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Maximizing a Small Space - Making a Tiny Rental Unit Feel Like Home

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2023-07-31

No, it’s not your imagination. New apartments in the United States are definitely getting smaller. In 2022, the average size of U.S. apartments was 887 square feet, that’s down 30 square feet from 2021.

Living in small spaces has its own set of benefits and challenges. On the positive side, a small home encourages minimalism and can help simplify our lives. Less square footage ultimately means less time and effort spent on cleaning and organizing.

Small spaces also foster a sense of coziness, making it easier to create an inviting atmosphere. And let’s not forget the savings as well. Less space often comes with reduced expenses, it costs less to furnish and often means lower rent and utility bills as well. 

But let’s be honest: a small rental might also mean you can’t buy that La-Z-Boy sofa you’ve been wanting, and your childhood book collection should probably stay at your parent’s home. There’s no doubt that small spaces are challenging, but with some creative thinking and planning, you can transform your compact living space into a cozy and inviting home. 

In this article, we’ll explore design tips and ideas to help maximize the potential of your tiny rental unit. Let’s dive in and discover the secrets to turning a small space into a home that’s truly your own.



10 Tips on Maximizing a Small Living Space

Now, let’s take a look at some strategies for making the most of your space. While many of these steps are things that you can do on your own, for anything that involves making permanent changes to the unit directly, you’ll want to get your landlord’s permission first.

  1. Embrace Minimalism

Embracing minimalism may not be easy for some people, but the benefits are endless. Home-wise, it can make a small rental unit feel spacious! If you’re not a born minimalist, start slowly by getting rid of items you no longer use. Give them away, sell them, or donate them.

Streamlining your belongings creates a sense of openness and tranquility not only in your physical space but also in your mindset as well. Focus on keeping only the essentials and choose versatile furniture, objects, and appliances that can serve multiple purposes.

When it comes to furniture, opt for clean lines and simple designs that won’t overpower the space. Look for items with hidden storage compartments, such as ottomans or beds with drawers. This way, you can keep your belongings neatly tucked away while maximizing every inch of space.

Renting for the first time? Read 20 Things You’ll Need When Renting

  1. Employ Smart Storage Solutions

One of the most effective ways to maximize small spaces is to use smart storage solutions everywhere: in your bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. Make use of your vertical space by installing wall shelves or hanging organizers.* Collapsible or stackable storage bins are also great ways to keep items neatly tucked away when not in use. Optimize every nook and cranny to maintain a clutter-free environment while keeping your belongings within easy reach.

With a bit of creativity, you can find storage opportunities in unexpected places. Let’s take a look!

In the Bedroom:

  • Utilize under-bed storage – Invest in containers or drawers that can fit underneath your bed. This space is perfect for storing off-season clothing, shoes, or extra bedding.

  • Opt for a storage headboard – Choose a bed frame with built-in shelves or compartments in the headboard. This provides additional storage space for books, accessories, or bedtime essentials.

  • Hang a wall-mounted organizer – Install a wall-mounted organizer with pockets or hooks near your bed. This is ideal for storing small items like remote controls, books, or reading glasses.*

In the Bathroom:

  • Install floating shelves – Use vertical wall space by installing floating shelves. These shelves can hold toiletries, towels, or decorative items while keeping the floor area free.*

  • Hang baskets or bins – Attach baskets or bins to the inside of cabinet doors or on walls to store smaller items like hair accessories, cosmetics, or cleaning supplies.

  • Use a shower caddy – A hanging shower caddy keeps toiletries organized and easily accessible without wasting valuable counter space.

In the Kitchen:

  • Utilize cabinet and drawer organizers - Install dividers, shelf risers, or stacking shelves in your kitchen cabinets and drawers to maximize storage and keep items neatly organized.*

  • Hang pots and pans – Install a pot rack or hooks on the wall or under cabinets to hang pots, pans, and cooking utensils. This frees up cabinet space and adds a decorative element to your kitchen.*

  • Use magnetic strips – Mount magnetic strips on the wall to hold metal utensils, knives, or spice jars. This keeps them within reach while saving drawer space.*

In the Living Room:

  • Invest in multi-functional furniture – Look for coffee tables or ottomans with hidden storage compartments. These can be used to store blankets, board games, or extra pillows.

  • Install wall-mounted shelves – Install wall-mounted shelves or bookcases to display books, collectibles, or decorative items while keeping the floor area clear.*

  • Use decorative storage boxes or baskets – Place decorative storage boxes or baskets on shelves or under tables to store remote controls, magazines, or miscellaneous items.

  1. Play With Light and Color

Light and color play a significant role in shaping the ambiance of any living space. Opt for a light color palette with furniture and accessories to create an airy and open feel. Interior designer, Allison Rowan, tells The Everygirl: “Utilize bright, lighter colors and allow as much natural light into the space as possible.” Soft pastels, neutral tones, and whites are particularly effective in small spaces. Painting is another good strategy. Just be sure to get your landlord’s permission first.

