Survive Sharing a Small Space

Living in a small space is a challenge on its own, but the difficulty is multiplied exponentially when you share one with another person. It’s true that there are various benefits to living with someone else; cost savings, sharing household duties, having a close friend around, etc. However, a major reduction in square footage also results in the inevitable confrontation of conflicting habits and personalities. Learning how to handle these situations is vital if you want to succeed in sharing a small space.

My relationship with my partner Stewart is far from perfect; however, after dating for a year followed by living together for nearly 18 months, we have successfully found a balance that works for us. During the earlier half of our cohabitation, we experienced a rough patch that led to frustration, emotional hardship and some serious arguments. However, we made adjustments to our lifestyles, found compromise and continue to live happily in our 363 sq ft studio condo.

The First 12 Months

Stewart and I met during the end of the summer in 2009, right before my senior year of college. We were two complete strangers attending a fashion show for a local vintage clothing shop. A short conversation at the bar led to an evening of dancing, followed by a string of dates.

During the “honeymoon” phase of our relationship, we lived separately and hung out frequently. Stewart was the best thing since sliced bread and like most people experiencing the early stages of a relationship, we were immune to each others quirks and imperfections.

This changed quickly as the relationship became more serious. Following graduation we began discussing our plans for the future because I was moving out of state for work. I began observing Stewart’s habits while visiting his apartment. My friends thought it was strange, but I wanted to anticipate possible conflicts and discuss them before we found ourselves living together far away from our family and support networks.

Our First Apartment

Before Stewart, I had never roomed with a boyfriend and worries about us having enough space became a large concern. Going from two apartments to one was a big change and I was not ready to risk confinement to small living quarters. I signed a six month lease on a two bedroom 1150 sq foot loft in downtown Minneapolis.

We quickly realized that the space was unnecessarily large and too expensive for our income level. Instead of preventing problems, it created new ones. I was in the midst of struggling with a job that I didn’t enjoy and felt trapped by financial obligations of paying a large monthly rent and student loans. In addition, inconsiderate neighbors and noise pollution coming from nearby bars made the space unbearably loud. We relocated as soon as the lease was up.

The Second Space

Our second apartment was a 450 sq ft one bedroom apartment with lots of windows and natural light. Living there was a major learning experience because Stewart and I had our first serious arguments. By this time, the “honeymoon” period had ended and seeing our personal flaws had a strong sobering effect. Realizing how heavily I was influenced by Stewart was frightening for me, because I had always been extremely independent.

We were no longer strapped for cash, but Stewart was now attending school as a full-time student and I struggled with our income disparity and the splitting of expenses. I found peace by refocusing on myself; finding out what I was unhappy about and either discussing it or taking actions to remedy the situation. Nurturing my interest in personal fitness, minimalist living and creating this blog were my major outlets.


In November 2011, we moved to our 363 ft studio. Mortgage rates were low, home values were depressed and we could build equity on the property while Stewart finished school.

Below I have written out the things I learned along the way which have allowed us to successfully share a small space.

In a Nutshell

  • Living small is not for everyone, to be successful both parties must be in agreement that they can handle the space constraints
  • Learning to compromise is vital, you can’t always have your way. Meet somewhere in the middle and learn to look the other way if it’s not important
  • Take ownership, Stewart and I avoid a lot of arguments by complementing our roles in the household. For instance, we have an unspoken understanding that he cooks and I clean. Tasks that neither of us are thrilled about tend to be shared burdens
  • Happy alone = happy together, when you live in a small space it is important to remain an individual. Have your own activities and make different groups of friends, it allows you to create a separate life and you can get out of the house to give each other room
  • Stay busy, when you are idle you will find things to nitpick and drive your roommate insane. Get active, go outside. Life is too short to spend indoors
  • More is not better. Having more space in our first apartment did not fix our problems, neither did having more money. Many problems are rooted in something that we are unhappy or dissatisfied with internally and the solutions to these problems are changes that need to be made there as well
  • Cleanliness, when you live in a small space, keeping things organized is key. If you don’t, the space becomes cluttered and feels limiting