Do You Need to Be Creative to Live Small?

At some point during our time here in Hong Kong (probably somewhere between learning I was pregnant and deciding to move to a slightly larger place to accommodate our baby’s arrival), I got really interested in small-space dwelling with a baby. I discovered a great blog written by another small-space-dwelling-Alison; 600SQFTANDABABY captures her life in Vancouver living in a one bedroom apartment with her husband and now 2 babies. It’s a great read and there are so many parallels to our experience, even though we’re on the opposite sides of the world.

Through that blog, I discovered a collective of writers exploring the top of Small Space Living and I asked to join. Small space living is a topic I have explored quite a bit on my own on this blog, including everything from the exercise of down-sizing before our move from Vancouver to Hong Kong, how we looked and planned for our new place in HK, a tour of our 440 sq ft apartment, the items we have in our home that are either useful or serve no other purpose than being beautiful, and the collection of artwork we have on display. When we moved last year, I gave a tour of our larger 590sq ft apartment, shared Campbell’s hand-drawn nursery mural, and gathered a list of essentials for living with a baby in a small space.

Here’s our kitchen! For a full house tour, read here.

I hear a few similar comments about our move to, and life in, Hong Kong.  Most common 2.5 years ago when we moved was, “you’re so brave.” And let me be very clear about that – we are not brave. We’ve just chosen to live our life in a place other than where we grew up; that’s simply a decision involving geography. I think Rosa Parks defending her rights on a bus was brave, the man who stood up against the tanks in Tiananmen Square was definitely brave, and Irena Sendler‘s acts to save 2500 Jewish children during WWII was certainly brave. We’re just three people living in a big city, which is pretty normal, as 7 million others will attest to here, and our flat is small.

The other thing I’ve heard quite a bit – usually from friends or family in North America – is, “good thing you’re creative to make your small apartment work.” That got me thinking about whether you need to be creative to live in a small space. To be fair, I think I have a bit of an advantage in solving some of the “problems” presented by small-space living with my training and career in interior design. However, we certainly have not gotten to the creative design solution level as many flat owners here in Hong Kong (like this one, for example). We’ve simply laid out our space to best utilize our existing furniture and supplemented the rest with Ikea. Beyond that, Braden and I have concluded that not owning much stuff isn’t particularly creative. Also, buying a storage bed that we can throw the stuff we do have underneath with little to no thought isn’t very creative either (but works great). Anyone can do that without being creative.

A Life Shift 20170815a
Braden illustrates just how small our space is (but really he’s just stretching out after eating a big plate of ribs). It should also be noted that my sister was in town visiting when this photo was taken, so the window ledge is a temporary guest room. Usually we keep it pretty clear.

That being said, while creativity isn’t a prerequisite for living in a small space, I do think there are a few mindsets that make it easier. I say this with the caveat that our ideal small living scenario is one where we have a collection of meaningful objects on display, can find any and all of our belongings quickly and easily, and feel relaxed and calm in our space. To make this happen, we must be intentional, disciplined, resourceful, and committed.

Braden and I are both committed to limiting our possessions, disciplined in putting things away when we’re done with them, intentional about what we purchase or bring home, and resourceful in using what we have to address minor needs. Shoes and bags are tucked into the closet as soon as we walk in the door (which also prevents Campbell from immediately putting shoes in his mouth). The decision to acquire a counter-top oven – gifted to us by friends moving away – was a big one. We had to figure out where it would sit while in use, where it would be stored, and what else we would need to have on hand to make it useful. Gifts are usually wrapped in reused paper and ribbon that we keep under the bed – I have been known to wrap presents in paper from Starbucks shopping bags decorated with washi tape. Campbell’s first fort was constructed with our footstools and pillows, and his favourite toys are empty plastic containers filled with noisy rattling objects.

In conclusion, in my opinion you don’t need to be creative to live small, but by living small you end up living life more creatively. This is creativity by definition: if you don’t have exactly what you need, you must imagine it, create it, or innovate it with what you have. This type of “forced” inventiveness is one of the many reasons that we LOVE living small. The constraints of where we live shape how we live and who we are. It keeps us mindful and engaged, as opposed to automated and methodical (which I think is the opposite of creative). It keeps us questioning the norm, our own behaviours and – especially – what we acquire for Campbell.


This post was written for inclusion in the August collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. I hope you’re as curious as I am to read other thoughts on the topic, which can be found in the links below. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series, and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!

Indie Mama Health– “Tiny Home Living .:. Being Creative and Organized in Small Spaces” : One of the aspects of tiny home living that I really enjoy is the requirement to be super creative with storage and organization. It’s a game and I LOVE it. I love to be organized and I love for each item to have it’s own home.
Little Bungalow– “Colourful Minimalism” : Sharing my totally made up design style and some images that are inspiring me creatively in my new small home.
Fourth and West– “Hobbies, A Baby and A Tiny House” : Finding space for creativity in a growing family.
Family Pedals– “Creativity in the Cold” : So it is the coldest months when the kids have the most pent-up energy and the fewest outdoor options that we have the least square footage. Having limits–limited space, limited toys, limited options–gives our kids the freedom they need to create.
The Streamlined Life– “When Creativity Spills Over into Something More” : Living small doesn’t make us creative, but living with purpose does.
Tiny Ass Camper– “Crafts and Creativity in a Tiny Space” : Finding the balance in making a mess and raising a creative free spirit.
Justice Pirate– “Creativity Bursts in Small Home Living” : When sometimes you have dreams of fabric, colors, and getting snuggly in a quilt you made yourself.


5 thoughts on “Do You Need to Be Creative to Live Small?

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