn’t that big of a deal… and you don’t have to divide your studio visually if you don’t want to.

“I thought I would hate not having a separate bedroom and living room but turns out it doesn’t bother me at all,” says Tess. “Honestly, I can’t believe how often people try to tell me that I need to section off my bed from the living room. I’ve never found that to be necessary since I’m living here alone and I don’t want to waste precious space on an unnecessary piece of furniture — I like the open concept!”

Credit: Melissa Lee
Lisa Lu's bedroom area in her Chelsea studio apartment.

Lisa echoes Tess’ sentiments. “Never in a million years would I have thought I could live this long without a separate bedroom with a door,” Lisa says of her studio home of nine years. “But when you live by yourself, it’s just really not an issue. I know a lot of studio dwellers like to create some physical separation between their ‘bedroom’ and the rest of their living space, using dividers and bookcases and what not. There are definitely instances where I think that works, but often, I feel you are making your space feel smaller by chopping it up that way. I prefer to keep it open and create different zones by employing rugs, paint, and wall art.”

“I think it’s important to remember that you can make ANY place a home, and you should.”

Lisa Lu

8. The time, money, energy, and effort is worth it.

“When I first moved in, I viewed this as a transient space, and I thought I would eventually move to a ‘real’ one-bedroom,” admits Lisa. “Therefore, I didn’t really want to invest money and effort into decorating it. Here we are nine years later. I think it’s important to remember that you can make ANY place a home, and you should. Before I did anything to my apartment, when I walked through the door after a long day at work, I felt… nothing. No change in my mood; if I had been stressed, I was still stressed. Now, when I walk in, I instantly feel a sense of calm. It’s actually a very visceral change. It’s like the whole day washes off of me.”

9. Keep it positive (and emphasize solutions).

“Don’t allow yourself to succumb to frustration over a lack of space,” stresses Lisa. “If you address it with a positive attitude and a solutions-based approach, you’re in a much better position to tackle any shortcomings of the space. Creating distinct zones within your space helps you to mentally switch gears when you’re doing different activities.”

Tess also agrees that your attitude is an important part of thriving in a small studio apartment. “Try to go into it with a positive mindset. If you convince yourself that it’s going to feel cramped and you’ll go stir crazy, then that’s exactly what will happen. Use this as an opportunity to look at everything that you own and decide if you love it enough to include it in a more curated selection of pieces for your new home.”

As far as how long these four small space dwellers will continue to live in their 350-square-foot studios… Angie currently loves where she lives and has no plans to move. Isabelle will be moving back into a dorm to finish school this summer, but can always see herself living in a small space when living solo. Tess has just said goodbye to her small home for a slightly larger space (though still small by most standards). And Lisa thinks she’ll live in her studio apartment until she finds herself in a “cohabitation situation (wink wink) or until Stella gets too old to do the stairs (it’s a sixth floor walkup), whichever comes first. Until then, I have everything I need here, so why put myself through the hell that is moving?”