If you are planning on living small in the Big City, it’s time to get rid of some stuff. And by “some stuff” I mean almost all of your belongings. Living in 300 to 400 square feet of space, also known as 1/33 of Mariah Carey’s Manhattan closet, doesn’t exactly give you room to hold group exercise classes.
It’s more than just physical items and space. A change in mindset is required. While minimalist lifestyles are gaining popularity, learning to live without, rather than living with, takes time and innovation. Are you willing to sacrifice square feet for a great location? Are you ready to redefine cozy? Can you see yourself eating, showering and sleeping in the same room? This complete guide to micro-living in New York City will provide tips, tricks and first-hand accounts to help you answer those questions.
A Little Background on Micro-Living
The micro-movement in New York City is trending upward, highlighted by the construction of the city’s first micro-apartment complex. My Micro NY, a city-backed project, has started stacking individual units in preparation for late 2015 move-in dates. Designed to maximize space and openness, the apartments already have a waiting list of people willing to fork over a reported $2,000 to $3,000 a month for 260 to 360 square feet of space.
Despite the first official micro-building just going up, this type of living has existed in New York City for a long time. In fact, much longer than the current “four bedrooms, two and a half baths.” A population boom in the mid-1800’s dramatically increased urban density in the city, and smaller living spaces were created to accommodate the boom. NYC zoning laws in 1987 cracked down on micro-living, citing apartments under 400 square feet of floor area should no longer be built due to safety. While My Micro NY was granted a waiver, all apartments under 400 square feet and built before 1987 were also grandfathered in and therefore legal. This is the reason you can find videos of people showing off their 78-square-foot mini studio.
This way of life is nothing new to people in cities like Tokyo and London. Combining a high population density with premium real estate locations often provides enough backbone for micro-construction. American cities like Seattle, Los Angeles and Providence have caught on, investing in planning and development for such structures. Even in cities like Cleveland, where demand and market size don’t even scrape the surface of New York City, the affordability of such dwellings can be enough to attract a growing number of young singles who want to live alone.
New York City’s Smallest Apartment
How does $1,110 a month for just under 100 square feet sound? Do you mind using your shower as your head board? How about not having a kitchen or stove? You can (or I suppose can’t) get all of this in one of New York’s smallest apartments. The apartment’s broker, Leon Feingold, doesn’t shy away from just how small it is. Here’s a few of the funnier points from its listing:
He goes on to say the bullet points are just a joke, but the 7’ x 11’ room certainly is not. Despite the dimensions and underwhelming features, Feingold believes the apartment still has allure.
“There’s a certain cache about living in ‘one of the smallest apartments in NYC,’ and about making it work. It’s a challenge and one I’d be proud of if I made it work. Plus the neighborhood is one of the best in the city. Most people who lived there, wound up loving it. You’re paying a third what your neighbors are. Once you go to sleep, it doesn’t matter how big your room is. And this is New York City! Who wants to stay home?”
Leon Feingold, Real Estate Broker
And tenants won’t want to stay home for good reason, as the apartment is located on the Upper West Side between Columbus and Amsterdam/Broadway. On top of that, Feingold says it’s the cheapest apartment he’s ever rented in Manhattan by a decent margin. He says the average one-room studio within a few blocks costs about $2,600.
As another added feature, if claustrophobia ever sets in, you could always look outside from your fourth-floor view at the scenic street below. Oh wait, there aren’t any windows either. As a consolation, it does feature a large skylight to really open up the space. In a recent Reddit post, Feingold wrote that one tenant lived, and enjoyed the view, with his girlfriend. Seems like living on your own would be a walk in the park.
Moving from Big to Small
The transition to minimal living starts with renting a dumpster. How convenient. Prioritizing what you truly need, donating items in good condition and pitching the rest is a tough, but important, first step. If you are hesitant, wanting to put everything from your childhood in a storage unit, you probably aren’t ready to make this move. Micro-apartment dweller, Adam Hengels, used similar tactics in his move.
