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How to Live in Small Spaces: Studio Apartment Living

5 Things I Learned About Studio Apartment Living |

The Rise of Studio Apartment Living in Toronto

It’s true, condos and apartments in the City of Toronto are getting smaller and smaller. And, with the GTA’s protected greenbelt limiting sprawl and developable land, things are not going to change anytime soon. In fact, studio apartment living is gaining the attention of investors and renters alike. These small spaces are located in more accessible parts of the city where young urbanites are willing to pay a premium to live, work and play.


From 3,000 sq. ft.

I grew up in a large four-bedroom home in the suburbs of Mississauga, where I would get lost in the home. I’d put on ballet performances for my cat in my mom’s walk-in closet, run away from my tormenting brother down three flights of stairs, and hide in the kitchen island cupboards when it was time to clean my room. All the while, I was able to avoid the two living areas that were always pristine and never to be used. In fact, if we even sat on one of the always staged, antique couches draped by a delicate wool throw placed just so, our mom would know…

As a child, I remember contemplating this concept of having so much space and subsequently unused rooms. Frankly, it confused me. I didn’t understand why an adult would save their whole lives for the bigger house and only use part of it. My mom would tell you that if you use all of it, it’s more to clean. But the truth is, as human beings, we require and find fulfillment with a lot less space than we think we need.


…to 400 sq. ft.

Back in 2010, when I first moved to the downtown core for a job, I came eagerly from my parents sprawling suburban home. I had expectations of shiny granite counters (these were in style then, okay?), walk-in closets, and a master big enough to fit a king (bed). And, I envisioned a generous balcony where I could grill my favourite fish and meats while I breathed in the fresh city air. I saw myself looking onward to lake views and city vistas.

However, what I got was a 400 sqft. studio apartment that directly faced another building. It had one tiny closet for our shoes, winter coats, clothes etc. that my boyfriend and I would need to change up regularly with the seasons. This well laid out studio apartment was marketed as a one + den (I kid you not!). It had a partially dividing wall between the living area and open concept bedroom, and a small “dent” in the living room jutting out just deep enough to fit a tiny desk.

Together, my boyfriend and I lived, worked, and entertained guests here and everything in between. And although things were tight, we were truly happy. I can say my quality of life had significantly improved from my suburban days as a bright-eyed and bushy tailed early adult. We were minutes away from our respective jobs, grocery stores, bars, and friends. And, walking or biking everywhere became part of our daily lives.


What I Learned From Living in a Studio Apartment (Under 500 Square Feet)

Now I will be honest, I didn’t love going from a 3,000 sqft. home to what some people would see as a large walk-in closet, overnight. There was definitely a learning curve and new habits I needed to assume. But, it was through this experience I learned invaluable lessons that I’ve carried with me to our now bigger apartment. It taught me to create a space I love to live in, no matter how small.

Living in a small space may not be for everyone. However, if you work and play in the city or find boredom from driving hours in traffic and being compounded by the isolation felt when finally pulling into your driveway, consider some of these lessons I learned from living in under 500 sqft. This is what’s given me a new perspective on home ownership.


1. It’s easy to get dirty, but easy to keep clean.

When your entire apartment is essentially one big room, it creates discipline in your everyday routines. You’ll immediately see the benefits of hanging up your jacket in the closet as opposed to draping it over the couch. And, how much bigger your space looks when you make your bed or put your dishes away after each meal. Maintaining these small habits spark a big change in your home and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Even when it comes to doing a deep clean (baseboards and all), you can usually do this in just a couple of hours. Then, you can go back to living your life and doing the things you really want to do on your weekends!


2. Less is more.

I know Marie Kondo is saying, focus only on the items that “spark joy”. However, when it comes to shopping, whether for yourself (Sephora addicts I’m talking to you!) or for your home, living small makes you realize what truly matters. Everything needs to serve a purpose. In fact, the only thing that gets me through HomeSense without buying an additional 10-15 items than I originally came for, is having the mindset of evaluating the true value of my purchase. When you live in a studio apartment or small space, it’s all about purging regularly. Consolidate items to maximize your space and you’ll start to realize what items actually serve a purpose and add value to your life. And, most importantly, which ones “spark joy” right until check out. Look for items with multiple benefits, like a bench with hidden storage or floating bookshelves that free up desk clutter.

Another example is coming to the realization that I only use up to four tableware sets at a time. So, we only have four really nice pieces of each mug, tall glass, plate, etc. instead of a mish-mash of eclectic cocktail glasses and seasonal painted bowls we only bought “for that one holiday”. Everything from our closets to our kitchen drawers are simplified. As a result, we have a smaller quantity of high quality, staple items rather than a lot of cheap and cheerful knick-knacks.


3. Smaller spaces = smaller bills.

Yes, it’s true: it is cheaper to purchase or rent a small studio apartment than a two-bedroom apartment.  Not to mention, it costs less to heat a 500 sqft. condo than it does a 10,000 sqft. home. But, the savings don’t just translate to your wallet, it equates to the environment and economy as a whole. If we all lived in smaller, higher density residences that were close to work and our lifestyle hobbies, everyone’s lower annual household and transportation consumptions would significantly decrease. This leaves more money for better experiences like family vacations, education etc. And, it means more natural land staying natural.

Did you know? At a density of approximately 25 dwelling units per acre, the entire population of the world could fit in the state of Texas. This leaves the remainder of the planet for nature and agriculture. As improbable as this scenario is, it illustrates the vastnesses of our planet’s land area and the power of density to promote more efficient land use.


4. Light and windows make a world of a difference.

No matter how small your living space, there are things that can be done to make it feel bigger than it actually is. Apart from having fewer things and consolidating as much as possible, having a bright, light-filled space makes a world of a difference. If you are considering moving to a studio apartment, opt-in for spaces with big windows or south facing views to let in light and avoid a stuffy, cramped feeling.


5. Pay attention to the floorplan

I’ve seen condos that are the same square footage (to the square foot!) and one will feel significantly larger than the other because of the layout. This is true with condos and homes of any size. Look for floorplans that have a good flow through the spaces, open concept areas and functional layouts. A space needs to work for you and your lifestyle. So, if you work from home and there is nowhere to put a desk, look for something with a more conducive floorplan. Being discerning about the quality of the design or thinking that goes into smaller condos (especially a studio apartment) can prove to be invaluable. If you’re unsure of how to measure quality in the sea of condos going up in Toronto, consult your realtor. Ask them to make recommendations for reliable projects and developers/designers who are implementing intelligent and humane solutions to smaller living spaces.


Changing Expectations in Home Ownership

As our city continues to grow, smaller homes and apartments will become more prevalent. Instead of individual budgets changing, the expectations of home ownership will change.

Like me, more and more individuals will sacrifice space for improved quality of life. Less time stuck in traffic with little visible in the rearview mirror or the road ahead. More experiences and money to share with our families and friends. In doing so, we can recognize a more prosperous, more sustainable, and more equitable way of life.


This article is written by Urban enthusiast and food/travel junkie, Jessica Elizabeth Spillas. As the firm’s multi-talented Business Development Manager and Sales Representative, she is able to pair her passionate approach to buying, selling and investing in Toronto Real Estate with her flair for design and digital marketing. With this in mind, Jessica delivers unparalleled service with every interaction and works hard to keep her clients and colleagues organized and working at top-notch efficiency.