Incorporate different sources of lighting to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Use a combination of overhead, task, and ambient lighting to layer the illumination in the space. Sheer curtains allow natural light to filter through, and artificial lighting strategically brightens dark corners or highlights specific areas. Adding table lamps and floor lamps can create a cozy and well-lit environment.

  1. Decorate With Mirrors and Reflective Surfaces

Mirrors and reflective surfaces are secret weapons for creating the illusion of space. Hang a large mirror on one of the walls to instantly double the visual size of the room. Strategically placing mirrors opposite windows can also maximize natural light and make the space feel brighter and more open.

Aside from wall mirrors, try experimenting with mirrored furniture or metallic accents. These elements bounce light around the room, making it appear larger and inviting.

  1. Consider Multi-Functional Furniture

Multi-functional furniture is a game-changer when it comes to maximizing a small space. Look for items that can serve multiple purposes, such as a sofa bed or a coffee table with hidden storage. A folding dining table can be tucked away when not in use, and a compact desk can double as a vanity or a console table. Versatile furniture helps you optimize functionality without sacrificing style.

Convertible furniture is also a great space-saving option for small units. For example, a daybed can serve as both a sofa and a guest bed, while a folding screen can be used to create a private sleeping area when needed. Look for furniture pieces that can adapt to different situations to make the most of your limited space.

  1. Create Vertical Gardens

A touch of green can instantly breathe life into any space. But in a small rental unit, floor space is limited. So how can you bring the outdoors in? Through vertical gardens! Hang potted plants on the walls or install wall-mounted planters.* Choose low-maintenance plants like succulents or air plants that require minimal space and care. A vertical garden adds a fresh and vibrant element to your home while maximizing your living area.

A lack of outdoor space doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of an edible garden. You can start a vertical herb garden in your kitchen using a wall-mounted planter or a hanging herb garden kit.* Not only will you have fresh herbs at your fingertips, but you’ll also add a touch of natural beauty to your rental unit as well.

  1. Personalize Your Space

Maximizing space is a top priority, but so is infusing your personality and style into your small rental unit. Add personal touches like artwork, photographs, or decorative accents that reflect your tastes and interests.* Customizing your space creates a sense of ownership and makes a rental truly feel like home.

Textiles and accessories are great ways to showcase your personal style. Add colorful throw pillows, cozy blankets, or a vibrant area rug to add texture and warmth to your space. Hang curtains or install blinds that match your aesthetic to enhance the room’s overall look.*

  1. Create Zones

Establishing separate areas for different activities creates a sense of organization and helps you make the most of your limited space.

Even in a small space, creating distinct zones that serve different purposes is possible. Use room dividers or rugs to separate areas for sleeping, working, and relaxing. Visually separating zones through furniture or accessories helps you create a sense of order and maximize functionality.

When creating separate areas, think about the flow of movement within your space. Arrange furniture in a way that allows for easy navigation and minimizes any potential cluttered areas. 

See our tips on Working From Home in Your Rental - How to Perfect Your Space.

  1. Use Clever Illusions

Trick the eye and create clever illusions to make your small rental unit appear larger. Hang curtains close to the ceiling to create the illusion of higher ceilings. Use rugs that visually expand the floor space. Choose furniture with exposed legs to create a sense of openness. These simple techniques can create a visual impact that makes your room feel more expansive than it is.

Additionally, consider using glass or lucite furniture to create a sense of transparency and openness. Furniture pieces made of these materials have a lighter and less intrusive appearance, helping to maintain the illusion of space.

  1. Embrace the Cozy Factor

Lastly, remember to embrace the inherent coziness of your small rental unit. Add soft blankets, plush cushions, and textured rugs to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Incorporate scented candles or essential oils to enhance the sensory experience.

Choose comfortable seating options that invite relaxation and create cozy nooks for reading or lounging. Soft lighting, such as warm-toned lamps or string lights, works well to create a soothing ambiance. Remember to add personal touches like favorite books, family photos, or cherished mementos to infuse your space with a sense of nostalgia and warmth.

*It’s always a good idea to ask your landlord first before making any permanent changes to the rental. Be sure to get their permission before embarking on one of these projects, and play it safe.

Creating a comfortable and cozy environment allows you to turn your small home into a space you look forward to returning to at the end of each day. Just remember to get your landlord’s permission before making any permanent changes. When it comes to painting walls, installing fixtures, putting up shelving, or making other similar updates, it’s always a good idea to speak to your landlord first.

Check out: How to Give Your Rental a Makeover - Within Your Rental Agreement to learn more.



Despite the challenges of limited floor space, careful planning and creativity can help transform your small rental unit into a stylish, functional, and comfortable home. No matter your motivation for going smaller, you can be sure that small spaces offer benefits that can enhance your lifestyle. Tiny homes encourage you to eliminate excess and prioritize what truly matters: something we can all benefit from!

Looking for a place to rent? Check out our tips on finding your dream rental. And be sure to check out our available listings today. 


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