This 40-year-old pays $1,600/month to live in a tiny home by the beach—it's smaller than the average parking spot

Inside a millennial's $1,600/month tiny home by the beach in Santa Monica, CA
Inside a millennial's $1,600/month tiny home by the beach in Santa Monica, CA

From 2020 to 2022, I split my time between two rentals: a one-bedroom apartment in New York City and a tiny home in Santa Monica, California.

But one day, I decided I needed a change. My stepfather had passed away, and I was going through a breakup. These losses shifted my perspective, and realigning my life to fit my values became a priority.

I realized that I didn't need so many belongings, let alone two places to live. So in May 2022, I sold or donated most of my stuff. I put five boxes of winter items into a storage unit and left New York with two suitcases and a camera.

Now, at 40 years old, the 140-square-foot tiny home in Santa Monica is my primary home. I'm an eight-minute drive from the beach, and there are plenty of places to hike nearby.

Sung's house is parked in the owner's backyard, which is an 8-minute drive from the beach.
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My rent, including utilities, parking and WiFi, is $1,600 a month. That's $600 less than the monthly median for a studio apartment in Santa Monica. I pay $236 a month for my storage unit.

A look inside my tiny home

The house is smaller than the average size of a parking spot (which is roughly 150 square feet). But it's designed in a way that doesn't feel cramped.

I found the listing on HotPads, an online rental marketplace. The home was built by architects at Minarc Design Studio, and is parked in the backyard of a single-family home.

The main room functions as my living room, office, walk-in closet and kitchen. I added a few small aspects like hooks and accessories, but otherwise the place is exactly as it came.

Sung's living area doubles as a walk-in closet. "I'm very particular about how I curate my wardrobe because I have such little space," she says.
Tristan Pelletier for CNBC Make It

The glass door allows for plenty of natural light and really opens up the space. The indoor LED lighting has six adjustable settings. I use softer lights in the evening and only have lights on in the bathroom in the morning.

Since there's no stovetop in the house, I keep a double propane burner outside. I've honed my Girl Scouts skills and now cook at home at least six days a week.

Since kitchen space is limited, Sung does most of her cooking outside on a propane gas stove.
Tristan Pelletier for CNBC Make It

The bedroom area is a little a cove that fully surrounds my mattress. I have a hidden drawer beneath the bed for additional storage. To keep things organized, I use soft dividers and zippered pouches.

Sung sleeps facing north, which she says is "great for feng shui."
Tristan Pelletier for CNBC Make It

The only storage space in the bathroom is below the sink, which has a 2.5-foot frame and a small shelf to hold towels. One of my favorite features in the house is the sink face, which is made of recycled rubber, making it functional and easy to clean.

The sleek, minimalist bathroom has open storage space below the sink, where Sung keeps her towels.
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Built to be energy efficient, the temperature is regulated by concrete panels. This means I don't need air conditioning, and a portable heater is enough to keep me warm during wintertime.

I've learned what it really means to live with intention

Most days, I work from home running my children's brand, Big Little Universe. Since I spend so much time here, meticulous organization isn't a choice — it's a necessity.

Living with intention in a tiny space has many benefits: I save time, energy and money (especially after getting rid of my $4,500-per-month New York apartment). It's very serene and grounding. I only have one high-quality version of everything, and each item has its own place.

I've become more mindful with my social commitments, too. I only have one person over at a time. And I travel to visit family and friends in New York every few months.

Having easy access to the outdoors and being able to go on hikes has significantly improved her quality of life, says Sung.
Tristan Pelletier for CNBC Make It

With my new lifestyle, I've come to appreciate the art of slowing down. It helps keep me present and calm.

I see myself living in a tiny home forever, and I want to use my design experience to build a tiny home community of my own one day. But I'll always cherish this pivotal space — and moment — in my life.

Sung Yoo is the founder of Big Little Universe, a children's brand that brings minimalistic design to multi-purpose toys and products. She earned a bachelor's degree from Parson's School of Design. Her past clients include Birchbox, Dermalogica, L'Oreal Paris and Victoria's Secret. Follow her on Instagram @biglittleuniverse and @sungsation, or on Tiktok @biglittleuniverse_co.

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I live in a $35,000 tiny home in my backyard in Atlanta, Georgia - take a look inside
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