We’re not going to sugarcoat it for you: Living in a small space isn’t all clever DIY hacks and #TinyLiving Instagrams. With so little space for your furniture, belongings, and, heck, even yourself, living in teeny, tiny quarters comes with its slew of challenges and design dilemmas.
However, the plot only thickens when you live in a small space with someone else. While studios and junior one-bedrooms are often associated with someone whose living by themselves, what’s a person to do when they’re sharing those small spaces with a significant other, sibling, or college bestie?
The good news is sharing a small space doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your sanity or relationship with your roommate.
“I’d [actually] recommend living in a smaller space to other couples,” says Sam*, a risk analyst who lives in a studio apartment with his wife in London. “It definitely makes you more considerate and organized, forces you to assess your priorities, and strengthens your relationship.”
Of course, successfully cohabiting doesn’t happen overnight—especially when you live in a small space. So how do you do it? From communicating, to mastering the art of “me time,” to mixing and matching interior design styles in tiny quarters, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about living in a small space with someone else:
1. Lay Down the Ground Rules
Whoever said that rules were meant to be broken clearly never lived with someone in a small space. While creating some ground rules is always a good idea, it becomes all the more important when you’re living in small quarters. After all, it’s not like you can go to another room if your roommate is blasting music late at night.
“It’s important to set expectations for your living situation to help it be as harmonious and easy as it can be when it comes to splitting your utilities bill, guest policy, cleaning schedule, and more,” says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette.
When it comes to creating a set of rules that benefits both parties, compromise is key. Instead of demanding that your roommate abides by all your rules, pick out three or four key rules you need to have a comfortable and calming space.
2. Create Space
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been dating for five years or have been besties since the first grade: There is such a thing as too much quality time. And unlike living in a sprawling, multi-room apartment, there’s a good chance you don’t have any space that you can retreat to for some serious “me time.”
But just because you’re living in small quarters doesn’t mean you need to forfeit personal space.
“Odd as it sounds, try to give each other some space,” says Marie Betts-Johnson, president of International Protocol Institute of California. “Go for a walk and minimize phone calls in the house. Constantly hearing the details of your intimate life gets old very fast.”
Getting fed up with your roommate? Sweat off any tension by signing up for a spin class or going on an outdoor run.
3. Customizable Corner
Speaking of personal space, it’s important to create little nooks and crannies that speak to your and your roommates’ aesthetic.
“Even in a studio living situation, carve out a little nook for each resident,” says Jennifer Porter, an etiquette coach and manners instructor who also runs Satsuma Designs. “It’s essential that each roommate feel as if the space is truly theirs and devoted personal space can help.”
Fortunately, giving your home some personal touches doesn’t have to require a lot of money or square footage. You can easily spruce up your place with affordable, space-efficient finds. If your roommate’s a major bookworm, add a cozy chair and lamp that will help them devour a stack of juicy reads. Are you a big movie buff? Frame some of your favorite film posters and hang them up on your wall.
4. Pick Up Artist
According to Porter, you don’t need to be a football fanatic to love the phrase “pick six.” (If you’re unathletic like us, “pick six” refers to interceptions...the more you know!)
While any KonMari disciple will tell you clutter is bad news in any home, the effects seem all the more drastic when you’re living in a small space. Instead of waiting until chore day to pick up all your clutter, grab six pesky items now.
“You’ll love the experience when roommates make a habit of picking up just six things to clean the common space,” Porter explains. “It’s imperative that everyone respects their collective home and shows respect to one another by keeping it clean.”
Not only will this rule keep your space clutter-free, but your roommate will appreciate that you took the initiative to clean up after yourself.
5. Make it Modern
While decorating your small space isn’t the biggest issue you’ll face when living together, it’s definitely something to think about if your roommate’s aesthetic drastically differs from yours.
Not sure how to fit bold maximalism and modern farmhouse into the same, small space? Enter mid-century modernism. With sleek lines and minimal hardware, mid-century modernism can act as a blank canvas that can bridge the gap between different—and potentially clashing—styles.
“Mid-century pieces work well in tight spaces because their scale is more petite,” adds interior designer Alison Pickart.
6. Raise Your Voice
When you live with anyone—small space or not—conflict is inevitable. Instead of burying your feelings, address any frustrations head-on with clear, open communication.
“It’s important to keep an open line of communication between you and your roommate to prevent any negative feelings or negative tension in the household,” says Tsai.
If there are any issues that arise that you want to discuss, Tsai advises you schedule a time that works for both of you and always speak in a respectful and honest manner.