The Pandemic Allowed Me to Move Into My First Micro Apartment in San Francisco


Reflecting on my first “tiny home” in San Francisco is a multi-dimensional exercise, one rooted in gratitude, reality, and nostalgia.

I’ve long been a fan of tiny living. Establishing a more micro everyday lifestyle has long seemed the most pragmatic and realistic way of making a financially solvent career as a writer, sans roommates. But even in San Francisco — which still boasts the one of country’s most expensive rental markets despite seeing rental prices drop some 26% since the pandemic began — even living tiny has a lofty price tag.

Before Covid-19, it was common to see $2,000-plus monthly rents for units spanning less than 200 square feet. A 161-square-foot unit a block away from my past address had become famous in 2019 for its astronomically high $2,295 a month rent. It featured a wedge-shaped closet, nothing resembling a kitchen, antiquated cabinets, and a shared in-hall bathroom.

However, when that apartment began making rounds on social media for its comic absurdity, I remember earnestly thinking to myself I… I actually could make that work and kind of like it. Except it was well out of my budget.

Fast-forward some months one global pandemic later, and I typed this very article in a unit with identical square footage  — my former home, which was my first solo apartment in San Francisco. (It also had an updated kitchenette, a normal rectangular closet, fresh coats of paint, better hardwood flooring, and crown molding.)

My rent at that time? A paltry $1,050 a month with two months free and no deposit down.

It was my lease, under just my name. For a rent-controlled unit. Two things I never thought I’d be able to have (and probably would never have, had it not been for the pandemic) in San Francisco. And even though I’ve since moved to a studio apartment in Nob Hill — a serendipitous find that I, somehow, managed to acquire for $1,250 a month — it was this first apartment to myself in SF; it will always hold a special place in my heart.

That apartment I once live in is described as a comparatively large SRO unit which, per the property management company, boasts “modern amenities and luxury touches.” (For context: My building, the now Saratoga Hotel constructed in 1908, is a historic San Francisco property and consists of eight SRO units, among 50 other more traditional one-bedroom and studio units, spread across four floors.)

These SROs are relics of depression-area housing stock in which units share either a bathroom or kitchen or both; in my case, I shared 1.5 baths with two neighbors who’ve each been in the building for over 20 years. And because many San Francisco properties that feature SRO units have certain grandfathered-in maintenance clauses, the restrooms were cleaned by janitorial staff twice a day — which, frankly, was more often than I cleaned any bathroom in my life.

Much like ’90s fashion and nostalgia-drenched sitcoms, SROs and other mico-style apartments are enjoying a recent boom in popularity. Millennials and Gen Xers are learning to live with less, and housing prices are still through the roof.

So while it’s near as much impossible for many current thirty- and fortysomethings to envision themselves either owning Bay Area property or living in a 700-square-foot-plus apartment without housemates, urban tiny living at least brings some semblance of reality back into the picture.

That… and living small is more fiscally sound and environmentally sustainable. Living in such a condensed, purposeful way also helps one keep things tidy; in many anecdotal cases, those who’ve “gone small” have reported improved mental health and traded excess chores for more free time.

(For context: I carried those same habits; that same mindset; these environmentally-sustainable practices to my new residence, which measures just shy of 300 square feet. I can’t fathom moving someplace larger, surrendering those previously mentioned upsides for the sake of having a larger kitchen counter.)

Before moving into that SRO in Lower Nob Hill, I briefly lived in an all too familiar Bay Area setup: a cell-like room inside a 1,700-square-foot, four-bedroom, 1.5-bath house in Noe Valley for $1,350 that I wasn’t the master tenant of. I dedicated substantial brackets of time each week to helping my housemates clean the common areas; disinfect and scrub the bathroom; water the patio plants after sweeping the patio itself; vacuum the hallway; and dust off the shelves and wood banisters. At some point during the week, I would eventually get to tidying up my 100-square-foot room — which, comparatively, took no time at all.

About 163.7 square feet, my previous SRO removed 90% of those household chores. There was also no need to purchase any bathroom cleaning supplies, as well.

Living in such a small space did come with certain adjustments and acclimations, mind you.

As someone who’s doted over tiny houses and stayed in some overnight, I can assure you it’s still quite jarring to walk into an empty sub-200-square-foot home and realize you must get your entire life inside of it. Unlike even the smallest of traditional city studio apartments, you have to boundary and give multipurpose to all your living areas — all while taking into account each square inch of space.

You quickly realize retractable measurement tapes become secondary appendages. That Murphy beds are a godsend. That a quality bistro table set on casters can double as a mobile meal preparation and dining area. That at just an inch thick, Samsung’s Frame TVs are, in fact, worth every fucking penny. That vertical storage is your best friend — and horizontal clutter is your gravest foe.

Almost three years ago, I wrote in my journal I wanted to have a tiny home all to myself by the time I was 35 years old. And while I couldn’t exactly wheel that second-floor SRO around to National Parks, I had (in a roundabout way) achieved that goal before my 30th birthday.

Or as my mother affectionately said when I signed the lease: “You got your own tiny house—it’s just in a building.”

Feature Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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