“I sorted out all my possessions, and sold, discarded, or donated everything that I hadn’t used in a year. I also started scanning all of my old files, and shredded everything that was in my file cabinets. I reduced my possessions to the things I actually used and couldn’t be stored digitally. If there were things I absolutely had to keep, I found a way to store them where they didn’t take up space in the spaces I lived my life.”
Adam Hengels, Real Estate Developer and Micro-Apartment Enthusiast
The work isn’t complete once you move in, however. Living micro requires you to pay keen attention to what’s coming in and what’s going out. One New Yorker claimed she didn’t accept a book from a friend in order to avoid the clutter. Yes, a single book. It’s not necessary to take it to that extent, but depending on the size of the place, similar tactics may be necessary. Here’s a few good general strategies to implement:
When you don’t have a ton of square footage, what do you do? You take things vertical. Stacked cabinetry, lofted beds, and hanging clothes will make room on the surface below. Speaking of making room, furniture that can be used for multiple purposes is essential. This could include a pull-out bed, an expandable table or maybe even one of these boxes. Also, you will want to implement the “get one, get rid of one” policy when it comes to clothes, purses, and other accessories. Often your comfort and contentedness, even if you’re not at home a lot, can rely on avoiding clutter. Coming home to a mess isn’t ideal when you don’t have another room to escape to.
Living in a space equivalent to six office cubicles isn’t for everyone. Micro-units target a certain demographic, specifically young singles who aren’t home a lot. The rise in popularity in New York can largely be attributed to that. If you use your apartment for sleeping and an occasional meal, it only makes sense to opt for cheaper rent in a better location.
“Before moving to a micro-apartment, I would make sure it is right for you,” said Hengels. “If you are the type to spend most of your time at home: working from home, cooking at home, and watching TV, a more spacious home may be more appropriate. If your lifestyle involves working long hours, spending time with friends outside of home, or being out-and-about, a micro-apartment could work fine.”
The residents already occupying the nooks & crannies of NYC are largely enthusiasts about living small, or rather living with less. It’s more than just the affordability, it’s an effort to reduce excess. That applies to the outside of the building as much as it does the inside; as saving parks and green space in the city has to be balanced with urban expansion. Living in smaller areas can be viewed as an aid to that, both reducing the human footprint on the environment and saving energy.
“For me, I realized having more space was only serving my ego. I thought I ‘should’ have a bigger home because people expected that of me. But all that extra space actually made my life less easy. I downsized my space, but moved to a more sought after neighborhood that would allow me to eliminate my commute and be close to friends,” said Hengels.
The Good and The Bad
Sacrificing space comes with its benefits. As noted previously, micro-apartments are usually in great locations with a virtually endless amount of options for getting a bite to eat, going to a show, or partying until 4 a.m. In other words, you won’t mind being in such a small space because you’ll never be there.
Affordability even trumps location for many young singles and has been used as a selling point for micro-complexes. Yet, when taking a closer look into it, it’s best to use “affordability” lightly. Many of the micro-buildings, like in Boston and Seattle, are newly built and include amenities like a gym, pool or rooftop patio. These features drive prices into the range of, and sometimes surpasses, that of normal apartments. New York has started on the right track in dealing with this issue, allocating 22 of the 55 units in the My Micro NY building towards affordable housing.
While location and affordability loom large, it’s urban density that sits at the root of everything. Micro-apartments are often viewed in a positive light regarding density, yet it could be argued in the complete opposite direction. On the one side, it could be said that residents are using less space, and therefore reducing their environmental impact. But on the other hand, cramming more people into less space can create problems with sanitation and pollution.
City planners and building owners will ultimately determine the fate of micro-apartments in America. Challenges exist in that green space must be preserved, affordable housing needs to be provided and the residential experience should be positively unique.
Are You Ready to Go Micro?
It’s not impossible to make a couple hundred square feet feel like home. As stated at the beginning of this post, step one is to get rid of everything you don’t truly need. The ability or inability to do that will give you a clear indication of whether or not you are cut out for micro-living. It isn’t made for everybody, yet it has the potential to become the norm for future city dwellers. Are you ready to go micro? Just know, it’s not a small change.