How Living in 381 Square Feet Has Strengthened My Marriage

  • Story By: Kathryn M.

If I had a dollar for all the jaw-dropping looks I’ve received when telling people my husband and I live in a 381-square-foot studio, I would be well on my way to becoming a millionaire. Responses such as “No, you’re kidding. Really?” and “But, how?” are the most common.

Yet for us, the lack of square footage isn’t so much a big deal. We prefer it actually, as it’s been all we’ve known since tying the knot three years ago. In fact, we recently downsized from a 400-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn to an even smaller studio across the country in San Francisco. Oh, the joys of city living!

While living in tight quarters can most definitely have its challenges — think: one-too-many pet peeves, dollhouse-sized closets, and lack of personal space — this journey of close contact has been the core strengthener to our marriage. And, as far-fetched as it might seem, I owe all the happiness my husband and I have shared together over these last few years to our teeny-tiny abode.

Before you completely write me off as crazy, please allow me to explain how we have made our relationship thrive despite the lack of space.



1. With no room for mind-reading, open communication is a must!

When we first moved in together, it didn’t take long for us to realize the key to keeping a happy and healthy relationship would be through communication. And lots of it. With such a tiny space, we were forced to drop any personal guards and be, well, ourselves — 100% vulnerable. By acknowledging the fact that neither one of us were mind-readers, we had no choice but to vocalize upfront our wants, needs, and annoyances. Because let’s face it – so many of the quirks we used to find cute quickly spiraled into irritating pet-peeves.  

As you can probably imagine, honest communication has become our best navigator through any murky waters of conflict. It has saved us so much time, energy, and unnecessary headaches, as well as prevented a slew of misunderstanding and confusion. But I’d be lying if I said we have never had any hiccups along the way, because as we’ve all heard before, marriage is by no means an easy road to trek down.

Yet the beauty of living in a small space is that when an argument does surface, and you have no extra rooms to escape to and mull over the negativity, you are forced to work through it, right then and there, in that present moment. I can’t help but giggle when I reflect on all our many tiffs. I usually storm off to our claustrophobic closet, while my husband usually finds refuge in the small front corner we call our kitchen. With nowhere to go but outside, it usually doesn’t take long before we meet back up at the table, ready to hash out any tension and combat the not-so-good vibes.




2. “Respect” is our tiny home’s theme song.  

Let’s face it: lack of personal space is inevitable when it comes to living with another person in any cramped quarters. But that’s where we rely heavily on our mighty friend called respect. Beyond personal space, we have recognized and accepted the importance of respecting each other’s needs throughout our entire home.

For example, I am a tad bit much messier than my husband. While I don’t mind leaving a few dishes in the sink or clothes on the floor, he would rather tidy up as we go throughout our day. Being mindful of that, I am more conscious of the clutter I accumulate, which makes for less frustration all around, and certainly assists in keeping the space more manageable to maintain, both physically and mentally. With less stuff around for distraction, our minds can freely breathe, making for an overall happier environment to call home.

With everyday respect for each other, tensions are more likely to stay low, creating extra room for positivity. We have found it extremely helpful to cling onto those good vibes and take our “living” outside. I mean, just because you live in a studio — or any other cramped space — doesn’t mean your bedroom must collide with your living room. To switch up our everyday routines, we often picnic in nearby parks for dinner, catch up on city benches, and unwind from the long workdays by strolling through streets in different neighborhoods. And the best part? All these activities are free!




3. Always make room for gratitude.  

We all know maintaining any kind of space with another individual takes teamwork, and by living in such tight quarters, even the smallest gestures of appreciation can go a long way. For instance, a simple “Thank you for taking out the trash,” or “No dishes to wash? Ah, you’re the best!” can serve as the ultimate mood-booster. Compliments, praises, and words of encouragement make the world of difference, and for us, these simple words have strengthened our partnership.


