Living in a small space can feel like a great idea at the start — less square footage to clean, saved money on furniture, and usually a lower rent price. With rent prices at record highs and down payments for homes unreachable for a lot of the U.S., so many of us have moved our lives into smaller and smaller spaces. My favorite way to illustrate this is Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool Contest — the categories are small, smaller, tiny, and teeny tiny ranging from 1000 sq ft -250 sq ft.

I have to give it up to us small space nesters — we REALLY get creative. It’s so freaking fun to me to explore all the remarkable ways that people have been able to fit their big lives into small spaces. It’s such a feat of adaptation in my opinion for us to take a shitty societal situation — rising rent prices and out of reach down payments — and turn it into an experiment in creativity. Bravo to everyone who does their best to live in the smallest places!

However, while small space living can seem imaginative from a design standpoint, I think many folks are still struggling with efficient functionality and feel like their spaces are overwhelmingly tiny.

As a fellow small space dweller, I totally get this. Small apartments are great when you have dreams of minimalism and downsizing and sustainability. Then you move in all your hand-me down furniture, your partner’s hobbies, your pet’s bed and crate. Suddenly, you’re ready to go Sex in the City and stick your sweaters in the oven because there’s no more room.

While it’s true that you have to downsize some of your items when living/moving into a small space, the most persistent strain over the years making my small apartments feel even smaller, is surprisingly not physical. (Cheers to all the maximalists, you can keep your stuff 😉)

I find it’s actually stress that makes my small apartment feel even smaller. Especially if I’m feeling trapped in a stressful situation, it radiates into my environment at home (looking at you 2020!).

For example, have you ever had a hard day at work and feel a growing sense of overwhelm in your mind and body? Maybe it starts with clenching your jaw at a micro-aggression dropped during a virtual meeting. Or you’re wringing your hands at an email from your boss asking you to send them that document again (for the third time, of course). These everyday stressors make me feel like I need to get out of my apartment/walk around the block/go pickup lunch/walk my dog immediately. I feel so cooped up and my mind and body need an escape from my tiny apartment so I can take a freakin breath.

Feel familiar?

Or maybe earlier this past year with the various global stay at home orders, you or someone you know left your tiny apartment for a family’s home in the burbs. No shame at all if you did! I had friends who knew as soon as the stay at home order started that their space was going to be too small to hunker down in for a long period of time.

But why did they leave? Because it’s difficult to have multiple virtual meetings in a studio space? Sure. But frankly, most were anticipating stress in their space with the stay at home order, and essentially, that stress was too big for their small space.

Stress and anxiety can be like work and Parkinson’s law — those feelings will expand to the amount of time and space given to them. Somehow a ceiling seems to trap them inside because I find outside I’m able to let them melt away much faster.

Note that some apartments are just straight up too small and poorly laid out. Many folks have fled to their families larger spaces during COVID-19 to hunker down with loved ones. But for the rest of us that are feeling trapped in tiny spaces, I think it can be helpful to reevaluate the stress in your life. How are you managing it? How is it showing up and making space feel impossibly small? Are there ways that you could gently incorporate room for stress management into your space? Yes, I’m talking a straight up Paris craft table from Gilmore Girls if that’s what makes you feel good!

The next time you’re feeling trapped in your small space, take a walk around the block (for sure don’t just stay hunkered down in your stress). But put away the apartment hunting apps because most likely your space is totally workable and not actually too small.