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What the Heck is a Micro Apartment (and Can You Really Live in One?)

We’ve all heard of downsizing, but how far is too far? People who are settling down (no pun intended) in a micro apartment-and loving it-might argue that the limit does not exist. If you’re thinking of moving to a new city where the rents are steep, and finding a spot within budget seems like a hoop dream, you may want to consider a micro unit. Rents in these apartments can be 30% lower than larger one-bedroom apartments nearby. Simpler, smaller-sized living could be the ticket to living the dream of making Midtown Manhattan or Paris your new home.

Breaking Down the Size

Micro apartments are usually understood as units under 300 square feet, but many are as small as 100 square feet. Yes, that’s right: a micro apartment can be smaller than a two-car garage. In fact, micro apartments are often marketed as studios since they contain a single room for multi-purpose use.

The minimum square footage required for rentals is different in each city. In Seattle, for instance, units can be as small as 90 square feet, while in Chicago, micro units have to be at least 275 square feet. The smallest apartment you’ll find in NYC is 400 square feet. Because they’re so small, many micro units maximize space by incorporating loft-style beds, or a Murphy bed that folds into the wall, creating room to move around during the day.

Where are Micro Apartments Thriving?

Even through they’re starting to get more attention, micro apartments are nothing new. In some cities, these units are called single-room occupancies (or SROs), and have been around since the Great Depression. In other places, a relentlessly-growing cost of living has made micro apartments more common, as potential renters are more than happy to sacrifice square footage for lower rent payments. The top cities in the US for these tiny studios include:

  • Seattle, WA
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Boston, MA
  • Portland, OR

How to Make Micro Living Work

Can you really make living in a micro apartment work? Lots of people say “yes.” Our recommendation: find furniture pieces with multiple uses (like a pull-out couch, or an ottoman that opens up to create storage) and “build up,” since you can’t “build out.” Stack those open shelves as close to the ceiling as you can. Utilizing every inch of space beneath a bed loft by filling it with dressers and bookshelves and creating a wall of glass-door cabinets will maximize storage without making you feel like the walls are closing in. People who say they’re thrilled with their micro apartment have found ways to make the space useful, despite its small size.

Are you ready for the simple life? Living in a micro apartment requires you to pare down your belongings. But something about living efficiently can be freeing, even if it does demand a bit of sacrifice. Whether you’re a college student, or professional who wants to finally afford an address in your favorite big-city zip code, going small can lead to big life changes.


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