Although my husband and I sometimes fantasize about the day when our bed won’t play a double role as our couch, or when we’ll have a dishwasher, ceiling fan, and our very own washer & dryer — big luxuries when it comes to city living! — for now, we choose to embrace the coziness and cherish all the memories made in our mini casa. It may lack in space, but it certainly overflows with happiness, and I couldn’t be more grateful.  


Would you consider small home living with your partner? 

  • I would NOT consider living in an apartment that small with my husband. We have been living together for 10 years and married for 7. We started in a 700sq ft 1 bedroom apartment in SF. Moved to a 1400 sq ft 2.5 bedroom apartment in Chicago and finally upgraded to a house 3 years ago. The more space we have the less we fight, the more we have time to calm down and avoid saying hurtful things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment. In small spaces our arguments escalate into full blown wars easier and quicker. He and I both need a lot of prersonal space or we start to feel trapped and defensive. For our relationship the more space we have, the better it’s gotten. We are able to take the time and space we need to calm down, and reconvene to work things out.

  • i really have no idea how to react because I come from a country where most of the families (mom,dad,two kids plus a dog) live in 150 square feet apts. and really, it’s not a big deal, it’ s just reality. and we have one of the smallest divorce rate in the world so I guess, all in all, it means that it is love that matters not the size of your apt or a house. honestly, what I,m thinking at the moment is why would sb write a post about it?

    • skbn113

      Why write about it? Because the last time I checked America is a free country!

  • skbn113

    Living in a tiny space destroyed my marriage (201 ft.² in Hawaii) I was miserable in Paradise and filed for divorce after being assaulted the very first night I was there. Small spaces make for a lot of tension! I do not recommend it for anyone. Small space? Be single!)

  • Me and my partner lived in a one room outhouse with an en-suite that was tiny! Even though it was super stressful a lot of the time, it really showed us that we could live together, no matter what size our home was

    Steph –

    • CateCussell

      Completely agree! if you can live in 3 rooms you can survive anything 🙂

  • My husband and I live in a 1 BR and den apartment with about 660 sq ft. One thing I find about living in a small space—it compels you as a couple to focus more on acquiring experiences than things because you simply don’t have space for excess stuff, and those shared experiences strengthen you as a couple.

  • I absolutely love this! Being able to live happily in something that size is important and shows real strength!

    I hope you have a lovely Tuesday,

  • Debra Kepola

    I am from Los Angeles where i had handicap apartment two bedrooms and 1 bath; then I moved to Las Vegas and I moved in a 834 Square feet apartment which I just loved and had a patio. I was thinking about living in a Tiny house with its built-ins but there are so many ways to decorate a small apartment.
    If its a studio and the bed is in the living room, use a partition to section off the bedroom from the living room put a sofa in front of it or use a curtain to keep it separate from the bedroom.
    For example, I was watching one of those overseas real estate shows where clients pick 3 apartments or houses and then you have to choose one they want. Well, a couple that just got married they moved to France and they got bought ta Studio’s big enough for them to put a dining sat four people nut didn’t overwhelmed the living room area.
    The bedroom was behind the living room so what they did, they put up a curtains to separate the bedroom from the living room and I thought that was so cool; it made the whole apartment look larger than it really was and it was all separate from the living room even the bedroom looked large and they had a king size bed.
    The whole Studio was decorated in a formal design apartment.

  • CateCussell

    my husband and I live in a self contained flat under my parents house. We have a dog too. Its absolute bliss actually because we have built in dog sitters and if my husband is out I can go and chat to my mum. We are very lucky that we all get on but even saying that we do all have off days.
    I love living in a small space – it takes next to no time to clean and tidy (but you do have to keen of top of the tidying). I must say that we can’t have people over for dinner but we’re happy to go to our friends’ house or eat out.
    I do find that because we have so little space we try not to buy so much crap and chose 1 off better quality purchases because they have to deserve the space we give them. That’s a plus too.

  • The first apartment my partner and I had together was a tiny studio – we’ve only just recently moved out of it. As a hardcore introvert I CRAVE personal space and alone time, studio living does not accommodate that at all and I was often stressed out and anxious.

    It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’m glad that it made your marriage that much stronger and tighter.