Determining The Needs Of Your Space

Understanding what you do in your home and work is an important step to designing any space for the perfect place for you.  The greatest thing about living The Tiny Life is that you get to design your space and your life from the ground up.  Today we’re going to focus on our physical space and what need in a built environment that sets the stage for our best life.


In some cases understanding your needs will show you that all you need to do is tweak a few things in the space you’re already in.  It may be the case that more drastic changes or starting from scratch may be required.  You may also be looking towards building a new space anyway so it’s time to consider what that design will be.  It’s important to understand that to live The Tiny Life, you don’t necessarily need to live in a tiny house and what you have right now may be adapted.

room-trackingThe first step in understanding what your space needs to have in it, you need to understand how you actually use it already.  We often have ideas of what we would do if… or if only I had ____ I do more of this one thing.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of future planning so let’s focus on what you do right now.

To do this I use my Room Tracking method: to start, gather a bunch of pens and some post-it notes.    Go around to each of your rooms in your house or apartment and close every door.  Put a post-it note on the door and a pen on top of the door frame of each door.  When you go into a room, write down what you are going into that room for and estimate how long it will take.  On your front door (or your main door) put a post it note on it and write things down that you leave your house to do with time estimates.  Do this for a week.

This will create a comprehensive list of what you actually do in your home, not just what you think you do in your home.  You can even re-purpose this exercise for your work space.  Take all the post-it notes and combine them into a list.

I put together this free worksheet to help, click here.

Once you’ve compiled a list of what you do and how long you do it, start estimating the amount of space you’ll need to do that one thing.  You can even rank your activities by which you do the longest and ask yourself, “Are the things I spend the most time on the most important to me?” Just think about that.

What can you outsource?

With your list consider things that could happen outside the home.  A gym membership is one example.  Instead of having a home gym, would a gym work just as well or even better?  Or if you haven’t stepped foot in your home gym in several months, do you even need it at all?  For me I realized while I was effective at working from home, it was lonely; so I started working at a coworking space.

What things can you cut out all together?

I realized that I really didn’t read a book twice, so keeping books was often a waste of space. So, I replaced my bookshelf with a kindle.  I did keep about 10 books that were more reference books, but the rest went.

What things can pull double duty?

Think about things that are on your list that can happen in a single area or what things are important enough to have a dedicated space.  For me I knew I wanted a work space that was just for work, but my living room could serve as a place to read, to watch TV, to hang out with friends, and to setup a table for meals.

Whittling down the list

Consider the above questions and think critically about what you really do need.  Avoid what you “hope” to do, but focus on what you actually do.  With this you can come up with a solid list of activities that can help you design your space more effectively.

Your Turn!

  • What was your most important activity in your house?
  • What other tricks have you used to determine your true needs?
  1. This makes sense (I do cringe at getting rid of my books), but I would want to consider the things I would do, too, in my own space – for instance, painting, sewing, jewelry making, furniture building. How to do all that in a tiny space?

  2. so GLAD to see this post. i’ve been in my THOW for 9 months now. i find i’m CONSTANTLY re-arranging things. i only have 190 sq ft, but when you take away the kitchen space, the bathroom and the bed, there is not much space left to “play” with. i can’t tell you how many things i have rehomed – things i never thought i would. everything i own does double, sometimes triple or more, duty. i admit to cheating a bit, since there are some things i keep in my car, and i have a small area for storage in my friend’s garage,(out of season clothes, animal carriers, things like that).

    what i thought i needed and would use, and how i thought i’d arrange things once i got my THOW is totally changed. i have finally accepted that i’ll probably always be rearranging stuff.

    as for crafting things, which i also do, i put my craft supplies in clear plastic bins, labeled, and only keep the box for my current project in the house. i store the others in the garage. it is ABSOLUTELY imperative for me to keep what i think i need down to bare essentials. it’s been challenging, but i feel freer when i have less stuff and more space.

    i think it’s also probably essential to have some free-standing storage spot for stuff you need, but don’t use regularly.

  3. This is a timely article for me as I’m about to finish putting in the floor of my tiny housetruck, and after that, building the innards. I’ve been drawing and redrawing my layout for days… considering what spaces I need, what I can do without, and how much room to allocate to various activity areas. I do want to add one thing though.

    People seem to fall into the trap of thinking that they “should” only own things that fit inside the home space. In reality, everyone has a different lifestyle, and thus, different needs. If you own farm animals, there’s no reason why you can’t live in the tiny house, yet still have a barn/storage/feed space. If you are an artist, there’s no reason you can’t have a studio building. If you are a woodworker, why can’t you have a shop building?

    There aren’t any rules to this. You can choose (for whatever reason) to live in a small space, and yet still have other spaces that suit your own needs. Maybe you have to rent them, maybe you have room on your own property (or a friend’s property) to build them. Don’t let the fringe element ever tell you you have to do something a certain way to be “legitimate”.

  4. One thing to consider very carefully is how willing you are to fuss around with space saving multipurpose arrangements. Another is what is the space going to be used for most often. You can end up designing for a lot of what if’s that may only rarely occur rather than for every day life. If you like having a table, chair, main floor sleeping space that doubles as a couch or whatever then make sure those things work well when in use and are either easy to convert or comfortable to have permanently deployed. It’s amazing how annoying it can get to keep moving stuff around just to do basic stuff, no matter how clever the setup.

    My kitchen will have a couple of pullout cabinets with drop leaf tops to expand prep surfaces if needed but will be fully functional cabinet units when left in place as well. For me the table has to be permanently accessible but it will be movable. The daybed will likewise be fully usable as a single sleeping space but could be pulled out for a larger bed if needed. A 3′ deep “grandkid shelf” (like an upper bunk above the kitchen and bath area)is all I need rather than a full loft.

    I have a huge box full of paper scale models for all sorts of designs that tried to work the most functions with the most open, undedicated space and incorporate all sorts of great new ideas from tiny house posts. Since the space is only 8×14 it took a lot of tweaking but I finally have what I think is “the” plan. Since it’s a skid shack I included a bump out alcove for the wood stove that freed up a lot of floor space but doesn’t get included in the official square footage.

  5. Just bought my trailer that I’ll be building my house on and I am not working off a set of plans so this is a well timed post. I am very pleased to see 3 hours of board games! 🙂 I have about 60 games and I play at least once a week so it’s going to be important for my house to have a large table. I saw a great one on YouTube built by an Alaskan couple. It was a long narrow table that was like a bar or workspace that hinged in the middle to bring it together into a much larger table perfect for gaming.

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