5 Tips For Small Space Living—With A Partner
Tiny Living With A Partner
“I feel like I spend most of my time picking up cups you leave around the apartment,” my husband tells me as he carries my coffee mug out of the bathroom. He stops to grab the half-empty glass of water from my nightstand on his way to the kitchen. And an empty cup hiding behind the plants on my desk.
We live in a 600-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, a veritable mansion compared to some couples’ living situations. This past year, especially, our home has been our office, movie theater, concert hall, gym, and overall sanctuary in the face of upheaval. But that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth sailing. If you’ve shared a small space with a partner, you might be letting out a strained laugh in agreement—it’s hard.
Our apartment works because it has to—because this is LA, and small, shared spaces are the name of the game. We’ve shared a single closet for nearly 10 years and have no immediate plans to move. But we do have a parking space we wouldn’t trade for all the extra closets in the world, and we just added a patio table which has us asking something we’ve never asked before: Where should we eat dinner? It makes us feel rich in square footage; it’s all a matter of perspective.
So, whether you consider 600 square feet teeny-tiny, or you’re operating just fine in a single shared room, here’s what I’ve learned about thriving when you’re an arms-length away from your loved one—all the time.
1. Plan Chores Strategically
After the past year of wandering these same four rooms, I’ve discovered that we need to build systems for ourselves, not try to force ourselves into systems that work for other people. And whether they’re fun or not, chores are essential when it comes to running a small household smoothly. Laundry, despite my efforts at re-wearing garments, piles up. Dishes pile up, too. All of these piles take up space that we just don’t have.
Identify the tasks that lead to the pile-lifestyle and build a chore plan to address them. Laundry, dishes, and cleaning up after our beloved house rabbits are the most invasive chores in our apartment, so they’re always first on the list. If my husband and I are feeling confined and conflict-y, it’s usually because one of these things need addressing. But we’re also careful not to overload ourselves—we’ve found that tackling one single task a day (instead of doing a massive cleaning once a week) is more sustainable. Sure, there’s laundry to fold, but look at these clean countertops!
Meal planning also helps us have an idea of who, when, and how much we’ll need to clean the kitchen each week. No one talks about that benefit of meal planning—but it’s nice to know in advance when every pan in the kitchen will get used so we can plan accordingly. (Or better yet, just not cook that specific meal until the weekend.)
2. Create Space, But Make Time Too
A hundred million articles on the internet will tell you to optimize your space and make zones for different activities. But all of that advice is nothing without having an actual plan—and schedule—for using the space appropriately. Otherwise, you’re eating in bed at 2 a.m. and having sex on the dining table at noon. (Okay, there could be worse things).
My husband and I use Google calendars to stake out claims on our time. I’ve scheduled my daily journaling, so he knows that the dining table is my domain for an hour each morning. I also know that it’s my job to clear the table each night (from my own clutter, let’s be honest) so that I can have a distraction-free morning.
We also schedule times we’ll be out of the house exercising, working, or running errands, which gives the other person time to enjoy the apartment alone. Even if you don’t feel like you need space, maybe your partner hasn’t quite worked up the right way to ask for it. A proactive approach is better than letting it reach a boiling point.
Yes, under-bed storage and extra shelving go a long way in a tiny space, but a schedule that supports you both will give you all the room in the world.
3. Be Respectful About Guests
My husband and I share many of our friends—partially because, in our space, there is no escaping a guest. If we entertain guests (which is rare these days), we pay attention to and discuss how much is too much and what boundaries each of us needs to feel our space is respected.
Our space isn’t ideal for fancy dinner parties, so we opt out of hosting meals in favor of game and movie nights. For weekend guests, we have a handy roster of inexpensive activities to do outside of the house, so we don’t have to choose between being cooped up and going broke. And, we’ve finally figured out where to put overnight guests so that our pet rabbits won’t wake them up. 🐰
Mainly, when we plan to have guests over, it has to be a mutual decision so that the other person doesn’t feel like they’re being intruded upon. It’s all about the calendar.
4. Ask The Right Questions, The Right Way
I’m sure everyone has their own version of this: My husband cleans the kitchen, and it looks great. But maybe he doesn’t put the spices back on the shelf just the way I like them.
This shows up when you share any amount of space with any person—you have to get used to the way they do things or find a healthy way to ask them to change. When things aren’t running smoothly, it’s easy to slip into nagging or criticism, so it’s important to have some ground rules.
For us, removing judgment-laden words like “always” and “never” from our vocabulary and getting straight to the point makes conversations more constructive. Instead of saying, “You always leave cups around the house,” my husband asks, “Can you please take your cup from your nightstand to the kitchen each morning?”
The sooner you can set standards together, the better, but we’re seven years into living in this specific apartment and still finding ways to ask for support. This goes beyond cleaning—ask for that alone time, too. “Can you take yourself on a date this week? I’d love an evening to myself” is a kind and direct way to ask your SO to get out of your hair.
5. Make Your Space Joyful
It’s not the size of your space, it’s how happy you are when you’re in it. If that means pink walls and nerdery-inspired decor, so be it. If that means exactly one chair and roughly one hundred plants, so be it. You get the point.
Ultimately, being happy in a space with your partner is about maintaining it as a safe space physically and emotionally. Allow your home to be an expression of your favorite things and activities, both as individuals and as a couple. Open the door to respectful conversation and healthy boundaries. And when things don’t go according to plan or fall out of place, embrace the imperfections with levity and laughter. Life is messy, and often hilarious.
If you’re feeling crowded by your loved one(s) after this past year, you’re not alone. We’ve leaned heavily into pursuing our own interests (gaming for me, classic movies for him) and spending intentional one-on-one time together so we don’t burn each other out after all these days and various shades of lockdown. It’s okay not to spend every minute engaged with one another, even though you might be in the same room. Space is healthy. (And noise-canceling headphones help 🤪).
Fill your space with pets or music or friends or solitude—whatever it takes so that when you cross the threshold into your little abode, you feel at home. And yes, maybe pick up your cups when you’re finished with them.
How do you and your partner navigate living in a small space? Share in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio.